What the Rankings Mean?


This Report tries to capture existing professional sentiment about the quality and reputation of different Ph.D. programs as a whole and in specialty areas in the English-speaking world. (Lack of reliable information leads us to exclude the non-English-speaking world, though there are thriving philosophical communities ie.g., in the Scandinavian countries, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Spain, Israel, parts of Asia, Argentina, Brazil, etc., but they are for the most part beyond the scope of this Report.)

These sentiments correlate fairly well with job placement of junior faculty in continuing positions in universities and colleges, but students are well advised to make inquiries with individual departments for complete information on this score. (Keep in mind, of course, that recent job placement tells you more about past faculty quality, not current.) Due to the time-consuming nature of this Report, it is not published annually. Updates (faculty moves etc.) are available here: http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/philosophy_updates/

The Report reflects the Editors’ opinion regarding the conventional distinction between “analytic” and “Continental” philosophy. This distinction has become less and less meaningful over the past generation of philosophers. With the demise of analytic philosophy as a substantive research program since the 1960s, “analytic” simply demarcates a style of scholarship, writing and thinking: clarity, precision and argumentative rigor and substance are supposed to be paramount. Thus, “analytic” philosophy is now largely coextensional with good philosophy and scholarship, regardless of topic or figure. (Of course, there is still a good deal more formal work that goes on under the heading of “analytic” philosophy that has no analogue in other traditions.) It is no surprise, then, that the best work on so-called “continental” figures is done largely by philosophers with so-called “analytic” training.

“Continental”, too, is an increasingly meaningless label: most of the philosophy done on the European Continent these days is philosophical analysis, formal work in logic and semantics, or historical scholarship. While a small minority of philosophers use the label “Continental philosophy” to demarcate a post-modernist mid- to late 20th century movement that developed as a satirical reaction to the style, method and presuppositions of the analytic research program of the time, the label is best-reserved as a characterization of a group of important historical figures largely in Germany and France in the 19th and 20th centuries; in that respect, the label is much like the label “medieval philosophy” or “early modern.” And as with these other historical groupings, there are some overlapping thematic affinities among the figures so designated, but there are also discontinuities and in some cases profound differences (e.g., Husserl has more in common with Frege than with Nietzsche, and Habermas increasingly has more in common with Rawls than Marx).

The collapse of a useful analytic/Continental divide means that there is but one discipline, philosophy, which includes many topics and figures, and which admits of good and bad work. Certainly there remain differences in styles and methods of philosophical work, but those differences are no longer illuminated by the analytic/Continental divide. (Writing style is a function of tone, word choice, sentence structure, organization and purpose e.g. polemic versus expository, etc. Philosophical method are procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge in philosophy, e.g. conceptual analysis, ordinary-language analysis, historical exposition or experimental methods).

While we do not think a meaningful distinction can be drawn between contemporary analytic and Continental philosophy, there remain some important differences in how departments approach philosophy. One concerns the priority different departments give to the history of philosophy. Students can get a good idea of which programs are most committed to history of philosophy by reviewing the Specialty Rankings. Some top 50 departments—like MIT—are not ranked in any historical areas, while others—such as NYU, Princeton, Pittsburgh, Yale, Oxford, and Toronto—are ranked in multiple historical areas. Conversely, some programs give less priority to “contemporary,” substantive areas (like philosophy of mind or metaphysics) in favor of a strong historical orientation: for example, University of Chicago and Boston University.

The Editors of the Report anticipate that there will be groups and departments on the margins of the profession—or who used to be at the top of the profession and whose decline has been charted—who will begrudge the Report’s focus on “analytic” programs. Others will question the usefulness of reputational surveys. But publicly available assessments of anglophone philosophy programs remain of great importance to prospective students in the English-speaking world. The Editors of the Report acknowledge the limitations of the data collected and encourage colleagues around the world to develop evaluative reports of philosophy programs based on criteria other than (or in addition to) professional sentiments about the quality and reputation of faculties in “analytic” programs.

Here is how we recommend students use the overall rankings:

(1) Attend to the actual mean scores, and not simply the ordinal rank of departments: some ordinal differences mark trivial differences in mean scores, others mark more significant differences. Also look at the charts showing the distribution of scores for each department, that will give some sense of the diversity of opinion about a program.

(2) For programs whose mean scores are fairly close (roughly, .4 or less apart), choose a program exclusively on the basis of how well it meets your interests and needs, e.g. because it better meets your intellectual goals offers you a better financial aid package, provides a more supportive intellectual community, and so on.

(3) It can make good sense to choose a much lower ranked program (say, more than 1.0 or more apart) over a higher ranked program if that program meets your special interests. Because Departments are increasingly specialized in their coverage and methodologies, it is quite possible for a lower-ranked program to offer a stronger program in a sub-field than a higher-ranked one. Where you already have a specialized philosophical interest (e.g., ancient philosophy, Kant or philosophy of biology), you should certainly consider choosing a program that is weaker overall, but stronger in your specialty, than others to which you are admitted.

Before choosing any program, of course, make sure that the faculty there are committed to training graduate students. This Report measures professional opinions regarding the comparable philosophical distinction of the faculty, not the quality of their teaching or their commitment to educating young philosophers. (There is, alas, no reliable way to measure these factors.) Anecdotally, at least, it appears that some schools with excellent faculties do not take that much interest in their graduate students (though often their students still get good jobs!).

After identifying programs of general interest, students should investigate the kind of work done in the Department with care. We cannot overemphasize how very different the philosophical climate is at equally departments regarded as equally distinguished. While two different departments may have many distinguished philosophers, the difference in training may be quite dramatic. Ttwo philosophers at distinct programs may both be among the most prominent philosophers at work today, yet this sheds no light on whether their conceptions of philosophy and philosophical problems are similar or completely different.

More Information

Breakdown of Programs By Specialties

Summary of Specialty Rankings


The Study of Philosophy in Law Schools and Top Law Schools

Top Research Universities

Undergraduate Study