- What are the philosophical views of contemporary professional philosophers? We surveyed many professional philosophers in order to help determine their views on thirty central philosophical issues. This article documents the results.
- It also reveals correlations among philosophical views and between these views and factors such as age, gender, and nationality. A factor analysis suggests that an individual’s views on these issues factor into a few underlying components that predict much of the variation in those views.
- The results of a metasurvey also suggest that many of the results of the survey are surprising: philosophers as a whole have quite inaccurate beliefs about the distribution of philosophical views in the profession.
- The whole paper is here: Link.
- The control page for the survey is here: Link.
- The summary results are here: Link, but you can filter in various ways – eg. to compare graduate students with faculty.
- Many philosophers1 made public responses, sometimes with comments: Link.
- Methodological issues:
- The target faculty were those in the 89 elite philosophy departments in the English-speaking world, with a few “outsiders”.
- The response rate was around 50%, whch I’d have thought was amazingly good, with the rate being slightly better for men than women.
- Faculty appears to be around 80% male.
- The introduction makes the useful point that knowing what the consensus is on any philosophical position is relevant to how arguments are conducted in philosophical papers. So, more space should be given to supporting controversial or minor positions, while majority views can often be taken as read. But ignorance of, or confusion about, what the majority views actually are can distort the reasoning-focus in a paper. Consequently, all this sociological stuff, while not itself philosophy, can be useful to philosophy (as well as providing material for the history of the future).
- However, the paper notes that there’s no real consensus on any substantive philosophical issue, and because there’s less convergence over time in philosophy than in science, the evidence of what experts believe is less of an indicator of where the truth lies than in science.
- It is pointed out that there is a significant mismatch between what philosophers think is the popularity of the various philosophical positions, and what is actually the case. Also, that philosophers tend to underestimate the popularity of their own views2.
- The Questions:
- There are 30 questions, listed with summary responses below. All are interesting.
- However, of these, I’ve chosen 8 of particular interest. More detail on the response-breakdown for these questions appears at the end of this note.
- The reason for my choices, and some comments appears immediately below.
- I’ve extracted the high-level responses of my chosen 22 philosophers for these 8 questions appears in the table below.
- Free Will:
- It was interesting to see that around 60% of philosophers at least incline to the view that free will and determinism are compatible; which is just as well, given that (QM-aside) the world is deterministic, and – for practical purposes – we have free will.
- This question is important, given a general commitment to naturalism, physicalism and (for practical purposes) atheism.
- See Parfit’s3 comment – while ostensibly denying that we have free will, he thinks we have enough for “ought → can” to go through. Maybe this is just the Hobbesian freedom of spiders?
- My view: Compatibilism.
- I don’t know whether to be comforted or not by the thought that around ¾ of analytic philosphers at least incline towards atheism.
- A number of distinguished philosphers are theists, but few seem to have responded to this survey.
- Even so, around 10% claim to be decided theists – which is quite a lot.
- Amongst my selected philosophers, only one – Lynne Rudder Baker is a firm theist, and only one other – E.J. Lowe is leaning in that direction. Thus roughly confirms the 10% mark.
- I think that the sine qua non of the philosophical approach – namely, of following an argument where it leads – is corrosive of faith, and that using philosophy to think up clever arguments in support of what you believe anyway (as William Lane Craig), or as the medieval "handmaiden of theology", is a travesty of analytic philosophy.
- My view: Agnosticism (probably).
- It seems that around ½ of analytic philosophers are naturalists, about ¼ aren’t, and the remaining quarter are undecided.
- I don’t know what the non-naturalists who aren’t theists actually believe.
- Methodological naturalism is core to the natural sciences, so you’d expect those philosophers who think of philosophy as the handmaiden of the sciences to adopt this position.
- My view: Naturalism.
- While more than half of analytical philosophers at least incline towards physicalism in the philosophy of mind, only about ⅓ are fully decided, with about ¼ at least inclined towards non-physicalism.
