The PhilPapers Surveys Results, Analysis and Discussion

The PhilPapers Survey was a survey of professional philosophers and others on their philosophical views, carried out in November 2009. The Survey was taken by 3226 respondents, including 1803 philosophy faculty members and/or PhDs and 829 philosophy graduate students.

The PhilPapers Metasurvey was a concurrent survey of professional philosophers and others concerning their predictions of the results of the Survey. The Metasurvey was taken by 727 respondents including 438 professional philosophers and PhDs and 210 philosophy graduate students.


The results of the survey and our analysis are discussed in What Do Philosophers Believe? (forthcoming in Philosophical Studies).


Discussion and analysis

Survey materials

Discussion forum

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Analytic/synthetic and a priori/ a posteriori distinctions? 

Why refrain from asking the next questions that are directly related to these questions and distinctions already answered within the PhilPapers survey, namely: Are there analytic a priori judgments or statements?  Are there synthetic a priori judgments or statements (e.g., a straight line is the shortest distance between any two points)?  Synthetic a posteriori?  And (the anti-Kantian) analytic a posteriori? 

Depending upon one's view of contradictions, there could be a set of valid arguments supporting a fourth set of analytic a posteriori judgments or statements.  Anyway, it would be interesting to see if 1-5% made that distinction or sided with Kant against it.  I doubt it would be 0% though, and it is important to see how many would make the synthetic a priori distinction contra Hume, which has important implication in ethics and metaethics. 



I don't understand factor analysis well, but it seems as if answers to most questions are predicted by just one factor.

For instance, if you are an anti-naturalist, then it's likely that you are going to be a non-physicalist about mind, think that there is a further fact about personal identity, be a libertarian in free will, and believe in God. None of these answers is significantly predicted by any other factor. (Though I wonder what's fundamental: maybe if you believe in God, the others follow as far as your own reasoning is concerned.)

There are a few questions that are determined by more than one factor. Knowledge rationalism is predicted by:   anti-naturalism, realism, and rationalism itself.

But all in all, there seem to be just four basic determinative "personality" factors in philosophy: naturalism, realism, rationalism, and externalism. Aside from externalism, which speaks to the transformative influence of Kripke and Putnam, the other three are old chestnuts. I suppo ... (read more)
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This is really a superbly interesting survey. I can't wait for the additional analyses to be published!
I've seen this kind of thing done for the economics field, too, but I would love to see it done for the sciences. For example, what proportion of neuroscientists or physicists are dualists? What proportion of each are theists? What proportion of physicists accept Copenhagen vs. Many Worlds vs. other interpretations of quantum mechanics? That would all be very interesting to know.

Many thanks to David Bourget and David Chalmers!


In the results page here:

and in the descriptions of the questions here:

There are 30 questions.
but in "The Original Survey" pdf linked to on this page: here:

I only see 20 questions.  Did I miss something?  I'm wondering what the other 10 questions were like in the original survey that everyone took?

Brent Allsop

I am surprised to learn that no mention of Eastern Philosophers have been identified. I put down Confucius and Sidharta Gautama. 
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Can we read everyone's comments?
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It's interesting to compare answers to a question between the whole target faculty population and those who work in the AOS associated with the question.  The biggest differences by far, unsurprisingly, concern theism and the philosophy of religion.  The next biggest differences are in decision theory (two boxing), philosophy of physical science (B-theory), philosophy of mathematics (Platonism).  Then epistemology (invariantism and to a lesser extent internalism), general philosophy of science (Humeanism), social and politlcal philosophy (egalitarianism), metaphysics (non-Humeanism).  And smaller differences in many other areas.

Of course those differences could be due to (i) specialists making better-grounded judgments, (ii) selection effects in entering the speciality, (iii) specialists' judgments corrupted by an insider literature, and various other sources.  I suspect that most philosophers will agree that each of these sources are at play in some cases, while they'll disag ... (read more)
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In light of the survey's many items with 3 options (besides "other"), I was rather surprised that the "God" question left out "agnosticism". If pressed to declare whether I "lean toward" one of the options provided, I might choose one or the other, yet believe that philosophically the most responsible position is agnosticism. Moreover, considering that there are many rival versions of theism, most people who believe in a particular (theistic) deity disbelieve many or even all rival versions, so overall they too ought to be agnostic. I wonder why this question was dichotomous. 
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I wonder which way it tends to go.  On the one hand, various psychological results suggest that people overestimate the degree to which others agree with them.  On the other hand, it seems to me anecdotally that philosophers often feel that they are a lonely voice of truth in a crowd of errors.

This would be easy to check, if the data are compiled in the right way.
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I am not an academic philosopher by a long shot, but merely a curious engineering grad student. I was very interested in the survey results, and decided to sort them by mean square error to determine some degree of consensus.

I posted a short introduction with the results on my blog here.

Unfortunately the table works well when pasted initially, but turns into a mess in preview mode. For the impatient, it's near the end of the article. I'm planning on breaking this up further (ie just faculty responses, etc) over the weekend.


There seem to have been quite a few discussions of the results of the Survey elsewhere on the web: e.g. Garden of Forking Paths (on free will), Prosblogion (on religion), Think Tonk (religion/epistemology), Honest Toil (nominalism), EconLog (various), Metafilter (general), Reddit (general).  And Survey data seems to have made it into at least one serious philosophy talk already.

If you've seen other discussions, post the links here.

