Warp, Weft, and Way

Chinese and Comparative Philosophy 中國哲學與比較哲學

Behuniak on Van Norden on Chinese Philosophy

The following is a guest post by Jim Behuniak of Colby College. Please address any comments to Jim!

Van Norden on Chinese Philosophy in the U.S.

The recently concluded 11th East-West Philosopher’s Conference in Honolulu featured a number of sessions on the “place” of non-Western philosophy in the academy. Excellent presentations by Carine Defoort, Tao Jiang, Amy Olberding, Brian Bruya, and others, along with questions and discussion by Steve Angle, Roger Ames, Cheng Chung-ying and many others, brought the issue empirically and conceptually into focus over the ten days. This has me reflecting on Bryan Van Norden’s recent promotions of Chinese philosophy in the United States.

Such efforts are to be commended. It is sobering, however, to think that it’s been 20 years since his “Open Letter” to the APA. The situation has not greatly improved. In his most recent interview with the APA, Van Norden observes that, “by a reasonable estimate, only seven [U.S. doctorate-granting Philosophy departments] have a single member of their regular faculty who teaches Chinese philosophy.”

This estimate is alarming, but also inaccurate. The list does not include the University of Hawaii, which actually has two members of its program teaching Chinese Philosophy: Cheng Chung-ying and Roger Ames, soon to be Franklin Perkins. Plus, Hawaii maintains two positions in Japanese philosophy, one in Indian philosophy, and one in Islamic philosophy. Arabic, classical Chinese, Japanese, Sanskrit, and Pali are currently counted as “philosophically significant” languages in Hawaii’s program requirements. Given that Van Norden maintains that “the very survival of philosophy as an academic discipline in this country depends upon its becoming multicultural,” neglecting to mention Hawaii’s program in the APA interview is simply baffling. Perhaps it was just an oversight. My guess, however, is that it was not, since Hawaii is absent from Van Norden’s considered list of “Best Programs” linked to in the interview.

So, why the blind eye towards Hawaii? I really don’t know. If it stems, however, from the fact that Chinese philosophers in Hawaii do not work entirely within the analytic sub-discipline (Cheng leans more continental and Ames more historical/American) then this raises a serious concern. Is Chinese philosophy only “Philosophy” when it is analytic philosophy? Between the two, Cheng and Ames have 90+ years of teaching Chinese philosophy at Hawaii—the only Philosophy program in the U.S. that even has a specialized Ph.D. in “Chinese philosophy.” Do Cheng and Ames not count as philosophers? If this is what readers take away from the Van Norden interview, then it contributes more to the problem of exclusion than to its solution. Again, I don’t know what he intends or why he routinely neglects to mention Hawaii. But I do know that Chinese philosophy is larger than any sub-discipline within Philosophy, and that a struggling jia 家 divided against itself will never find its feet.

Jim Behuniak


June 1st, 2016 Posted by | American Philosophical Association, Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学, Comparative philosophy, Profession | 33 comments

33 Responses to Behuniak on Van Norden on Chinese Philosophy

  1. Amy Olberding says:

    I really appreciate Jim’s writing this as the issue he raises troubles me as well. I have no desire for our subfield to replicate the stranger habits of the profession at large, whether that be in rank-ordering quite distinct programs or sectioning ourselves into cliques of training and methodology or implicitly devaluing work in idioms we don’t prefer or mimicking an analytic/continental divide or… I don’t really know what motivates the apparent devaluing of Hawai’i, but I struggle to see how this is at all useful in a field so small and often beleaguered.

  2. Qin Zhu says:

    I found a few other programs which do have faculty teaching Chinese philosophy such as Southern Illinois University – they do grant phd degrees as well. Also it might be possible that some universities have multiple faculty teaching and researching philosophy. Like Duke (Flanagan and Wong)? Another case would be University of South Florida – they have faculty teaching philosophy and awarding phd degrees too. Based on my experience meeting with other American philosophers at conferences, some of them showed great interest in Chinese philosophy and were reading it. Maybe in the future, some already existing doctoral programs will be willing to offer Chinese philosophy? I think it is also an issue for Chinese philosophers to have more dialogues with traditional analytic philosophers – like those Confucian moral psychologists have been doing?

