Which Topics Are Trending in the Work of Philosophy Graduate Students & Recent PhDs? – Daily Nous

February 9, 2022
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What areas, topics, and questions are going to be hot in philosophy?
I’m not asking what today’s most influential philosophers are writing about. Rather, what are the members of philosophy’s “next generation”—today’s graduate students and recent PhDs—interested in and working on?
[Marion Pinaffo & Raphaël Pluvinage – “Affiches Artifices No.8” (aka “On Phire”)]

In my department, there’s a trend toward the historically informed but cutting-edge (see for instance our growing specialty in Indian philosophy). I’m working on the phenomenology of love within an analytic framework. That is: my research argues that the phenomenology of love – the ‘what it’s like’ of love – ought to play a more predominant role in our current best theories of love. There’s many of us doing interesting across-traditions work like this!Report
If twitter is any indication, mostly Hegel. But I don’t think twitter is any indication, and being a few years post-PhD and not advising grad students I haven’t the slightest idea. I will say that I think this is a great thing to solicit public comment about, given how much professional success can track inside knowledge of the trends emerging in grad student reading groups of unpublished papers at MIT, or which paper by a rising star at Princeton has been circulating as an unpublished manuscript for years so everyone who’s anyone is already writing a reply! Not that anyone in coursework phase should be picking a topic based on predicting fads, but it’s a real disadvantage when that kind of insider knowledge is held close.Report
One position that is going to be hot is necessitarianism.
Philosophers like: Amy Karofsky, Simone Gozzano, Stephen Maitzen, Timothy Williamson and others are working to show not only that there is no indeterminacy in the world, but that everything happens as a matter of necessity.
Amy Karofsky Associate professor of philosophy Hofstra University [email protected]
A Case for Necessitarianism (Routledge, 2021) https://www.amazon.com/Case-Necessitarianism-Routledge-Studies-Metaphysics-ebook-dp-B09NQRW79N/dp/B09NQRW79N/ref=mt_other?_encoding=UTF8&me=&qid=1643035020
Philosophy Through Film, 4e (Routledge, 2021) https://www.amazon.com/Philosophy-through-Film-Mary-Litch/dp/0367408503/ref=sr_1_1?crid=36WTR9WX3JA8T&keywords=karofsky&qid=1643043086&sprefix=karofsky%2Caps%2C77&sr=8-1Report
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I am doing my PhD on epistemic authority :)) there are so many instances of adding “epistemic” to more general moral terms. I always have this feeling that something is wrong with this overuse :))Report
Jamie Dreier, Nomy Arpaly, and Dave Estlund have a song about that: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSm6A7UuXbgReport
I’m literally researching epistemic responsibility 😂Report
The kids love Kant these days, seriously!Report
You could say he is their ideal idol.Report
Ignorance. Interdisciplinarity (transfer of skills, evidence, methods across specialisations).Report
This question is vague. By hot do you mean will be the subject of a bunch of papers in places like Phil Quarterly and PPR and excites the folks at Leiterrific schools? Or do you mean subjects that you have a good employment prospects? Those two circles on the old Euler diagram don’t overlap as much as a lot of people like to believe. If it’s the latter my money would be that bioethics remains smoking hot and philosophy of race, feminism, and history of non-western traditions become that way. If it’s the former I’ve no idea.Report
I read this as simply asking individuals to share what they and their colleagues are working on. Any one person’s report is going to be partial, but collectively this would be a very interesting picture of where the field is at.Report
Defended my diss in 2019, on religious faith and epistemology, especially evidentialism. While I was in a religious studies department, my background is very much in philosophy, and my ‘track’ was in the philosophy of religion.
I came to understand early that this is a very old-fashioned topic, and that many people now find it boring and passe, along with much philosophy of religion, broadly. Obviously, for my part, I think there’s still plenty left to explore. But I definitely do not think it is a big area of focus for up-and-comers, nor is it likely to be in the near future. (Not a highly employable AoS, either.)Report
Love this topic, by the wayReport
I think you’ve been misinformed. Stuff on the nature and rationality of faith, both religious and secular, seems to me to be a hot topic: there’s *tons* of recent work on it in good (general and specialist) journals.Report
I think the issue is that many atheists in philosophy basically think of phil. religion as Christian propaganda (I am guessing, not seen hard data) and a significant minority of them also see anything non-naturalist (even in much weaker, non-supernaturalist meanings of that term) as old-fashioned, so in a sense Troy is right that an unusually high number of people will look down on his area, but that is compatible with it being hot within phil. religion and with “faith” in its more general/secular contexts being a hot topic.Report
I think you’re right. My experience has been (roughly) that philosophy departments aren’t terribly interested in folks specializing in phil of rel, for reasons I’m not totally sure of; my guess is that they feel these issues are old-fashioned, unresponsive to new disciplinary trends, or beholden to outdated assumptions, etc. But religious studies departments are often a little anxious about philosophy, because they feel there is too little separation between phil of rel and theology (which they DARE not partake in!).
