What do philosophers believe?

Abstract

What are the philosophical views of contemporary professional philosophers? We surveyed many professional philosophers in order to help determine their views on 30 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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4

Notes

  1. 1.

    For non-binary questions, the first two options below are replaced by “Accept more than one, undecided between others” and “Reject all.”

  2. 2.

    http://philpapers.org/surveys.

  3. 3.

    We estimated genders based on the frequency of first names for both genders in the 1990 US census. A name is counted as female if it occurs with a frequency of at least 1 out of 1,000 among females and is at least 50 times more common among females than males (the same procedure is applied for males, mutadis mutandis). We chose these thresholds to obtain 100 % matching with the genders specified by respondents. Approximately 60 % of the target faculty population were assigned a gender by this method.

  4. 4.

    http://philpapers.org/surveys.

  5. 5.

    http://philpapers.org/surveys.

  6. 6.

    The number of components to extract (seven) was determined by using a parallel analysis (Horn 1965). See Appendix 2 for details. The number of components this analysis suggests also yields the more interpretable results and the simplest loading matrix.

  7. 7.

    Minimum residuals, weighted least squares, generalized least squares, principal axis factoring, and maximum likelihood.

References

  1. Gorsuch, R. L. (1983). Factor analysis. Hove: Psychology Press.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Horn, J. (1965). A rationale and test for the number of factors in factor analysis. Psychometrika, 30, 179–185.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Jolliffe, I. (2002). Principal component analysis (2nd ed.). New York: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Pearson, K. (1901). On lines and planes of closest fit to systems of points in space. Philosophical Magazine, 2, 559–572.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Spearman, C. (1904). General intelligence, objectively determined and measured. American Journal of Psychology, 15, 201–293.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

Thanks to Kelvin McQueen for research assistance. Thanks to many beta testers and other consultants for their help with survey design. For feedback on this paper, thanks to Chris Green, Kieran Healy, Angela Mendelovici, Thomas Sturm, and anonymous reviewers. Finally, thanks to everyone who completed the survey.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to David Bourget.

Appendices

Appendix 1: Detailed survey results

The following tables show the main answers of the 931 target faculty participants with a 95% confidence interval. We show the aggregate percentage of respondents for each of the main available position, with a breakdown of the specific options. Options that did not reach 2% are omitted.

