Philosophy Graduate Programs

The Present State of Rankings in Philosophy

Currently, there are no rankings of graduate programs and departments in philosophy that are not controversial.  On this site we will explore why this is the case, and offer options for prospective graduate students and academics seeking information about philosophy programs and departments.  Below is a statement on rankings from the American Philosophical Association, the largest organization of professional philosophers in the United states.  The statement is located on the APA’s site, here.


The following statement was prepared by the committee on the status and future of the  profession (Peter French, chair) and approved by the board of officers at its 2003 meeting. This statement was updated at the 2009 board of officers meeting. 

The American Philosophical Association does not rank departments of philosophy and their graduate and/or undergraduate programs nor does it sponsor or endorse any rankings of philosophy departments or programs that are compiled by others.

The American Philosophical Association recognizes that there is often a need for comparative information about departments and programs. It therefore encourages students and administrators seeking such information not to rely on any single source but rather to check a wide variety of sources and to consider each source critically. General information can be found in the APA’s Guide to Graduate Programs in Philosophy. The APA also encourages people seeking comparative information about departments and programs to use the links on the APA website to examine the graduate programs offered by various departments, and to consult with chairpersons or graduate directors.

The Philosophical Gourmet Report

The Philosophical Gourmet Report is the most widely known ranking of graduate programs in philosophy.  It is also extremely controversial.  After a threatened boycott in the fall of 2014 over alleged unprofessional and uncollegial behavior by its editor, Brian Leiter, the 2014-2015 PGR experienced a significant loss in the number of its evaluators.  Two striking examples:  first, the total number of evaluators in the Philosophy of Language was down by almost 50% from 2011; second, the PGR could not find a sufficient number of evaluators to evaluate in Feminist Philosophy in 2014, and instead combined results from 2011 and 2014, and still had only twelve evaluators. It should be noted that these losses were sustained even after it was announced that Berit Brogaard had agreed to serve as a co-editor for 2014-2015, and that Brian Leiter would step down as an editor after the 2014-2015 PGR was complete.  In addition to the boycott statement over Professor Leiter’s actions, there was also a call in the fall of 2014 by other philosophers not to participate in the evaluation process because of deep problems with the PGR itself.

There are many criticisms of the PGR.  It is not scientific.  It is methodologically flawed.  It has marginalized large swathes of the profession, those that have been viewed unfavorably by Brian Leiter.  And it helps sustain the underrepesentation of women and people of color in the profession.  On this site you will find links to articles and essays identifying the various problems with the PGR.  It is an excellent example of why the APA does not endorse rankings in philosophy.

The PGR was the invention of one person, Brian Leiter.   As a graduate student in the 1990’s he realized that there was a market for a ranking of graduate programs in philosophy.  He developed one, and circulated it in photocopy.  By the late 1990s it was posted on the web.  Leiter also understood that there was a market for a website that could function as an aggregator for goings-on in the profession, so he created a blog to report (and comment on) these items.  Leiter cornered the rankings market, and then relocated elements of the original PGR—news about faculty moves, tenurings, job offers etc.—to his blog, effectively making the two web publications extensions of each other.  The rankings needed the information that the blog supplied, and the blog drew on the influence and notoriety of the rankings.  Once the blog was off the ground, Leiter could sell space on his blog to advertisers, using the traffic, drummed up in part by the PGR, as a draw.   Although Professor Leiter was supposed to have stepped down as co-editor of the PGR by the beginning of 2015, he appears to retain the copyright, and his blog is still linked to the PGR.   The organization and commentary on the PGR still bear the stamp of his personal tastes regarding what is properly called philosophy.

Readers are invited to submit items for inclusion in the collection of articles and items below.  Some of the titles appear with excerpts, and some are listed under more than one category.


