Make Philosophy Great Again: End Leiter Reports and Daily Nous

For many years, Leiter Reports served as the primary philosophy blog for professional philosophy. Many have criticized Leiter for his handling of squabbles with other philosophers, which seemingly led to many wanting an alternative. Into this vacuum Justin Weinberg stepped, creating Daily Nous. Daily Nous seemed like an improvement at first. Leiter’s polemical, ad hominem approach was replaced with the measured and thoughtful attitude of Weinberg. But, over time, it became clear that Weinberg was an agent of the PC-police. Behind the veil of thoughtfulness was a political player who frequently censored and deleted comments and was never truly interested in diversity of thought. It’s become clear to me that these two blogs do more harm than good. In light of this fact, they should either shut down, or do serious reformation.

How, specifically do they harm the profession? First, they contribute to the overprofessionalization of the discipline by engaging in incessant rankings. This is mostly done by Leiter’s blog. His ongoing posts about which departments are moving up or down, along with the Philosophical Gourmet Report creates an environment in which a hiring department is more likely to inflate the value of a degree from a top-flight Philosohical Gourmet school. This, along with a tight job market, makes prospective graduate students feel like they must get into one of these programs if they are to get a job. Thus, these departments are flooded with applications from capable young students who need to distinguish themselves. The primary way for them to distinguish themselves is to further professionalize rather than further distinguish themselves as excellent philosophers and teachers.

The trend toward overprofessionalization is perhaps seen even more clearly in current publishing practices. Combined again with the tight job market and pressures to achieve tenure, young philosophers feel pressured to build up their dossiers by publishing. And for years now, Leiter periodically runs a survey of which journals are the best. These rankings, at least to some degree, have contributed to journals’ reputations in the profession, along with the notion that young philosophers need to publish in these venues if they are to advance their careers. But they are highly flawed, given that they are reflective only of the opinions of philosophers who read and bother to fill out the surveys, which leaves out a significant number of philosophers. Moreover, these opinions tend to reflect views on who are the best publishers in philosophy rather than who are the best at teaching students to be excellent teachers and philosophers.  Yet, people treat them as solid indicators of which journals are best, as if Philosophical Review really is clearly better than Philosophical Quarterly. This is palpably absurd and tends to over-inflate the value of publishing in these journals, while undermining the value in publishing elsewhere, causing these journals to be flooded with submissions, most of which will be rejected.

Worse than the overprofessionalization of the discipline is the engagement in vicious gossip. Both Leiter Reports and Daily Nous are guilty of this. A reoccurring topic for both blogs is who recently moved where. The truth is, one philosopher moving to another department does not affect me one iota, unless this person is moving from or to my department. That these blogs tally such things is nothing more than gossip–a TMZ report of who is hot and who is not–“Plato is leaving UT Austin for NYU! What a blow to UT and power move from NYU! This cements their place as the top ranked school.” Stupid.

Keeping track of who moves where is not the worst of the gossip though. The reporting on drama internal to a department or school is often shallow, lacking in the crucial perspective that can only come by being inside the community where the drama is happening. This leads to the vilification of certain departments, schools, or individuals, when their vilification is not justified.

Finally, both blogs contribute to censorship, both actively and passively. We have had reports in our own comment threads about Daily Nous blocking or deleting respectful, but sharply critical comments on that blog. This is clearly out of bounds for a philosophy blog, which should allow all criticism, so long as it is philosophical–unless, of course, the purpose is to be something other than a philosophy blog.

The truth of the matter is that neither blog deserves the dignity of being called a philosophy blog, so much as a political, gossip, opinion blog about philosophers. Of course, they note that they are news blogs, but they also represent themselves as philosophy blogs. That they do so misrepresents to undergraduate students and graduate students what the nature of philosophy is and encourages the notion that such political and philosophical narrowness is how philosophy is or should be. If you actually think these are philosophy blogs, I would encourage you to go look at the first ten posts of either. At the time that this was written, for instance, none of Leiter’s top 10 posts contained an argument in the main post. There was, for example, encouragement for people to call their Republican representatives to urge them to support the Affordable Care Act.

