Jobs in Philosophy

by Brian on November 30, 2003

This will be of very little interest to non-philosophers, but we probably get enough philosophers through here to make it worth posting. I did a break-down of the 438 jobs advertised in Jobs for Philosophers this fall in order to get some picture of what demand was like for job candidates with different specialisations. The results aren’t too surprising, but there might be some interesting stuff here, especially for PhD students going on the job market in upcoming years.

First, the data, then some explanation.

Areas Distributed
Tot Phil TT Top 50
Science 33.3 28.1 20.4 6.7
Language 14.7 13.1 8.3 3.0
Mind 19.9 17.4 13.0 3.7
Epistemology 22.1 19.9 14.8 4.0
Metaphysics 16.6 15.1 10.9 2.7
Logic 11.8 10.3 6.3 1.8
Theoretical Ethics 43.1 39.6 32.6 8.6
Legal Philosophy 21.6 12.9 9.3 1.7
Applied Ethics 60.1 39.3 24.0 2.1
Aesthetics 11.5 10.0 8.2 1.1
Political 23.9 20.2 15.3 4.3
Ancient 29.2 27.7 22.7 3.6
Early Modern 32.7 31.2 25.1 5.8
Other History 28.9 23.4 20.4 2.9
Continental 19.0 17.5 14.3 0.9
Asian, African-American 26.4 21.8 16.6 1.9
Other 21.2 17.7 11.0 1.9
With Every Area Counted Tot Phil TT Top 50
Science 171 139 104 32
Language 148 122 89 28
Mind 156 129 96 28
Epistemology 166 138 105 30
Metaphysics 152 126 94 27
Logic 136 110 78 20
Theoretical Ethics 189 159 122 34
Legal Philosophy 149 114 83 22
Applied Ethics 194 144 104 21
Aesthetics 132 106 79 20
Political 163 133 100 31
Ancient 158 132 101 23
Early Modern 169 143 108 29
Other History 161 131 101 24
Continental 135 109 80 17
Asian, African-American 141 112 81 18
Other 137 109 77 18
With Areas Distributed Tot Phil TT Top 50
Core 105.2 93.7 66.1 20.1
Ethics 155.5 118.0 86.9 17.1
History 99.3 88.8 72.8 13.6
Other 76.0 64.5 47.3 5.8
With Every Area Counted Tot Phil TT Top 50
Core 216 183 138 45
Ethics 271 212 160 39
History 208 178 141 34
Other 173 142 105 19

In the ‘distributed’ tables, I counted a job as being 1/n’th of a job in each area listed as being open for it. So an applied ethics/ancient/epistemology job would count 1/3 for each of those three areas. Most importantly, the 117 open jobs counted as 1/17’th of a job in each area. This is not obviously appropriate – an open job is more valuable for a candidate in theoretical ethics or early modern or mind than it is for a candidate in aesthetics or Asian philosophy or (to some extent) philosophy of language. But it was the best I could do. In those tables I also counted open rank jobs as being 1/2 a tenure-track job.

In the ‘every area counted’ I didn’t use any such fractional analysis. An applied ethics/ancient/epistemology job would count as 1 job in each area.

Most of the categories in the top two tables are self-explanatory, but a note on the two ‘other’ areas. ‘Other history’ mostly ended up meaning medieval, but also included a few 19th and 20th century positions. ‘Other’ included, inter alia, philosophy of religion and feminist philosophy. I was more than a little embarrassed by the stereotypes I was living up to in throwing those into a generic ‘other’ category, but not embarrassed enough to go back and recode everything – which by the end became a bit of a task because of how bad a coder I am.

For the summary categories at the end, ‘Core’ is Science + Language + Mind + Logic + Epistemology + Metaphysics, ‘Ethics’ is Theoretical and Applied Ethics, Legal, Political and Aesthetics, ‘History’ is Ancient + Early Modern + Other History, and ‘Other’ is everything else. (‘Ethics’ really is value theory, broadly construed.)