Overview of the Controversy

An Open Letter to Prospective Evaluators for the 2014-2015 Philosophical Gourmet Report–An Update  (Aboulafia)

Brian Leiter’s Continuing Influence on the Philosophical Gourmet Report: The Past as Future (Aboulafia)

Rank-and-Yank: What’s Next for the Philosophy Rankings Game?  (Aboulafia)

The Rise and Fall of the Philosophical Gourmet Report   (Ben Alpers)

…I think that the rise and fall of the PGR will be a wonderful future topic for U.S. intellectual historians. The appeal of such a ranked list tells us interesting things about the field of philosophy in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, as do the specific philosophical preferences of Leiter and the PGR. And the timing of the PGR’s collapse is also interesting, as it comes in the midst of a moment in which the philosophical profession is doing serious soul-searching over the problem of (often gendered) bullying within it. And these are just some of the interesting – and important – aspects of this story.

Discussions of Philosophy Rankings  (A posting of items by Richard Heck)

Further contributions to the intellectual history of the PGR (John Protevi)

Archive of the Meltdown  (Many links to posts on the controversy surrounding Brian Leiter and the PGR, fall 2014,  Leigh Johnson.)

1979 and 2014  (Bharath Vallabha)


Methodological and Procedural Problems with the PGR

The New Philosophical Gourmet Report Indicts Itself (Aboulafia)

The Philosophical Gourmet Report, by the Experts  (Aboulafia)

The Incovenience of Rigor: The Pseudo-Science of the PGR  (Aboulafia)

The Dog Ate My (Philosophical Gourmet) Report  (Aboulafia)

Appearance and Reality in The Philosophical Gourmet Report: Why the Discrepancy Matters to the Profession of Philosophy (Bruya)

(From the article’s abstract.)  The article demonstrates that the actual value of the PGR, in its current form, is not nearly as high as it is assumed to be and that the PGR is, in fact, detrimental to the profession. The article lists and explains five objections to the methods and methodology of the report. Taken together, the objections demonstrate that the report is severely flawed, failing to provide the information it purports to and damaging the profession overall.

Our Naked Emperor: The Philosophical Gourmet Report  (Zachery Ernest)

It is my contention that the Report is not merely unsound as a ranking system and detrimental to the profession; it is obviously unsound as a ranking system and obviously detrimental to the profession. Indeed, its flaws are so obvious that it would seem to be unnecessary to discuss them. However, the Report is also an institution unto itself. It is so deeply entrenched into the profession of academic philosophy that otherwise highly intelligent and critical professionals seem to have developed a blind spot to it. Indeed, the Report’s flaws are so obvious and so severe that I find it embarrassing to be influenced by it, even unwillingly.

About the Philosophical Gourmet Report   (Richard Heck)

Another, and in some ways more serious, worry concerns the influence the Report has upon the profession as a whole. Partly as a result of the factors just mentioned, the overall rankings in the Report are biased towards certain areas of philosophy at the expense of others. The most famous such bias is that against continental philosophy. I don’t much care for that style of philosophy myself, but it isn’t transparently obvious why Leiter’s oft-expressed and very intense distaste for much of what goes on in certain “continental” departments should be permitted to surface so strongly in the rankings.  Other biases are less obvious but every bit as real. It is well understood in the profession that hiring someone pretty good who works in philosophy of mind will have more influence on a department’s overall ranking than will hiring someone much better who works on logic, let alone on ancient or medieval philosophy. I have been told that this fact has actually influenced hiring decisions—told, that is, by people who were present at meetings where such decisions were made.

Ranking Philosophy Programs   (Noelle McAfee)

Philosophy Rankings  (Noelle McAfee)

I ask any administrator who is taking seriously the Leiter report to confer with the statisticians in his or her own university to get an objective measure of the soundness of these rankings’ methodologies.

Rankings Exercises in Philosophy and Implicit Bias, Section Three (Jennifer Saul)