- This has spin-offs for personal identity, and may explain why so few philosophers accept the biological view4.
- My view: Physicalism.
- Personal Identity:
- > ⅓ don’t know, and another ⅓ accept the Psychological View. Less than 17% are even inclined towards the Biological5 View, and about twice that number are enticed by the “Further Fact” view.
- What is the FF view? Baker self-categorises that way.
- In the detailed table of respondents, only two inclined to the biological view6. One, as might be expected, is the biologist Michael Ruse. The other is my former supervisor Jennifer Hornsby.
- My view: Biological.
- Surprisingly, philosophers seem evenly divided between survival, death and indecision.
- Only supporters of the Psychological View ought to be enticed in the direction of survival.
- Parfit’s7 response is categarised as “reject both”, but he explicitly says he wouldn’t survive. However – as we might expect – he claims that it’s as good as survival.
- My view: Death.
- Trolley Problem:
- This is a little tangential to my interests, but a fascinating question.
- I was pleased to see such a preponderance of support for the essentially consequentialist response of “switching”, with nearly 70% inclined in this direction, and < 3% clearly refusing to switch.
- But, one philosopher (Sally Haslanger) suggested that the problem is mis-stated. The paradox is allegedly to expain why almost no-one refuses to switch, but almost everyone refuses to throw the fat man off the bridge to stop the train and achieve the same result.
- See Parfit’s8 comment.
- As it happens, an email popped up on Philos_List while I was writing this Note: see Link for a lead in to the topic9.
- My view: Switch.
- ¼ of the respondents sit on the fence, and another ¼ think zombies are possible. The rest think zombies are metaphysically impossible, but ⅔ of these think that zombies are at least conceivable.
- Personally, I don’t see how something that’s metaphysically impossible can be conceivable. At first thought, it might seem conceivable, but when you think it through and find it to be metaphysically impossible presumably the conceivability turns out to be ilusory?
- My view: Inconceivable. For a physicalist, anyway.
Table of Views: Key10
There’s a note to the effect that the philosophers are at liberty to update their views at any time, so the currently-recorded views may not be those contributed to the survey in 2009.
|Philosopher||Link||Free Will||God||Metaphilosophy||Mind||Personal Identity||Teletransporter||Trolley Problem||Zombies |
|Lynne Rudder Baker||Link||Compatibilism||Theism||LT Non-naturalism||Another alternative||Further-fact view||Survival||Switch||C but not MP|
|David Chalmers||Link||LT Compatibilism||LT atheism||Question unclear||Non-physicalism||PV||Survival||Switch||M Possible|
|John Dupre||Link||Reject determinism||Atheism||Naturalism||Another alternative||Intermediate view||Question unclear||LT Switch||Inconceivable|
|Owen Flanagan||Link||Compatibilism||Atheism||LT naturalism||Physicalism||PV||Death||Switch||Inconceivable|
|Anthony Grayling||Link||LT compatibilism||Atheism||Naturalism ||Physicalism||More than one||Another alternative ||LT switch||C but not MP|
|Sally Haslanger||Link||Compatibilism||Atheism|| Naturalism ||LT physicalism||Biological view11|| Death || Switch ||LT C but not MP|
|Terence Horgan||Link|| Compatibilism || Atheism || Agnostic ||LT physicalism ||LT PV || Death ||Other|| LT C but not MP |
|Jennifer Hornsby||Link||Libertarianism|| Atheism || Question unclear || Reject both || Biological view12 || Death || Switch|| Inconceivable |
|Rosalind Hursthouse||Link||Reject all|| Atheism || No fact|| Question unclear || More than one || Survival ||Switch||Other|
|Joseph Levine||Link||LT compatibilism|| Atheism || Naturalism || Physicalism || PV || Death ||LT don't switch||C but not MP|
