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04/28/2022

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Tom

While I think that this is concerning, I wonder whether wee should find it more concerning than other numbers? The fact that you have to group the entire non-Western philosophical world together in order to get meaningful numbers to report seems to indicate a crisis. Or is the concern that aesthetics had a higher status, which now seems to be dropping, whereas non-Western philosophies have always been disregarded? I'm not making a claim for which of these fields has a higher relative importance, but I think that such a claim would need to be made before I'd be comfortable with the APA tackling one but not the others. (And I am sure there are many other areas of philosophy that are equally maligned.)

anon

This is not meant to be the deepest or only solution, and maybe it's won't be a popular suggestion, but I do think that first year PhD students should be warned about situations like this one. Someone interested in aesthetics or, say, philosophy of math, should be guided into writing a dissertation that lets them claim two AOSs, where one AOS is actually popular with employers. I remember going to some meetings in my program early on and getting some tips on specializing and so on, but this was never a part of the conversation.

anonymous associate professor

I am skeptical that there is an aesthetics crisis--there are so many employed people working in aesthetics! I do think that it is much more common these days for people to specialize in aesthetics through (or with) a related subfield (e.g. just to name the ones that come to mind, there are tons of people doing aesthetics in metaphysics (and intersection of social ontology and aesthetics), in social epistemology, in agency, in connection with work in social philosophy/race/gender, and in history). I am not an aesthetician but I could still rattle off a lot of names here (including pretty high profile people). I also think Tom's point is impossible. I think aesthetics is extremely important, but (a) there are a lot of maligned areas of philosophy and (b) how we choose to group areas of philosophy matters to our perceived judgments about whether they are getting rightful attention in hiring, etc.

anonymous associate professor

*important, not impossible. Sigh. Though it would be impressive to successfully make an impossible point!

postdoc10

I’m sure Tom is correct that the issue with non-western jobs is very bad. I don’t think that really takes away from Cassandra’s point. Climate change is much worse than any of our problems in the profession. If the rule is “ignore all problems except the very worst one”, then we should probably all quit our jobs (excepting the environmental ethicists, perhaps). I suspect both of these problems are worth addressing. They are also related: they both have to do with inadequate funding for valuable philosophy pursuits, which lose out both to other kinds of philosophy and especially to non-philosophical considerations. In particular, part of the problem is surely just how few total TT jobs there are, compared to job candidates.

It seems to me that a solution to all of these problems should be worked on together, through the means of faculty organizing. Which means we need to work together to address these problems, rather than fight about which one is worse.

But in the meantime, perhaps individuals can work on finding extra funding for both aesthetics and non-western philosophy through external funding agencies and organizations.

Elizabeth

To anon @9:36’s point: there are people working in aesthetics. But many of those folks are either senior (and hired as aestheticians) or mid-career and hired as something else - and after tenure were able to write what they loved. I’d love to see data on whether lines in aesthetics are getting replenished and my sense is they’re not. When someone retires, they’re either not getting replace or getting replaced with someone outside the field. (And FWIW I agree with Tom - but I think it is a separate but equally important issue worthy of discussion.)

Darren

As someone who was on the market in aesthetics for (checks watch) 14 years, I can assure you, there is a crisis in aesthetics, and has been for some time. Yes, there are plenty of people who contribute to the field, but with rare exceptions they were either hired primarily to do something other than aesthetics and have picked up aesthetics as a side-interest, or they've been on the job for at least 3 decades. When aestheticians retire, they are overwhelmingly not replaced by aestheticians.

anon aesthetician

My lukewarm and possibly inaccurate take on the matter is that aesthetics has always been regarded as a "disposable" subfield for hiring purposes—one that it's nice to have, but which is by no means a necessity for a department. Over the past several years, as many departments have (rightly) been pushed to diversify the discipline by hiring philosophers doing work on marginalized identities, aesthetics hires have been put on the back burner.

Unfortunately, I don't know that there are any easy solutions here. As an aesthetics AOSer myself, I do believe that aesthetics is vital—there is a lot of amazing and exciting work going on in the field right now with really important connections to lots of other "core" areas of philosophy. But, unfortunately, I think that the "disposability" of aesthetics is a problem not just at the level of hiring departments, but also at the level of the institution. It's likely much harder to sell a dean or a provost on an aesthetics-focused search than it is on, say, an ethics search or a search that will help diversify the faculty.