It is very important that university administrators be made aware of the possible discriminatory effects of using likely Gourmet Report rankings as a method for making hiring decisions. Given the way that reputations are created and perpetuated, the workings of implicit bias, and methodology of the Gourmet Guide, it is highly likely that members of stigmatized groups will have less impressive reputations than they actually deserve. Using a reputational guide like the Gourmet Report as a guide to hiring, then, is likely to have detrimental effects on members of stigmatized groups. Worse yet, one of the best ways to follow the advice “hire someone who will improve our Gourmet ranking” would be to deliberately discriminate. Because of this, it cannot in good conscience be used as a guide to hiring. It would be worth investigating the implications of this legally as well.
To this one might counter that the rater pool is, despite appearances, an accurate representation of the larger community of research active philosophers.  As I mentioned in my previous post, this position is hard to reconcile with objective measures of research activity, like the one that Jon Kvanvig put together at Certain Doubts.   But we don’t even need to bother wading into the controversies surrounding bibliometrics to clear this objection. Instead, simply look at the PGR itself and consider whether its own judgment of research excellence across its own 33 areas of specialization is reflected in the composition of the PGR evaluator pool.  Put simply, does the PGR walk the PGR talk? The answer is, No, not really.
The PGR assumes that departments of philosophy are things which can be sensibly ordered, even though there is little cross-specialty agreement within its own highly biased evaluator pool. The health of the field may well turn on embracing this lack of consensus rather than trying to paper over it. . . . The Philosophical Gourmet Report is philosophy’s bubble.  It is no longer so much a question of whether it will pop, but when. (Although I am not holding my breath.)  And when it does pop, when the collective scales fall from our eyes and forehead smacks are heard in faculty lounges across the land, all of us, but particularly our elders, will owe Richard Heck an apology for not having had his back 15 years ago.  He was right.
[R]anking systems encourage premature dogmatism, whereby the favoured topics, approaches and methodology of those working at the top-ranked institutions (either absolutely, or relative to a given specialty) takes on the sheen of ‘to be accepted’ by others. Hence it is that so many talented philosophers of the past generation have spent their valuable time working within frameworks whose foundational presuppositions are clearly and immediately questionable, while more plausible and illuminating approaches to the topics at issue are neglected….


Exclusionary Dimensions of the PGR

A Portrait of the 2014 Philosophical Gourmet Report by the Numbers  (Aboulafia)

The Halo Culture: Taking the Rankings Challenge  (Aboulafia)

Rankings Exercises in Philosophy and Implicit Bias, Section Three (Jennifer Saul)

The Function of the Philosophical Gourmet Report  (Bharath Vallabha)

Not only does PGR retain much of the traditional structures, it in fact implicitly enables the internet to be used to expand the reaches of the traditional structures and to further marginalize less powerful departments. Even as it enables a few students from less prestigious departments to make it into the upper echelons of the profession, PGR worsens the situation for most  departments by rendering them voiceless in the public understanding of the profession. . . .

What is lost, and covered over, is the idea that there could be different forms of philosophical local knowledge, that different departments think of philosophy in very different terms, with their own subcultures of the projects to be pursued, forms of argumentation, characteristic limitations and so on.  PGR fosters the sense that across “the English-Speaking World” there is a single, shared sense of doing  philosophy, and that this shared sense of philosophy works as the measuring stick by which all departments in the “English-Speaking World” can be evaluated.

PGR’s Supposed Altruism  (Bharath Vallabha)


The Philosophical Gourmet Report by the Numbers

 A Portrait of the 2014 Philosophical Gourmet Report by the Numbers   (Companion piece, The Philosophical Gourmet Report, by the Experts)  (Aboulafia)

With a Bang–The PGR in Free Fall (Aboulafia)

Not With a Bang But With a Whimper—Falling Rates of Participation in the Philosophical Gourmet Report  (Aboulafia)

Placement Data  (Bharath Vallabha)

The main fact that jumps out from the data is that only 13% of the graduates from US PGR ranked programs obtained tenure track positions in PGR ranked programs. Meaning that in order to place their graduate students in jobs, the ranked departments are undeniably dependent on the unranked programs. Not just a little dependent, but mostly dependent.

The Function of the Philosophical Gourmet Report  (Bharath Vallabha)


Personal Experiences with the PGR

How Leiterism Can Be Bad for You   (Gabriele Contessa)


Suggested Alternatives to the PGR

The Pluralist Guide to Philosophy Programs   (Linda Martín Alcoff, Paul Taylor, William Wilkerson)

Thinking Outside the Box (or, A Real Alternative to Rankings)   (Aboulafia)

A Search Engine for Philosophy   (Noelle McAfee)



Information on Graduate Programs in a World without Rankings

This section contains links to sites helpful to prospective graduate students in philosophy.  But first a word about why we should have reservations about rankings of the overall quality of philosophy departments.

