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Brian Leiter (born 1963) is an American philosopher and legal scholar who is Karl N. Llewellyn Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Chicago Law School and founder and Director of Chicago's Center for Law, Philosophy & Human Values. Robin Bradley Kar, Professor of Law and Philosophy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, described Leiter as "one of the most influential legal philosophers of our time", and Mark Jenkins, in The Journal of Nietzsche Studies, described Leiter's Nietzsche on Morality (2002) as "arguably the most important book on Nietzsche's philosophy in the past twenty years."
He taught for two years at the University of San Diego School of Law, was a visiting assistant professor of philosophy at the University of California, San Diego, and taught from 1995 to 2008 at the University of Texas School of Law, where he was founder and Director of the Law and Philosophy Program, and then was hired by the University of Chicago in 2008. His scholarly writings have been primarily in legal philosophy and Continental philosophy. He has also been a visiting professor at universities in the United States and Europe, including Yale University and Oxford University. He is founding editor of a book series entitled Routledge Philosophers, and (with Leslie Green) of Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Law, and he is also a prolific blogger.
Leiter was also the founder and for 25 years the editor of the Philosophical Gourmet Report ("PGR"), an influential but also controversial ranking of philosophy PhD programs in the English-speaking world. In 2002, 175 philosophers signed an open letter calling on Leiter to stop producing the PGR. In fall 2014, over 600 philosophers signed a petition to boycott the PGR organized by philosophers at University of British Columbia to protest what they called a "derogatory and intimidating" e-mail sent by Leiter to one of their colleagues, whom Leiter claimed had threatened him. In response, Leiter stepped down as editor of the PGR. One member of the PGR's Advisory Board described it as backlash from the "politeness police". Leiter, however, was dismissive of the criticism of him, which he attributed partly to feminist philosophers angry about his advocacy for due process rights, and partly to philosophers who were upset because their own departments ranked poorly.
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Leiter earned his Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from Princeton University (1984), and his J.D. (1987) and Ph.D. (in philosophy; 1995) from the University of Michigan. He taught for two years at the University of San Diego School of Law, and was a visiting assistant professor of philosophy at the University of California, San Diego. Leiter taught from 1995 to 2008 at the University of Texas School of Law. At Texas, Leiter was founder and Director of the Law and Philosophy Program. Leiter is Karl N. Llewellyn Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Chicago Law School, which hired him in 2008, and founder of Chicago's Center for Law, Philosophy & Human Values.
He has been a visiting professor of law or philosophy at Yale Law School, University College London, University of Chicago Law School, University of Paris X-Nanterre, University of California, San Diego, and Oxford University. He edited the journal Legal Theory from 2000 to 2008, and is editor of the Routledge Philosophers, a series of introductions to major philosophers, and (with Leslie Green) Oxford Studies in the Philosophy of Law. Author Walter K. Olson described him as "left-leaning" in Schools for Misrule: Legal Academia and an Overlawyered America (Encounter Books, 2011).
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Leiter's scholarly writings have mainly been in two areas: legal philosophy and Continental philosophy. Philosophical naturalism has been a major theme in both contexts. In legal philosophy, he offered a reinterpretation of the American Legal Realists as prescient philosophical naturalists and a defense of what he called "naturalized jurisprudence" in his book Naturalizing Jurisprudence: Essays on American Legal Realism and Naturalism in Legal Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 2007). Upon publication, Jeremy Horder wrote that the "book will confirm Brian Leiter 's place in the front rank of legal theorists in the world today."
Leiter has also written a considerable amount on the philosophical work of Friedrich Nietzsche, including an article for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. In particular, Leiter defended a reading of Nietzsche as a philosophical naturalist in his Nietzsche on Morality (London: Routledge, 2002) and in later papers, including one with Joshua Knobe on "The Case for Nietzschean Moral Psychology" in Nietzsche and Morality (Oxford University Press, 2007). In 2014, when student members of the University College London Union Council informed the "Nietzsche Club" that it could no longer declare an affiliation with the school, because the club was promoting "far-right" and "fascist" ideologies, Leiter first defended the club, saying Nietzsche was not a fascist, but later noted that if the club is a front for a fascist group, then it's a shame that Nietzche was smeared as a fascist in the discussion.