  3. Brian Bruya says:

    As Jim says, Van Norden refers to “top” programs, and since he doesn’t think Hawai’i has a top program, he feels justified in intentionally excluding it. He is entitled to his opinion. So are others who disagree with him, and I suggest anyone who wants to voice a different opinion do so on the APA blog. I did. As Amy and Jim say, it’s best for the advancement of the field to work together. This blog (Warp, Weft, and Way) is a great example of inclusiveness and collegiality in a subfield. Steve and Manyul should be praised for that. Van Norden is an outlier in this respect.

  4. James Behuniak says:

    The idea of “top” programs is something that seems silly to us, but it is important to prospective students, especially undergraduates, who are interested in pursuing careers in the field. The idea that Hawaii is not a “top” program from this perspective is falsified based on its placement rate. Hawaii matches Princeton. We all have jobs, and there are a lot of us. Of course, Van Norden is entitled to his “opinion,” but at what point does it distort reality? Ignoring placement rates in a “guide” intended for students who don’t know any better amounts to a “misguide.” Again, I don’t know what motivates his “blind eye” towards Hawaii. Perhaps what Amy calls the “stranger habits” are at work here. Anyway, Brian is right: inclusivity and collegiality mark us deeper. In hoc signo vinces.

  5. Yong Huang says:

    Jim, it is very interesting to learn about the surprisingly high placement rate of Hawaii’s Ph.D holders in philosophy. If you have it, I think it is good to post the list of the placement rate of various Ph.D programs in philosophy (or maybe it is already somewhere?) I think it is extremely helpful for prospective Ph.D. students in philosophy.

    About Bryan’s list of top programs in Chinese philosophy in the English speaking world mentioned in his interview, apart from the fact that we all understandably have different understandings of “top programs,” I think it is also possible that each of us may miss something when making up a list. If we all participate at the process, I think we can come to a more comprehensive list. Here I’m trying to make my contribution. In addition to Hawaii, which may be too obvious to mention (of course only to those in the area but not to those outside the area), since Bryan mentioned Slingerland in British Columbia, it is quite natural for us to add Vincent Shen at University of Toronto, who has a joint appointment with (and has separate offices in) both philosophy and east Asian studies departments. Bryan includes P.J. Ivanhoe in the list of non-Ph.D. granting institutions, but as far as I know, CityU of Hong Kong does grant Ph.D. in philosophy. Indeed, in addition to P.J., CityU has two other outstanding senior scholars (both full professors, one of whom has even recently been promoted to the rank of chair professor) doing Chinese philosophy: Ruiping Fan and Sungmoon Kim. Talking about Hong Kong, from my point of view, we cannot not mention University of Hong Kong, where you not only have two specialists in Chinese philosophy, Chris Fraser and Dan Robin, but also a very prominent senior political philosopher, Jiwei Ci, who has also supervised Ph.D. students in Chinese philosophy. My own university, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, has five members doing Chinese philosophy, but our program is bilingual and so can be excluded. Since we have been also talking about Ph.D. programs in English speaking world outside the United States, I guess we should also include Karyn Lai of New South Wales University in Australia. These are just what come to my mind and I’m sure I still miss a lot of other places.

  6. Yong Huang says:

    In addition, to Bryan’s list of senior scholars of Chinese philosophy in non-Ph.D. granting institutions, of course a lot more can be added. At this moment, without doing any research, I’m thinking of Peimin Ni, Jeeloo Liu, Bo Mou, Robin Wang, Xinyang Jiang, Jim Behuniak, Brian Bruya, Kurtis Hagen, Youru Wang (he is in the department of philosophy and religion)…

    I don’t know whether Brook Ziporyn has any affiliation with Chicago’s philosophy department, but obviously what he does is really philosophy, even though he is in Divinity School.

