What Do Philosophers Believe?

by Sean Carroll

Academics of all stripes enjoy conducting informal polls of their peers to gauge the popularity of different stances on controversial issues. But the philosophers — and in particular, David Bourget & David Chalmers — have decided to be more systematic about it. (Maybe they have more controversial issues to discuss?)

They targeted 1,972 philosophy faculty members at 99 different institutions, and received results from 931 of them. Most of the universities were in English-speaking countries, and the others were chosen for strength in analytic philosophy, so the survey has an acknowledged bias toward analytic/Anglocentric philosophy. They asked for simple forced-response answers (no essay questions!) concerning 30 different topics, from belief in God to normative ethics to the nature of time. The answers are pretty intriguing.

Results below the fold. Note that atheism easily trumps theism, and compatibilism is the leading approach to free will (although not by a huge amount). Only about half of the recipients identify as naturalists, which is smaller than I would have thought (and smaller than the percentage of “physicalists” when it comes to the mind, which is surprising to me). When they dig into details, there is a strong correlation between theism and whether a person specializes in philosophy of religion, predictably enough. Among philosophers who don’t specifically specialize in religion, the percentage of atheists is pretty overwhelming.

1. A priori knowledge: yes 71.1%; no 18.4%; other 10.5%.
2. Abstract objects: Platonism 39.3%; nominalism 37.7%; other 23.0%.
3. Aesthetic value: objective 41.0%; subjective 34.5%; other 24.5%.
4. Analytic-synthetic distinction: yes 64.9%; no 27.1%; other 8.1%.
5. Epistemic justification: externalism 42.7%; internalism 26.4%; other 30.8%.
6. External world: non-skeptical realism 81.6%; skepticism 4.8%; idealism 4.3%; other 9.2%.
7. Free will: compatibilism 59.1%; libertarianism 13.7%; no free will 12.2%; other 14.9%.
8. God: atheism 72.8%; theism 14.6%; other 12.6%.
9. Knowledge claims: contextualism 40.1%; invariantism 31.1%; relativism 2.9%; other 25.9%.
10. Knowledge: empiricism 35.0%; rationalism 27.8%; other 37.2%.
11. Laws of nature: non-Humean 57.1%; Humean 24.7%; other 18.2%.
12. Logic: classical 51.6%; non-classical 15.4%; other 33.1%.
13. Mental content: externalism 51.1%; internalism 20.0%; other 28.9%.
14. Meta-ethics: moral realism 56.4%; moral anti-realism 27.7%; other 15.9%.
15. Metaphilosophy: naturalism 49.8%; non-naturalism 25.9%; other 24.3%.
16. Mind: physicalism 56.5%; non-physicalism 27.1%; other 16.4%.
17. Moral judgment: cognitivism 65.7%; non-cognitivism 17.0%; other 17.3%.
18. Moral motivation: internalism 34.9%; externalism 29.8%; other 35.3%.
19. Newcomb’s problem: two boxes 31.4%; one box 21.3%; other 47.4%.
20. Normative ethics: deontology 25.9%; consequentialism 23.6%; virtue ethics 18.2%; other 32.3%.
21. Perceptual experience: representationalism 31.5%; qualia theory 12.2%; disjunctivism 11.0%; sense-datum theory 3.1%; other 42.2%.
22. Personal identity: psychological view 33.6%; biological view 16.9%; further-fact view 12.2%; other 37.3%.
23. Politics: egalitarianism 34.8%; communitarianism 14.3%; libertarianism 9.9%; other 41.0%.
24. Proper names: Millian 34.5%; Fregean 28.7%; other 36.8%.
25. Science: scientific realism 75.1%; scientific anti-realism 11.6%; other 13.3%.
26. Teletransporter: survival 36.2%; death 31.1%; other 32.7%.
27. Time: B-theory 26.3%; A-theory 15.5%; other 58.2%.
28. Trolley problem: switch 68.2%; don’t switch 7.6%; other 24.2%.
29. Truth: correspondence 50.8%; deflationary 24.8%; epistemic 6.9%; other 17.5%.
30. Zombies: conceivable but not metaphysically possible 35.6%; metaphysically possible 23.3%; inconceivable 16.0%; other 25.1%.

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