|E.J. Lowe||Link|| Libertarianism ||LT theism||Non-naturalism ||Non-physicalism || Further-fact view ||Death ||Switch ||LT C but not MP |
|Ned Markosian||Link|| Compatibilism || Atheism || LT naturalism || LT physicalism || LT PV || Death || Don't switch || C but not MP |
|Graham Oppy||Link|| Compatibilism || Atheism || Naturalism || Physicalism || Skip || Skip || Switch || Inconceivable |
|David Papineau||Link|| Compatibilism || Atheism || Naturalism || Physicalism ||LT PV|| Survival || Switch || C but not MP |
|Derek Parfit||Link|| No free will13 || Atheism || Non-naturalism ||LT non-physicalism ||Other alternative14 || Reject both15 || Switch16 || M possible |
|John Perry||Link|| Compatibilism || Atheism || Naturalism || Physicalism ||LT PV|| LT survival ||LT switch ||LT Inconceivable |
|Amelie Rorty||Link|| Compatibilism || Atheism || LT naturalism || Question unclear || More than one ||No fact|| Don't switch || Reject all |
|Michael Ruse||Link|| Compatibilism || Atheism || Naturalism || Physicalism || Biological view17 ||LT Death ||Switch||LT MP|
|Nathan Salmon||Link||LT no free will || Atheism || Unfamiliar || Non-physicalism || Further-fact view || Death || Switch || M possible |
|Michael Tye||Link|| Compatibilism || Atheism || Naturalism || Physicalism || LT PV|| Death ||Agnostic|| C but not MP |
|Peter Unger||Link|| LT libertarianism|| LT atheism || Question unclear|| LT non-physicalism ||LT further-fact|| LT death ||Switch|| Question unclear |
|Stephen Yablo||Link||LT compatibilism || Atheism || LT non-naturalism || Non-physicalism || LT PV || Survival || Switch ||LT C but not MP |
- Setup and methodology
- 2.1 Survey population
- 2.2 Main questions and survey interface
- 2.3 Orientation and background questions
- 2.4 Metasurvey questions and interface
- Main Survey Results
- 3.1 Demographics of target faculty
- 3.2 Philosophical orientation
- 3.3 Main answers
- 3.4 Correlations
- 3.5 Correlations between philosophical views
- 3.6 Gender correlations
- 3.7 Age correlations
- 3.8 Geographical correlations
- 3.9 Specialization correlations
- 3.10 Identification effects
- 3.11 Relative importance of demographic factors
- 3.12 Factor analysis
- Metasurvey results
- Summary of conclusions
- Appendix 1: Detailed survey results
- Appendix 2: Details of principal component analysis and factor analysis
- Example question screen
- Metasurvey interface
- Years of birth and target faculty
- Distribution of error levels across questions and target faculty
- Parallel Analysis Scree Plots
- Regions: nationality, PhD, affiliation
- Number of target faculty respondents per declared area of specialization
- The twenty non-living philosophers with whom the most target faculty respondents identified.
- Conversion scheme for "other" answers
- Distribution of answers for Metaphilosophy: naturalism and Moral judgments: cognitivism
- 50 highest correlations between philosophical views
- Highest correlations between gender:female and main answers
- Highest correlations between year of birth and main answers
- Highest correlations between main answers and geographic affiliations
- Highest correlations between views and specializations
- Greatest differences between specialists and non-specialists
- Highest correlations between views and identifications
- Correlations between views and identification with the analytic tradition
- Highest average absolute correlations between background factors and main answers
- Components extracted using principal component analysis with varimax rotation
- Highest correlations between extracted components and (a) background, (b) philosophical identification, and © specialization.
- Normalized community-level errors for metasurvey answers
The 30 Questions & Responses18
- A priori knowledge:
- yes 71.1%
- no 18.4%
- other 10.5%.
- Abstract19 objects:
- Platonism 39.3%
- nominalism 37.7%
- other 23.0%.
- Aesthetic value:
- objective 41.0%
- subjective 34.5%
- other 24.5%.
