Last year, David Bourget and David Chalmers conducted an exercise in the sociology of philosophy, the largest survey of philosophers ever (3000+ respondents): the PhilPapers Surveys. Now that new results have been released, let’s look back at the findings.
First, it’s worth noting, as the editors do, that (1) the survey focuses mostly on Anglophone analytic philosophers, and (2) answer choices were often too brief for respondents to know how to answer, and that (3) though the response rate of 47% was pretty good, there is inevitably some selection bias, probably toward younger analytic philosophers. More survey design thoughts here.
The results for some of the questions of wide interest include…
(note that ‘other’ includes answers like ‘I don’t know’)
Ethics: realism or anti-realism?
56.3% moral realism
27.7% moral anti-realism
Ethics: deontology, consequentialism, or virtue ethics?
18.1% virtue ethics
Abstract objects: Platonism or nominalism?
External world: idealism, skepticism, or non-skeptical realism?
81.6% non-skeptical realism
Free will: compatibilism, libertarianism, or no free will?
12.2% no free will
Atheism or theism?
Naturalism or non-naturalism?
Truth: correspondance, deflationary, or epistemic?
The positions with the greatest degree of consensus in the whole survey are:
- non-skeptical realism about the external world
- scientific realism about theoretical entitites
- belief in a priori knowledge
- switching on the trolley problem (intervening so that 1 person dies instead of 5)
So… there are fewer philosophers who believe in a god than there are philosophers who would not intervene to save 4 lives. :)
Most of the strongest correlations are unsurprising: naturalism is correlated with physicalism, moral realism is correlated with thinking aesthetic value is objective, theism is correlated with free-will libertarianism, etc.
As for geographic effects, Australasia is associated with consequentialism and the B-Theory of time. Canada is associated with free-will compatibilism and atheism. Europe is associated with moral non-cognitivism, aesthetic subjectivism, and scientific anti-realism. UK is associated with a belief in the a priori. USA is associated with deontological ethics.
As for gender effects, being female is most correlated with the epistemic theory of truth, with not switching on the trolley problem, and with rejecting a priori knowledge. Being male is most correlated with rejecting the epistemic theory of truth, with switching on the trolley problem, and with accepting a priori knowledge.
As for age effects, being young is correlated with Humeanism about the laws of nature, with the B-Theory of time, with accepting a priori knowledge, with physicalism, and with rejecting free-will libertarianism.
But things get really interesting when you start looking at subject areas.
For example, though theism is unpopular in philosophy in general, it is more popular among philosophers of religion (72.3%) than physicalism is among philosophers of mind (61.2%). Trent Dougherty sees this as a credence-boost for theism, since the experts on the subject of God tend to believe in him. But the obvious reply is that most people aren’t going to do philosophy of religion if they don’t believe in God. There doesn’t seem to be anything about philosophy of mind in general that would show a selection effect for physicalism, but obviously philosophy of religion will show a selection effect for theism.
But then, one would expect to see a strong selection for moral realism among those who do applied ethics, right? Why would you do applied ethics if you don’t believe in morality? Strangely, the rate of moral realism among those who specialize in applied ethics is identical to the rate of moral realism among all respondents: 56.8% vs. 56.3%! Similarly, those who specialize in aesthetic philosophy are about as likely to think aesthetic value is objective as are all respondents (44.7% vs. 41%).
Consider some other correlations with philosophical orientation:
- Atheism is most correlated with not being a philosopher of religion, with not identifying with Plato or Aristotle or Kant or Leibniz, with analytic philosophy, with identifying with Hume and Quine, and with specializing in philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, philosophy of biology, and philosophy of cognitive science.
- Theism is most correlated with being a philosopher of religion or specializing in medieval and renaissance philosophy, with identifying with Plato and Aristotle and Kant and Leibniz, with being a continental philosopher, and with not identifying with Hume and Quine.
- Naturalism is most correlated with specializing in philosophy of cognitive science, philosophy of biology, philosophy of mind, and general philosophy of science, with identifying with Hume and Quine, with not identifying with Husserl, Plato, Moore, and Kant, and with not specializing in philosophy of religion, metaphysics, or continental philosophy.
- Non-naturalism is most correlated with specializing in philosophy of religion and metaphysics, with not specializing in philosophy of cognitive science, philosophy of biology, or philosophy of mind, with not identifying with Hume and Quine, and with identifying with Husserl, Plato, Moore, and Kant.
Some strange ones I found:
- Specializing in philosophy of action is correlated with theism, and the A-Theory of time.
- Being accurate on the metasurvey was most correlated with believing there is a priori knowledge.
- Political communitarianism correlated most strongly with theism, while political egalitarianism correlated most strongly with atheism.
- Specializing in philosophy of mathematics is highly correlated with Platonism, but specializing in philosophy of probability is highly correlated with naturalism.
The survey also asked philosophers to predict the results of the survey, though there were fewer respondents for this “metasurvey.” Some results of the survey were especially surprising to philosophers themselves. These are the questions on the metasurvey with the largest mean error. In general…
- Philosophers overestimated the rate of aesthetic subjectivism by 23.4%.
- Philosophers underestimated the rate of acceptance for the analytic/synthetic distinction by 22.1%.
- Philosophers overestimated the rate of empiricism by 19.4%.
There is also the list of respondents who let all their answers be viewed publicly, including Derek Parfit, Brian Leiter, David Chalmers, David Papineau, and many others.
Those interested in this kind of thing may be interested in a similar survey of economists.