Thursday, December 02, 2021

Comparing Three (No, Four) Top 20 Lists in Philosophy

Published rankings of philosophers' impact or importance might contribute to reinforcing toxic hierarchies, amplifying academia's unfortunate obsession with prestige. So in some sense, yuck. Nonetheless, I confess to finding rankings of philosophers sociologically interesting. So much in the field depends upon perception. If you're embroiled in the culture of Anglophone academic research philosophy, it's hard not to be curious about, and care about, how the philosophers you admire are perceived, discussed, cited, and evaluated by others.

Naturally, then, I was interested to see the Scopus citation rankings of philosophers recently released at Daily Nous. As noted in the Daily Nous post and various comments, the list has some major gaps and implausibilities, in addition to reflecting the generally science-oriented focus of Scopus. Some people have suggested that Google Scholar is better. However, my own assessment is that, if you're trying to capture something like visibility or influence in mainstream Anglophone academic philosophy, the best (still imperfect) measure is citation in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Let's compare the top 20 from Scopus, Google Scholar, and the Stanford Encyclopedia.


1. Nussbaum, Martha
2. Lewis, David
3. Floridi, Luciano
4. Habermas, Jürgen
5. Pettit, Philip
6. Buchanan, Allen
7. Goldman, Alvin I.
8. Williamson, Timothy
9. Lefebvre, Henri
10. Chalmers, David J.
11. Fine, Kit
12. Hansson, Sven Ove
13. Pogge, Thomas
14. Anderson, Elizabeth
15. Schaffer, Jonathan
16. Walton, Douglas
17. Stalnaker, Robert
18. Sober, Elliott
19. Priest, Graham
20. Arneson, Richard

The top 20 Google Scholar profiles in "philosophy":

1. Martin Heidegger
2. Jacques Derrida
3. Hannah Arendt
4. Friedrich Nietzsche
5. Karl Popper
6. Émile Durkheim
7. Wahid Bhimji
8. Slavoj Zizek
9. Daniel C. Dennett
10. Rom Harré (Horace Romano Harré)
11. George Herbert Mead
12. Mark D. Sullivan
13. Martyn Hammersley
14. Pierre Lévy
15. David Bohm
16. Ernest Gellner
17. Yuriko Saito
18. Mario Bunge
19. Jeremy Bentham
20. Andy Clark

The top 20 most cited philosophers in the Stanford Encyclopedia (full list and methodological details here):

1. Lewis, David K.
2. Quine, W.V.O.
3. Putnam, Hilary
4. Rawls, John
5. Davidson, Donald
6. Kripke, Saul
7. Williams, Bernard
8. Nozick, Robert
9. Nussbaum, Martha
10. Williamson, Timothy
11. Jackson, Frank
11. Nagel, Thomas
13. Searle, John R.
13. Van Fraassen, Bas
15. Armstrong, David M.
16. Dummett, Michael
16. Fodor, Jerry
16. Harman, Gilbert
19. Chisholm, Roderick
19. Dennett, Daniel C.

My subjective impression of the three lists, as an active and fairly well-connected participant in the mainstream Anglophone research philosophy tradition is this. The Scopus list includes a bunch of very influential philosophers, but not an especially well-selected or well-ordered list. The Scholar list starts with several famous "Continental" philosophers who are historically important (but who aren't much cited in the most elite mainstream Anglophone philosophy journals when I checked several years ago), then moves to a number of scholars who aren't primarily known as philosophers (including some who are unknown to me). Only a few among the top twenty are mainstream Anglophone philosophers.

In contrast, when I see the Stanford Encyclopedia list I enjoy the comfortable feeling of prejudices confirmed. If asked to list the recent philosophers who been most influential in the mainstream Anglophone philosophy community, I'd probably produce a list not radically different from that one. I'm not saying that these are the most important philosophers, or the best, or those likeliest to be remembered by history (though maybe they will be). And I'm not saying that the list is perfect. But as a measure of approximate prominence in mainstream Anglophone philosophy, the SEP list seems pretty good and much better than the Scopus or Scholar lists.

Besides my own insider's sense, which you might or might not share, I see at least three sources of convergent evidence supporting the validity of the Stanford Encyclopedia list as a measure of prominence. One is Brian Leiter's 2014 ranking of philosophy departments by SEP citation rates, which correlates not too badly with Philosophical Gourmet rankings from the same period. That suggests that departments with philosophers highly cited in the Stanford Encyclopedia tend to be rated well by Philosophical Gourmet raters. Another is Brian Leiter's poll asking people to rank the "most important Anglophone philosophers, 1945-2000", which generates a top five list very similar to the Stanford Encyclopedia top 5: Quine, Kripke, Rawls, Lewis, and Putnam. A third is Kieran Healy's 2013 citation analysis of four prominent Anglophone philosophy journals (Phil Review, J Phil, Mind, and Nous), which yields a similar list of names at the top: Kripke, Lewis, Quine, Williamson.

