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U of T graduate department ranked 11th in the world by Philosophical Gourmet

Fifth among public universities

group photo of philosophy grad students

Group of philosophy graduate students at a gathering in December. Photo: Jasmin Lantos.

There’s something tasty about the University of Toronto’s tri-campus graduate program in philosophy, say the Philosophical Gourmet 2014 rankings.

The triennial rankings place U of T first in Canada, a position it has long held; but also 10th in North America; and 11th in the English-speaking world. The rankings also name U of T as the only top-tier research university in Canada, comparable with such U.S. brethren as Columbia University and Stanford University.

“We rank right alongside the private institutions with huge endowments,” said Brad Inwood, acting chair of the Department of Philosophy. “What we do with the funding we get is astonishing.”

In addition, U of T is cited for its strengths in a number of specific subject areas: the philosophy of language; the philosophy of science and mathematics; ethics; applied ethics; political philosophy; the philosophy of law; ancient philosophy; medieval philosophy; 17th-century philosophy; 18th-century philosophy; the history of analytic philosophy; and American pragmatism.

“I think part of the secret is the tri-campus model,” said Inwood. “If we get the balance right and work productively together, we can get a whole lot more than the sum of our parts.

“Drawing on faculty from all three campuses provides a much richer intellectual environment.”

The Philosophical Gourmet rankings are a tool that developed from a philosophy professor’s (Brian Leiter, now at the University of Chicago) informal blog for prospective graduate students to become a reputational poll with an advisory board comprising philosophers from universities in Europe, North America and Australia, including U of T professors Rachel Barney and Cheryl Misak. Each survey participant fills out a questionnaire about departments at universities in these geographical areas, but must omit his or her own university and the university where he or she earned a PhD from consideration, as a means of eliminating bias.

“Though it remains controversial, it has become much more rigorous and robust since 2000,” said Donald Ainslie, a philosopher who is also the principal of University College, “and if you look at other humanities fields, there aren’t a lot of ways to judge graduate programs.”

Eric Schliesser, the BOF Research Professor of Philosophy and Moral Sciences at Ghent University in Belgium, said U of T’s ranking means “it is a widely regarded elite program in the field and recognized as such by eminent peers. It has excellent research strengths in lots of areas, and is a magnet for scholars worldwide.”

“It is a very large department and so can provide astoundingly broad, excellent coverage of philosophy, its diverse methods and disciplinary niches. If you look at the rankings, it is especially striking in how many areas of specialization Toronto is ranked.”

Ainslie said the rankings are useful as a recruiting tool.

Students looking for graduate programs know that “when you go out to look for a job, where you studied makes a difference on your application,” he said. “If you’re coming from a school that is known to be excellent, it is very helpful.”