Thursday, August 14, 2014

SEP Citation Analysis Continued: Jewish, Non-Anglophone, Queer, and Disabled Philosophers

Last week, I created a list of the 267 most-cited philosophers in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I analyzed this group by gender and ethnicity, finding only 10% women and 3% ethnic minority. I've done some further analyses, but several people have urged me also to look at some other groups that might suffer prejudice, to see how they show on the list.

Before getting into that, let me emphasize: I regard this list as a rough metric of a sociological phenomenon, mainstream visibility in recent Anglophone/analytic philosophy. I do not regard it as a metric of objective quality or importance from a global perspective.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Philosophers:

Judith Butler, David Hull, and Kwame Anthony Appiah are pretty visible members of this group. Among philosophers deceased 20 years or more ago, H.L.A. Hart and Richard Montague are also widely viewed as LGBT. I am hesitant to name living or recently deceased philosophers, even if they are "out", unless they seem willing to put themselves forward publicly as examples, but based on conversations I've had with others in the discipline, I estimate a minimum of 2-4 additional LGBT philosophers among the 267. It's perhaps also worth noting that two of the most famous gay men of the 20th century almost make the list, Michel Foucault (20 entries) and Alan Turing (19). I welcome further information, but only if consistent with respecting people's privacy. It's an interesting question to what extent current Anglophone philosophy exhibits prejudice against this group (and whether perhaps there is more prejudice against transgender people than against other LGBT people).

Disabled Philosophers:

I know no philosophers on this list who have a very visibly obvious physical disability (excepting those who acquired disability later in life, often due to ageing, after their reputation was established), unless we include Paul Feyerabend, who walked heavily on a cane due to a war injury. Please correct me if I am mistaken! Less obvious disabilities are of course more difficult to identify, and it's not clear exactly how to categorize disability. I am aware of a couple philosophers on this list who have disvalued speech patterns such as stuttering. I hesitate to spotlight individual living or recently deceased people in this category unless they put themselves forward, but the ancient Chinese philosopher Han Feizi is interesting in this connection: He is said to have stuttered so much that he turned to writing so that his opinions would be taken seriously. Certainly, too, there are at least a few philosophers on this list with histories of depression, severe anxiety, and/or alcoholism, as well as serious chronic physical diseases, though my information here is too sketchy to warrant quantitative analysis. Shelley Tremain has recently presented data suggesting that in North America the percentage of employable disabled people in philosophy departments is very much less than the percentage in the general population.

Non-Anglophone Philosophers:

I have already commented on how Anglophone this list is. Foucault, for example, at 20 entries by my method, doesn't even rank. (He does have his own dedicated entry, though.) Anglophone/analytic philosophers just don't cite recent European philosophers very much. (Here's one analysis I did in 2012 that shows the amazing magnitude of this tendency in the top-ranked journals.) Can we quantify this a bit more?

I've done some quick biographical searches of the top 50 philosophers on this list (actually 53, given ties). If my biographical information is correct, only nine (17%) were born in non-Anglophone countries. But actually that substantially underestimates Anglophone dominance. Derek Parfit was born in China, but to English parents who returned to England when he was still an infant. Thomas Nagel was born in Yugoslavia but was educated at Cornell, Oxford, and Harvard. Bas van Fraassen was born in Netherlands but emigrated with his family to Canada when he was 14 or 15. Timothy Williamson was born in Sweden but went to grammar school in England, and then Oxford. Nicholas Rescher was born in Germany but came to the U.S. at age ten. Joseph Raz was born in Mandate Palestine and got a Magister Juris at Hebrew University, but then went to Oxford for his doctorate and publishes entirely or almost entirely in English. That leaves Alfred Tarski (Polish), Karl Popper (Austrian), and Jaakko Hintikka (Finnish) as the least Anglophone members of the group, though both Popper and Hintikka still published mostly in English. Worth noting, too: All three are in the oldest generation I analyzed (born 1900-1930).

Among the top ten philosophers on the list, eight were born in the U.S., one in Britain (Bernard Williams), and Nagel went from Yugoslavia to the U.S.

Again, please correct me if I have committed any errors.

I doubt that the proper moral to draw is that Heidegger was right that philosophy is best done in certain languages but wrong about which particular language is the best.

Jewish Philosophers:

Eric Schliesser comments that this list "is a testament to the successful emancipation of Jewish men in the Anglophone world". And maybe that's right. Fully half of the top ten philosophers on this list are Jewish or have Jewish backgrounds: Putnam, Kripke, Nozick, Nagel, and Nussbaum. (I'm relying on internet sources of iffy reliability for Nagel and Nussbaum, so I welcome confirmation or correction.) A quick-and-dirty count using personal knowledge and Wikipedia's list of Jewish philosophers (except in one case where I doubt Wikipedia's accuracy), I count 35/267 (13%), which is probably an underestimate. But even going with that low-ball estimate, the proportion of Jews on this list substantially exceeds the proportion of Jews in the population as a whole (2% of the U.S. population, for example).

But before we hasten too quickly to the conclusion that there is no prejudice against Jewish philosophers, it's worth noting that early 20th century Germany, despite outrageous levels of antisemitism, also had an impressive number of very influential Jewish philosophers, including Edmund Husserl, Ernst Cassirer, Hermann Cohen, Max Scheler, Walter Benjamin and Martin Buber.

[Updated Aug. 15, Aug. 18]


Pedant said...