  7. James Behuniak says:

    I think it would be great to have a simple, factual, objective list of programs that support Ph.D.s in Chinese philosophy worldwide, not ranked in any way (well, maybe alphabetically). That would be better than having anyone speaking unilaterally for the whole field, especially if one had some bias or agenda. Students need just the facts. The placement rate was reported at one of the sessions at the EWPC. I don’t have the data, and I do not know how comprehensive it is. I’ll track it down.

  8. Yong Huang says:

    I’ve just thought of another Ph.D. granting institution in Chinese philosophy: University of Macau, where Hans-Georg Moeller, among others, is teaching.

  9. Yong Huang says:

    Jim, I agree with you that we should have a comprehensive list of Ph.D. granting institutions in Chinese philosophy in English, with specialists of Chinese philosophy in each of these institutions, in an alphabetical order, perhaps with a division between those in North America and those outside it. Since the list won’t not be too long, prospective students can check the credentials/expertises/interests of these specialists, among others (such as reputation of the university/program and amount of Ph.D. fellowship/scholarship), to decide which programs they are interested in applying for.

    Separately, two other universities in Hong Kong also grant Ph.D in Chinese philosophy: Baptist University (Lauren Pfister/Ellen Zhang among others) and Lingnan University (Waiying Wong and Waiwai Chiu)

  10. Yong Huang says:

    I forgot mention Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, which has a small philosophy program but all members (I think currently five of them, including Eric Nelson most recently moved there) are specialists in Chinese philosophy and they grant Ph.D.

  11. James Behuniak says:

    Wow, Yong Huang, no single one of us can keep it straight… who is where… It would be great for us to put together a list — not only for students, but for ourselves. In terms of placement rates, I think listing these is maybe not a good idea after all. Do we (as a field) really want students going to a program simply because it has a high placement rating? That might work against plurality, quickly. Students should work in programs where they feel comfortable and where they are most inclined to contribute. I think that would best preserve the diversity of approaches that we currently enjoy in Chinese philosophy.

    NO rankings!

  12. Yong Huang says:

    Jim, would you mind creating a basic list and then sending a call for additions?

    • Manyul Im says:

      We can post that here for you, Jim, and then compile everything into a permanent list on The Profession page here on WW&W. Let one of us know when you’d like to post it.

  13. James Behuniak says:

    Sure! I will begin work on that in consultation with a few interested others. We’ll find a way to make it open to review and revision in this forum. This will not happen overnight, but it will happen. Thank you, WW&W, for creating space and support for such an initiative. The gesture is not, of course, “for me,” but for anyone who ends up on the final list, which, if we get it right, will be all of us.

    I hope this initiative is not misunderstood. Mainly, the concern is that “ranked” lists in Chinese philosophy sow division, distort reality, and weaken the solidarity that we need. Van Norden is an excellent advocate on behalf of Chinese philosophy to the analytic sub-discipline of Philosophy. He tells that group what it needs to hear. (Whether or not they listen is outside of his control). We non-analytic Chinese philosophers have much to learn from Van Norden in advocating for more inclusivity before our own sub-groups in Philosophy.

    The important thing is that we keep fighting on the same side: the side of Chinese philosophy. Let’s bury the hatchet, folks. We need to be advancing Chinese philosophy on all fronts.