UK aesthetician

I would certainly like more aestheticians to be hired, but I try to keep track of junior philosophy hires and between 2019 and 2022, I count 13 junior TT hires in philosophy departments in anglophone countries of people with an AOS in aesthetics. Most of these people claim at least one AOS in addition to aesthetics, but at least 10 of these people are doing serious and important work in aesthetics. And, many of these people have been hired into departments with PhD programmes. So I'm not terribly convinced that there is a 'crisis' that is worse for aesthetics than for philosophy, or the humanities, more generally.

Bill Vanderburgh

While I hate to see good philosophers going without permanent jobs, I don't see how the APA or any other body could address this across the profession. The adjunct crisis as a whole proves that there are very many permanent jobs in many subfields that should be created, but aren't or won't be. Thinking strategically from an institution's or department's perspective, if you get the opportunity to add a new permanent position, the priority list for what fields to hire will have to do with what central areas are underserved in that department, what the students are asking for, and what administrators think will best serve the mission of the university. It is more likely then that the hire will be in race, gender, non-Western, practical ethics, or core areas. Unfortunately, most deciders do and will see Aes/Art as just a "nice to have." BUT I think it is increasingly rare in general for someone to be competitive without having multiple areas of strength. It is good advice for grad students with any main interest to develop at least one other area, probably one quite different from the main one.

Michel

There are at least a couple of overlapping problems:

One is that aesthetics is disappearing from graduate education in the US (the situation is different in the US and Canada). As older aestheticians retire or die, they are not being replaced. As a result, there are increasingly few US institutions where you can get substantive supervision in the subject, and the list becomes _incredibly_ small if you restrict it to Leiter-ranked (or, worse, top PGR) departments. This has a number of knock-on and trickle-down effects which serve to further erase the subfield from broader philosophical consciousness. IMO, it’s no accident that so many philosophers think that aesthetics is fundamentally oriented around Hume, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Heidegger. Those historical/continental areas are one of the few places in graduate education where you find _any_ talk of aesthetics, so it’s only natural; but it’s just so very, very, very far from representing what the subfield actually looks like, and how sophisticated it’s become since 1968. For some perspective, imagine thinking that contemporary philosophy of science revolved around Bacon, Kuhn, Popper, Lakatos, and Latour!

Another is the job market, which is particularly punishing on those with an AOS in aesthetics. Anon above will be glad to learn that branching out and having multiple AOSes has been standard advice for graduate students in aesthetics for at least a decade, if not longer. But the fact remains that the total dearth of jobs pushes young aestheticians out into the alt-ac world at an astonishing rate. Those very few who find any kind of job find it through their other AOS, but it’s incredibly common for aestheticians on the market to get zero interviews for _any_ kind of job, second AOS be damned (the situation is very different for my non-aesthetics acquaintances, who struggle to get jobs but not usually with quite so few interviews for quite so many applications).

I suspect, from purely anecdotal evidence, that the AOS in aesthetics is held against them at some level, so that, say, someone with AOSes in metaethics and aesthetics doesn’t look nearly as good as someone with a pure metaethics AOS, or metaethics and metaphysics. This isn't helped by the fact that if you’re attending a program strong in aesthetics, it’s probably not one of the top-ranked programs in your other AOS (because of the first problem, above). So, actually, you’re competing against the double-meta AOS from Princeton or Berkeley with your degree from a perfectly respectable but much lower-ranked program. And that’s why the dearth of jobs with an AOS in aesthetics makes such a difference: search committees prioritize applicants with a better background in the AOS they’re looking for. If you’re looking for AOS aesthetics, then the candidate from UBC or Illinois-Chicago is going to loom larger than the one from MIT. But if you’re not, well, it’s understandable that the aestheticians will fall by the wayside.

The result, unfortunately, is that even at the undergraduate level, aesthetics is struggling. While it’s true that there are a lot of aestheticians around, the issue is that newly-minted aestheticians—in particular, people who specialize in the subject, rather than dabble (note: there’s nothing wrong with dabbling! Dabblers are more than welcome, but the learning curve is steep. I dabble in lots of areas myself, but I’m also clearly not a specialist in them, because the learning curve is so high.)—are falling through the cracks at an alarming rate. Since Darren posted above, I’ll just say: his publication profile is _astonishingly_ good, and he already enjoys a significant reputation in the subfield—but here he is, with his first TT job after fourteen years on the market. Nor is his situation unusual.

