What Philosophers Believe

The results of the PhilPapers’ survey of philosophical beliefs of philosophers have been published. The results are here. No big surprises. We’re mostly atheists (72.8%), compatibilists about free will (59%), moral realists (56.3%), naturalists (49.8%), and scientific realists (75%). It doesn’t tell us how many identify as philosophical feminists or who believe gender and race are social constructs. Next time maybe?

30 thoughts on “What Philosophers Believe

  1. Frog, I don’t have the study right before me, but wasn’t the % who are theists very small? Like 10%?

    This might lead one to think that philosophy destroys religious faith, but of course the causation could be quite different; perhaps those inclined to wonder and doubt are attracted to philosophy, for example.

  2. Note that you can filter the results in various ways. For example, you can see the responses of “sub-populations” of philosophers (e.g., undergraduate majors vs graduate students v faculty). The atheist percentage plummets from 72.8 to a measly 69.7 when you look just at philosophy faculty/Ph.D.s!

  3. Isn’t that interesting, philosoraptor! I wonder if it shows that religious schools make a difference to who gets hired and so who would be taking the survey. Not, of course, that all teachers in religous colleges are theists…

  4. JJ,

    On the other hand, if Bacon was right (“A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion”), there might simply be a dearth of depth at the academy. On a related note, I wonder if the atheistic tendencies were more prominent among junior academics.

  5. SAY WHAT?! If that includes the scientifically realistic position that ovaries DON’T make a person weak incompetent,etc. Iam SO getting on the next plane! Where is this godless faculty anyway?

  6. “It doesn’t tell us how many identify as philosophical feminists or who believe gender and race are social constructs.”

    I don’t think the question “is gender a social construct” would be very revealing. I would answer “yes by definition,” the same way I would answer “does libertarian free will mean I really could have done otherwise when I make a choice” with a yes. That doesn’t show I believe in libertarian free will, just that I know how the term is used.

    A more revealing question might be “how important is social construction to the interplay between sex and gender?”

  7. If you check out the “Demographics” link, you’ll find data on at least one question perhaps of special interest here. When about 2500 mostly analytic-identifying respondents are asked which non-living philosopher(s) they most identify with, we get a list of 55 philosophers, with Hume (481) and Aristotle (416) leading the way, and down to Gadamer, Levinas, and Chisholm (all 5)–those with fewer than 5 respondents are not displayed.

    Anscombe (48) is the only female philosopher mentioned in the list, coming in around 25th, wedged between Hegel and Kierkegaard.

  8. Here [http://philpapers.org/surveys/demographics.pl] you find the breakdown of the demographics.

    Just some selected numbers:

    Total Participants: 3226
    of which male: 2525
    of which female: 488

    Areas of Specialization:
    Philosophy of Gender, Race, and Sexuality: 45
    Asian Philosophy: 34
    African Philosophy: 5
    Philosophy of Mind+Metaphysics+Epistemology: 1863

    Country of Primary Affiliation:
    US+UK+Canada: 2086

    Punchline: this is NOT what ‘philosohers’ believe. This is a snapshot of the (sad) state of (mainstream, luckily there are exceptions) philosophy in the anglo-american world. I would like to believe that there is more to philosophy than this.

  9. I’m surprised that Philippa Foot isn’t among the philosophers identified with. She’s had such a great impact on virtue ethics, both directly and through her students.

  10. I am shocked at what a small percentage of women answered this survey! (even given the low percentage of women in philosophy) I am one woman, however, who began the survey but never finished, after realizing how many philosophical debates I didn’t have a settled opinion on. It’s probably a good thing as a first year grad student to not be settled in all my opinions yet, but I felt as though my responses wouldn’t be helpful, so I didn’t finish it. Lo and behold, “other” was the most common response for quite a few questions, so I wasn’t all that different than the majority of (mostly male) philosophers. In other words, what I’m positing is that perhaps the dearth of women is explained, in part, by the fact that women are socialized to speak only when they have the right answer (or a “close enough” answer), whereas men feel more comfortable expressing their opinion even when they’re not sure.

  11. c, I see your point, and I think you are right but I am not completely convinced that this is the main explaination for the demographic profile of this survey.

    Statistics are faulty, but sometimes they do give some crude snapshots. This whole survey was organized with a target in mind, that happens to be precisely the one represented in the overwhelming majotiry of participants. Of course, it is a perfectly legitimate thing to do, as long as you clearly call it ‘the survey for angloamerical analytic philosophers’. Which implicitely means ‘the survey for that group of overwhelmingly male philosophers’.