  14. Hans-Georg Moeller says:

    Many thanks for your post, Jim! You address and important issue and you found the right words to express an important point. The “oversight” of the Hawaii Program is indeed quite blatant. It corresponds to a “ranking” of Chinese Philosophy programs in the USA that I saw some years ago on some blog or website which put Oregon on or near the top and Hawaii far down as an “also ran”. The reasons behind such rankings may be obvious for people in the field, but people outside may not suspect anything malicious and think that there’s a degree of objectivity involved in them rather than some self-ascribed authority to distinguish between what is good and proper and valid and what is not. I think that the recent phenomenon of a rapidly increasing number of papers and books which discuss Chinese Philosophy from an analytic perspective (I would not necessarily count Prof. van Norden’s works as among them) has many positive aspects, although it is not a method that I tend to apply. It is highly problematic, though, if the preference for a philosophical method leads to judgments on what is or is not “proper” or “good” philosophy. Such kinds of judgments, which often inform rankings, have the tendency to limit the scope of what can be thought and published (academically) and rather than contributing to the flourishing of philosophy they may have the opposite effect and limit academic freedom, the range of modes of expression and views, and, most disturbingly, promote mediocrity by establishing a set of “standards” that all have to meet and a canon of issues that can be discussed. Many of the most important and creative thinkers of the 19th and 20th century worked at the fringes or outside of professional academic philosophy (Marx, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Sartre, the later Rorty, etc.)—and Socrates was judged by his peers. I think that the present conditions of academic philosophy are not prone to change this age-old trend, and I think that the issue that Jim has brought up is related to this quite strange fact. I also think that the proposed list of Philosophy Departments which offer a PhD in Chinese Philosophy is an excellent idea—and it would probably be surprisingly long if it would include (in times of globalization) departments in Europe and, particularly, in China and Taiwan where—for very good reasons– more and more young people from the US (and the “West” in general) are currently obtaining postgraduate degrees in (Chinese) Philosophy. This might help to amend a certain “US-centrism” of some rankings.

  15. Kai Marchal says:

    Hi Jim, you brought up an important and timely topic. I fully endorse Hans-Georg’s post – ultimately, we need to ask ourselves whether we are really willing to reinforce existing (and often highly US-centric) standards by imposing them onto Chinese texts, thereby also eliminating the very real cultural and historical difference embodied by Chinese thinkers…

  16. James Behuniak says:

    Georg and Kai raise excellent points. Analytic methods in isolation can tend towards the neutralization of culture and a certain homogenization in Philosophy. This is what makes Van Norden’s outreach to this branch so important.

    He seems, however, to exhibit some of the symptoms of the disease he’s trying to cure. “Chinese philosophy” did not emerge into the world through the sandstone arches of Stanford–the analytic approach did, and that’s great. To suggest that the entire field now begins and ends with this one approach would be, as Kai says, highly US-centric. As Yong Huang suggests, our un-ranked list should include every program and every approach. Hong Kong, Taiwan, P.R.C., Europe, Canada, and the US. Students do get on airplanes.

    In the long run, Philosophy in the US has to change. Van Norden is right. The question is whether he is hurting this cause while trying to advance it. Among those inside the field of Chinese philosophy, his “rankings” have a solid reputation for being nonsense. Outside the field, people may not know this is the case.

  17. James Behuniak says:

    Australia, too!

  18. Jung-Yeup Kim says:

    I have been puzzled by the rankings for quite a while. I had numerous situations where I had to explain in detail, to various people, that the rankings might not be completely accurate or useful. Even after explaining in detail, some would still go with the rankings. Thus, I greatly appreciate this post, and the progress being made in it. I hope this discussion will continue here and elsewhere, and lead to helpful results for future philosophy students.

  19. James Behuniak says:

    Explaining rankings is actually easy. Van Norden’s “top programs” list, to be clear, is not ranked (or it is, insofar that any program not on the list is lower tier). He contributes his expertise, however, to the latest PGR (Philosophical Gourmet Report) rankings. These are the rankings that Hans-Georg refers to.

    These continue to be a comic strip. I doubt that many of us knew that the Philosophy program at Indiana is now the second best program in the world for Chinese philosophy. As far as I can tell, the core faculty consists of 15-odd philosophers. Not a single one does research in Chinese philosophy. But, if you scroll down far enough, the program grants adjunct status to an Associate Professor in Religious Studies who does. That individual is one of the four members of the PGR ranking committee.

    There, we’ve just explained rankings.

