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  • Waiter, There’s a Fly in My Soup! Reflections on the Philosophical Gourmet Report
  • Margaret Urban Walker (bio)

Editor's note: with this essay, Hypatia inaugurates a new column. We welcome musings on the state of the profession, the life of the independent scholar, political activism, teaching, publishing, or other topics of interest to feminist philosophers. We particularly invite submissions that pick up conversational threads begun by earlier contributions to the column, so that Musings becomes a forum for talking to one another. If you have an idea for the column, please tell us about it.

Is Johnny Depp the sexiest man alive? People magazine says he is, at least for the year 2003. It's silly, of course. Yet people (human beings, not the magazine) love prizes, competitions, and rankings. It's harmless fun to want to see who's first or best, or who's risen or fallen; at least it's harmless if one doesn't take opinion polls or the decrees of tastemakers too seriously. Some rankings, however, are meant to be serious, and can be serious or not both in their impact and in their claim to validity. Rankings that have clearly articulated, reliably measurable, multiple bases that relate to the ranked characteristic allow one to assess what has been measured and how those measurements have been weighted in relation to what is ranked. A ranking without such features is just an opinion, or perhaps an opinion poll, which is just a lot of opinions counted up.

I'm concerned here about one ranking system, Professor Brian Leiter's Philosophical Gourmet Report, and in particular about a section he has added in recent years, advising students on "Class, Race, Gender & Philosophy."1 My concern is the Gourmet's confusing and irresponsible handling of emergent fields of critical philosophical scholarship, and specifically feminist philosophy. The Gourmet is useless to students seeking graduate study in feminist philosophy, but that is not so bad. What is bad is that it purports to give guidance when it is a source of significant disinformation to those students and to others. What the Gourmet does in this area is irresponsible, and something it should stop doing. It is, I [End Page 235] want to emphasize, irresponsible regardless of whether one credits the rest of its rankings claims, and I will explain why.

"Class, Race, Gender & Philosophy" consists of an introductory paragraph and two lists of names. It begins with the statement that interest in these questions, which has "swept other parts of the humanities, has made relatively little impact upon the discipline of philosophy, though some philosophers have begun addressing these issues explicitly." Leiter says that much of the work on race and gender "is already accounted for in the specialty rankings above, under rubrics like political philosophy and philosophy of mind." He counsels students to seek out "important philosophers who are writing on these topics," and concludes: "For those especially interested in gender, investigate the work of the following philosophers." This imperative is followed by a list of thirty names. A parallel imperative tells those interested in race to investigate the work of twelve philosophers, whose names follow.

This is very puzzling. Contemporary feminist philosophy "began" over a quarter of a century ago; it's been around as long, say, as Rawlsian theory of justice. Feminist philosophy is now a recognized AOS and even more widely used AOC in Jobs for Philosophers, it is scheduled as such on main programs of all APA divisions, and it has its own organizations, journals, conferences, and publication venues. In a discipline like philosophy, where change is glacial and the many standard references are from two hundred to two thousand years old, the emergence and entrenchment of a distinct new subfield is not a small thing. How work in feminist philosophy is "accounted for" by PGR's specialty rankings in "Political Philosophy" is difficult to see, as many of the departments listed in those specialty rankings have no feminist philosophy presence, and in any case one cannot tell how to assess this presence from information given. Stranger still to suggest that work on gender, race, and class might be "accounted for" in the philosophy...


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pp. 235-239
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Archived 2009
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