New Visualizations: Institution Scores by Philosophical Area

One useful comparison the PGR data allows us to make is between an Institution’s scores within a certain Area of philosophy and its Overall score. However, the data is a bit cumbersome to navigate in table form, and so help improve the raw data’s utility, I’ve added more visualizations for each major Area and a new metric for each Institution. This will enable readers to get a more intuitive sense of how an Institution’s Specializations within an Area stack up against its overall score.

The new visualizations relate two main data points: 1) the overall Mean score determined by the PGR survey for each Institution, and 2) the Area Mean score, which I calculated by taking the average of the Rounded Mean scores throughout the scored specializations at an Institution. (This is because some institutions are recommended for a specialization, but were not rated.) I created two visualizations to illustrate this relationship: a scatter plot, and two adjacent bar charts. The purpose is to give readers a sense of how an Institution’s overall score compares with the scores of its Specializations within an Area.

I then calculated a third value I call the Adjusted Area Mean score, which multiplies the Area Mean score by the overall Mean score divided by 5, the maximum score. This enables us to tie Area Mean scores to Overall mean scores to get a sense of how strong an Institution is within an area in light of its overall score.

Here is a still from the scatter plot for the Philosophy of Science and Mathematics:

With this visualization, the relationship between an Institution’s strength in a particular area versus its overall strength is immediately clear. For example, the University of Pittsburgh stands quite prominently ahead of other departments in terms of its Area Mean in the philosophy of science, but is also quite highly rated according to its Overall Mean score, making it an excellent choice.

The adjacent bar charts are also conducive to such analyses. In the dashboard, which is linked at the bottom of this post, you can sort each institution by Area Mean or by Overall Mean:

These bar charts make the following sort of analysis quite straightforward: Suppose a student is interested in studying the philosophy of science. Pittsburgh, with its combination of Area expertise and overall quality seems like an excellent choice, having four highly-scored specializations to choose from (General Philosophy of Science, Cognitive Science, Philosophy of Biology, and Philosophy of Physics), as well as a recommendation for Philosophy of the Social Sciences.

But what comes next? Likely, the reasoning will involve weighing the Area Mean scores against the Overall Mean scores in order to identify strong programs within the philosophy of science that also have high overall scores, making both the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) and Harvard University solid choices–though with a preference for Michigan by a small margin. The difference between Carnegie Mellon and Oxford, however, is a bit more striking: Both have equivalently rated (and the same number of) specializations in the philosophy of science, but Oxford has a much higher overall rating (4.6) than Carnegie Mellon (2.6).

In making these choices, there are at least two ways of proceeding: First is to have a preference for programs with the highest Area scores but acceptable Overall scores. Second is to prefer programs that have the highest Overall scores but also have strong Area scores. The Adjusted Area Mean chart below offers scores based on the second option by scaling the Area Mean score with the Overall Mean score.

In the still below, we can see that the University of Pittsburgh leads the way in the Philosophy of Science by this metric, but not quite by as much as it might seem to according to the X axis of the scatter plot. Although Oxford University (Orange) and New York University (Blue) are weaker in the Area of the Philosophy of Science, their Overall Mean scores are high enough put them just behind Pittsburgh, which still appears by these metrics to be the strongest place to study the philosophy of science. Carnegie Mellon, to contrast, is much lower down on the list, with an Adjusted Area Mean Score score of 2.028.

Finally, it bears mentioning that these graphics are not supposed to make the decision about which programs to pursue easy by any stretch. There may be perfectly good reasons to pursue a high-scoring Specialization at an Institution with a lower Overall score and vice versa. The goal in presenting the data this way is to make the analysis and comparison process more intuitive.

You can find links to the dashboards below and on the main Visualizing the PGR page at the bottom. Feel free to click around!

Visualizing the PGR

I decided to try my hand at visualizing the PGR’s data about the rankings and specialties of top philosophy programs in the English-speaking world. It was a lot of fun, and hopefully might be useful to somebody. Below is a sample screenshot of the bubble chart showing distributions of potential areas of specialization across the top Institutions. Click the link below for the full writeup!

On Truth and Chinese Philosophy


I am pleased to announce that my paper, “Truth and Chinese Philosophy: A Plea for Pluralism” has been accepted for publication in Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy. My first ever published paper was on this very topic back in 2014, also in Dao, and so I’m very excited to be revisiting it in Dao once again. The abstract can be found below, followed by an author’s preprint of the article. (Note: The preprint might have some minor differences from the final, published version.)


The question of whether or not early Chinese philosophers had a concept of truth has been a topic of some scholarly debate over the past few decades. The present paper offers a novel assessment of the debate, and suggests that no answer is fully satisfactory, as the plausibility of each turns in no small part on difficult and unsettled philosophical issues prior to the interpretation of any ancient Chinese philosophical texts—particularly the issues of what it means to “have a concept” and how we understand the concept of truth itself. This paper summarizes prominent views within the debate over truth and Chinese philosophy and offers conditional assessments of each answer with respect to contemporary theories of concepts and theories of truth. The paper concludes with an appeal to methodological and interpretive pluralism, within reasonable constraints, in discussions of this topic.

Keywords: truth, Chinese philosophy, concepts, methodology

An overdue update

As of March 2021, I have started my new position as an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Yonsei University’s Underwood International College in Songdo, South Korea. I am extremely grateful to be here, to be teaching both enthusiastic and talented students, and to be surrounded by enthusiastic, wonderful colleagues.

My faculty profile page can be found here, and you can find a brief writeup for myself and other, wonderful incoming colleagues here.

I will be updating my photography website in due time to reflect this change of location–from dr_hk_birdnerd to dr_sk_birdnerd–and plan to explore the birds of South Korea and post my photos there regularly (once my camera arrives from Hong Kong).

Re-vamping my Photography Website

I’ve decided to try and re-vamp my website for wildlife photos. I ignored it for a while because 1) I wasn’t sure how to expand its reach and 2) Intsagram seemed sufficient. What’s more is that I just didn’t do as much birding as I would have liked this past year because of the Hong Kong protests and now the COVID-19 pandemic. But this is a hobby I’ll keep for my life, and so I think it’s worth documenting.

The website includes regular blog posts about birds and wildlife in Hong Kong, links to my PicFair site, where you can purchase downloads or prints of my photos, as well as what I’m calling a Hong Kong bird log documenting the birds I’ve photographed in Hong Kong.

You can visit the here.

Ethics in the Zhuangzi: Diversity and Sagacity

The following essay is forthcoming in International Philosophical Quarterly (June, 2020) entitled “Ethics in the Zhuangzi: Diversity and Sagacity”. Its content is largely based on the penultimate chapter of my PhD dissertation, and has benefited greatly from feedback at various international venues over the past few years. An author’s preprint of the essay can be downloaded here.

An abstract follows:

Philosophers in China during the Warring States period generally saw themselves as investigators into, disputers of, and leaders of others along the Dao 道—the uniquely authoritative Way to live and to flourish. However, certain voices found in the Zhuangzi offer a radical response to these philosophical projects by rejecting the premise that there exists such a uniquely authoritative Dao. Instead, they argue that there exist myriad, diverse dao, none of which has absolute, moral authority. But these very same texts that undermine the idea of an authoritative Dao simultaneously make positive ethical suggestions regarding how to live and flourish, exemplified by various sagely figures. In this paper, I explore texts in the Zhuangzi that discuss both the diversity of dao and sagely flourishing, and argue that these two themes come together to form the basis of a comprehensive ethical view that I call Zhuangist pluralism.