Eric Schliesser sometimes discusses what he call the "PGR ecology" -- the Anglophone philosophical community roughly centered on late 20th-century philosophers from Princeton, Harvard, and Oxford, and their students. There is a sociological reality here worth noticing, in which prominence is roughly captured by belonging to departments highly rated in the Philosophical Gourmet, by publishing in or being cited in the four journals chosen by Healy, and by being cited in the Stanford Encyclopedia. The SEP citation metric does, I think, a much better job of capturing prominence in this community than do other better known measures like citation rates in Scopus, Google Scholar, or Web of Science.


After writing this post, I noticed that PhilPapers can generate a list ranking philosophers by citations in the PhilPapers database. The results:

1. David K. Lewis
2. Daniel C. Dennett
3. John R. Searle
4. Alvin Goldman
5. Fred Dretske
6. Noam Chomsky
7. Thomas Nagel
8. David Chalmers
9. Jürgen Habermas
10. Michel Foucault
11. Jaegwon Kim
12. Philip Kitcher
13. Ned Block
14. Kit Fine
15. Ian Hacking
16. Tyler Burge
17. Gilbert Harman
18. William G. Lycan
19. Alasdair MacIntyre
20. Martha Nussbaum

One striking difference from the Stanford Encyclopedia list is the high ranking of three figures sociologically somewhat outside mainstream Anglophone academic philosophy: Chomsky, Habermas, and Foucault. Dennett's, Searle's, and Chalmers's comparatively high rankings might also partly reflect their broader uptake in academia, though that wouldn't I think explain Goldman's or Kim's also comparatively high rankings.

Clearly, what we need is a ranking of philosophy rankings!


Dan P said...

What would be the effect on these lists of filtering according who is most likely to be wrong?

The number one spot would still go to David Lewis.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Ha! There's a counterpart of you in another possible world who completely disagrees.

Matti Meikäläinen said...

We are a culture addicted to various types of merit ranking schemes. Why is that?

Arnold said...

"Psychological characteristics associated with COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and resistance in Ireland and the United Kingdom"...Abstract and introduction

Is all philosophy today only social... philosophers today use this kind of language/mind for the human condition...

Is morality different but necessary to know and understand for our survival...
...on this planet...

SelfAwarePatterns said...

Similar to Dan P, when I see citations used to measure influence, I always wonder how many of those citations are of something taken to be an authoritative source, or for purposes of refuting what that source said. Some citations seem to be of the type noting that, for completeness, there are alternate fringe views, and here's an example.

Although I suppose getting everyone to say you're wrong, or even just acknowledge you as the crazy fringe theorist, is a type of influence.

Matti Meikäläinen said...

It is fascinating that we make such lists, mostly irrelevant, about so many things. One wonders what a similar list written 100 years ago would include and, oddly, one also wonders why philosophers of all people, are not more sensitive to the fallacy “Argumentum ad populum.”

Phil Ossofee said...

Really interesting. The SEP ranking seems an accurate rating of philosophers of other philosophers. That is important because it is a) a fairly accurate account of what experts in the field regard as most influential, and b) a sign of incestuas-ness (is that a word? No) or clubby-ness. By contrast, the other rankings are influenced who are either a) philosophically unsophisticated or b) not in the club. I prefer the a) answers, but I worry about the b) issue.

Arnold said... ... this link/site is about changing peoples biases beliefs ethics morals by 'argumentum ad sciences...psychology, neurology, geography...'

Giovanni said...

A few things to note:
- Leiter reports and SEP are both US-based, and I always felt that Leiter reports was biased towards a more American-centric vision of what good philosophy is. No doubt the SEP list, Leiter reports and the Leiter list based on the SEP are convergent. But I wonder if this only shows that Americans share the same prejudices. I suspect that if we had a British equivalent of Leiter and SEP we would get VERY different results!
- The ccitations on the philpapers database can't be taken seriously. That database can only retrieve citations for texts that have been uploaded to philarchive, and that is not a balanced sample (only very recent papers).

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the comments, folks!

Matti: I agree it would be fascinating to see such a ranking from 100 years ago! Based on some citation analyses I've done, I'd guess that some people would be very highly regarded who aren't nearly as influential today, like Comte, Spencer, and Bergson. From the fact that such a ranking would be fascinating, I draw the conclusion that such a ranking today is worth creating and discussing as a sociological artifact, which allows us to justify saying things like "David Lewis is hugely influential in mainstream Anglophone philosophy" and will someday allow historians to utter the same sentence in the past tense.

Phil and SelfAware: Yes, I agree that these are concerns, hard to pull apart from this process of ranking.

Giovanni: It's true that the PGR is U.S. based but I think it draws roughly proportionately from U.K., Canada, and Australia also (roughly proportionately, that is, to the number of philosophers at PhD-granting institutions). I'm open to correction about this. If I recall correctly, it used to also show rankings by raters in the home country, which tended to align with overall rankings except with a positive local bias. In my view, the bigger concern is that it's exclusively Anglophone in an academic world that is becoming increasingly globalized.

Anonymous said...

The origin of PhilPapers might be a reason for a relative overrepresentation (or more accurate representation, I think) of philosophers of mind, including Kim, Dennett, Chalmers, Block, Burge, and probably Goldman.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Anon Dec 10: Yes, good point!