The positives that these blogs contribute do not offset the negatives. Some argue that these blogs give philosophers important news about the profession. Fair enough.  But is this important news that can’t be gotten elsewhere? As I’ve already noted, that who moved there, and the internal drama at University X is rarely relevant to me, unless I’m at University X. Whatever the important news is, it can almost always be gotten elsewhere.  At the very least, describe the blogs as philosophy news and gossip sites so that they are not misleading.

Another argument given in support of these blogs is that they serve as a catalogue of information for professional development. There is some useful information that can be gleaned from Leiter Reports and Daily Nous on these topics, but again, most of this information can be found at other blogs, such as The Philosophers’ Cocoon. In fact, The Philosophers’ Coccon is better for such information, since one of its primary purposes is to serve as a catalogue of information on professional development. It does so with less of the baggage of Leiter Reports and Daily Nous.  And the notion that the rankings are helpful to prospective graduate students is overblown. Undergraduates take them far more seriously than they should, and they encourage ladder climbing, career driven philosophy, instead of philosophy for the sake of wisdom or philosophical truth.

A final argument given in favor of these blogs is that they serve as platforms for discussions of professional climate. While they do indeed do this, they do so in a seriously flawed way, given the censorship problem that I’ve already highlighted. Those of us in the discipline cannot have comprehensive and complete assessments of the current climate of the profession without the full inclusion of all perspectives on issues. To have these discussions without welcoming all perspectives makes it highly likely that flawed and highly biased solutions will be adopted, furthering certain climate issues that are really there and clouding our ability to understand what is causing the problems.

In light of these serious problems, I call for the serious reform, or outright elimination, of Leiter Reports and Daily Nous.

Walter Montgomery

Walter is a philosophy graduate student in New Hampshire. He sometimes wishes he was a lawyer, and other times wishes he was a basketball coach. Some of his favorite childhood memories involve traveling with his immediate family, grandparents, and cousins’ family in big gas-guzzling vans towing campers. He sees philosophy as a tool for getting at Truth, and thinks too many contemporary philosophers see it as a tool for advancing their ideological preferences.

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24 Comments

  1. It seems rather strange for a philosophy blog who published Facebook comments and defended that as somehow not being gossip to call for the elimination of another blog for alleged gossip. Logically inconsistent to the core.

    • Not at all. That was disseminating bigoted public information more widely by bigoted, public figures who teach at universities. Gossip is repeating something told privately about someone for which there is no evidence other than that person’s testimony.

    • No it was gossip. Your crusade against the profession was a way to secure more hits when you launched the blog because Jason said some nasty things about Christians. Jason’s only mistake was not using the quantifier MOST.

      Justin’s post about someone winning a Templeton is not produced by some sort of ressentiment and envy or adherence to the need to defend the coherence of Christianity.

    • Jim, we’ve already said that we’ve given arguments in defense of what we did. Your foot stomping and insisting that we are wrong does nothing to engage those arguments. If you want to go back on those posts and argue that we are wrong, or make those arguments here, go ahead. But, no, it was definitely not gossip. And Jason’s only mistake was to say something abhorrently bigoted.

    • Jim, exactly. That wasn’t gossip, and those posts were on _social media_. But please read carefully and represent arguments as they are given. I never argued that they should be eliminated _for mere gossip_. I argued (and not_the blog_) that they should end, or be reformed, because they make the profession worse in several ways, one of which is gossiping.

      If you want to criticize, go ahead; but please at least pay attention to detail. Otherwise, your comment is not worth my time.

    • Furthermore, the publishing of FB comments has been defended victoriously on this blog more than once. Old news. We should all move on.

    • Jim, did you also see Walter M said that part of the reason sites like Daily Nous and Leiter Reports are so bad is because they’re biased and censor alternative perspectives? Rightly Considered justifiably exposed philosophers who contribute to those problems. It’s a dirty job, to be sure. Nobody likes to be exposed as nasty, two-faced, condescending scumbags, especially those who fancy themselves champions of virtue. Philosophers who haven’t yet drunk the cool aid deserve to know that those who run the profession aren’t the paragons of tolerance, thoughtfulness, and virtue that they pretend to be on the blogs.