A priori knowledge: yes or no?
 Yes 71.1 ± 1.7 % Accept (50.8 %), Lean toward (20.3 %)
 No 18.4 ± 0.9 % Lean toward (12.1 %), Accept (6.2 %)
 Other 10.5 ± 0.7 % The question is too unclear to answer (4.6 %)
Abstract objects: Platonism or nominalism?
 Platonism 39.3 ± 1.3 % Accept (19.8 %), Lean toward (19.5 %)
 Nominalism 37.7 ± 1.3 % Lean toward (22.6 %), Accept (15.1 %)
 Other 23.0 ± 1.0 % Agnostic/undecided (5.0 %), Accept another alternative (4.9 %), Reject both (3.7 %), Insufficiently familiar with the issue (2.8 %), Accept an intermediate view (2.3 %), The question is too unclear to answer (2.0 %)
Aesthetic value: objective or subjective?
 Objective 41.0 ± 1.3 % Lean toward (27.1 %), Accept (14.0 %)
 Subjective 34.5 ± 1.2 % Lean toward (19.4 %), Accept (15.0 %)
 Other 24.5 ± 1.0 % Accept an intermediate view (6.6 %), The question is too unclear to answer (4.5 %), Agnostic/undecided (3.2 %), Insufficiently familiar with the issue (3.1 %), Accept another alternative (2.6 %), Accept both (2.6 %)
Analytic–synthetic distinction: yes or no?
 Yes 64.9 ± 1.6 % Accept (36.8 %), Lean toward (28.0 %)
 No 27.1 ± 1.1 % Lean toward (14.6 %), Accept (12.5 %)
 Other 8.1 ± 0.6 % The question is too unclear to answer (2.5 %)
Epistemic justification: internalism or externalism?
 Externalism 42.7 ± 1.3 % Lean toward (26.7 %), Accept (16.0 %)
 Other 30.8 ± 1.1 % Accept an intermediate view (6.9 %), Agnostic/undecided (6.0 %), Insufficiently familiar with the issue (4.7 %), Accept both (4.6 %), The question is too unclear to answer (3.0 %), Accept another alternative (2.1 %)
 Internalism 26.4 ± 1.1 % Lean toward (17.3 %), Accept (9.1 %)
External world: idealism, skepticism, or non-skeptical realism?
 Non-skeptical realism 81.6 ± 1.8 % Accept (61.4 %), Lean toward (20.2 %)
 Other 9.2 ± 0.6 % Accept another alternative (2.6 %)
 Skepticism 4.8 ± 0.5 % Lean toward (3.0 %), Accept (1.8 %)
 Idealism 4.3 ± 0.4 % Lean toward (2.7 %), Accept (1.6 %)
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 %)
Knowledge claims: contextualism, relativism, or invariantism?
 Contextualism 40.1 ± 1.3 % Lean toward (28.0 %), Accept (12.0 %)
 Invariantism 31.1 ± 1.2 % Lean toward (19.7 %), Accept (11.5 %)
 Other 25.9 ± 1.1 % Insufficiently familiar with the issue (9.0 %), Agnostic/undecided (5.7 %), The question is too unclear to answer (2.5 %)
 Relativism 2.9 ± 0.4 % Lean toward (1.7 %), Accept (1.2 %)
Knowledge: empiricism or rationalism?
 Other 37.2 ± 1.3 % Accept an intermediate view (11.4 %), The question is too unclear to answer (9.8 %), Accept both (6.3 %), Reject both (3.5 %), Accept another alternative (2.7 %)
 Empiricism 35.0 ± 1.2 % Lean toward (21.4 %), Accept (13.6 %)
 Rationalism 27.8 ± 1.1 % Lean toward (17.2 %), Accept (10.6 %)
Laws of nature: Humean or non-Humean?
 Non-Humean 57.1 ± 1.5 % Accept (29.2 %), Lean toward (27.9 %)
 Humean 24.7 ± 1.0 % Lean toward (16.0 %), Accept (8.7 %)
 Other 18.2 ± 0.9 % Agnostic/undecided (6.4 %), Insufficiently familiar with the issue (5.5 %)
Logic: classical or non-classical?
 Classical 51.6 ± 1.5 % Accept (27.6 %), Lean toward (24.0 %)
 Other 33.1 ± 1.2 % Insufficiently familiar with the issue (12.0 %), Agnostic/undecided (5.6 %), Accept both (5.2 %), The question is too unclear to answer (3.4 %), There is no fact of the matter (3.2 %)
 Non-classical 15.4 ± 0.8 % Lean toward (7.9 %), Accept (7.4 %)
Mental content: internalism or externalism?
 Externalism 51.1 ± 1.5 % Lean toward (25.7 %), Accept (25.5 %)
 Other 28.9 ± 1.1 % Insufficiently familiar with the issue (5.7 %), Agnostic/undecided (5.6 %), Accept an intermediate view (4.4 %), Accept both (3.9 %), The question is too unclear to answer (3.0%), Accept another alternative (2.3%)
 Internalism 20.0 ± 0.9 % Lean toward (12.6%), Accept (7.4%)
Meta-Ethics: moral realism or moral anti-realism?
 Moral realism 56.4 ± 1.5 % Accept (32.2%), Lean toward (24.2%)
 Moral anti-realism 27.7 ± 1.1 % Lean toward (14.5%), Accept (13.2%)
 Other 15.9 ± 0.8 % The question is too unclear to answer (2.9%), Accept another alternative (2.7%), Agnostic/undecided (2.6 %), Accept an intermediate view (2.5 %), Insufficiently familiar with the issue (2.5 %)
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 %)
Moral judgment: cognitivism or non-cognitivism?
 Cognitivism 65.7 ± 1.6 % Accept (40.5 %), Lean toward (25.2 %)
 Other 17.3 ± 0.9 % Insufficiently familiar with the issue (4.7 %), Accept an intermediate view (4.0 %), Agnostic/undecided (2.1 %)
 Non-cognitivism 17.0 ± 0.9 % Lean toward (11.3 %), Accept (5.7 %)
Moral motivation: internalism or externalism?
