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Top Philosophy Departments?

liek0806liek0806 Registered User Posts: 3,316 Senior Member
edited August 2008 in College Search & Selection
What are some schools with top philosophy departments?
Post edited by liek0806 on

Replies to: Top Philosophy Departments?

  • White_RabbitWhite_Rabbit Registered User Posts: 947 Member

    Just my best guesses.
  • bclintonkbclintonk Registered User Posts: 7,121 Senior Member
    According to The Philosophical Gourmet, which puts together a widely cited survey of leading philosophers, the current rankings are:

    1. NYU
    2. Rutgers
    3. (tie) Princeton
    3. (tie) Michigan
    5. Pittsburgh
    6. Stanford
    7. (tie) Harvard)
    7. (tie) MIT
    7. (tie) UCLA
    10. (tie) Columbia
    10. (tie) UNC Chapel Hill
    12. UC Berkeley
    13. (tie) U Arizona
    13. (tie) Notre Dame
    13. (tie) U of Texas
    16. (tie) Brown
    16. (tie) Cornell
    16. (tie) USC
    16. (tie) Yale
    20. (tie) UC Irvine
    20. (tie) UC San Diego
    20. (tie) Chicago

    For further listings and specialty rankings:

    The Philosophical Gourmet Report 2006 - 2008 :: Overall Rankings

    The editor of The Philosophical Gourmet, philosopher and legal scholar Brian Leiter, also argues that for undergraduate study of philosophy, a smaller LAC may be preferable, provided it has a "strong philosophy faculty" that is "doing philosophical work at the research university level." Leiter lists as examples Amherst, Dartmouth, Caltech, Reed, the University of Vermont, and Wellesley, but he also lists a number of others:

    The Philosophical Gourmet Report 2006 - 2008 :: Undergraduate Study

    My own view, for what it's worth, is that Leiter overstates the degree to which undergraduate teaching at top research universities is done by grad students, especially in fields like philosophy which tend to have relatively few undergrad majors. My own experience at Michigan, for example, is that I went from small, introductory-level honors courses taught entirely by tenured and tenure-track faculty members, to upper-level courses also taught exclusively by tenured and tenure-track faculty, who numbered among the leading scholars in the field. My only interaction with philosophy grad students at Michigan was as classmates in upper-level (400-level) courses in my junior and senior years; never as my instructors. And because Michigan was then and continues to be one of the top graduate programs in the field, that meant I was taking classes with, and competing against, some of the best and brightest in the field.
  • liek0806liek0806 Registered User Posts: 3,316 Senior Member
    thank you for the responses. I appreciate the links, i was wondering about the liberal art schools as well, and the second link gave a good list.
  • sheepsheep Registered User Posts: 42 Junior Member
    University of Pittsburgh has an EXCELLENT philosophy department although I cannot say the same for the campus and students.
    I live a few blocks away from Pitt and have taken classes there...
  • sheepsheep Registered User Posts: 42 Junior Member
    sorry, accidental double post.
  • CincinnatistudentCincinnatistudent Registered User Posts: 410 Member
    I'll post the whole section on undergraduate study, just because it mentions Rice. ;)

    Over the years, many high school students or their parents have contacted me to inquire how to use the Report with respect to choosing an undergraduate institution. The first point to make is that the focus of this Report is on graduate study only: Pittsburgh may have an outstanding philosophy department, but it might make more sense for a good student interested in philosophy to do his or her undergraduate work at Johns Hopkins or Amherst, where student-faculty ratios are more favorable, and where there is a stronger focus on undergraduate education. Many faculty at major departments did not do their undergraduate work at institutions with top-ranked PhD programs. The tenured faculty at Michigan, for example, includes folks who did undergraduate work at Wesleyan, Tulane, Oberlin, and John Carroll, among other places. The tenured faculty at Texas includes folks who did undergraduate work at Missouri, Michigan State, and UVA. There are eminent philosophers—who have held or now hold tenured posts at top ten departments—who did their undergraduate work at the University of New Mexico, Queens College (New York), and the University of Pittsburgh. It is possible to get good philosophical training in many undergraduate settings.