    • Only after Spader got older and put on weight, that is. As noted by Maverick Philosopher, Leiter is a corpulent apparatchik of political correctness. Also, his dialectically impoverished hatred of the capitalistic system is at very unhealthy levels intellectually and psychologically.

      As far as his Nietzsche scholarship goes, would it rank higher than “Group 3” status by Gourmet Report standards? John Richardson of #1 ranked NYU and Maudemarie Clark have significantly greater Nietzsche credentials.

      Speaking of NYU faculty members, Thomas Nagel has reportedly been dismissive of Leiter as something of a “comic” figure within the profession.

      In his blog, Leiter purports to be a superior human being vis a vis half the U.S. electorate (read: Trump voters whom he righteously blasts as ignorant, bigoted, etc.), but that’s highly doubtful. Were Plato, Aristotle or Kant to run a philosophy blog, we would observe just how short Leiter falls of their temperament, kindness, and topics of philosophical attention (unlikely to be “news about the profession”).

      For a better MO, there is, e.g., Edward Feser’s blog, his lack of Gourmet Report credentials notwithstanding. Leiter can bash half of his fellow Americans with ease but can he measure up to a Feser philosophically?

  2. Excellent post, Walt. While I have never been one to begrudge the ranking system of departments (call me an elitist, I suppose), I’ll leave that issue alone, recognizing its controversial nature. I will, however, respectfully disagree with one thing you categorize as “vicious gossip”, i.e., the practice of reporting on faculty movement from one university to another. As a professor who typically recommends Graduate Program X or Graduate Program Y to undergraduates who have an interest in the profession, it is quite helpful for me to know when “Specialist in Metaphysics of Universals” moves to from Wobegon University to Grue College. As a matter of practical interest, I see nothing whatsoever wrong with reporting on such moves.

    Of course, there remains the concern that such moves – or, at least, the reporting on them – plays into this ridiculous game of oneupmanship, notwithstanding the despicable devolution of the philosopher to the journalist…even still, simply as concerns the practical matter of being aware of WHO happens to be WHERE, I’m grateful that certain websites publish such information, if for no other reason than I the fact that I am able to offer advice to students without sitting down to do hours worth of research concerning university departments.

    • That’s a good point about the reporting of who goes where. I hadn’t thought of it, but I see that value in it. I’m skeptical that these sites report these things for merely this reason though!

    • I find the general rankings completely unhelpful and distracting. Specialized rankings–for all of their problems–are more helpful since everyone is encouraged to specialize at some point. Even more helpful are job placement statistics. If I wanted to spend my time ranking programs I would list specialization rankings, job placement stats (perhaps breaking them into two groups down– research vs teaching universities based on teaching loads), and that’s it.

  3. “The truth of the matter is that neither blog deserves the dignity of being called a philosophy blog, so much as a political, gossip, opinion blog about philosophers.”

    I agree, pretty much. But I also think those of us in the non-insane and non-evil minority should give up the belief that people we’re dealing with on the other side are “philosophers” and the thing we’re all part of is “philosophy”. Think about just a few of the things you’ve mentioned. Hyper-professionalization–grad students and even undergraduates now know about Leiter’s idiotic blog and care about departmental “rankings” and journal “rankings”, etc. For me, that alone proves that these people are not philosophers and what they’re doing is not philosophy. Hyper-politicization–if you say that some patently insane feminist or anti-white position isn’t true, you’ll get name-calling and no rational responses, and if they know who you are they’ll do all they can to shut you out of the “profession” and maybe ruin your life. Again, that alone seems like proof that these are not philosophers and whatever they’re all doing is not philosophy. Of course, most people in our “profession” won’t admit that these things are happening or, if they admit it, they don’t see them as being particularly bad; in reality, these things are _obviously_ symptoms of the most extreme cultural degeneracy and moral inversion. (You don’t agree? You don’t just get that? Then there’s just something very wrong with you, and there’s nothing I can do to fix it.)

