I think Brian Leiter should have left comments open on this post so people could lobby publicly in advance of him “post[ing] a few thoughts on the “hierarchy,” as it were, in a bit, in light of the various moves.”
We had a little debate in the TAR offices about where we should claim Cornell now stands. After some heated debate, we agreed that Peacocke leaving for Columbia probably didn’t mean we’d moved above NYU. Funnily enough, those who thought Cornell was now better than NYU were exactly the same people who thought Tampa Bay’s one game lead over the Yankees could hold up over the final 161 games. So if the D-Rays are ahead of the Yankees come October, we might be in a position to claim we’re the best department in New York state.
Given that we aren’t #1 in the state yet, let alone the country, where should Cornell be ranked?
In the category I most care about, philosophical strength of the department members in their 30s, Cornell is presumably about #2 in the world right now, just behind Rutgers. I think Charles, Andrew, Mike, Tamar, Delia, Benj, Zoltan and moi provide as good a young foundation for a department as you’ll find anywhere outside New Jersey. Obviously that group is a little biased towards MME&L, but that means there’s more chance for joint work, collaborative seminars and the like which are good for students. And since Cornell is already a world-class department in history and ethics/political philosophy, a bit of specialisation at the youth end won’t harm the department’s breadth. (In this context it’s worth noting the breadth of interest of Cornell’s grad students, something that probably reflects the department’s across-the-board strengths.)
It’s an interesting question whether young departments are systematically undervalued in a reputational survey. A priori it would seem they would be, since for most philosophers the value of the variable actual quality minus perceived quality will be steadily declining from sometime in their 30s until retirement. Having many young philosophers among those surveyed will help correct this a little, since many people are familiar with the work of their contemporaries. But it can’t correct the entirity of this bias unless you suppose that young philosophers are as (un)familiar with the work of their more senior colleagues as senior philosophers are with the work of people who have only recently appeared on the scene. Ultimately this is an empirical question, so a priori speculation can only go so far, but there’s some reason to think reputational surveys will undervalue young departments, so one of Cornell’s big strengths may go a little undercounted in the gourmet reports surveys.
As for what difference adding me makes, it’s probably easiest to start with the speciality rankings. The biggest differences between the current rankings and how good Cornell now is don’t come primarily from adding me, but I help in each case.
In Philosophical Logic and Philosophy of Logic and Language, defined as “such topics as identity, truth, vagueness, reference, negation, logical form, paradoxes, etc.”, Cornell is listed as Notable, although by now I think we’re plausibly in ‘Excellent’, though the discrepancy is as much due to undervaluing Delia’s and Zoltan’s work in the past as to adding me.
In epistemology we probably move from off the board to Good. As well as hiring me, Cornell has added Tamar and Andrew (who were both hired since the previous rankings were compiled) to a program that already had Dick Miller and Dick Boyd in epistemology and Gail Fine and Charles Brittain doing important work in history of epistemology. And that makes for a solidly Good program.
(Now that I look at it, we’re probably a little better than Good in history of epistemology. Like most people, Brian breaks down history of philosophy by era in his speciality rankings, so history of epistemology is not a category, but if you break down history by subject matter so it existed as a category, we’d look pretty strong in it. As an undergraduate I took a two-semester course in history of political philosophy from the pre-Socratics to the present day, but all the other history courses I remember were organised by period not subject matter. I presume that if I knew more history of philosophy I’d understand the reason for this.)
In metaphysics we move from off the board to either Good or Notable, though again that’s because we were undervalued in the past. And in decision theory we arguably move from off the board to Notable.
Just for kicks, I went through the speciality rankings for each department, and gave each department a score using the following metric – 5 points for Excellent, 3 points for Good, 1 point for Notable. Currently Cornell comes in 21st by that measure, which seems quite low. We’re ranked 16th overall right now, so this metric isn’t doing us any favours. (We aren’t the only ones it undervalues. Rutgers is 7th, only a point ahead of Texas, which says something bad either about the method or the rankings.) But if we make the changes in the previous paragraph, Cornell vaults to 12th, which seems a lot closer to being correct.
Having done that, it seems it leaves something out. Which of the ‘traditional’ categories does the stuff Tamar and I have been doing on imaginative resistance and related topics fit in? From Tamar’s perspective, it’s sort of Mind and Cognitive Science with some epistemology tossed in. In my perspective it’s sort of Mind and Language, crossed with metaphysics. And we’re both presenting papers on it at the American Society for Aesthetics conference in October. So who knows? This is reflective of the fact that Cornell people are generalists. And I think because of this breadth, Cornell is producing interesting work across-the-board. Cornell’s going to be one of the more interesting places to be in the next few years.
Posted by Brian Weatherson in Uncategorized