Leiter's most recent book, Why Tolerate Religion?, published by Princeton University Press , has proved controversial. The political philosopher John Gray wrote, “A model of clarity and rigour and at points strikingly original, this is a book that anyone who thinks seriously about religion, ethics and politics will benefit from reading.” Christopher L. Eisgruber, the President of Princeton University, said. "Every reader will learn something from this remarkable book, and, beginning now, every serious scholar of religious toleration will have to contend with Leiter's bold claims." By contrast, the website of the conservative Family Research Council said the book was “one of the most troubling and intellectually discreditable books by a serious American scholar in some time.” The book was named an "Outstanding Academic Title" by Choice in 2013.
Philosophical Gourmet Report
In 1989, while he was a graduate student Leiter made a list of what he believed, initially based on his own impressions and research, to be the top 25 graduate philosophy programs in the United States. Called the Philosophical Gourmet Report, this list came to be known as "the Leiter Report" and has been circulated since the early 1990s by philosophy departments and individuals. It is circulated biannually, and according to Above the Law became internationally recognized. Published by Wiley-Blackwell, they are a controversial ranking of graduate programs in philosophy in the English-speaking world.
The PGR was described by David L. Kirp in a 2003 New York Times op-ed as "the bible for prospective [philosophy] graduate students." George Yancy, in Reframing the Practice of Philosophy: Bodies of Color, Bodies of Knowledge (SUNY Press, 2012), opined that Philosophical Gourmet Report ranking: "is, of course, very controversial. However, as is often pointed out, there is no real alternative." Carlin Romano, in America the Philosophical (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2013), referred to the PGR rankings as "often-criticized" and "biased towards mainstream analytic departments".
Other academic rankings
Leiter has also edited a ranking of U.S. law schools, which The Washington Post describes as "well-known," and was hired by Maclean's magazine in Canada to produce a ranking of Canadian law schools.
Blogging and other public activities
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Leiter is a prolific blogger, running three blogs, one on philosophy (and political commentary), one on law, and one on Nietzsche. Leiter's philosophy blog includes both professional news and polemics, for example, critiques of proponents of intelligent design, and the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. He has also written critiques of journalists and philosophers, including Romano, Thomas Nagel, Leon Wieseltier, and Paul Campos.
Leiter is among the more controversial voices in the philosophical blogosphere, and he has come in for criticism for both his communication style and for comments he has made to other philosophers. Leiter has defended himself against the charges.
Concern about Leiter intensified when he was intensely criticized in 2014 for his caustic rhetoric. He was cited by colleagues for combative tactics on his blog and in social media, which included his calling one philosopher "a disgrace" and saying she worked in "a shit department". He also threatened to sue another philosopher, Professor Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins, Canada Research Chair and Professor of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia, whom he referred to on Twitter as a "sanctimonious arse." On one of his blogs he suggested that yet another professor should leave the profession "and perhaps find a field where nonsense is permitted."
This, in turn, prompted concern about Leiter's continued management of the Philosophical Gourmet Report. In fall 2014, philosophers at University of British Columbia organized a boycott of the PGR after Leiter sent what they called a "derogatory and intimidating" e-mail to one of their colleagues, whom Leiter claimed had attacked him. Over 600 philosophers, including 30 members of his 54-member Advisory Board, signed a statement in 2014 that demanded that Leiter relinquish control over the Report's management. Hundreds of philosophers signed a statement saying that they would not complete the PGR's surveys that inform the publication’s rankings, or otherwise assist in assembling the rankings, as long as Leiter was still its editor. One member of his report's Advisory Board described it as backlash from the "politeness police".
In response, Leiter will step down as editor of The Philosophical Gourmet Report. As an interim measure, Leiter appointed a co-editor for the 2014 report, Berit Brogaard, a philosophy professor at the University of Miami. He agreed to step down as editor after its publication. The publication’s Advisory Board voted overwhelmingly in favor of the move. After he steps down as editor, he will join the Advisory Board. Brogaard will become the editor.