    We aren’t members of some basically decent and reasonable and worthwhile thing that we’re trying to reform or improve. Maybe 80% of these “philosophers” should not be teaching anyone anything, and should not be getting paid to do their “research”. Most departments simply should not exist. Their net effect on society is really bad. They’re wasting vast sums of money to which they have no legitimate claim, deceiving and exploiting the mostly poor and middle class people who have to pay for all this, and not only do they produce almost nothing with real value for anyone, but they are very effective in turning young minds away from truth, reason, beauty and justice. Trash such as Leiter’s blog really is a good representation of our “profession”. The “profession” also needs to be deleted.

    • Jacques, something that interests me about your comment is whether you think most professional “philosophers” think they are doing real philosophy. In my experience, they do think they are doing real philosophy, and the graduate students are being taught to think that this radical social activism_is_philosophy. So, it’s the job of a philosopher to be “down with the cause”; if you are not, then you’re the worst kind of person. The average Trump voter is an ignorant fool in their minds, but we belong to the 9th circle of hell, because _we know better_, and choose to resist their perverted sense of justice.

    • Hi Walter. That’s a good question. What do they think they’re doing? It does seem that most of them will sincerely affirm a sentence like “What I’m doing, and what most of my colleagues are doing, is real philosophy”. But what does “philosophy” or “real philosophy” mean in their mouths?

      I agree: most of them really are so dumb or irrational that they _identify_ believing some laundry list of leftist slogans and talking points with philosophy itself, at least to the extent that philosophy (as they understand it) has any implications for real life and politics, etc. Or, in many cases, they identify (contents of) those beliefs with the most obvious aspects of reality itself. That’s been my experience, for the most part. Talking to some tenured fool who just parrots garbage about “diversity” and “equity” that seems to come from TV or an HR commissar. Usually these people can’t say anything serious to defend or explain it. A tenured person recently asked me “Surely you don’t think it would be okay if there were no people of color in our department?” I said it would be fine by me so long as the reason was just that no “people of color” applied, or none who applied were any good. He really seemed to think this was a crazy disturbing thing to say. He looked at me like I was crazy. He had nothing more to say, but it was clear I’d really gone down in his estimation. A somewhat different example that sticks out in my mind. A tenured person who works on the ‘philosophy of race’ explained to me that he doesn’t blame some ‘racists’ for their bad beliefs, since they may have picked up those beliefs in blameless ways. I asked for an example, and he said they might think blacks are more crime-prone than whites. I asked “But isn’t that just true? Aren’t they more crime-prone?” He thought about that for a bit and said “Well, maybe, but you can’t say _that_ and get anything published in this area”. So maybe some of them are sort-of aware that they’re peddling lies and bullshit but they don’t care that much. (I might prefer this second type, since they’re just cynical, and maybe they’re just trying to pay the bills or something.)

      Anyway, I suspect that for the ones in the first (very big) group “philosophy” just doesn’t mean what it means to us. They actually have no idea what we’re talking about! They’ve never really stepped outside of the beliefs and values injected into them over their whole lives. Grad school is just a slightly more nerdy intellectual experience of the same mental universe they participate in when they watch Hollywood movies. They’ve never _really_ thought about anything in a critical disinterested way, at least when it comes to real-life stuff. I guess I allow that “real philosophy” of some kind may be happening when they sit around arguing about the details of the attributive-referential distinction, or whatever. Although I wonder whether you can do good philosophy about anything when your whole intellectual life is based on mindless obedience to narratives and slogans and catch-phrases you passively accepted for your life. They just don’t what philosophy is, so they’re not even really _mistaken_ when they claim to be doing real philosophy. It’s like people on Twin Earth saying they drink “real water”. It’s true in their language, but (arguably) they can’t even say or think what we’d mistakenly say if we said they drink “real water”.