All of that, however, strikes me as being at odds with the actual value and popularity of the subfield. Unsurprisingly, given the state of graduate education in aesthetics, philosophers seem to think it’s a small subfield. And while it’s true that, at this point, it exists primarily at the undergraduate level in the US, it’s worth pointing out that the ASA is actually one of the largest philosophical organizations. On the research front, the ASA runs five conferences a year (one annual, four divisional); its parallel organizations abroad (BSA, CSA, ESA) also run yearly conferences. There are two top-tier specialist journals in aesthetics (BJA and JAAC), several second-tier research venues, and a _ton_ of perfectly respectable but third-tier venues. Like the philosophy of science, it has several well-defined and well-developed sub-subfields, and work in them is quite sophisticated. Plus, undergraduates _love_ aesthetics. It’s incredibly popular with undergraduates, especially when you have someone on hand who can teach more targeted classes like the philosophy of music, literature, film, or games. So: it’s a subfield with a lot of research and teaching interest, but which finds that interest not at all reflected in the jobs outlook.

Contemporary aesthetics doesn’t fit well under the umbrella of value theory, because it’s characterized by a wide variety of problems and work (e.g. the philosophy of music is dominated by serious metaphysics). But that’s where it’s classified for historical reasons; yet it’s telling that, as Cassandra observed, you’ll routinely find ads for value theory broadly construed with the qualification ‘except aesthetics’. (There seems to be a similar issue at some top generalist journals, too, as many aestheticians will tell you.)

I don’t think that these problems are unique to aesthetics, although I do think that the particular confluence of circumstances probably is (especially when you mix in the field’s size, ostensible popularity, and robust research networks). I don’t know what’s to be done, really, except that better representation at the graduate level would at least help to fix the perception that aesthetics ended with Hegel or Heidegger.

DS

Instead of putting 'aesthetics' as your AOS, just put 'value theory'--that's what I do. Problem solved!

Madeleine Ransom

I agree that the lack of aesthetics jobs is troubling, and that grad students should be advised to develop a double AOS if they want to do aesthetics (I was advised to do so by several people early on in my career), with a focus on publishing in the other AOS. I am new TT faculty in Canada with an AOS in philosophy of mind and aesthetics, but I was hired as a philosopher of mind.

The way to do a double AOS, imo is to make the two areas talk to each other and investigate how each can inform the other. My own research is on perceptual learning and how this shapes perceptual experience, and it turns out this connects nicely with the question of whether we perceive aesthetic properties. A bonus of doing things this way is that it can demonstrate to people in the non-aesthetics field how aesthetics is relevant to their field. So it can be a way of broadening interest in aesthetics amongst the uninitiated.

Some other thoughts on helping to turn things around. First, if grad students are interested, then they should get involved with the British Society for Aesthetics and/or the American Society for Aesthetics. Both societies have generous support programs for grad students whose papers are accepted to their annual conferences, and they will cover your travel and accommodations (and food at the BSA -- you eat all your meals in a large dining hall at one of the Oxford colleges together with other attendees). Attending their conferences was a highlight of my grad school experience: the people are friendly and interesting, and the conferences are fun. There are also graduate prizes and awards, and I suspect getting these can help people on the market (especially those from non top-PGR programs) because they are an independent assessment of your abilities.

Second, I suspect that aesthetics is at a turning point in North America: people are (maybe more frequently? not sure on the numbers) publishing papers in aesthetics in top generalist journals and the 2021 APA book prize went to a book in aesthetics -- Thi Nguyen's excellent book, Games: agency as art.

There also seems to be a trend towards broadening the subject matter of aesthetics. To name only a few examples: work in body aesthetics by people like Paul Taylor, Sherri Irvin, and Ann Eaton; a recent book co-written by Dom Lopes, Bence Nanay and Nick Riggle, specifically meant to be accessible to undergraduates, on how aesthetic practices contribute to a meaningful life (titled: Aesthetic Life and Why it Matters); and a book by Matt Strohl on why it's okay to love bad movies. I think this broadening is particularly helpful to raising the profile of aesthetics because it shows how aesthetics connects to daily life, and makes it easier to include aesthetics readings on intro syllabi. Not sure whether this will change hiring practices but perhaps indirectly it might contribute.