Sometimes it feels like there’s not much space to philosophize between hard atheistic naturalism and traditional theism.Report
I hope you are right. It’s true, there’s still great work on these topics appearing in journals all across the spectrum. I do find, being on the job market myself, that there are vanishingly few openings for philosophers of religion, or at least for those who focus on that primarily.Report
I’m a current PhD student writing my dissertation on the epistemology of imagination, on which there is a small but burgeoning literature (see the two recent edited volumes on the subject from Amy Kind).
I’m also working on iconic and analog representations, which have received a fair bit of recent philosophical interest both from recent PhDs and more established figures.Report
Hi Joshua,
What exactly do you mean by iconic and analog representations, and whom are you thinking of as working on these? I ask so I can give advice to a student with similar interests. Thanks!Report
I would think the best people to answer this question are people now on hiring committees for open area junior positions, and that such people might be more likely to comment after the hiring season is over. (Are there still places getting 600 applications for open positions? If so, that’s a good sample to see what grad students today are working on.)Report
😱 this made my day 🤣Report
It’s good to anticipate trends, but are philosophers generally known for this skill at all?
Looking at what hiring committees want, or what grad students are writing about, seems to be a serious case of confirmation bias. And what philosophers think is “hot” may not really be hot if we care about sustainability (e.g., new tenure-track lines) and not a trend du jour. For instance, maybe there’s a revival in Platonic studies among philosophers, but if your dean or university doesn’t see broader interest, esp. from students via enrollment numbers, then that plan might be DOA.
Instead, I would say that the “hot” areas are what the world needs or wants, which would drive student interest and university investments in that area.
Thus, I would keep a pulse on current events, incl. policy, international affairs, science & technology, etc. And where philosophy intersects with those emerging issues is where the “hot” areas could be found, from fake news to fascism.
I’m not saying that hot = applied or public philosophy (though that helps a lot), but it can still be core or traditional philosophy that can also inform modern debates. Academic disciplines are clearly under pressure now to demonstrate their value, rightly or not, and engaging with the world is a good way of showing that value.
Of course, what’s “hot” also has to be hot for you, the researcher. Not everyone here will be interested in drawing out the big-picture implications of their work or care about current affairs, which is fine. But I don’t know how “hot” or how much momentum those areas of study can get without an external force pulling it forward…Report
On your first point – I think that asking what is hot is very likely to identify the topics that are exactly on-trend at the moment, many of which are likely to have a collapse or oversaturation right at the time that current grad students are on the market.Report
I haven’t looked at a lot of dissertations and job applicant pools lately, but I’ve been on graduate admissions committees for several years. There’s definitely been a trend in recent years of incoming grad students being interested in environmental issues, from animal ethics to climate science to sustainability. Interestingly, this year, at least 10% of our applicants had writing samples on the philosophy of humor.
It’s hard to tell how much of a guide we can get from seeing interest in these sorts of topics at the level of incoming grad students, since it’s possible that many of these people end up not getting admitted to grad school, or changing their interests once they do. But I suspect that in the latter case, there’s still a good chance that people’s youthful interests re-emerge once they’re a few years out of grad school.
One thing that made it seem to me that these were more than just coincidences is that these topics are bubbling up organically in many different areas. Given the pluralism of the Texas A&M department, we get applicants who are working in the analytic, continental, Latinx, and pragmatist traditions, as well as applicants interested in epistemology, philosophy of mind, ethics, and political philosophy. Interest in both the environment and in humor or comedy seems to have come from applicants in a variety of these areas, and they both seem to tie into broader trends. (The environment is an obvious broader societal trend; the interest in humor is tying in both to social trends about the ethics of “problematic” humor, and to within-discipline trends of interest in games and in embodied rationality.)Report
Nietzsche on decafenceReport
The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories seems to be booming at the moment. As the first in the field (after Popper) on this particular topic, I get invited to a lot of conferences, colloquia and seminars on conspiracy theories and my impression is that a lot of young or youngish Philosophers (of whom I am no longer one) are getting into it.Report
My dissertation topic: Body aesthetics, philosophical methodology (namely, making a case for the benefit of using non-traditional research methods, grounded in black feminism, through a case study in body aesthetics/cosmetics).