      We’re cast into outer darkness mainly because, in some basic and important ways, we are real philosophers. Most of us probably started out like them. I know I did. I believed all the same media-induced, ‘education’-induced, government-induced lies and bullshit until I was maybe 24 or 25. And I didn’t realize how corrupted academic philosophy was until I was in grad school. But I did actually think for myself about some of their basic assumptions. I actually questioned authority–the real authority in my time and place, not the authority in ancient Athens or Nazi Germany or pre-1965 USA or whatever other safe and irrelevant examples they’re so proud of themselves for criticizing. I think they don’t like us mostly because they dimly suspect that we’re right, or we might well be right, and that makes them really uncomfortable. Since they’ve never _really_ had to live with doubt and uncertainty (as real philosophers have to do sometimes) it’s intellectually disturbing. Their only foundation is a bunch of ill-considered slogans. They don’t have the independence of mind or spirit that we can rely on. And since their sense of identity and worth is built on a “professional” persona and position, which rests on that weak foundation, it’s also personally disturbing for them. Maybe that’s what you were saying too?

      But in the end I really don’t know. To me most of these people come across as zombie-like yuppies. It’s just so hard for me to relate to them as fellow human beings that I may be in a very bad position to figure out what exactly they’re thinking!

  4. Notice Jacques’s universal generalization about professional philosophers, and how it sets up the us vs. them mentality (something liberals do rhetorically). As any real philosopher knows, a single instance otherwise is enough to falsify one’s UG. Be careful there Jack.

    Next, notice Walter claims that grad students and professors equate philosophy with social activism. We’re not given an instance and Walter leaves that claim unqualified. My epistemology of testimony seminar did nothing really about social issues. The same with proprioception and embodiment seminar in philosophy of mind. This is not to say he might have been somewhere surrounded by pragmatists, Marxists, utilitarians, but it certainly does not hold for everyone and their experience in philosophy.

    • JIm,

      Jacques can speak for himself but it seems to me obvious that he’s making no universal generalizations as you attribute to him. You sound like most leftists who, when e.g. someone says “blacks are more prone to crime,” attributes this as a universal generalization; i.e., each one is more prone to crime. Of course that is silly and no one in his right mind believes such a thing.

      Walt and Jacques aren’t saying that philosophers *equate* philosophy with social activism; rather an influential segment thinks that social activism counts as philosophy (and some other stuff counts as philosophy too but it’s not as important).

    • Bad job of reading, Jim. You really think that Jacques would be so stupid as to make his statement with the intention that you read it with the univseral quantifier? That’s obviously not what he meant. He was talking like a normal person, like when a guy in a bar says, “Everyone knows that Tom Brady is the best QB!” He obviously doesn’t literally mean everybody.

      The same goes with my comment above. I_obviously_ don’t think every philosopher equates philosophy with social activism.Why do you insist on uncharitable readings, Jim?

  5. Philosophy comment:

    I am not quite sure what’s being advised by urging reform or that they shut down. Is the second option that they “delete their account?” I think in contrast to that that the profession and the practice of philosophy is better served by encouraging more writing and engagement.

    Culture war comment:

    I also think that if these blogs have too much influence and are too censorious, then this is a perfect opportunity for dissenters to disrupt all that—and to some extent RightlyConsidered is doing so. In fact, I’d think RC would be happy to see the platforms of its ideological opponents continue to exist and even get more extreme, as this would send more people its way?

    Civil discourse comment:

    FWIW, Justin has asked me to contribute to DN on a handful of occasions, only some of which I accepted. I’ve also entered a few frays, and in each of them I took non-SJW positions. In each, I had a comment that was among the most upvoted in the thread.

    Since I don’t think Justin was just setting me up for failure, IMO he’s way more open than many of his ideological stripe to listen to/feature dissenting voices. Or at least he finds the angle I take amusing or non-threatening or whatever (I don’t really know). I think he appreciates that I write under my own name, too, although I realize that not all of you can do that prudently—indeed, it hasn’t been prudent for me. I also keep extremely good discipline on his blog and on his FB page, refusing to insult even when being insulted.

    • Thanks for your interesting perspective, Dan. I’m glad to hear of this openness on the part of Justin. I hope posts like this encourage more openness still. I’m not impressed by the reports received by this blog that he’s censoring.