Third, and more speculatively, I wonder if public philosophy will help raise the profile of aesthetics in North America amongst academics. I have seen many excellent public-facing articles (check out https://aestheticsforbirds.com for example), and I know that many of these get a lot of public uptake. Again, what I'm not sure about is whether public philosophy helps or will help change departmental hiring practices.

Fourth, one aspect of the leaky pipeline in aesthetics is postdocs. One concrete thing that could be done by the BSA, ASA and senior TT people who work in aesthetics is to get more funding for aesthetics postdocs. People are already doing this to some degree (Dom Lopes is a funding wizard) but I suspect more could be done.

G

I do not know much about aesthetics so I could be totally wrong. But I wonder if it has anything to do with the nature of the field of aesthetics. Interestingly, most of my friends who claim that they have aesthetics as their research area are from disciplines other than philosophy, including comparative literature, art history, film studies, musicology, etc. I am not sure if it means that philosophy is actually not the best department to study aesthetics. It seems a bit arrogant to think that "true" aesthetics must be taught and studied by philosophers.

It is similar with respect to non-western philosophy. I am almost sure that the best places to study some non-western philosophy are not philosophy departments but East/South Asian studies, Native American studies, religious studies, among others.

I am not suggesting that we should keep things as what they are but just providing some perspectives to interpret the data here.

Filippo Contesi

There is indeed a crisis in analytic aesthetics, it seems to me, insofar as there is a much greater preference to hire people for continuing jobs, who have side AOSs in aesthetics (ie ‘dabblers’ to use an above used term) to teach aesthetics, than to hire people with side AOSs in the vast majority if not all other traditional (Western) philosophical sub-fields. This is partly the fault of us analytic aestheticians for not fighting hard enough to get main-AOS analytic aestheticians considered seriously for jobs. Meanwhile, psychological and Continental aesthetics continue to flourish. At this point, the single most effective change would be for greater involvement of larger interdisciplinary committees in hiring for continuing jobs. Otherwise, since the vast majority of continuing jobs are decided in large part at the departmental level, the absence of strong main-AOS analytic aestheticians in faculties will perpetuate itself.

Aesthetics

Strange to me that philosophers tend to have a caricature view of contemporary aesthetics. Morality and politics intersect art so many times: Is it right or wrong to buy an artist’s work who has done highly immoral things? What are the ethics of museums curation? Should comedians make offensive jokes targeted at marginalized people for fun? Does or should the state have a moral obligation to fund the arts? Do or should we have a moral obligation to fund or support the arts? Do artists have an obligation to make sure their artwork is inclusive or is it morally permissible for them to convey a certain aesthetic at the cost of excluding others? Is it morally permissible to not design and make clothes for fat people? Is it moral or immoral to hire only or mostly White models for a fashion show?

The recent Abercrombie & Fitch documentary on Netflix shows how much of ethics and politics are entangled with aesthetics. There’s so much potential in the area of aesthetics. It’s very unfortunate that it’s not given much thought by other philosophers.

also anon aesthetics

The crisis in aesthetics is partly an economic matter, but my experience suggests it is more deeply a cultural problem about respect for the field. There is a culture in philosophy of treating aesthetics as unworthy of interest. This shows up in so many ways:

in there being almost no training in aesthetics at the top graduate programs and very little emphasis on training in aesthetics even in programs that can offer it;

in aesthetics being considered not ‘serious’ or ‘core’, despite it bearing on nearly every issue in philosophy, being part of philosophy since its inception, and having a rich tradition full of excellent work that philosophers should be proud of;

in senior philosophers dismissing it out of near-complete ignorance or blithely saying they "know nothing about it" despite working in philosophy for multiple decades--even Kant scholars who should champion the 3rd Critique but who embrace their ignorance on the grounds that it is ‘crazy’;

in philosophers generally thinking that aesthetics is somehow easier than other areas of philosophy (e.g., in conversation with a senior philosopher during a break at a metaphysics conference: “That lecture must have been difficult for you to follow.”);

in philosophers assuming they needn’t pay attention to current work in aesthetics;

in the regular occurrence of well-funded conferences at elite universities on topics that bear directly on aesthetics with no one who works in aesthetics on the schedule;

in (as mentioned in other comments) hiring committees thinking that they can hire someone who lists aesthetics as their side hustle and sufficiently cover the field;

in people outside aesthetics saying regularly that the work in aesthetics is “no good”, as if work in their field is mostly gold. Sorry, but LOL.

