Skip to main content

A survey of contemporary philosophers

Image result for survey form

Nine hundred and thirty one contemporary philosophers took part in a recent survey. The word "philosopher" in this context means a member of a university department of philosophy. The 99 departments involved were generally Anglophonic and analytic in history/orientation. 
So ... given some commonality in education, profession, language, historic lineage ... has there come to be a consensus on the Big Questions? 
Not really. But the particulars of that answer are fascinating.

I’ll just select the ten questions on their survey that have given my mind the most solicitude over the years, and tell you what the survey results say, and only then answer those for myself:

1.      Abstract objects: Platonism or nominalism?

Accept or lean toward Platonism                    366 (39.3%)

Accept or lean toward nominalism                 351 (37.7%)

Other                                                               214 (23.0%)

2.      Analytic-synthetic distinction: yes or no?

Accept or lean toward yes                              604 (64.9%)

Accept or lean toward no                               252 (27.1%)

Other                                                               75 (8.1%)

3.      External world: Idealism, skepticism, or non-skeptical realism?

Accept or lean toward non-skeptical realism 750 (81.6%)

Other                                                               86 (9.2%)

Accept or lean toward skepticism                   45 (4.8%)

Accept or lean toward idealism                      40 (4.3%)

4.      Free will …

Accept or lean toward compatibilism             550 (59.1%)

Other                                                               139 (14.9%)

Accept or lean toward libertarianism              128 (13.7%)

Accept or lean toward no free will                 114 (12.2%)

5.      God: theism or atheism

Accept or lean toward atheism                       678 (72.8%)

Accept or lean toward theism                         136 (14.6%)

Other                                                               117 (12.6%)

6.      Moral judgement: cognitivism or non-cognitivism?

Accept or lean toward cognitivism                 612 (65.7%)

Other                                                              161 (17.3%)

Accept or lean toward non-cognitivism          158 (17%)


7.      Normative ethics: deontology, consequentialism, or virtue ethics?

Other                                                               301 (32.3%)

Accept or lean toward deontology                 241 (25.9%)

Accept or lean toward consequentialism        220 (23.6%)

Accept or lean toward virtue ethics                169 (18.2%)

8.      Personal identity: Biological view, psychological view, or further-fact view?

Other                                                               347 (37.3%)

Accept or lean toward psychological view     313 (33.6%)

Accept or lean toward biological view           157 (16.9%)

Accept or lean toward further-fact view        114 (12.2%)

9.      Politics: communitarianism, egalitarianism, or libertarianism?

Other                                                               382 (41%)

Accept or lean toward egalitarianism             324 (34.8%)

Accept or lean toward communitarianism      133 (14.3%)

Accept or lean toward libertarianism              92 (9.9%)

10.  Time: A-theory or B-theory

Translation: the A-theory holds that time is a reality, the B-theory that it is an illusion.                                            

Other                                                               542 (58.2%)

Accept or lean toward B-theory                     245 (26.3%)   

Accept or lean toward A-theory                     144 (15.5%)
Had I been asked, despite the fact that I am not qualified by the surveys standards, I would have answered those ten as follows:
Yes on nominalism. No on the analytic/synthetic distinction. Yes on non-skeptical realism and incompatibilist free will (i.e. 'libertarianism' in the first sense in which it is used in this survey). "Other" on theism and "yes" to cognitivism in moral judgment. Yes to consequentialism and to a psychological view of identity (stream-of-consciousness and all that).  Yes to libertarianism in the second sense in which it is used here, and to the reality of time, aka the A theory.
On questions 3 and 6 I'm comfortably within a consensus view, although the more common situation, where there is something like a consensus, is that I'm against it, as with both free will and God.


Popular posts from this blog

England as a Raft?

In a lecture delivered in 1880, William James asked rhetorically, "Would England ... be the drifting raft she is now in European affairs if a Frederic the Great had inherited her throne instead of a Victoria, and if Messrs Bentham, Mill, Cobden, and Bright had all been born in Prussia?"

Beneath that, in a collection of such lectures later published under James' direction, was placed the footnote, "The reader will remember when this was written."

The suggestion of the bit about Bentham, Mill, etc. is that the utilitarians as a school helped render England ineffective as a European power, a drifting raft.

The footnote was added in 1897. So either James is suggesting that the baleful influence of Bentham, Mill etc wore off in the meantime or that he had over-estimated it.

Let's unpack this a bit.  What was happening in the period before 1880 that made England seem a drifting raft in European affairs, to a friendly though foreign observer (to the older brother…

Cancer Breakthrough

Hopeful news in recent days about an old and dear desideratum: a cure for cancer. Or at least for a cancer, and a nasty one at that.

The news comes about because investors in GlaxoSmithKline are greedy for profits, and has already inspired a bit of deregulation to boot. 

The FDA has paved the road for a speedy review of a new BCMA drug for multiple myeloma, essentially cancer of the bone marrow. This means that the US govt has removed some of the hurdles that would otherwise (by decision of the same govt) face a company trying to proceed with these trials expeditiously. 

This has been done because the Phase I clinical trial results have been very promising. The report I've seen indicates that details of these results will be shared with the world on Dec. 11 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology. 

The European Medicines Agency has also given priority treatment to the drug in question. 

GSK's website identifies the drug at issue as "GSK2857916," althou…

Francesco Orsi

I thought briefly that I had found a contemporary philosopher whose views on ethics and meta-ethics checked all four key boxes. An ally all down the line.

The four, as regular readers of this blog may remember, are: cognitivism, intuitionism, consequentialism, pluralism. These represent the views that, respectively: some ethical judgments constitute knowledge; one important source for this knowledge consists of quasi-sensory non-inferential primary recognitions ("intuitions"); the right is logically dependent upon the good; and there exists an irreducible plurality of good.

Francesco Orsi seemed to believe all of these propositions. Here's his website and a link to one relevant paper:

What was better: Orsi is a young man. Born in 1980. A damned child! Has no memories of the age of disco!

So I emailed him asking if I was right that he believed all of those things. His answer: three out of …