- Analytic-synthetic distinction:
- yes 64.9%
- no 27.1%
- other 8.1%.
- Epistemic justification:
- externalism 42.7%
- internalism 26.4%
- other 30.8%.
- External world:
- non-skeptical realism 81.6%
- skepticism 4.8%
- idealism 4.3%
- other 9.2%.
- Free will:
- compatibilism 59.1%
- libertarianism20 13.7%
- no free will 12.2%
- other 14.9%.
- atheism 72.8%
- theism 14.6%
- other 12.6%.
- Knowledge claims:
- contextualism 40.1%
- invariantism 31.1%
- relativism 2.9%
- other 25.9%.
- empiricism 35.0%
- rationalism 27.8%
- other 37.2%.
- Laws of nature:
- non-Humean 57.1%
- Humean 24.7%
- other 18.2%.
- classical 51.6%
- non-classical 15.4%
- other 33.1%.
- Mental content:
- externalism 51.1%
- internalism 20.0%
- other 28.9%.
- moral realism 56.4%
- moral anti-realism 27.7%
- other 15.9%.
- naturalism 49.8%
- non-naturalism 25.9%
- other 24.3%.
- physicalism 56.5%
- non-physicalism 27.1%
- other 16.4%.
- Moral judgment:
- cognitivism 65.7%
- non-cognitivism 17.0%
- other 17.3%.
- Moral motivation:
- internalism 34.9%
- externalism 29.8%
- other 35.3%.
- Newcomb’s problem:
- two boxes 31.4%
- one box 21.3%
- other 47.4%.
- Normative ethics:
- deontology 25.9%
- consequentialism 23.6%
- virtue ethics 18.2%
- other 32.3%.
- Perceptual experience:
- representationalism 31.5%
- qualia theory 12.2%
- disjunctivism 11.0%
- sense-datum theory 3.1%
- other 42.2%.
- Personal identity:
- psychological view 33.6%
- biological view21 16.9%
- further-fact view 12.2%
- other 37.3%.
- egalitarianism 34.8%
- communitarianism 14.3%
- libertarianism 9.9%
- other 41.0%.
- Proper names:
- Millian 34.5%
- Fregean 28.7%
- other 36.8%.
- scientific realism 75.1%
- scientific anti-realism 11.6%
- other 13.3%.
- survival 36.2%
- death 31.1%
- other 32.7%.
- B-theory 26.3%
- A-theory 15.5%
- other 58.2%.
- Trolley problem:
- switch 68.2%
- don’t switch 7.6%
- other 24.2%.
- correspondence 50.8%
- deflationary 24.8%
- epistemic 6.9%
- other 17.5%.
- conceivable but not metaphysically possible 35.6%
- metaphysically possible 23.3%
- inconceivable 16.0%
- other 25.1%.
- Free will: compatibilism, libertarianism, or no free will?
- Compatibilism 59.1±1.6%
- Accept (34.8%),
- Lean toward (24.3%)
- Other 14.9±0.8%
- Agnostic/undecided (4.1%),
- The question is too unclear to answer (2.8%)
- Libertarianism 13.7±0.8%
- Accept (7.7%),
- Lean toward (6.0%)
- No free will 12.2±0.7%
- Lean toward (6.6%),
- Accept (5.7%)
- God: theism or atheism?
- Atheism 72.8±1.7%
- Accept (61.9%),
- Lean toward (11.0%)
- Theism 14.6±0.8%
- Accept (10.6%),
- Lean toward (4.0%)
- Other 12.6±0.7%
- Agnostic/undecided (5.5%).
- Metaphilosophy: naturalism or non-naturalism?
- Naturalism 49.8±1.4%
- Accept (30.5%),
- Lean toward (19.3%)
- Non-naturalism 25.9±1.1%
- Accept (14.8%),
- Lean toward (11.1%)
- Other 24.3±1.0%
- The question is too unclear to answer (9.7%),
- Insufficiently familiar with the issue (6.8%),
- Agnostic/undecided (2.7%)
- Mind: physicalism or non-physicalism?