I could go on.

I think respect for aesthetics is growing among early- and rising mid-career philosophers. They tend to know something about the work that is being done. But I don’t see how any of this really changes without people in aesthetics being hired to lead graduate-level training in the top departments. It is desperately needed. But more fundamentally work in aesthetics needs to be respected without reservation, the way philosophers respect metaphysics or epistemology, even if they complain about the current shape of those fields.

anon-western philosopher

G brought up the analogy with non-Western philosophy, and I just wanted to chime in on that. I don't think G intended this necessarily, but reading the comment, one could wonder: Well, why assume that we need to be the ones to accommodate all this stuff (non-Western, aesthetics, ...), when our field is already so starved for jobs and other departments do it better anyways?

As far as non-Western goes, the answer is that, while it is often easier to get proper training in an area studies or religious studies department, doing "pure philosophy" is increasingly frowned upon in those disciplines. Students looking to focus on arguments and philosophical content in such settings are often pressured to work on something less elite and more historical, if only by the job market trends in those fields.

That things are changing in philosophy departments for non-Western (see the joint programs at UChicago and Harvard, for instance) is huge, because it gives students looking to do non-Western **philosophy** a place to do so, without having to spend a ton of time justifying why the KK thesis is interesting or Ryle a worthwhile interlocutor.

I can't speak to the state of aesthetics, but I can easily imagine a similar dynamic playing out for students looking to do philosophically serious work in aesthetics outside of a philosophy department. And if so, we have an obligation to make the field more capacious so that such students have a genuine disciplinary home.

Sam Duncan

My guess here is that this can be traced back to deep structural factors in the job market, and that for that reason the problem may be practically impossible to solve. Why do departments hire? Well largely for a few reasons I think: 1. They need specific classes taught. 2. They want to move up the rankings. 3. They want someone who can bring in outside grants. (I think 3 is a very distant third for philosophy given our abysmal record of winning grants). Hiring in aesthetics doesn't fit with any of these particularly well. Aesthetics isn't a class that most departments *need* someone to teach. At many departments it's a class they'd like to offer but that's a far cry from needing someone to teach it. And hiring in aesthetics is not going to move the needle on a school's Leiter ranking. If that's what you care about then it makes more sense to hire a completely unexceptional LEMMing from one of the top ranked schools than it does to hire even the absolute best young aesthetician in the U.S. or even the world. Finally, while aestheticians would probably have an easier time pitching their work in grant proposals than would many philosophers in "core" areas, they aren't going to do nearly as well at getting outside funding as say bioethicists. All of this puts aesthetics in a uniquely bad position. Bioethics and other applied ethics fields don't help a department with rankings given the huge bias against them, but many departments absolutely need someone to teach those classes. The same is increasingly true of various AOS's in non-western. The same can't be said of aesthetics. For all these reasons, aesthetics is a luxury hire most departments can't afford. Now I don't mean to endorse this state of affairs. I actually think it's quite bad and that aesthetics is by any reasonable metric more deserving of support than are many currently trendy subfields in the "core" areas. But unfortunately the fact it deserves support doesn't mean it will get it. I fear that this will be yet another culturally vital area of inquiry that philosophy just completely cedes to other academic fields.

Aesthetics

Perhaps aesthetics is also having a PR problem. I like to think that advertising your class to art students would help increase enrollment or include aesthetics in your intro classes and maybe teach it every other semester. I don’t think these solutions are quick fixes. It’s a slow process. But having it recorded in a catalog might interest (future) students. But I wouldn’t bore students with the “Nature of Art” section in an intro class. For intro, you want to grab their attention and keep them interested in philosophy. The (boring) foundational stuff will come later if they’re serious about doing philosophy. We all gotta slog through it eventually.

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