    • Bill Haines says:

      If the reference is to this page (Find “Chinese”), I think what the ranking claims is not that Indiana is second best in the word, but rather only this: Of the 8 programs evaluated, Indiana is not dead last. (Those not evaluated include HKU, Manoa, Oklahoma, etc.)

      The end of the intro section of the web page page says members of the ranking committee have no input regarding the evaluation of their own institutions.

      • James Behuniak says:

        Oh, I see. And yes, yet another year in which Hawaii doesn’t “rank.” Let’s not play games. What is being advocated here is no ranking of programs in Chinese philosophy whatsoever. There is no way to do so comprehensively or objectively.

  20. James Behuniak says:

    This discussion can continue, but I’d like to say a few words and bow out.

    First, thanks again to Steve and Manyul for allowing me to post this as a guest and for hosting the forthcoming un-ranked list of programs; second, thanks to Yong Huang for his most helpful contributions to this eventual outcome; third, thanks to everyone who joined in this discussion; and finally, thanks to everyone who reached out with support in conversation and in private communication. I respect every decision not to publicly chime in.

    I realize that I have lampooned the PGR ratings. I see now, however, that not everyone finds it funny. As a result of creating this post, I have learned that some members of our community, students and un-tenured faculty, agree with everything expressed here but are reluctant to raise their voices out of concern for exacerbating what they already perceive to be a kind of targeting in the PGR rankings. To be clear: I am not accusing the PGR ranking committee of such malice. I am only reporting on a fact that I’ve observed.

    The present discussion has produced enough arguments against rankings in the field of Chinese philosophy: it is US-centric, it is inconsistent with academic freedom, it is biased, it is opaque, it is counter-productive, it is inconsistent with pluralism, and so on. To this list of reasons, I feel compelled to add the following: There are vulnerable members of our community who perceive it (rightly or wrongly) as intimidation.

    If the “Rankers” have a response, then it should be considered. The consensus here, as I read it, is that the field of Chinese philosophy is irreducibly diverse and pluralistic in nature. It does not wish to be “ranked.” Not by the “Rankers” among us, not by anyone.

  21. Aaron Stalnaker says:

    Jim Behuniak alerted me this morning to this post and comment thread, and invited me to comment.

    Re: rankings in general: I think professors are paid to make judgments of quality over and over again, evaluating papers, journal article submissions, book manuscripts, job candidates, tenure dossiers, etc. There’s no getting away from these judgments, even though I think we should all agree they can be difficult to make at times, and are subject to all the usual human biases.

    If one makes such judgments, then one can proceed to make a ranked list accordingly. Such rankings make more sense to the degree that the things being ranked are all of the same kind. Graduate degree granting departments in philosophy, especially in particular subfields like Chinese philosophy, seem sufficiently similar to me that such a maneuver is not an intellectual crime. On the contrary, it has some value, as well as real limitations, given the variations between departments. It’s less absurd than ranking whole universities, a la US News.

    Re: the PGR: I was ambivalent about my invitation to contribute, given the furor over Leiter’s gross behavior and my sense of the overall effects of the PGR, but in the end decided to go ahead. Here’s why. Prospective graduate students, if they’re anything like I was at the time, know very little about graduate education and the various departments, in various disciplines, in which someone can pursue a PhD that equips them to get a job doing “Chinese Philosophy” in some form. The primary purpose of the list is to give such prospective students a list of schools to consider through their own subsequent due diligence. Warp, Weft, and Way could also play a similar role, especially if the blog completed its list of links to programs that offer relevant PhDs. The idea that a bare list of programs, with as little comment as the PGR’s on Chinese philosophy, is intimidating or threatening strikes me as bizarre. Of course it’s very limited, as a snapshot in time of the perceived overall “quality” of programs, as judged by a small group of referees, with no discussion at all of specific strengths, weaknesses, or differences between departments. I would hope that is obvious to anyone who would be in the market for such lists, and can google blog posts about the PGR, but maybe not.

