Back in 2009, David Bourget and David Chalmers conducted a survey of professional philosophers, asking for their positions on 40 questions. Over the years, a number of people have pointed out the existence of that survey. While I don’t think anyone should change their position purely based on what large numbers of philosophers think, it’s still interesting to see which views are held and by what margins, and where our own conclusions fall.
It turns out that a new version was conducted last year, and the results have now been announced. This new survey has expanded both the population surveyed (apparently going further from the “elite” schools) and the number of questions asked, adding an additional 60 questions to the original. The original questions are kept segregated for purposes of longitudinal analyses. Bourget and Chalmers published a commentary discussing the motivations and results, but they have also made the detailed results available for perusal.
Looking through the multiple choice questions, I find the standard answers that seems to have consistently been available for respondents toward the end of each list interesting. They include that the question is too vague, an assertion that there is no fact of the matter, or agnosticism or undecided. I’m a particular fan of the “no fact of the matter” option. Too many of the things people argue about in philosophy actually deserve that answer. Not that it was chosen very often by the respondents, but I didn’t see any questions where it came in at completely zero.
One of the high marks for agreement appears to be that 80% agree that the external world exists (my view), with less than 7% going the idealism route. The highwater mark for idealism seems like it was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The view gets some attention today, but seems thoroughly in the minority.
60% are free will compatibilists (my view), with 19% going for libertarian free will and only 11% rejecting free will entirely.
Given a choice between theism or atheism, 67% go atheist, 19% theist, and 7% agnostic. As I indicated a few posts back, my take on this depends on which conception of “God” or “gods” we’re discussing. Along those lines, I wonder how many of the theists here are traditional theists versus pantheists or deists.
62% are moral realists, with only 26% in the anti-real camp (my view). Of course, this might hinge on what we mean by “real”. Moral rules do exist psychologically, culturally, and legally, but I take this question to be whether they exist in some more fundamental fashion similar to scientific laws.
On the mind, 52% are physicalists (my view) and 32% non-physicalists. This is one that I think would be very different if the population surveyed were scientists.
35% think we survive being teleported, 40% disagree, and 7% say there’s no fact of the matter (my view).
Getting into the new extended questions, 82% think abortion is permissible in the first trimester (my view), while 13% disagree.
67% don’t think Searle’s Chinese Room understands Chinese, while 18% think it does (my view). Given my very low opinion of this thought experiment, I have to say I’m disappointed with this breakdown.
On consciousness, 33% are functionalists (my view), 22% dualists, and 13% identity theorists. Less than 8% are panpsychists and less than 5% eliminativists, which is somewhat surprising given how much attention these views get.
For cosmological fine tuning, 17% think it indicates design (perhaps getting at that question of traditional theism I was wondering about above), 15% a multiverse, 32% take it as just a brute fact, and 22% reject that there is fine tuning (my view).
62% think the hard problem of consciousness exists, while 30% think it doesn’t (my view). Although it’s more accurate to say I think the hard problem does exist, but only as the culmination of all the easy problems. I just don’t think it exists distinct from those easy ones.
54% think destructive mind uploading kills the subject, while 27% think the subject survives. 4% think there’s no fact of the matter (my view).
On other minds, 95% think adult humans are conscious, 84% for newborn babies, 89% cats, 65% fish, 35% flies, 24% worms, 7% plants, 2% particles, 3% current AI, and 39% future AI. My own views here are complex (see my consciousness hierarchy posts) but it amounts to seeing the question as really about how much like adult humans the other systems are. I do wonder what the reasoning is for the 5% who didn’t say adult humans are conscious.
30% are capitalists and 53% socialists. I probably would have selected both here since I think a mixed economy has historically proven to be the best answer.
On quantum mechanics, 24% are agnostic, 22% go for hidden variable theories, 19% many-worlds, 17% collapse, and 13% epistemic. I probably would have selected agnostic. I find the collapse answer interesting, since with a separate epistemic option, that could indicate 17% think there is some form of ontological collapse.
The analysis shows interesting correlations between these answers, although most are what we might expect, like surviving teleportation lining up with surviving mind uploading.
There are some interesting correlations between those who selected many-worlds, survival for teleportation, mind uploading, consciousness for future AI systems, and understanding for the Chinese Room. It gets a little at one of my pet theories about why so many people are viscerally repelled by many-worlds, that it threatens our conception of the self. But the correlations were only weak ones, so caution is warranted.
There are a ton of questions and answer selections in this survey I don’t understand. This was also true for the older survey. I always promised myself I’d look up the concepts. That happened to a limited extent, but seeing the questions again is a reminder of just how limited. Oh well, maybe this time will be different and I’ll know more before the 2030 edition.
What do you think? Anything here, or in the overall results, you find surprising? Disappointing? Encouraging? How do your own conclusions line up?