The first column counts all jobs in Jobs for Philosophers. The second column restricts attention to jobs in philosophy departments. The third to tenure-track jobs in philosophy departments, and the fourth to tenure-track jobs in top 50 philosophy departments. (Top 50 here means in the top 50 in the Leiter Report or, for schools outside the US, listed as being equivalent to a top 50 department or, for schools without a PhD program, of the standard of the departments previously listed.)

There’s a few obvious trends. The ratio of Core to Other jobs inside the Top 50 and outside it is noteworthy. The 5.8 Top 50 jobs in ‘Other’ is actually quite misleading, because that’s just a consequence of the fact that there are 17 open jobs in the top 50. If we assume those are really core/ethics/history jobs, the number of other jobs falls to 1 or 2. I was a little surprised by the low number of applied ethics jobs in the Top 50.

There are also a few things I didn’t really expect. I don’t know if it’s a one-year trend, but Science is way ahead of other core areas, especially when the distributions are done. Partially this is because there are very few jobs in just metaphysics, while there are quite a few jobs in just science. The low numbers for metaphysics and logic should be a little worrying to students working (or thinking of working) in those areas. Any such candidate should, at the very least, try to go on the market with a very solid competency in a related area (especially science, epistemology or mind), and ideally with a second AOS.

Also, I hadn’t expected how many jobs there would be in each area. The 117 open jobs are obviously pushing up the numbers here, but it seems most candidates could, if their placement offices were so inclined, apply for upwards of 150 jobs. In my (admittedly limited) experience most candidates apply for 40 to 70 jobs, so actually people are passing up a few jobs for which they could, technically, apply.



Chris Bertram 11.30.03 at 9:03 am

Having recently sat through a philosophy of science presentation which was IMHO 100% science and 0% philosophy (I’m not saying this was typical) I feel at bit miffed at the prejudicial term “Core” to refer to logic, epistemology &c. Issues about how to live, the metaphysics of value and what justice is are just as much core questions as issues about what a good explanation is.


harry 11.30.03 at 4:03 pm

Chris is right and wrong. Science is not in the core; theoretical ethics is; but I’d keep political philosophy and applied ethics out of the core (they’re about as far from it as sicence is). However, for Brian’s purpose, analysing the job market, I think its sensible to group ethics, political, and applied ethics together; but still misleading to include science in the core. What is my criterion for the core? I don’t know. One thing is this — I insist on political philosophy students getting themselves a good background in epistemology metaphysics ethics and phil of language; I would think it odd if Dennis Stampe insisted on his students getting a good background in political philosophy (but similarly odd if he didn’t insist that they get a background in theoretical ethics). Similarly, someone in Science should get a good background in M,E and P of L; but no reason for students of those to get a background in Science.

Why are you surprised at the paucity of applied ethics demand in top 50 departments? I’m surprised there’s as much as there is; both from casual observation of past JFPs and from observation of who is where.


Brian Weatherson 11.30.03 at 4:08 pm

I feel the need for a standard form disclaimer at this point. I don’t mean ‘core’ to be an evaluative term. Like in a real machine, I use ‘core’ to denote the part that has the least contact with the outside world. This fortunately maps on to the standard usage. E.g. metaphysics, especially of the kind I practice, is clearly part of the core.

Admittedly philosophy of science as it is now practiced doesn’t really fit that description, but it seems to fit in with the other areas. Perhaps Harry is right and I should have parcelled philosophy of science off onto a separate track though.

It would have been less tendentious to use ‘descriptive’ and ‘evaluative’ for ‘core’ and ‘ethics’, I guess, although even that is problematic. (Epistemology is more evaluative than descriptive after all.)


Michael Otsuka 11.30.03 at 11:56 pm

Thanks for counting all these jobs. Out of curiosity, how many hours did it take? It would be especially useful to see long-term trends, and perhaps the American Philosophical Association could be convinced to hire someone to do this. At the moment, they’ve got some rudimentary statistics posted here but a detailed breakdown like yours would be much more useful.


Michael Otsuka 12.01.03 at 12:06 am

Well, on second thought the APA would never go for a separate Top 50 category, which is one of the most revealing.