    As of today, the list does include UH and Oklahoma, among other places that deserve attention. Here’s the link: philosophicalgourmet.com/breakdown/breakdown33.asp
    And as for suggestions that I cooked the books somehow re: Indiana University, PGR evaluators are not allowed to rate any institution that granted them a degree or employs them. I think IU could be a good place for someone with a taste for both analytic and Chinese philosophy to get a philosophy doctorate, mainly because we have a robust program in Chinese Thought in the Religious Studies department, with (as of this fall) three specialists in early Chinese thought (2 in RS, 1 in EALC), who philosophy students can and do study with. I personally have no say over Philosophy’s admissions process, however.

    Re: placement, this is an absolutely critical issue, as is financial aid. Jim, given what you say about Hawaii’s placement rate, you should badger them to put their placement record up on the web immediately. (There’s nothing there that I could find.) Nothing could better advertise the program. The key thing to do is to include ALL the graduates of the program, so that prospective students can see the good, the bad, and the ugly, all together. Cherry picking the best placements only is a crime, given what people are risking by pursuing a PhD. Here’s the way we do it in Religious Studies at IU:


    Philosophy is here:


    Another good example is the Syracuse Religion department, which has a nice graph and shows the data in aggregate form:


    The advantage of Syracuse’s way of doing it is prospective applicants can also get a sense for the amount of attrition from the program.

    In closing, I think you’re wrong to call me and others out for attempting to provide some generalized guidance to prospective students, even though the vehicle is far from perfect. I much prefer your “bury the hatchet” idea to mocking even the attempt to turn flawed institutional vehicles (that will get used regardless) in something like the direction we would provide directly when asked by prospective students—as I assume we all do when approached.

  22. Bill Haines says:

    Hi Aaron,

    “As of today, the list does include UH and Oklahoma …”

    These are listed only to say they were not evaluated (not in the ranked list) but were “recommended for evaluation by the Advisory Board” – yes?

  23. Aaron Stalnaker says:


  24. James Behuniak says:

    Sorry. I’m back.

    I want to thank Aaron for his thoughts and remarks. Nothing that he writes, however, persuades me that a ranked list with “little comment” (as he acknowledges) is a better vehicle than a comprehensive, un-ranked list. Our opinions might just differ there.

    As for “cooking the books,” I apologize for insinuating that. But maybe this touches on the real problem here. Why would one not come to such a conclusion? Where is the transparency in this process? We are a small field, and hardly anyone knows how this particular “ranking” system works. Is it a mistake to conclude that Indiana ranks higher in “quality” than HKU, Hawaii, and Oklahoma? Why does the Advisory Board list always look so familiar? Who decides what programs get “ranked”? What criteria are used in the “ranking” process? I’m not demanding answers to these questions, only pointing out that these are common questions among those of us on the outside.

    As for placement rates, I can’t find anything on the Hawaii site either. I remember years ago there was some kind of list. I imagine it was never kept up. Given Hawaii’s unique profile, it doesn’t struggle to attract students interested in Asian and Comparative philosophy, so the marketing or “advertisement” function of placement rates is perhaps not so pressing. Such data, however, is definitely important for prospective students. I can badger them.

    Lastly, I found the sentiment of feeling targeted by the PRG quite credible among those with whom I spoke. Once upon a time, we were all students. No articles, no jobs, no tenure. To imagine that there were forces, high-profile forces at that, intent on “devaluing” one’s program (as Amy puts it) would feel genuinely intimidating. Again, I am not suggesting that this is what’s happening. But the inference, in this case, is hardly “bizarre.”

  25. James Behuniak says:

    I didn’t have to badger much. Placement information is indeed available on the UH department website—in the “good, bad, and ugly” format, similar to Indiana’s. The information is here: hawaii.edu/phil/people/alumni/

    If one worked with Roger Ames in Chinese philosophy since 2003 (16 supervised dissertations completed), the placement rate is 96%. Records go back to 2003. Earlier generations (e.g. Kurtis Hagen, Amy Olberding, Sor-hoon Tan, Steve Coutinho, and myself) have no placement listings. Many of us have moved through jobs to get where we are.