    I’m a grad student myself, and if you ask me, it is good that you (just as me) have not settled in all your opinions :)

  12. Oh, no doubt the survey is reflective of the overall make-up of philosophy, which is overwhelmingly male, but female participants made up a much lower percentage (15%) of total participants than is reflected in the overall population of philosophers (where I think the percentage is somewhere in the 20s). I didn’t mean to posit that this is the main or only explanation for the lack of female participants, but instead, just one possible contributing factor.

  13. Carl: I don’t think gender is a social construct. Can you tell me what term(s) it is such that I don’t know how it/they are used, and explain what it is about their usage that makes ‘gender is a social construct’ analytic?

  14. Ross: people typically draw the distinction between sex (a set of biological and physical categories relating to reproduction) and gender (a set of social categories surrounding sex). There is most likely causal interplay between these two things. (The Pope is most likely Catholic, as well.)

  15. jj: Foot wouldn’t be on the list of philosophers people identify with because the list only has non-living philosophers.

  16. Rachael: I’m happy to make a distinction between sex and gender, and to say that the latter is less of a natural kind than the former. I just don’t see the motivation to say that gender is therefore a ‘social construct’; I certainly don’t see the motivation to say that it’s analytic that it is so.

  17. Ross, my understanding was that it’s analytic that if X is a social category, then X is a social construct. But maybe we’re using the word “social construct” differently. (Maybe I should let Carl clarify his own remark.)

  18. I am a female who filled out the original survey. I found it discouraging in many ways–most particularly because of the fact that it recognized and asked about virtually none of my own research interests, or those of philosophers and colleagues whom I admire. On some of the topics I had no opinion–not because I have not yet made up my mind, but because I have not been following the debates in those areas. This was definitely an investigation of a particular group of philosophers, doing a PARTICULAR kind of philosophy. It was a sad reminder of how imperceptible the work of some of us is, to a large group who regard themselves as mainstream philosophers.

  19. Hi — survey co-designer here. The survey is certainly biased toward certain sorts of philosophy. We didn’t think of these biases as involving gender bias, but of course such biases often operate under the surface and I don’t rule out that they are at play here. We have some discussion of other biases (e.g. a bias toward analytic philosophy), as well as a discussion of some other issues discussed above (e.g. the selection of nonliving philosophers for the identification list) at
    http://philpapers.org/surveys/designthoughts.html.

    We did think about including core questions in feminist philosophy and the philosophy of gender, but it was hard to come up with the right question given the constraints. Questions about the truth or philosophical importance of feminism seemed overly crude (in the format) and potentially insulting. We could have tried something like “Sex [or gender]: biological realism, social constructivism, or eliminativism” (a suggestion someone made during the survey), but either version is affected by the definitional issues mentioned by Rachael and others above. (We would have considered asking that question about race, though, if we had thought of it.) Carl’s suggested question about the interplay of sex and gender is an interesting one but probably too specialized in the context of this survey.

    The proportion of female respondents seemed low to me too. I don’t know the explanation, but I don’t rule out that the biases above could be playing a role. Among the 1974 “target faculty” (the faculty of 99 leading departments, mainly based on the Gourmet Report) who we e-mailed, 931 responded, including 719 who identified themselves as male and 162 who identified themselves as female, while 50 didn’t say (the question was optional, and there wasn’t an “other” option — we’ll include such an option next time). At some point we may try comparing demographics of the 931 respondents to the 1043 non-respondents to see if there are selection effects involving gender, age, and other factors. My guess is that there will be such effects.

    Anyway, there may well be future surveys, possibly quite different in format. Suggestions for questions we might include on such a survey, and about other things we might do differently, would be very welcome.

  20. Introvertica;

    What field do you study? I would be interested to read about it. Rather than stay with this ‘sad state’, lets change it.

  21. Hi — survey co-designer here. The survey is certainly biased toward certain sorts of philosophy. We didn’t think of these biases as involving gender bias, but of course such biases often operate under the surface and I don’t rule out that they are at play here. We have some discussion of other biases (e.g. a bias toward analytic philosophy), as well as a discussion of some other issues discussed above (e.g. the selection of nonliving philosophers for the identification list) at http://philpapers.org/surveys/designthoughts.html.

    We did think about including core questions in feminist philosophy and the philosophy of gender, but it was hard to come up with the right question given the constraints. Questions about the truth or philosophical importance of feminism seemed overly crude (in the format) and potentially insulting. We could have tried something like “Sex [or gender]: biological realism, social constructivism, or eliminativism” (a suggestion someone made during the survey), but either version is affected by the definitional issues mentioned by Rachael and others above. (We would have considered asking that question about race, though, if we had thought of it.) Carl’s suggested question about the interplay of sex and gender is an interesting one but probably too specialized in the context of this survey.