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I find these results interesting:

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%)

In Fiery Cushman's and my survey of philosophers' attitudes about moral dilemmas, we asked about this case and our results don't line up very well with yours.  Here's the prompt:

You are standing by the railroad tracks when you notice an empty boxcar rolling out of control.  It is moving so fast that anyone it hits will die.  Ahead on the main track are five people.  There is one person standing on a side track that doesn't rejoin the main track.  If you do nothing, the boxcar will hit the five people on the main track, but not the one person on the side track.  If you flip a switch next to you, it will divert the boxcar to the side track where it will hit the one person, and not hit ... (read more)

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Compare this result from the survey:

Accept or lean toward: non-skeptical realism 760 / 931 (81.6%)
Other 86 / 931 (9.2%)
Accept or lean toward: skepticism 45 / 931 (4.8%)
Accept or lean toward: idealism 40 / 931 (4.2%)

with this result from my study of the political affiliations of American philosophy professors (based on the voter registration data of 375 philosophy professors in CA, FL, and NC):

Democrat 87.2%
Republican: 7.7%
Green: 2.7%
Independent: 1.3%
Libertarian: 0.8%
Peace&Freedom: 0.3%

I'd been summarizing the latter results somewhat tongue-in-cheek by saying, "Philosophers can't agree whether the external world exists, but they do agree that *if* it exists, then Obama makes a better President than Bush".  I'm glad to see some empirical support for this conjecture.

Of course, one further question that naturally arises is whether Democrats are more or less likely than Republicans or affiliates of minor parties to accept the existence of a mind-independent external world.

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It's interesting to compare results among faculty and graduate students.  Where target faculty as a whole favor Platonism, aesthetic objectivism, two-boxing, deontology, and Millianism, graduate students favor nominalism, aesthetic subjectivism, one-boxing, virtue ethics, and Fregeanism.

Also, in most cases where there are views with large majorities among target faculty, those views have somewhat reduced majorities among graduate students: e.g. compatibilism, non-skeptical realism, analytic-synthetic distinction, atheism, non-Humeanism, classical logic, content externalism, moral realism, moral cognitivism, egalitarianism, scientific realism, and trolley switching.

Where compared to the faculty/PhD group as a whole (instead of to target faculty), graduate students' results are somewhat closer, because majority views among target faculty typically have reduced majorities among non-target faculty.  But the majorities are still reduced among graduate students compared to this group.

Most of t ... (read more)
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I skipped the metasurvey because I didn't have time after doing the survey.  But I'd be interested in doing it now.  Will you resurvey, or post the survey?  Where can I see the metasurvey questions?
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Suppose one wants to investigate the relationship between various positions and their coherence, but he cannot do it by the selection filters available online. E. g., he wonders about the relative number of non-physicalist, libertarian atheists. Can he ask the team for the table? Do you plan to add more selection filters online?
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Some interesting differences between metaphysicians vs general philosophers of science and philosophers of physics (restricted to faculty/PhDs):

- Laws of nature: There are significantly more Humeans among general philosophers of science and among philosophers of physics than among metaphysicians (41% and 34% vs 23%). 
- Science: There are significantly more scientific realists among metaphysicians than among general philosophers of science and philosophers of physics (83% vs 54% and 66%).
- Time: There are significantly more A-theorists among metaphysicians than among general philosophers of science and philosophers of physics (25% vs 10% and 16%). On the other hand, there are more B-theorists among philosophers of physics than among metaphysicians (44% vs 38%), but there are more B-theorists among metaphysicians than among general philosophers of science (38% vs 30%).
Also, some interesting differences between metaphysics faculty/PhDs, grad students, and undergrads:

- Abstract objects: The ... (read more)

I was quite surprised at seeing the results of the question on normative ethics. It appears that in every categorical population listed (i.e. graduate students, faculty or PhD) the answer that received the most attention is 'other.' I guess my first question is what the range of those other answers are, both within and outside of normative ethics.

Beyond that, it appears that virtue ethics has taken root more strongly in the younger crowd, which I am a part of, and I wanted to know if the reasoning for that is because of the way undergraduate departments are set up (I know I spent the better part of my "contemporary moral theory" class reading Anscombe, Foot, and McDowell), or if there is some consensus that virtue ethics is a belief which befalls the younger crowd and that we are all better philosophers when we are able to resurface. It also struck me as odd that in the target faculty group the difference between those subscribing to virtue ethics and those to deontology was ... (read more)
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  • David Bourget, 2009-12-09 : Hi Andrew, you can see a breakdown of the "other" answers by changing the "response grain" to "medium" or "fine. 
  • Ignasi Llobera, 2009-12-09 : I am also quite surprised at seeing that virtue ethics has taken root more strongly i A possible explanation is the one... (read more)
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Personally, I was most surprised by the results on content internalism/externalism and the analytic/synthetic distinction. Internalism is in much worse shape than I thought, and the analytic/synthetic distinction in a much better shape. If we can take these results at face value, that is.
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All Survey and Metasurvey respondents will receive an email giving a link to a page with their responses, including an assessment of how well they did on the Metasurvey.  We can't post those results publically, as participants did not consent to that, but people should feel free to post about their own Metasurvey results.

I took the Metasurvey unofficially by making predictions at the start of the Survey.  I didn't take it officially, as even by that point I'd seen results from beta testing the Survey.  Even so, a few of my predictions were off by a long way.  For example, I wrongly predicted a substantial majority for Humeanism, aesthetic subjectivism, Platonism, and invariantism.  I did better on the physicalism and analytic-synthetic distinction questions, predicting 60-20-20 in both cases (compared to 56-27-17 and 65-27-18), and was reasonable close on the zombie question, predicting 40-20-20-20 for CMI, MP, IC, other as opposed to 36-23-16-25.   ... (read more)
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