    So, I will disagree with Aaron. It is not wrong to “call out” the PGR rankers for attempting to do their best in “providing some generalized guidance to prospective students” in Chinese philosophy. They failed. Their “generalized guidance” routinely neglected to rank the only program in the U.S. that even has a regular specialization in Chinese philosophy, one with a 96% placement rating. That sounds more like dereliction than service.

    Now, I am sure that Indiana is a fine place to study. But am I wrong to understand that, according to the PGR committee, it exceeds HKU, Hawaii, and Oklahoma in “quality” because one undergoes primary training in Analytic Philosophy –- in a program without a single Chinese philosopher — only to pick up Chinese “religion” in the domain of “Religious Studies”? Does this not reinforce the idea that Chinese philosophy is not “philosophy,” and that “philosophy” is only analytic philosophy? Do such evaluations of “quality” not perpetuate the assumptions that continue to marginalize Chinese philosophy in the academy?

    Aaron is right to suggest that Indiana would be a fine place for any student with a joint interest in analytic philosophy and Chinese traditions. Why “rank” it over or under some other program profile? I disagree with him that our programs are “sufficiently similar” in every important respect. Again, we must embrace our own diversity in order to succeed as a field.

    No rankings.

  26. I think one of the things Aaron says here brings up a somewhat related (but important) additional issue:

    “I think IU could be a good place for someone with a taste for both analytic and Chinese philosophy to get a philosophy doctorate, mainly because we have a robust program in Chinese Thought in the Religious Studies department, with (as of this fall) three specialists in early Chinese thought (2 in RS, 1 in EALC), who philosophy students can and do study with. I personally have no say over Philosophy’s admissions process, however.”

    I completely agree with Aaron that IU would be an excellent place to study Chinese Philosophy connected with the analytic tradition, but one potential issue is the extent to which it could be a problem for students primarily interested in Chinese Philosophy to be admitted to a program in which the Chinese Philosophy people have no say in admissions matters. I have no idea how likely it would be for the IU philosophy department to admit an excellent PhD student whose main interest is in Chinese Philosophy, but I would think that it would be much more difficult for such a student to be admitted to IU Philosophy than to a department in which the Chinese Philosophy faculty have a say in admissions. I think the right solution (though perhaps not the *easy* solution) to this is for departments like IU Philosophy to give affiliated faculty like Aaron a say in philosophy admissions at least for particular cases.

    I take Aaron’s points about the usefulness of a ranked list (though I still have certain problems with rankings and the PGR in general, some of which I expressed in my piece in the recent APA newsletter), but I think an additional consideration that should perhaps be made on such lists concerns the admissions consideration I raise here. I might advise students to consider different departments at different universities, for example. If someone were applying to work with me at UConn or Amy at Oklahoma, for example, the Philosophy department would be the place to apply. If someone were interested in working with Aaron and Michael and other Chinese Studies faculty at IU, on the other hand, I would steer them toward Religious Studies rather than Philosophy. Of course, I also have no idea how difficult it might be for an excellent philosophy student interested primarily in Chinese Philosophy to be admitted to and to thrive in IU Religious Studies. I suspect that it might be easier, for two reasons: 1) the Chinese Philosophy faculty are within this department and actually have a say about admissions there; 2) because the Chinese Philosophy faculty are there, there will be a commitment to Chinese Philosophy (and Chinese Philosophy students) that you may not find in a Philosophy department with no philosophers working in the area. Of course, I can’t comment about such commitment at IU’s Philosophy department in particular, but one would think this would be generally the case.

  27. Aaron Stalnaker says:

    Thanks, Alexus. Despite the role I’ve been cast in on this string of posts, I share your concerns (and Bruya’s) about the conservative, orthodoxy-inducing effects of the PGR, which only exacerbate the conservative tendencies of philosophy in general (as per David Wong’s article in that same APA newsletter). We can only hope for change, and do what we can where we can, in whatever venues we can affect.