Leiter, however, was dismissive of the criticisms of him "which he attributed partly to feminist philosophers irritated by his defense of the due-process rights of scholars accused of sexual harassment, and partly to philosophers who periodically rebel against The Philosophical Gourmet because their own departments rank poorly." The Australian reported that
"Professor Leiter ... said there had never been any impropriety in his administration of the report but 'if someone feels editing the PGR means forfeiting certain expressive rights, then I accept that they have a reason not to participate while I remain as one of the editors. And since I value my expressive rights (including my right to express myself in ways some others may find offensive), that gives me an additional reason to dissociate from the PGR so that those philosophers will, I hope, participate in the future.' At least, unlike Socrates, Professor Leiter isn’t being forced to drink hemlock for saying it as he sees it."
- Objectivity in Law and Morals (editor) (Cambridge University Press, 2001)
- Nietzsche on Morality (Routledge, 2002)
- The Future for Philosophy (editor) (Oxford University Press, 2004)
- Naturalizing Jurisprudence (Oxford University Press, 2007)
- Nietzsche and Morality (co-edited with Sinhababu) Oxford University Press, 2007)
- The Oxford Handbook of Continental Philosophy (co-edited with Rosen) (Oxford, 2007)
- Why Tolerate Religion? (Princeton University Press, 2013)
- Andy Thomason (October 10, 2014). "Controversial Philosopher Will Step Down as Editor of Influential Rankings". The Chronicle of Higher Education.
- "Brian Leiter". The University of Chicago Law School. Archived from the original on October 16, 2013. Retrieved December 14, 2013.
- Walter K. Olson (2011). Schools for Misrule: Legal Academia and an Overlawyered America. Encounter Books.
- Nietzsche's Moral and Political Philosophy, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Joe Patrice (June 9, 2014). "Bigmouth Law Professor Flubs Research, Defends Racists". Above the Law.
- Princeton University Press. "Leiter, B.: Why Tolerate Religion?".
- Schmidt, Peter (September 26, 2014). "The Man Who Ranks Philosophy Departments Now Rankles Them, Too". Chronicle.com. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Archived from the original on September 26, 2014. Retrieved September 30, 2014..
- Edward Batchelder, John Palattella (February 1, 2001). The Real Guide to Grad School: The humanities. Lingua Franca Books.
- Joe Patrice (September 26, 2014). "Everyone Hates This Poor Law Professor". Above the Law.
- Carson, Theresa (April 15, 1999). "Philosophical Gourmet Report Ranks Chicago Tops in Continental Philosophy". The University of Chicago Chronicle 18 (14). Retrieved June 18, 2011.
- George Yancy (2012). Reframing the Practice of Philosophy: Bodies of Color, Bodies of Knowledge. SUNY Press.
- Ana Dubnjakovic, Patrick Tomlin (2010). A Practical Guide to Electronic Resources in the Humanities. Elsevier.
- Kirp, David (October 27, 2003). "How Much for That Professor?". The New York Times. Retrieved May 28, 2015.
- Carlin Romano (2013). America the Philosophical. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
- Jonathan H. Adler (September 26, 2014). "The professor who ranks and rankles". The Washington Post.
- Law Schools Ranked Maclean's, September 12, 2007
- Political Animal, Intelligent Design Kevin Drum. The Washington Monthly, March 24, 2004.
- "Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog: Carlin Romano: Total Ignorance of Philosophy is No Obstacle to Opining about Richard Rorty". Leiterreports.typepad.com. September 9, 2007. Retrieved August 2, 2013.
- "Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog: Thomas Nagel Jumps the Shark, Part II". Leiterreports.typepad.com. December 2, 2009. Retrieved August 2, 2013.
- "Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog: Why review a book of philosophy when you can sneer at it? (Leiter)". Leiterreports.typepad.com. February 19, 2006. Retrieved August 2, 2013.
- "Brian Leiter's Law School Reports: Whenever there is an opportunity to attack the First Amendment and academic freedom, Paul Campos is there!". Leiterlawschool.typepad.com. April 16, 2008. Retrieved August 2, 2013.
- "Cyber-smear campaigns and the future of the PGR".
- Sally Haslanger and David Velleman. "Statement of Concern". nyu.edu.
- 645 philosophers. "The September Statement; Update: October 10, 2014".
- Schmidt, Peter (September 26, 2014). "The Man Who Ranks Philosophy Departments Now Rankles Them, Too". Chronicle.com. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Archived from the original on September 26, 2014. Retrieved September 30, 2014. See also "The PGR board letter, and a different perspective". September 25, 2014.
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