- Physicalism 56.5±1.5%
- Accept (34.6%),
- Lean toward (21.9%)
- Non-physicalism 27.1±1.1%
- Accept (14.2%),
- Lean toward (12.9%)
- Other 16.4±0.8%
- The question is too unclear to answer (6.3%),
- Agnostic/undecided (2.5%),
- Accept an intermediate view (2.4%)
- Personal identity: biological view23, psychological view, or further-fact view?
- Other 37.3±1.3%
- Agnostic/undecided (8.5%),
- Insufficiently familiar with the issue (6.2%),
- There is no fact of the matter (4.2%),
- Accept more than one (4.0%),
- Accept another alternative (3.9%),
- The question is too unclear to answer (2.8%),
- Accept an intermediate view (2.7%),
- Reject all (2.6%)
- Psychological view 33.6±1.2%
- Lean toward (22.7%),
- Accept (11.0%)
- Biological view24 16.9±0.9%
- Lean toward (11.3%),
- Accept (5.6%)
- Further-fact view 12.2±0.7%
- Lean toward (7.8%),
- Accept (4.4%)
- Teletransporter: survival or death?
- Survival 36.2±1.2%
- Lean toward (22.7%),
- Accept (13.5%)
- Other 32.7±1.2%
- Insufficiently familiar with the issue (9.2%),
- Agnostic/undecided (8.6%),
- There is no fact of the matter (6.0%),
- The question is too unclear to answer (3.7%),
- Skip (2.0%)
- Death 31.1±1.2%
- Accept (17.4%),
- Lean toward (13.7%)
- Trolley problem: switch or don’t switch?
- Switch 68.2±1.7%
- Accept (45.1%),
- Lean toward (23.1%)
- Other 24.2±1.0%
- Agnostic/undecided (6.4%),
- Insufficiently familiar with the issue (4.5%),
- There is no fact of the matter (3.7%),
- The question is too unclear to answer (2.9%)
- Don’t switch 7.6±0.6%
- Lean toward (4.8%),
- Accept (2.8%)
- Zombies: inconceivable, conceivable but not metaphysically possible, or metaphysically possible?
- Conceivable but not metaphysically possible 35.6±1.2%
- Lean toward (20.5%),
- Accept (15.0%)
- Other 25.1±1.0%
- Insufficiently familiar with the issue (9.0%),
- Agnostic/undecided (6.6%),
- The question is too unclear to answer (4.3%)
- Metaphysically possible 23.3±1.0%
- Accept (12.4%),
- Lean toward (11.0%)
- Inconceivable 16.0±0.8%
- Lean toward (8.8%),
- Accept (7.2%)
Footnote 1: Itemised Philosphers:
Footnote 2: Own Views:
- From a quick look, I could see Baker & Parfit, but not Eric Olson.
- A much closer look revealed a number of interesting philosophers who appear in the table above, and several others (more than 15, plus a former fellow grad-student at Birkbeck) I’d heard of, but who are less relevant to my interests.
- These included: Alexander Bird, Laurence BonJour, Roberto Casati, Roger Crisp, Cian Dorr, James Ladyman, Brian Leiter, Beatrice Longuenesse, Kris McDaniel, Bence Nanay, Eric Schwitzgebel, Lawrence Shapiro, Alan Sidelle, John Skorupski, Jim Stone, Dan Cavedon-Taylor.
- I’ve summarised their responses to my key questions in a table to see if it reveals anything interesting.
- Parfit made some interesting comments, and I’ve included the relevant ones as footnotes.
Footnote 5: Biological View:
- Maybe, because they are always having to argue for them, others must be against them!
- But the difference wasn’t great, I didn’t think.