 Other 35.3 ± 1.2 % Insufficiently familiar with the issue (14.8 %), Agnostic/undecided (6.0 %), The question is too unclear to answer (4.8 %), Accept an intermediate view (3.5 %), Skip (2.1 %)
 Internalism 34.9 ± 1.2 % Lean toward (22.0 %), Accept (12.9 %)
 Externalism 29.8 ± 1.1 % Lean toward (16.5 %), Accept (13.2 %)
Newcomb’s problem: one box or two boxes?
 Other 47.4 ± 1.4 % Insufficiently familiar with the issue (23.5 %), Agnostic/undecided (13.3 %), Skip (4.7 %), The question is too unclear to answer (2.0 %)
 Two boxes 31.4 ± 1.2 % Accept (20.5 %), Lean toward (10.8 %)
 One box 21.3 ± 1.0 % Accept (11.7 %), Lean toward (9.6 %)
Normative Ethics: deontology, consequentialism, or virtue ethics?
 Other 32.3 ± 1.2 % Accept more than one (8.4 %), Agnostic/undecided (5.2 %), Accept an intermediate view (4.0 %), Accept another alternative (3.5 %), Insufficiently familiar with the issue (3.3 %), Reject all (2.7 %)
 Deontology 25.9 ± 1.1 % Lean toward (16.0 %), Accept (9.9 %)
 Consequentialism 23.6 ± 1.0 % Lean toward (14.0 %), Accept (9.7 %)
 Virtue ethics 18.2 ± 0.9 % Lean toward (12.6 %), Accept (5.6 %)
Perceptual experience: disjunctivism, qualia theory, representationalism, or sense-datum theory?
 Other 42.2 ± 1.3 % Insufficiently familiar with the issue (16.2 %), Agnostic/undecided (8.4 %), Accept another alternative (3.9 %), Reject all (3.3 %), The question is too unclear to answer (2.6 %), Reject one or two, undecided between others (2.3 %), Skip (2.3 %)
 Representationalism 31.5 ± 1.2 % Lean toward (21.2 %), Accept (10.3 %)
 Qualia theory 12.2 ± 0.7 % Lean toward (9.0 %), Accept (3.2 %)
 Disjunctivism 11.0 ± 0.7 % Lean toward (7.4 %), Accept (3.5 %)
 Sense-datum theory 3.1 ± 0.4 % Lean toward (1.8 %), Accept (1.3 %)
Personal identity: biological view, 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 view 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 %)
Politics: communitarianism, egalitarianism, or libertarianism?
 Other 41.0 ± 1.3 % Insufficiently familiar with the issue (10.7 %), Agnostic/undecided (5.5 %), The question is too unclear to answer (4.5 %), Accept more than one (4.0 %), Accept another alternative (4.0 %), Accept an intermediate view (3.8 %), Reject all (3.4 %), Skip (2.0 %)
 Egalitarianism 34.8 ± 1.2 % Lean toward (20.5 %), Accept (14.3 %)
 Communitarianism 14.3 ± 0.8 % Lean toward (11.6 %), Accept (2.7 %)
 Libertarianism 9.9 ± 0.7 % Lean toward (7.0 %), Accept (2.9 %)
Proper names: Fregean or Millian?
 Other 36.8 ± 1.3 % Insufficiently familiar with the issue (13.7 %), Agnostic/undecided (6.3 %), Accept an intermediate view (4.2 %), Accept another alternative (3.4 %), The question is too unclear to answer (2.6 %), Reject both (2.4 %)
 Millian 34.5 ± 1.2 % Lean toward (18.7 %), Accept (15.8 %)
 Fregean 28.7 ± 1.1 % Lean toward (18.0 %), Accept (10.6 %)
Science: scientific realism or scientific anti-realism?
 Scientific realism 75.1 ± 1.7 % Accept (47.0 %), Lean toward (28.0 %)
 Other 13.3 ± 0.8 % Accept an intermediate view (3.2 %), The question is too unclear to answer (2.5 %), Insufficiently familiar with the issue (2.0 %)
 Scientific anti-realism 11.6 ± 0.7 % Lean toward (8.3 %), Accept (3.3 %)
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 %)
Time: A- or B-theory?
 Other 58.2 ± 1.6 % Insufficiently familiar with the issue (30.8 %), Agnostic/undecided (10.5 %), Skip (5.7 %), Accept both (3.1 %), The question is too unclear to answer (2.0 %)
 B-theory 26.3 ± 1.1 % Accept (15.8 %), Lean toward (10.5 %)
 A-theory 15.5 ± 0.8 % Lean toward (9.5 %), Accept (6.0 %)
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 %)
Truth: correspondence, deflationary, or epistemic?
 Correspondence 50.8 ± 1.5 % Accept (26.2 %), Lean toward (24.6 %)
 Deflationary 24.8 ± 1.0 % Lean toward (15.8 %), Accept (9.0 %)
 Other 17.5 ± 0.9 % Agnostic/undecided (3.4 %), Insufficiently familiar with the issue (3.0 %), Reject all (2.5 %), Accept another alternative (2.1 %)
 Epistemic 6.9 ± 0.5 % Lean toward (5.0 %), Accept (1.8 %)
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 %)

Appendix 2: details of principal component analysis and factor analysis

See Fig. 5 and Table18.

Fig. 5
figure5

Parallel analysis screen plots

Table 18 SS loadings and variance explained by rotated principal components

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Bourget, D., Chalmers, D.J. What do philosophers believe?. Philos Stud 170, 465–500 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11098-013-0259-7

Download citation

Keywords

  • Metaphilosophy
  • Disagreement
  • Survey
  • Correlations
  • Philosophy
  • PhilPapers