Now that the future of PGR is hanging in the balance, some folk are thinking a future not just with multiple rankings (recall Weatherson and my response), but no philosophy rankings [HT Winsberg & Huebner on Facebook]. Several of my friends in the discipline have expressed surprise that I defend rankings in our future and that I have even expressed some desire to keep a modestly reformed PGR as one of the more important rankings in the discipline. I am not ignorant of the technical problems with the PGR -- and it is really astounding that in a discipline with so much knowledge about, and so often pays lip-service to, scientific method these problems have not caused more concerns -- and, given that I always insist that incentives matter, I am not sanguine about the perverse incentives PGR has generated in its own ecology, and the harm done to those on its margins and those excluded. For all I know, it has deformed the lives of some that thrive under it (I am not joking--it really deforms characters and moral sentiments). So, why defend it?
One defense might be that by generating competition for scarce talent along a whole range of sub-niches, it has elevated the salaries of people who would otherwise could never expect to rank as special (or distinguished, etc.). I have trotted out this defense, and I think it true. But I recognize that for the vast majority of folk this argument from self-interest will seem not very compelling, if only because they may have justified fear that these increases come at the expense of their salaries (or tenure, etc.). Given that I am stipulating a zero-sum environment, I don't have a good response to this concern (except to note that the expense may be felt by disciplines outside philosophy). (I thank Enzo Rossi for discussion.)
Rather, the most important thing to remember is that we live in an imperfect world, where scarcity matters and where, among the many constraints that influence our choices, judgments of quality need to have a place at the table,--or they will be simply ignored. The key virtue behind PGR is that it has given a wide enough group of very good professional philosophers a chance at shaping some disciplinary autonomy when it comes to judgments of quality. Rather than farming this judgment out to supposedly objective scientific metrics, or to outside news agencies, or more informal local judgments, the PGR gives a flawed and imperfect and often unfair, but decent snapshot of the evolving sensus communis. It's an imperfect proxy, but still a proxy that tracks perceptions of quality. To put the point differently: we will be ranked anyway by Deans, by grant agencies, by donors, etc. So, perhaps it's because I spent my time in a grant environment trying to track quality by silly metrics, but I am convinced it is better to have some disciplinary control over the rankings.
Does, my better a flawed autonomous disciplinary ranking than no ranking absolve us all from the complicity in the many petty (and a few larger) injustices and biases embedded in them and their application in the real world of hiring, tenuring, and graduate school choices? No, of course not. We -- that is, the inner core of a thousand to two-thousand professional philosophers that really benefit from the PGR (even if some never admit it) -- could have all done much more to encourage the systematic, ongoing adoption of known best practices into the PGR and more thoughtful ways to expand the PGR ecological reach in ways beneficial to more professional philosophers. The intellectual sparkle of even the most eminent of our humanitarian thinkers will be tainted and dimmed forever by their quiet acceptance of the PGR culture during the last decade(s); but even so, the embrace of the PGR is defensible.