    The proportion of female respondents seemed low to me too. I don’t know the explanation, but I don’t rule out that the biases above could be playing a role. Among the 1974 “target faculty” (the faculty of 99 leading departments, mainly based on the Gourmet Report) who we e-mailed, 931 responded, including 719 who identified themselves as male and 162 who identified themselves as female, while 50 didn’t say (the question was optional, and there wasn’t an “other” option — we’ll include such an option next time). At some point we may try comparing demographics of the 931 respondents to the 1043 non-respondents to see if there are selection effects involving gender, age, and other factors. My guess is that there will be such effects.

    Anyway, there may well be future surveys, possibly quite different in format. Suggestions for questions we might include on such a survey, and about other things we might do differently, would be very welcome.

  22. Q:

    Thank you for asking. Almost all of my publications are in feminist philosophy, broadly construed. There was nothing related to feminist philosophy on the survey.

    The question is how to change what COUNTS as mainstream philosophy, or at least as philosophy worth asking about on a survey ostensibly about the state of contemporary philosophy. After several decades, I see little evidence of change (although believe me, it is not for lack of trying). At least now my work is no longer brushed off as “not philosophy”.

  23. To clarify, I consider “gender is a social construct” to be analytic because I have the following definitions in mind,

    sex: the biological characteristics that separate organisms into male and female

    gender: the social classification of things as male and female

    I suppose for the general public sex and gender are synonyms, but I don’t think it’s especially controversial for anyone working with questions of sex/gender to use the above definitions for clarity. Even the Oxford American dictionary includes in its definition of gender the remark, “typically used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones.” Thus, a hardcore traditionalist arguing with non-traditionalists ought to say, “the social category of gender maps perfectly onto the natural category of sex” rather than deny that the word “gender” is used to refer to a social category rather than a natural one.

  24. Well, you can use the term ‘gender’ as you like, of course, but I doubt the facts about English usage suffice for it being analytic that gender is about social classifications into male and female. That’s not to say it’s not *true*, of course, just that it’s not true by definition.

    But even if it is definitional of ‘gender’ that the gender of a thing is dependent on social factors, I don’t think it follows that gender is a ‘social construct’. This I suppose comes down to what I was discussing with Rachael above: what does ‘social construct’ mean. If it just *means*: is not a natural kind but is a kind that tracks socially relevant factors – then sure, I’m happy to say that gender is a social category. But I’ve always taken it to mean something different – largely as a result of the principle of charity, to try to understand why people that talk about gender being a social construct think that has the implications it does. But I’ll happily use the term in the weaker sense (after all, it’s a technical term – we can use it as we like) and instead simply deny that gender’s being a social construct has the implications that’s often said to have. (I’m still not happy to say that ‘gender is a social construct’ is true by definition on the weaker sense, only that it’s true – I still haven’t seen a convincing reason for accepting the claim of analyticity.)

  25. I work in feminist philosophy and I guess I am a bit baffled by the suggestion that the questions on the survey were not of interest to feminist philosophers or are outside of our area of expertise. The questions were very general. Don’t feminist philosophers care about/write about scientific realism, the nature of moral judgments, etc.? I certainly do! Furthermore, it seems to me that most (not quite all) of these questions were about the debates that get covered in any advanced undergraduate philosophy curriculum. Surely as members of the profession we are responsible for having basic views on most of these questions, no?

    Now of course the questions were biased towards a certain kind of philosophy. That we should all care about and have opinions about many of the issues covered does NOT mean that there is nothing else that philosophers should know about and care about. The survey designers have admitted again and again that they were not trying to represent all of philosophy equally and that the survey had a slant towards the interests of its makers. That’s fine, isn’t it?

    The most important point for feminists here, I think, is ‘mainstream’ philosophy does NOT accord us the same courtesy I just accorded it … our central authors, distinctive debates, etc. are not treated as a necessary part of undergraduate education, most mainstream philosophers don’t know anything about what we do, etc. That sucks, and is worth getting worked up about. It is disappointing (though not at all surprising) that when a survey like this comes along it implicitly recreates that dynamic.

    But I think there is something problematic about feminist philosophers saying they don’t care about these questions/debates, or worse that they don’t know anything about them. If we want to be taken seriously by ‘mainstream’ philosophy we need to take them seriously back, and we need to engage with the kind of big central questions the survey asked about, and we need to stay educated in our field. And again, I don’t believe it’s true anyhow. Of course we care about objectivity in science, naturalism, the nature of the will, moral judgment, etc. We care about thinking about just these sorts of things (plus plenty more not represented on the survey) from a feminist perspective. That’s the whole point, no?

    (Oh, and I particularly liked that the survey gave you the option of rejecting the question as unanswerable in each case. There were a few questions that I – and I suspect many feminists – found badly formed or premised on problematic background assumptions, so I rejected them as unanswerable. This is itself a legitimate philosophical response, and made room for a kind of meta-questioning of the structure of mainstream philosophical debates within the survey.)

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