Sunday, May 02, 2010

Distribution of Subspecialites among Anglophone Research Philosophers

As background for my work on discussion arcs, I've analyzed the distribution of research interests among research-oriented philosophers. Maybe some readers will find the data interesting.

My sample of research philosophers is non-emeritus professors with their primary appointments in Leiter top-20 ranked Anglophone philosophy departments -- 548 professors total, by my count. I noted the areas of research interest these professors listed on their departmental websites. Most philosophers listed about three to seven areas.

First, I looked at area of specialization, counting only the first listed area:

Then I looked at all listed areas of interest:

I also broke down historical interest by time period (splitting out Asian as a separate category):

Two things jump out at me from these data: first, the almost complete lack of interest in Asian philosophy among Leiter top-20 faculty; and second, the much greater rate of interest in metaphysics and epistemology than specialization in them. Here is a chart displaying the ratio of interest to specialization in the various subfields.

Almost five times as many philosophers list epistemology among their areas of research interest as list it as their first area of specialization. Philosophy of action shows an even higher ratio, though the total numbers are smaller. In contrast, philosophers tend not to express research interest in ethics or philosophy of science unless they list them as their first specialization.

On Continental Philosophy:

I also looked at interest in "continental" philosophy -- that is, interest in 19th and 20th century figures in the German-French tradition, like Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault, and Derrida. Although top-ranked Anglophone departments have a reputation for hostility to 19th and 20th century continental philosophy, 45 philosophers (8.2%) listed continental philosophy or a continental figure among their research interests, an average of 2.3 philosophers per department. About 20% of Anglo-American research philosophers who express a research interest in any area of history of philosophy express a research interest in continental philosophy.


Manuel Vargas said...


Thanks for doing this research and posting it. This sequence of posts have been really fascinating.

A few quick thoughts:

I suspect you'll get a few of your colleagues and grad students who will note that philosophy of action is hard to code, because a number of folks who clearly work on these things don't always list that field as an area of interest, instead just listing it as metaphysics, ethics, or phil mind. So, I suspect the 1.1% figure is a little low. That said, I'd be surprised if it got much higher than 2-3%, and anyway, I do get that you are looked at stated areas of specialization and expertise.

I'm sad to say I'm not surprised at Asian.

How did Latin American philosophy do? I imagine it wouldn't take you any time at all to count up the number of ranked departments with folks listing it as an AOS or AOC, as I think the number for top-20 departments is very close to zero.

Of course, if one just focused on schools in states with large Latino and Asian populations, I suspect you'd find much higher percentage of Asian and Latin American phil-focused faculty, right? :-)

Regina said...

I'm glad you're doing this - it's good data to have, and a public service to the profession.

But may I raise a concern? Why is 'feminism' lumped in under Ethics? Feminist philosophy includes a wide range of issues, especially in epistemology, metaphysics, and the philosophy of science. There are prominent feminist philosophers who do not work in ethics at all. I suspect that similar comments would apply to philosophy of race, although I know less about this.

I have two concerns here. The first is just that this arrangement throws the data off to a certain extent; some people who do not do ethics at all are being counted as doing ethics.

Second, probably more importantly, I worry that this misrepresents the way that feminist philosophy is conceived by many self-identified feminist philosophers. According to many such people, a primary contribution of feminist philosophy is its demonstration of the ways in which gendered language and concepts have - sometimes implicitly - colored the practice of philosophy. This contribution is just as relevant (however relevant one thinks that is) to epistemology as it is to ethics. Counting feminist philosophy as 'ethics', then, denies its standing as a challenging alternative view on philosophy as a whole.

I'm sure you didn't intend anything of that sort. I know compiling this data must have been time-consuming and attending-demanding, and so some issues would inevitably go unexamined. But I did think the point worth raising.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks, Regina. It's a good issue. It is a problem for my coding scheme, as you say, is that "feminism" cross-cuts the ordinary categories. But it also doesn't seem satisfactory to me to break it out as a whole separate category from ethics, political, language, mind, as though it were a different thing from all of those. Since it seems to me that most people interested in feminism have a moral/political aspect to that interest, classifying it under moral/political seemed best. A feminist philosopher of language will be coded as both if she lists both. The main distortion would be if that she lists feminism first, though she really is more a specialist in language than moral/political, she will get coded as moral/political AOS and langauge AOI. My guess is that only a small number of people will be miscoded in that way.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks, Manuel. I'm inclined to agree with your thought about action.

I don't believe that there was a single philosopher in those institutions who listed Latin American philosophy as a research interest. I entered most of the AOIs into my spreadsheet (though I couldn't enter all) and "Latin" retrieves no hits. Nor do I remember seeing such a philosopher. On the other hand, six philosophers listed African or African-American.