What Do Philosophers Think - and What Do Philosophers Think Philosophers Think?
By Bryan Caplan
Today Tyler pointed me to the PhilPapers Surveys, the most fascinating opinion poll I’ve seen in years. Not only does it survey philosophers’ views on thirty classic and modern controversies; it meta-surveys philosophers’ views on philosophers’ typical views!
The PhilPapers Survey was a survey of
professional philosophers and others on their philosophical views, carried
out in November 2009.
The Survey was taken by 3226 respondents, including 1803 philosophy
faculty members and/or PhDs and 829 philosophy graduate students.
The PhilPapers Metasurvey was a concurrent survey of professional philosophers
and other concerning their predictions of the results of the Survey.
The Metasurvey was taken by 727 respondents including 438
professional philosophers and PhDs and 210 philosophy graduate students.
A while back, I asked philosophers to explain exactly what they consider themselves experts at:
Profs and grad students alike largely seemed to accept the following
list of topics where members of their occupation actually have
- Accurately describing the views of other philosophers, living and dead.
- Checking arguments for logical validity/internal consistency.
one claimed that the philosophy profession was good at figuring out
true answers to philosophical questions. One even claimed the the
primary product of philosophy is “broken arguments.”
So I’m not inclined to use philosophers’ consensus as a benchmark of truth. Still, it’s fascinating to see their responses. Here are the results for the full sample of 3226 respondents on some topics I’ve blogged before. I omit a long list of “other” responses, so results don’t add to 100%.
A priori knowledge: yes or no?
|Accept: yes||1368 / 3226 (42.4%)|
|Lean toward: yes||779 / 3226 (24.1%)|
|Lean toward: no||502 / 3226 (15.5%)|
|Accept: no||268 / 3226 (8.3%)|
Free will: compatibilism, libertarianism, or no free will?
|Accept: compatibilism||873 / 3226 (27%)|
|Lean toward: compatibilism||788 / 3226 (24.4%)|
|Lean toward: libertarianism||303 / 3226 (9.3%)|
|Accept: libertarianism||288 / 3226 (8.9%)|
|Lean toward: no free will||255 / 3226 (7.9%)|
|Accept: no free will||236 / 3226 (7.3%)|
Meta-ethics: moral realism or moral anti-realism?
|Accept: moral realism||915 / 3226 (28.3%)|
|Lean toward: moral realism||779 / 3226 (24.1%)|
|Lean toward: moral anti-realism||550 / 3226 (17%)|
|Accept: moral anti-realism||447 / 3226 (13.8%)|
Mind: physicalism or non-physicalism?
|Accept: physicalism||1046 / 3226 (32.4%)|
|Lean toward: physicalism||695 / 3226 (21.5%)|
|Lean toward: non-physicalism||473 / 3226 (14.6%)|
|Accept: non-physicalism||468 / 3226 (14.5%)|
Normative ethics: deontology, consequentialism, or virtue ethics?
|Lean toward: virtue ethics||541 / 3226 (16.7%)|
|Lean toward: consequentialism||496 / 3226 (15.3%)|
|Lean toward: deontology||428 / 3226 (13.2%)|
|Accept: consequentialism||290 / 3226 (8.9%)|
|Accept: virtue ethics||263 / 3226 (8.1%)|
|Accept more than one||230 / 3226 (7.1%)|
|Accept: deontology||228 / 3226 (7%)|
|Accept an intermediate view||132 / 3226 (4%)|
Politics: communitarianism, egalitarianism, or libertarianism?
|Lean toward: egalitarianism||593 / 3226 (18.3%)|
|Lean toward: communitarianism||453 / 3226 (14%)|
|Accept: egalitarianism||381 / 3226 (11.8%)|
|Lean toward: libertarianism||360 / 3226 (11.1%)|
|Insufficiently familiar with the issue||343 / 3226 (10.6%)|
|Accept: libertarianism||181 / 3226 (5.6%)|
|Agnostic/undecided||162 / 3226 (5%)|
|Accept: communitarianism||129 / 3226 (3.9%)|
and last but not least:
Teletransporter (new matter): survival or death?
|Lean toward: survival||693 / 3226 (21.4%)|
|Lean toward: death||497 / 3226 (15.4%)|
|Accept: death||458 / 3226 (14.1%)|
|Insufficiently familiar with the issue||455 / 3226 (14.1%)|
|Accept: survival||424 / 3226 (13.1%)|
|Agnostic/undecided||213 / 3226 (6.6%)|
To me, the single most surprising fact is probably philosophers’ politics. Egalitarians only outnumber libertarians by about 2:1. If you adjust for the initial leftism of the humanities, it seems like libertarian arguments must be making a lot of converts among the philosophers.