      Regarding your philosophical comment, I don’t really have many specific reforms in mind, other than 1)stop censoring, and 2) stop being political. Or 2*)Figure out a way to balance out the political posts so that non-leftist projects and perspectives are put forward, which is rarely the case now. So, yeah, the second option is, if they aren’t going to reform, to just delete their accounts. I generally think that more engagement is better too, and we occasionally engage their posts, but they rarely reciprocate. In fact, Justin (last I heard) refused to link to our blog. So, I think we’ve shown that we are happy to engage them. I wish they’d return it. Then the philosophy blogosphere would really get interesting! Leiter has occasionally engaged us, but only to smear and name call.

      I agree with you that Rightly Considered as disrupted things a bit. We are unorthodox, and people don’t know what to do with that (our very liberal comment policy is an instance of this). Now, would I like to see these other platforms continue to exist and get more extreme? Not really. Obviously I lean right, since I contribute to this blog. I’d rather people in philosophy stop being such knee-jerk leftists. And, even if they got more extreme, I doubt it would send more people are way. I was never in it just to get a big following anyway (and I doubt other contributors are either)!

  6. I have an idea, compulsory 4-year enlistment and service in a branch of the U.S. armed forces with an honorable discharge as a pre-requisite for anyone to teach, or enter grad school for the purpose of majoring in philosophy.

  7. Here are a few examples of grants from the 2002 cycle awarded under Bush. I wanted to list them here since you erroneously conclude that NEH grants “were created by progressives for the advancement of progressivism.” There are several types of grants actually. In fact, your reasoning is an example of the genetic fallacy because you are confusing the historic origin of the NEH institution while ignoring the present circumstances of some of what NEH grants actually do in their present contexts. For instance, I could write an NEH grant to cover the cost of indexing local civil war letters archived in the local historical society. A friend of mine (a conservative mind you) had an internship doing just that funded by an NEH grant back in college. That was just the work of an academic historian for—ya know—history’s sake. I could write a grant for historical preservation of monuments as well, and this falls in line with the first definition of conservative “of or relating to the preservation of tradition.”

    Let’s take a look…shall we:

    In September 2002, President George W. Bush announced a new NEH initiative called We the People, which included a call for grant applications to explore significant events and themes in our nation’s history. This cycle of NEH grants, representing projects in a variety of humanities disciplines, includes many that focus on U.S. history and culture, such as the following:

    Grants to 40 public libraries in 29 states to support a traveling exhibition and related public programs that reexamine President Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to abolish slavery during the Civil War;

    • A grant to the Bill of Rights Institute in Washington, D.C., to create a teachers’ guide, pilot workshop, interactive Web site, and other teaching aids to improve students’ knowledge of the contributions of the Founding generation to American democracy;
    • A grant to the Maine Humanities Council, Portland, for an exemplary education project that will conduct seminars and develop interactive curricular resources for Maine teachers who will study the work of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his influence on the American identity;
    • A grant to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, for compilation of the fifth volume of the Dictionary of American Regional English;
    • A grant to the Illinois State Historical Library, Springfield, for planning statewide book discussions and exhibitions about the cultural and historical significance of the early portion of the Lewis and Clark Expedition;
    • A grant to the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, for an exemplary education project to create print- and Web-based curriculum materials for K-12 teachers relating to the Native American cultures of the eastern United States from the time of contact through the colonial period; and
    • A grant to the South Valley Academy, Albuquerque, N.M., for a curriculum enrichment project on World War II and New Mexico’s contribution to the war effort.
    Longfellow poetry and New Mexico’s contribution to the war effort of WWII. Dubious and progressive? Probably not.

    I love it when know-nothing graduate students over-generalize about grants they’ve never applied for based off hasty generalization and the genetic fallacy. Good thing you’re only a grad student. I’d hate to think that you were actually on the market reasoning this poorly.

    Sincerely,

    Someone who cares deeply about the humanities and culture apart from thinking that the love of humanities equals the culture war and would gladly see grants going to local history societies, archives, or libraries for book exhibits. Of all the things tax money could be spent on…geesh.

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