    Regarding IU, Michael Ing and I are intimately involved in graduate admissions in Religious Studies, and almost as closely involved with EALC. We have students in both departments. I am engaged in a long-standing charm offensive with the Philosophy department, which is as thoroughly analytic as they come. I do have good relations with several individual tenured faculty there, and can and do serve on dissertation committees (recently with Susan Blake); and philosophers serve on doctoral committees of students in RS. With luck these efforts will continue to bear fruit. My advice to any prospective Chinese philosophy doctoral students interested in IU’s philosophy department is to contact me well in advance and we can strategize about how to get you through the process. I think you would need to be a “switch hitter,” equally interested in a suitable, recognized “core” analytic philosophy area like ethics or epistemology, and also Chinese philosophy. That’s probably true anywhere outside of Hawaii or SIU-Carbondale, but maybe not. I’ll be interested to see what you think of UConn’s grad admissions process once you’ve gone through it on the faculty side, Alexus.

  28. James Behuniak says:

    It sounds like Indiana is a great program in Religious Studies, Aaron. Good luck with the “charm offensive” in the Philosophy department! We’re all rooting for you.

    Let’s return to our topic. You have been presented with information on the Hawaii program in Chinese philosophy (in the “good, bad, and ugly” format that you prefer).

    As you say, professors are “paid to make judgments of quality” all the time. You have assumed this role in a professional capacity on our behalf, along with three others, in the current PGR ranking committee. You collectively maintain that Indiana’s program in Chinese philosophy — along with seven other programs — is higher in “quality” than Hawaii’s program. In fact, you maintain that Hawaii does not even “rank” as a place to do “Chinese philosophy” and it never has, at least in any iteration of the PRG rankings of which I am aware.

    Given that this is your profession assessment, made in public on our behalf, I think it is fair to ask how you arrived at this judgment — regarding Hawaii in particular, but also regarding HKU and Oklahoma. The Hawaii placement statistics have been provided.

    When you (or one of your fellow committee members) respond, readers can make their own judgments on the merit of the PGR rankings. As it now stands, I feel that they remain open to the criticisms made in this thread and I have nothing more to say.

    I wish to thank Aaron for coming forward to defend the PGR rankings in this forum. Obviously, he did not have to do that.

  29. Aaron Stalnaker says:

    I’m writing back to just to clarify what happened with the most recent PGR rankings of Chinese Philosophy. None of the listed referees, including me, were asked to assess either Hawaii or Oklahoma. (That’s the hidden implication of the note at the bottom, which I realize I should have made clear in retrospect, but I thought I was debating the possibility and advisability of any ranking of programs.) I don’t know why. So none of us actually made the comparative judgment Jim is questioning.

    Furthermore, Hawaii and some of the other programs mentioned have indeed been ranked in earlier iterations of the PGR. These are available on the web:


    So there’s no long-running conspiracy against Hawaii or anybody else, as far as I can tell.

    If people want to compare placement statistics, they are welcome to. Other crucial factors, in my view, to graduate program quality, are faculty quality and relevance, resources for studying Chinese language and culture, and financial aid, among other things.

  30. James Behuniak says:

    Thank you for these clarifications, Aaron, and especially for providing the backlogged rankings.

    The variability observed in PGR rankings over the years persuades me more than ever that “rankings” are meaningless in Chinese philosophy. They change arbitrarily from year to year. From one iteration to the next, programs are mysteriously omitted that once were recommended. Programs rise and fall inexplicably.

    I think the field would be better served by a single, comprehensive, un-ranked list, for use in advising particular students in particular circumstances on particular programs. The fact that HKU, Hawaii, and Oklahoma do not currently “rank” as programs in Chinese philosophy (I don’t know how else to read it) definitely counts against the general usefulness of the current rankings.

    And it sounds like nobody, even the ranking committee, knows how decisions at PGR are made.


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