Brian Weatherson 12.01.03 at 1:05 am

Most of the time spent was tinkering with the software. Once I had it set up the way I wanted I think the data entry took less than 2-3 hours. It took a bit longer to get the database set up the way I wanted, but it’s there if I want to use it next year. But it’s not an enormous time commitment if someone wants to redo it using their preferred categories.

I agree the Top 50 line was the most interesting, and the least likely to be repeated by a professional survey.

Let me add one thing about the lack of Top 50 Applied Ethics jobs. Most applied ethics jobs are in bioethics. And most Top 50 depts are in schools that have medical schools, who usually employ their own bioethicists. So it isn’t as if these universities aren’t employing bioethicists, just their philosophy departments aren’t doing so. That’s not perfect, especially if you are a bioethicist who wants to work with other philosophers, but it’s not as bad as the numbers might suggest.


Matt 12.01.03 at 4:22 am

I’m not so sure about top 50 programs not employing applied ethics people, even if they are not hiring that many- Kamm spends a lot of her time doing what can only be called applied ethics, and she’s at Harvard after years at NYU, Gerald Dworkin at Davis does applied ethics, Rutgers just hired Jeff McMahon (and Penn thought about hiring him), Singer is at Princeton, Liz Harman does what can be called applied ethics and she’s now at NYU, There are several people at georgetown, Norman Bowie at Minn., etc. Do you just mean that there are not a lot of jobs advertised this year in the top 50 for people who _mainly_ or _only_ do applied ethics? That might be right, but it’s surely wrong to say that even in the very top programs applied ethics isn’t taught.


Brian Weatherson 12.01.03 at 5:33 am

I was primarily just looking at the numbers – the relative falloff from all jobs to top 50 jobs in applied ethics is really steep. In the last comment I was pointing out one possible reason for this. (Though I obviously didn’t provide any empirical support for that – it’s a conjecture not a theory.)

Here’s another way of putting the point. If applied ethics was as big at top 50 schools as outside them, you should be able to run off a list ten times that long of applied ethicists at top 50 schools. Compare how many philosophers of language, or mind, at equivalent schools one could name without trouble.

There’s an interesting terminological issue here by the way. For JFP purposes I wouldn’t have classified Liz as doing *applied* ethics. This one I do have some motivation for – we interviewed Liz for a job that was explicitly *not* in applied ethics. (She withdrew from the search before we made a decision, so there’s no gossip to spread about how well she did in the search.) Obviously her work has applications – the paper Sarah McGrath and I are doing on cloning draws heavily on Liz’s discussion of the non-identity problem, for example – but I’m pretty sure by job search standards she counts as on the theoretical side of the divide.

And Frances Kamm’s primary appointment is in the Kennedy School, which is some good news for my thesis that one cause of the difference in rates we see here is that applied ethics jobs move outside philosophy departments at higher ranked schools. To be sure she has a secondary appointment in the philosophy department, and even an office there, so this isn’t an ideal case. But again, if we have to look at people who are not primarily employed by philosophy departments to find applied ethicists, my conjecture that top philosophy departments don’t hire many applied ethicists looks pretty good!


matt 12.01.03 at 10:31 pm

I’d mostly agree w/ the last post, though think it’s still perhaps a bit too strong- I’d think that applied ethics is at least as well represented in the top 50 programs as, as, philosophy of biology, and probably better represented than mathematical logic. One thing that is pretty sure, though, is that it would be pretty rare for a top program to hire someone, esp. a junior person, who could _only_ do applied ethics- I’d guess Liz Harman falls into the group-her published work is all at least arguably applied ethics, but she can surely do fine work in other areas (I feel funny sounding like her press agent now.) Most of the people I’d consider the top applied ethics people also do very good work in other areas (Buchannan, Little, Daniels, etc.) One other point- I’d guess that the reason many applied ethics people work at least partly outside philosophy departments isn’t so much because they couldn’t get jobs in the top departments (_Surely_ Kamm, Daniels, Buchannan, etc. could) but rather because the money is much better in med schools and the like.

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