    High school students interested in philosophy would do best to identify schools that have strong reputations for undergraduate education first. Only then, should they look in to the quality of the philosophy department. Some ranked PhD programs have good reputations for undergraduate education, like Princeton, Yale, Brown and Rice, among many others. The larger universities (like Harvard or Michigan or Texas) tend to offer a more mixed undergraduate experience, largely due to their size. Since much of the teaching at those institutions will be done by graduate students, it pays to go to a school with a strong PhD program, since that will affect the intellectual caliber of teachers you will encounter.

    Among schools that do not offer the PhD or MA in philosophy, those with the best philosophy faculties would probably include: Amherst College, California Institute of Technology, Dartmouth College, Reed College, University of Vermont, and Wellesley College . But many other good liberal arts colleges and universities that only offer a B.A. have strong philosophy faculties as well (i.e., faculties doing philosophical work at the research university level), for example: Barnard College; Bates College; Brandeis University; California State University at Northridge; Colby College; Colgate University; Davidson College; Franklin & Marshall College; Haverford College; Mt. Holyoke College; Iowa State University; Kansas State University; New College (South Florida); North Carolina State University; Oberlin College; Occidental College; Pomona College; Smith College; Southern Methodist University; Swarthmore College; Trinity University (San Antonio); University of Alabama at Birmingham; University of Delaware; University of Massachusetts at Boston; Vassar College; Virginia Commonwealth University; Wesleyan University; Western Washington University; and College of Willliam & Mary, among others. (This list is not exhaustive; see below for how to evaluate other programs.) St. John's College, the "great books" school at both Annapolis and Santa Fe, offers strong historical coverage of the field, but weaker coverage of contemporary philosophy; still, many St. John's grads do well in admissions to graduate school.

    In general, when looking at the philosophy department of a liberal arts college, you should look at two things. (1) Does the department provide regular offerings in the history of philosophy (ancient, modern, Continental), formal logic, value theory (moral and political philosophy), and some combination of metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language and philosophy of mind. You will need courses in most of these areas to be adequately prepared for graduate study, not to mention to get a serious education in philosophy. (2) Where did the faculty earn their PhD? The majority of the faculty at any good department should have earned PhDs from well-ranked programs (as a rule of thumb, those in the top 50). If significant numbers of faculty earned their PhDs elsewhere, be wary. Some liberal arts colleges, even some very good ones, have philosophy faculties that are now pretty far on the margins of the discipline.

    You might also consider contacting the philosophy department at an undergraduate institution you are considering to inquire about where graduates have gone on for PhD study. A school like Reed sends more students on to top PhD programs than most universities with top twenty philosophy departments; that says something important about the quality of the philosophical faculty and curriculum. Amherst also provides interesting and impressive information about its alumni in academia: see https://cms.amherst.edu/academiclife/departments/philosophy/alumni/alumni_in_philosophy.
  • CincinnatistudentCincinnatistudent Registered User Posts: 410 Member
    Although BClintonk does post links, I think he doesn't accurately summarizes Leiter's remarks. Leiter emphasizes that those schools with top PhD programs don't necessarily line up with those offering the best undergraduate philosophy, not that the two can't intersect. He mentions a few that do, and mentions which LACs are best. That's all.

    Also, Leiter went to Michigan and taught at Texas, so I'd imagine he has some idea what's going on at those schools, or at least what was going on.
  • nocousinnocousin - Posts: 841 Member
    Any of the 28 Jesuit Colleges and Universities in the country. Jesuits are renowned for their Philosophy.
  • bclintonkbclintonk Registered User Posts: 7,121 Senior Member
    ^^ Cincinnati,
    I'm not sure where, exactly, you think I mischaracterized Leiter's remarks, but I just don't see it. I acknowledge that I did not capture all the many twists and turns in his characterization, which are either exceedingly subtle or just confused---I'm not sure which. The first point I'd make is that the rankings of departments listed above is the result of a survey of philosophers. What Leiter says about undergraduate education is his own personal view, and does not necessarily represent a consensus in the field---though like anyone, he's entitled to his opinion.