Why not use rankings? 

Rankings of the quality of academic departments, those that claim to say which programs are the best overall, can be problematic.  In addition to the difficulties faced by other disciplines in determining ordinal rankings of quality–for example, agreeing on variables and how much they should weigh–philosophy faces two related issues that make accurate and fair ranking of departments and graduate programs especially problematic.  First, the notion of what counts as good philosophy, or philosophy at all, is highly contested.  This is not unique to the 21st century–it was there at the start, for example, among the Greeks in the West.  Second, the number of specializations in philosophy is very high, and many involve methods and content that differ significantly from those of others.  How much does the specialist in philosophy of mathematics share with the expert in Medieval philosophy?  Differences of this sort pervade the discipline.  If we think about just these two factors, we can see that finding a common standard by which to rank departments would be extremely difficult.  In addition, rankings by specialty area face the same problem: even within specializations, there can be very different ways of understanding the nature of philosophy.  Finally, as do other disciplines, philosophy has fashions and ideologies that elevate certain areas of study over others in different periods.  Scholars in those areas who produce overall rankings carry their tastes and their influence into the data, which are distorted as a result.

The Alternatives

Without rankings, how can students figure out which programs they should pursue?  Prospective graduate students should consider a range of factors in choosing a graduate program.  Among them:

  • Are there experts on the faculty in the areas that you may be interested in studying? (Faculty CVs and lists of publications etc., conferences and other events hosted by the department, area-specific awards.)
  • Do members of the faculty regularly publish in the areas you wish to study? (Again, faculty CVs etc.)
  • What is the job placement record of the program, including the nature of employment, the type of school, the location, number of years from PhD?
  • What is the attrition rate of the program, that is, how many students actually finish?  (This is a factor often neglected in assessment of programs.  It’s great to get into a well-known program, but not so great if only 30% of the students complete it.)
  • The teaching and mentoring quality of the faculty (awards, availability, faculty-student ratios, etc.).
  • School location.  (For example, the school may be part of a consortium–allowing students to increase their options in terms of courses and additional mentors–at nearby schools there will be talks and study groups independent from a student’s own program.)
  • Financial support (tuition waivers, assistantships/fellowships, work study, financial aid, funding for language study).
  • Does the program have a terminal masters degree?  Are those students funded?  How many, if any, MA students are admitted to the PhD program each year?
  • The graduate curriculum or the courses actually taught in the department.  Catalogs may list many courses not regularly taught.  Look at semester schedules to see what has actually been taught in the last year or two.
  • The program requirements for the degree (exams, papers, language requirements, courses, etc.)
  • Average number of years to complete degree.  (See link below.)
  • Teaching and research opportunities for graduate students.
  • The research interests of the graduate students currently in the program (titles of dissertations, articles, projects, groups).
  • The experience of students in the program in general: is it a congenial place for everyone, including women and members of underrepresented groups in philosophy?  Do people (faculty, students, staff) work well together?
  • Look for an organization of graduate students in the department that you can contact to learn more about the program.

Most of these factors are uncontroversially relevant to judgments about philosophy programs.  But they are generally invisible in overall or reputational rankings of programs.  So where do prospective students find this information?

First, the bad news: much of this information is not readily available in one location on the web.  Prospective students will need to speak with mentors about their interests and abilities, and spend time themselves doing research on the web.

Second, the good news.  Members of the philosophy profession have recognized that there has been insufficient information available on line on graduate programs, and are beginning to remedy the situation.  For example, some have collected job placement data for publication on the internet (see links below).

And more good news:  department web sites have markedly improved over the last decade.  You can now find all sorts of information on the better ones, including, for example, placement records, interests of the graduate students in the program (students often have their own pages now), conference programs, etc..

Available resources currently include:

  • “Job Placement 2011-2014: Comparing Placement Rank to PGR Rank” (Updated 9/17/2014),

  • PhilJobs (APA)  Tracking the Appointments of Philosophers  (A new Feature of PhilJobs).
  • PhilPapers   A searchable database for the publications of philosophers.