Oh no, it’s another opinion on the PGR controversy! Well so it is, I’m sorry to say, but I do hope you keep reading, at least a little further. Obviously I won’t hold it against you if you don’t, as, like you, I’m more than a little disheartened to read a bunch of philosophers being aggressive toward one another and then arguing about who’s being inappropriate. More frustrating, I think, is that this ‘controversy’ hides something that we should be thinking about. I must give credit (!) to Leiter for at least asking the question (cue speculation on motivation – actually… please don’t), but do we want or need reputation surveys like the PGR?
I contend that the answer is ‘no’ and not just because of problems of reputation tracking quality, and an apparent complete unwillingness to even try to think about variation within a department, but because such surveys are part of a culture which is damaging philosophy. Surveys like the PGR are a part of the creeping spectre of corporatism which now shades every aspect of the academy.
Too much of the world which sees value solely in terms of short term monetary gain is attempting to impose its will on the academy. The suggestion in Australia that funding be tied to patents is one of the latest laughable attempts. Often this is done in complete ignorance of actual market demand for the products philosophy produces, especially undergraduate education, suggesting that direct attacks on philosophy are motivated more by the threat a philosophical education can pose to right wing thinking then supposed economic concerns.
Part of the package that comes from people who attack philosophy in these ways is an obsession with ranking, a constant asking of philosophy to prove its value. Why on Earth would we want to impose the tools of those who seek to relegate philosophy to the periphery on ourselves? Philosophy is particularly vulnerable to attempts to rank it due to a specific cultural problem within the discipline. Too many of us, too often, see philosophy not as a part of humanity’s attempt to understand itself and the world; but as a competition. Psychologists don’t have need of online guides as to how to be respectful in the question time of talks, but we do. And this is because we want to win the fight. Those who want to win need some measure of the fact that they have won. This is why we love the new feature of academia.edu which tells us we’re in the top 3% of searched academics, we love our h’s and i10s and we love our PGR. We can point to these things and declare ourselves the winners.
But, in doing so we are granting the corporate right the tools they need to try and prove we aren’t producing work of “value” and, just as bad, we discourage our own creativity. The current obsession with ranking asks us to publish arguments before they are finished to keep our publication rates up, it asks us to write within the norm so we can publish in conservative old journals and it asks us to see our value not in terms of quality but in terms of reputation. This is why the spectre of corporatism is more than an irritating shadow, it is a dangerous storm which we should not call unto us with our own actions.
Philosophy is not a competition; and we shouldn’t act like it is. Philosophy is not a private sector enterprise; and we shouldn’t act like it is.
Philosophy is the pursuit of truth; and we should act like it is.
Philosophy is about making people smarter and better. We should act like it is.