    But what does he say about undergrad education in philosophy? Well, first, that he favors undergraduate education at institutions with low student/faculty ratios and a strong emphasis on undergrad education. No surprise there: Leiter did his own undergrad at Princeton. Second---and possibly contradicting the first, or at least in tension with it---he goes on to argue that one can get a good education in philosophy at many different kinds of schools, not just the schools with top grad programs; at this point he goes on to list a wide variety of undergrad institutions, some of them smaller schools with favorable s/f ratios (Wesleyan, Tulane, Oberlin, John Carroll), some not (Missouri, Michigan State, UVA, U New Mexico, Queen's College, and Pittsburgh---which at the beginning of the same paragraph he had treated, IMO, somewhat dismissively, favoring schools with "a stronger focus on undergraduate education").

    Then he goes right back to point #1: look for a schools with a strong undergraduate emphasis (praising in particular Princeton, Yale, Brown and Rice) and criticizing the "larger" schools (criticizing in particular Harvard, Michigan, and Texas) where he claims [exaggerating, IMO] that "much of the teaching . . . will be done by graduate students" at these schools. [It is on this point that I took issue, arguing his characterization was misleading---though perhaps I should have made clear he was referring to "big" top schools, not all top schools, since clearly he favors Princeton]. But then he almost reverses field once more, arguing essentially (as I read it) that if you do go to a big school, it should be one with a top Ph.D. program "since that will affect the intellectual caliber of teachers you will encounter." [My point was that in my own experience at Michigan---shared by anyone who enters Michigan in the Honors Program---my only "encounters" with grad students came from having them as my classmates in upper-level courses, never from having them as teachers. Furthermore, there is NO philosophy major at Michigan who will ever have more than a couple of introductory courses taught by grad students, because tenured and tenure-track faculty teach the upper-level courses (as well as some of the intro courses)].

    Leiter then goes on to list some LACs and smaller universities whose philosophy departments he regards highly; and finally goes on to suggest that in choosing a LAC, you consider 1) the breadth of course offerings in key areas of philosophy, and 2) where the philosophy faculty got their Ph.D.s.

    I strongly agree on these latter two criteria. I also submit, however, that if you take the first of these criteria seriously, most LACs stack up quite poorly against the leading philosophy departments. Indeed, in a recent post elsehwere on CC, I pointed out that even Amherst--the first LAC listed by Leiter for the strength of its philosophy faculty--offered no courses in 2007-08 in such key areas as epistemology, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of language (OK, one seminar on Quine and Wittgenstein, important figures to be sure but only a smallish slice of the field), much less on philosophy of religion, philosophy of law, any kind of non-Western philosophy, or numerous other offerings that would be routine in a major philosophy department.

    So where does Leiter stand? Basically, he thinks his undergrad education at Princeton was ideal. Other than that, choose a school with a strong undergrad focus but make sure it offers a full range of courses (ruling out most LACs, IMO). Unless you don't, in which case you might go to a school with a top grad grad program because at least you'll have smart TAs. Unless you don't, in which case you might go to a large school without a top grad program (e.g., Michigan State, Missouri, U of New Mexico) and according to Leiter still do just fine, perhaps ending up on a top philosophy faculty like Michigan or Texas.

    All clear now?
  • 2forcollege2forcollege Registered User Posts: 728 Member
    Agree with Billclintonk that U Mich has a great program. I'm advising my older D to apply there for grad school when the time comes. She's currently a very happy Philosophy major at New College of FL.

    NCF is a small public LAC that has a very strong philosophy program with many students going onto elite grad schools. If you're interested in Philosophy and attending an LAC, it's worth looking into.
  • flyzeggsflyzeggs Registered User Posts: 120 Junior Member
    I don't think any school can compare with Berkeley in "neurophilosophy" (and even theoretical neuroscience), I'm beginning to really like Berkeley!
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