Additional research areas: pedagogy, asexuality, social justice, pop culture ethics and aesthetics.Report
I think these topics are cries of the dayReport
the benefit of using non-traditional research methods”
Could you specify what do you mean by this?Report
I work on the philosophy of psychedelic drugs and I’ve been in contact with quite a lot of faculty, grad students, and prospective grad students who either are working, or want to work, on this topic. Obviously my perspective is skewed but it seems to me that there’s quite a lot of interest out there. I just published a monograph on the topic and there’s another monograph and two edited collections due out in the next 1-1.5 years.Report
We’ve been looking at that too, but from the perspective of how psychedelics might raise novel issues not already covered in the ethics debate on human enhancements. If you see any, please let me know!
I can see psychedelics being a legal market inside 15-20 years, though very tightly controlled. And the social implications may be massive.
P.S. This is a great Q&A with Michael Pollan about the subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IBLnSl8Q1NQReport
Excellent! Do you know Earp’s paper on ‘psychedelic moral enhancement’? And Smith and Sisti’s on ‘ethics and ego dissolution’?
I mention the enhancement debate(s) briefly in one of my papers, but more to argue that psychedelics don’t raise old issues than to argue that they raise new ones:
https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/imp/jcs/2015/00000022/F0020009/art00011
A big focus of my work is on the epistemic status of the psychedelic state, as the potential epistemic risks of psychedelic experience seem to raise ethical concerns. But I focus more on the epistemic matters than on engaging directly with the ethical debates, though I discuss the latter in a brief and superficial way.
Would be very interested to hear about what you and your group have been doing on the topic!Report
No, I hadn’t seen your article before, so thanks for alerting me to it, Chris! My school doesn’t have a subscription to that journal; do you have a copy or draft you could email me (palin [at] calpoly.edu)?
We still haven’t done anything yet here with the subject and have only been looking at the ethical issues, esp. for any novel issues, which we’re not immediately seeing. But as you say, the epistemic risks can become ethical ones, too, so I’d be keen to learn about those.
Anyway, given all of our work here in human enhancement ethics (going back to the early/mid 2000’s with John Weckert and others, if you know him), I thought it’d give us a running start on psychedelic ethics.
Would be happy to team up with you on something, incl. an exploratory workshop (resources and pandemic permitting). If you’re interested, let’s continue this convo over email.Report
I’m a PhD student, and I and a number of associates are working on the ethics of abortion, conscientious objection, artificial wombs and related bioethics topics. We’ve published many papers in a wide variety of journals.Report
This is just a case of Habermas’s “specialized discourses,” insofar as philosphy seeks novelty like every other avenue of “specialized discourse.”Report
My dissertation is on environmental philosophy and problems posed by space exploration (terraforming, the application of wilderness philosophy to the extraterrestrial, and utopian politics of space colonies). It’s a relatively small but growing area with a lot of interesting stuff going on!Report
Considering the current struggles to organize academic workers at American universities such as Columbia, it is too bad Marxist philosophy is at -459.67° F.Report
No worries at all Neil. I remember that conversation. I just didn’t know I’d be named as someone who agrees/wants to take things a step
Is this a system that a single journal could set up if it had a suitable jury of qualified reviewers? If so, perhaps some innovative
I taught at Wharton (in legal studies and business ethics – I should note that the department is as much “legal studies” (and social science) […]
Is there something like this in Ohio? I would be willing to attend something like this (I’m in 7th grade). It is kind of what
Hi Vikram. As it happens, I was also in your dept. as a visiting prof. prior to going to Trinity. I appreciate your work and
Well put, Kenneth. What has been the case for me personally is that I tend to be first author as philosophical theorist but my co-authors […]
This is a good question. One thing to recognize is that the top management journals generally are controlled by editors from a variety of backgrounds […]
Given the problems with current peer-review, it’s worth a shot, but I too have concerns about the logistics. I’m particularly worried about the grad student […]
Thanks for this. May I ask, where do you find jobs for engineering schools posted?
Could you say more about the co-authoring issue? In particular, do you mean to say that the kind of work that tends to get acceptance […]
Why yes, Michael, I am the Napoleon of crime.
Excellent post. I have always taught in a B school since getting a PhD in Philosophy in 1978. Happy to help others.

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