- Less than 6% are firm supporters
- Indeed, I came across this study from a footnote in "Olson (Eric) - The Nature of People" bewailing the fact (and quoting the larger – 17 - %age).
Footnote 10: Key:
- This is a student study in experimental philosophy, and reveals that
- The likelihood of switching declines if the person described is individualised, but
- The decline is less marked if the person is described as poor, plain or disabled.
- As you can imagine, there’s some hand-wringing about this, in particular, the reluctance of men to sacrifice pretty girls.
- As this is a consequentialist problem, there ought to be at least some evaluation by the agent of the individuals involved in the trade-off, but not for irrelevant reasons (prettiness). Imagine the “five” being SS men, or the “one” being someone for whom you have a duty of care.
- Also, it’s unclear how optional the intervention is. See Parfit’s point – which is that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a bystander or the driver of the trolley. Others might disagree.
- Also, there’s the issue of precisely how the question is phrased – whether it’s what you (think you) would do, or what you (think you) ought to do. Presumably the former, in which case it would be a snap decision that you might, on reflection, regret.
- LT: Leans Towards
- C but not MP: Conceivable but not Metaphysically Possible
- PV: Psychological View
Footnote 14: Footnote 15:
- Parfit’s Comment: I believe that there is no conceivable form of freedom that could justify the view that we can deserve to suffer, but that we have the freedom implied in the doctrine 'ought' implies 'can'.
- I’m not sure what he means, nor how his claim – whatever it is – is justified.
- These are very large questions, not to be dealt with in a footnote – or a one-liner.
- Maybe Parfit thinks that we have freedon of action, but not freedom of the will.
- Parfit’s Comment: I wouldn't survive teletransportation, but this prospect would be as good as, or as bad as, ordinary survival.
- Classic Parfit. Stems from Parfit’s belief that what matters is all third-person stuff: our projects and qualities. But if your FPP fails to “go through” – you (rather than the world, which is perfectly happy with a “look alike”) have lost almost everything that matters, despite being happy that someone else will carry on your projects and look after your dependants.
- Parfit’s Comment: But it makes a crucial difference whether we are the driver or a bystander. I believe that even the bystander ought to switch the trolley.
- This is an interesting and important point. If you are the driver, you are already involved, and cannnot escape making a decision – to do nothing is as much a decision as to switch. But if you are a bystander, there’s the option of walking on by.
- Why is this? Failing to rescue a drowning child, when you could do so, and no-one better qualified or responsible was around, would result in execration.
- Of course, a thoroughgoing consequentialist has to act in each situation so as to lead to the best likely outcome, so cannot stand by, even when “not involved”.
Footnote 19: Abstract Objects:-
- The appendix gives more fine-grained detail, but showing this clogs the visibility of the results.
- However, some questions really matter to me, so I’ve added the detail for these as footnotes.
- Parfit has an interesting comment: Reject both. I believe that, though nothing could be truer than the truths of arithmetic, these truths have no ontological implications. I am a Non-Metaphysical Cognitivist about arithmetic, about normative truths, and several other areas of our thinking. Such truths involve entities and properties that have no ontological status. Numbers, for example, are neither real nor unreal, and neither actual nor merely possible. Even if nothing had ever existed, in the ontological sense, there would have been various truths, and abstract entities, in a non-ontological sense.
- Presumably this is an attempt to cut the Gordian knot whereby we either need a ground for abstract objects – the mind of God, say – or say they are just conventions of language, or the implications of those conventions, but then wonder why we’re all agreed in adopting this way of speaking.
Footnote 22: Some of the breakdowns don’t add up – in that some %age of the responses seem to have leached out of the survey. This isn’t the case at the higher level. I presume it’s just sloppiness.
- This is an incompatibilist position, that claims we have free will: see Wikipedia: Libertarianism.
- The “No free will” position is the opposite extreme, but is also incompatibilist, taking the line that because determinism is true, we have no free will. Maybe, however, there are positions that deny determinism, yet also deny free will.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)