What Philosophers Think About Philosophical Questions

Via Tyler Cowen:
The PhilPapers Survey was a survey of professional philosophers and others on their philosophical views. You can find the survey and the results here. Some of the more interesting results are below:

Analytic-synthetic distinction: yes or no?
Accept or lean toward: yes 604 / 931 (64.8%)
Accept or lean toward: no 252 / 931 (27%)
Other 75 / 931 (8%)

God: theism or atheism?
Accept or lean toward: atheism 678 / 931 (72.8%)
Accept or lean toward: theism 136 / 931 (14.6%)
Other 117 / 931 (12.5%)

Mind: physicalism or non-physicalism?
Accept or lean toward: physicalism 526 / 931 (56.4%)
Accept or lean toward: non-physicalism 252 / 931 (27%)
Other 153 / 931 (16.4%)

Normative ethics: deontology, consequentialism, or virtue ethics?
Other 301 / 931 (32.3%)
Accept or lean toward: deontology 241 / 931 (25.8%)
Accept or lean toward: consequentialism 220 / 931 (23.6%)
Accept or lean toward: virtue ethics 169 / 931 (18.1%)

Trolley problem (five straight ahead, one on side track, turn requires switching, what ought one do?): switch or don’t switch?
Accept or lean toward: switch 635 / 931 (68.2%)
Other 225 / 931 (24.1%)
Accept or lean toward: don’t switch 71 / 931 (7.6%)

I find the first interesting, since Quine’s arguments against the analytic/synthetic distinction always struck me as some of the most accepted results in philosophy. I’m happy to see that a healthy majority of philosophers are atheists, though that result might be difficult to square with the much small majority that are physicalists about the mind. I’m also surprised at the narrow plurality of deontologists, especially in contrast with the large number who are willing to sacrifice some innocent person just to save five others, which is consequentialist in spirit.




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What Philosophers Think About Philosophical Questions

  1. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…..

  2. What's with the zombie question at the end? Is it light question not to be taken too seriously or do 23.3% of philosophers believe in zombies.

    This is one of the weirdest polls I have read. Had to google many questions to even understand what they were being asked.

    • For philosophers, a zombie is a technical term describing a figure that could be exactly like a conscious human in all behavioural respects, but lacks consciousness. It's used as an intuition pump in arguments for and against physicalism.

      • Thank you. Assumed there had to be an explanation.

        That's why I keep coming back to Macleans. One minute I am thinking about Top 10 Canadian tv shows and the next I am trying to figure out which camp I am in, deontology with a tinge of utilitarianism, when thinking about normative ethics.

  3. Hot or Not Hot?

  4. I think it is especially interesting to consider that most of the people who are both theists and professional philosophers are probably heavily influenced by the Scholastics and neo-Thomists. Thomists are more inclined to believe in the physicality of the mind than not.

    Nice to see virtue ethics as rebounding as well, though sad to see it still in last place. I'd definitely like to know ethical systems the 32% follow though.

      • Well you're young yet.

        I think this is one of those areas where Wittgenstein's remark that there are no decisive arguments so the best you can do is engage in a kind of propaganda where you issue reminders: i.e. the Enlightenment project vis a vis moral philosophy was and remains a failure. You're welcome to keep trying of course, it's not actually irrational to try and make deontology work, it's not like squaring the circle after all, but ….

    • It follows from the Unreasonable Effectiveness of Math in the Natural Sciences that God is probably a deontologist, not a virtue ethicist.

  5. It's encouraging to see that moral realism still holds out a comfortable lead.

    You're right about the analytic-synthetic distinction. Quine's arguments are unanswerable, still believing in it after Quine is like being a flat-earther but lots of philosophers would apparently live in denial.

    What would be really interesting to know is what the respondents thought of the questions. If respondents had been given an option of picking, "this is just a trendy pseudo problem on no real philosophical significance" I supsect that the break down for Phillipa Foot's Trolley problem and Derek Parfit's transporter problem, for example, would be very different.

    • That was my reaction to the one about their political views — Communitarian, Egalitarian, or Libertarian. Seems like a category mistake to me.

  6. You might have just tossed in the fact that one of the 20th Century's philosophical greats, S. Toulin, died on Dec. 4.

    • If his wiki entry is anything to go by, I think he could be an interesting read for me. Though not really outside of my comfort zone.

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