April 15, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 14

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    Philosophical Gourmet Report ranks Chicago tops in continental philosophy

    By Theresa Carson
    News Office

    While Hollywood counts on Mr. Blackwell’s annual sartorial critique of celebrities at the Oscars, prospective graduate students look to Blackwell Publishing, the world’s largest independent academic publisher of periodicals, books and educational software, for an evaluation of the best philosophy professors.

    Published by Blackwell, The Philosophical Gourmet Report ranks Chicago’s Philosophy Department first in the field of continental philosophy. Author Brian Leiter, director of the law and philosophy program at the University of Texas at Austin and a visiting professor of law at Yale University, concluded that students who want to devour the works of Georg Hegel, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Jean-Paul Sartre and Michel Foucault should strongly consider Chicago.

    The Philosophical Gourmet Report “measures the philosophical distinction of the faculty,” according to Leiter. He writes of the Chicago Philosophy Department on his Web site: “Clearly the best department in the English-speaking world for the study of post-Kantian continental philosophy, especially 19th-century German philosophy.”

    Continental philosophy mainly includes the study of 19th- and 20th-century German and French philosophers, and Chicago has increased its prestige in this field with its recent appointments of Professors John Haugeland and Jim Conant, said Michael Forster, Chairman and Professor in Philosophy.

    Forster said The Philosophical Gourmet Report is an important resource. “It is very much written by someone who keeps his ear to the ground and knows what is happening in departments. De- partments can change very dramatically, very quickly.” Forster suggested students consider not only their areas of interest but also the overall strength of departments.

    Leiter began writing the report in 1989 as an informative tool for University of Michigan undergraduate students applying to graduate schools. The report allowed students to cull the philosophy programs available to them. Through word of mouth, students and academics began to circulate the report. As its popularity grew, Leiter began publishing on the Internet, where the report’s Web site received more than 10,000 hits during its first six months of operation.

    Lingua Franca’s new Real Guide to Graduate School described the report as the ‘standard’ source of information on graduate study in philosophy in the United States and recommended it over the outdated NRC (National Research Council) study,” Leiter writes.

    However, Leiter also acknowledges that the American Philosophical Association does not approve of academic listings. Leiter, whose methods are not empirical, relies upon professional journals, books, professional honors, informal polls and conversations.

    “I keep track of publications in the leading journals and with the top presses; I look at whose work is being discussed and whose books are favorably reviewed; I regularly solicit input from leading experts, junior and senior, in the various subfields of philosophy,” Leiter writes on the Web site. He evaluates the graduate programs on quality of tenured faculty in analytic philosophy, age and breadth of faculty, and quality of junior faculty.

    Always open to feedback, Leiter has received comments that his list is successful in achieving its goal. “The most encouraging result from these surveys is that, in general, most philosophers had relatively few quarrels with the ranking; it was a decided minority of respondents who mentioned more than two or three programs they would either boost or lower in the ranking.”

    The Philosophical Gourmet Report Web site provides a menu of philosophical fields so students can easily find their interests. In evaluations of particular philosophical studies, Chicago appeared in the top 10 several times. It ranked first in the study of Hegel and German idealism, fourth in a five-way tie in the study of Marx, ninth in a two-way tie in the study of Nietzsche, fifth in the study of Freud and tied for first in the study of Foucault. Overall, Chicago’s Philosophy Department ranks 16th in the nation. Leiter’s Web site is located at http://www.blackwellpublishers.co.uk/gourmet/.