I'm not sure about this, but I believe that Martha Nussbaum is a convert to Judaism, so it may not be right to describe her as having a Jewish background.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

That's also what I've seen in some internet sources, so I chose my words carefully in writing that they "are Jewish or have Jewish backgrounds". Now some Jews look down on converts to Judaism as not "real Jews", but that's not my view. In this and other ways, Nussbaum is such a delightful exception to the general patterns in these data!

Callan S. said...

What's this looking at - deliberate exclusion or at people not having enough resources to compete onto a list? I mean the human mind is kinda tribe based - we remember about 200 faces then just run out of space. Naturally enough to get on a list means competing for that limited space.

Further what is the queer demographic? It's a fairly small part of the population, isn't it (it's not 50%, for example)? Are we taking proportionism into account? If a demographic is only 5% of the population, is it really fair to say there's a bias if they don't forfil more than 5% of the list? Would 5% be a sign of bias, or simply a reflection of population (and the battle to get on that list)?

clasqm said...

You might find this interesting:

Priya said...


I have a question of a personal nature and would welcome feedback from all who happen to see this comment.

Hopefully it is acceptable to post questions related to personal concerns. If not, my apologies.

I am trying to figure how I can get into a philosophy PhD program. My undergraduate record is not good. I majored in psychology at Carnegie Mellon and had a GPA that was about a 3.4. My GRE was 1400 with a 6/6 writing. I attended undergrad from 2000-2007. So, all in all, it took me 7 years to finish school and get a 3.4 GPA in psych.

I know I will need to first apply to an MA program. I am trying to figure out which MA program is the best for me. I understand that undergrad prestige is valuable to most philosophy graduate programs. Thus, is it advisable for me to try and get an MA from a prestigious MA program? I live in NYC, so Columbia would be the most natural choice for the sake of academic prestige. Or is better to go to the best program designed for placement into PhD programs (like Tufts)?

I wish focus on philosophy of mind, so NYU and CUNY are also strong in that particular field according to the Gourmet report. CUNY is much much cheaper than either NYU or Columbia, but I fear that I really need to get top grades from a prestigious university in order to overcome my bad undergrad record.

On the plus side, I am both a woman and a minority. Can anyone advise?

Thanks so much!

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks, Michel. That's a very interesting post!

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Priya: It's not impossible -- but it will take some work and probably some luck. If you can get into a "name brand" MA program and thrive there, then your prospects for admission to a good PhD program area also good. Most (but not all) prestigious PhD programs don't really admit students just for the terminal MA. One challenge is that the best known MA programs are also very difficult to get into. My sense is that admissions to Tufts' MA (perhaps the best known terminal MA program) is probably as difficult as admission straight into a Leiter-ranked PhD program. But other MA programs are much easier to get into. They vary enormously! Look at placement data, if they have any, and also at attrition/graduation rates. Another option to consider, depending on time, money, extraversion, and/or luck is trying to get your foot in the door by starting to audit undergraduate courses.

I have a series of blog posts on PhD admissions here:

Please feel free to email me, also.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Callan: My sense is that few philosophers deliberately want to exclude any member of three four groups, or women, or ethnic minorities, and that many (perhaps most) would like to increase representation of at least some of these groups. I absolutely agree that proportionality is highly relevant to the analysis -- and yet, as I mention in my discussion of Jewish philosophers, proportional or even-more-than-proportional representation does not necessarily imply a lack of bias. My sense is that these data are highly relevant to the question of bias in the field, but a full case one way or the other requires quite a bit more evidence and interpretation.

Priya said...

Thank you! I will email you to follow up.

Callan S. said...

Hi Eric,

My sense is that few philosophers deliberately want to exclude any member of three four groups, or women, or ethnic minorities, and that many (perhaps most) would like to increase representation of at least some of these groups.

I think it's worthy of philosophical investigation the assumptions about the unspoken claims people appear to make towards certain commitments Vs whether they are making those claims at all or simply doing nothing to dispell the general impression that may arise (and does). How much do we float under the radar of expectation in terms of what we actually do?

Besides, if the mind is tribal and only carries about 200 faces/names or so, then it takes more than good intentions. Good intentions are constrained by the very structure they come from.

Perhaps I should just post links for knock off designer jeans and other spam posts - that'd be less annoying! ;)

Katherine said...

Hello Dr. Schwitzgebel,

Sorry for the late response, I've quoted this post on my new site.

I'm a long-term follower and fan of your blog, also a fan of RS Bakker's work, and I commented a while back on a post you made discussing suffering.

Regarding this post: I think there may be systemic reasons why disabled philosophers are not well-represented in academic philosophy, reasons I'm all too familiar with. I was once an exceptional philosophy student but the downstream consequences of a poorly-understood and then-undiagnosed genetic disability, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, forced me out of academia (and society in general).

I've been very fortunate to recently recover my functionality--due in part, interestingly, to my independent philosophical research. However, I find I've been left stranded with what seems to be a poor application, but is in fact a testament to the way in which some disabilities can enhance insight at the expense of participation. I'm not about to let my history of illness, which is actually a philosophical advantage, be viewed as a weakness, and turn my life into a tragedy. If you're interested in my story, and/or my perspective the dearth of disabled philosophers, for what it's worth--please read my story. I know it's long, but the complexity makes the length unavoidable and I believe it may be of interest considering your work. If you have the time and inclination, I would be very grateful for any help you could offer, as I'm in an exceptionally challenging situation and I very much appreciate your work.

Thanks! -Katherine

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for that, Katherine! Sorry for the slow comment approval -- somehow it didn't show in my pending comments list!