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Chalmers' philosophy survey

So, last month I noticed on David Chalmers' blog that he was passing around a survey on beliefs about various philosophical issues. I took the survey, indicating my beliefs, and then took another meta-survey trying to predict what the breakdown of beliefs would be among the philosophy professors who responded to the survey.

The main target group for the survey was philosophy professors and grad students, but they allowed anyone including little 'ole me take it if they wanted... then when you look at the results you can filter it so you see the difference between the opinions of faculty, grad students, undergrads, or outsiders like me.

Here are the results:


While I still don't agree with Chalmers on a lot of basic philosophical questions, most notably physicalism and zombies, I have to say that I really like the meta-philosophy he does... such as this survey. It's really important that we pass around surveys like this, and he has the connections to get actual philosophy people responding rather than just random bloggers.

This stuff really gets me excited... I could make several long posts on this, analyzing different aspects of the results, and I may eventually. But for right now, I've been very busy planning various things and buying gifts and stuff, and don't have the time for it. So for now I'm just linking so you can look through it, and maybe will point out a few key things that caught my eye.

Oh, also... here are my responses:

Trying to predict the percentages for all responses by professors was really hard. I knew I was guessing wildly on a lot of them. And the results show that I get a big FAIL on that... not surprising, being an outsider. However, I did get a few pretty close. I guessed 75% atheists and 21% theists, and the correct answer was 73% atheists and 15% theists. I guessed 63% physicalists and 29% non-physicalists, and the correct answer was 56% physicalists and 27% non-physicalists. Those were my two best, however... most guesses were far worse. My most common mistake was just underestimating how many people would choose "other" which includes things like "question is not well-posed". For example, on the Trolley problem, I guessed that 80% would say switch, and 15% would say don't switch... while the correct answer was 68% switch and 7.6% don't switch.

My biggest mistakes were underestimating the number of moral realists, scientific realists, Platonists, aesthetic objectivists, non-naturalists, and analytic-synthetic dichotemists there are. I would have thought all of these groups were small. But it turns out, they each are more popular than their negation (although on most of them, that doesn't mean a majority, since a lot of people picked "other").

The pattern I see here is that I'm a lot more anti-realist about a lot of things than most philosophers (perhaps not surprising considering my username is "spoonless" :). For example, I picked "lean towards scientific antirealism" and predicted that would be a majority, whereas 75% said "accept or lean towards scientific realism". I am a complete anti-realist and non-cognitivst about ethics, and have never really understood how someone can be realist about that kind of thing... nevertheless a majority of professional philosophers are, apparently. Even more surprising and scary, the number of Platonists outnumber the number of nominalists! (and interestingly, this is true for professors but not at all for graduate students--all of the numbers I'm giving are for the professors alone). I predicted 80% would agree with me that aesthetic values are subjective, however it was only 35%... and 41% say objective!) Weird, I wonder if I have tried too hard to distance myself from Ayn Rand, having been suckered in by her at one point... and in doing so place too much emphasis on the subjective and the failures of realism (perhaps incorrectly thinking that all realist views are as naive as hers were?)

Actually, maybe there's a similar problem with the analytic/synthetic distinction too... I instinctively called it a "dichotemy" above because that's what she always called it, and that's one place where I still strongly agree with her... there is no clean separation between analytic and synthetic truths, it's a continuum. However, I just noticed that the way the question is worded, it's maybe not supposed to imply a dichotemy, it's just supposed to be a distinction... so perhaps I could even agree with the majority there that there is some kind of meaningful distinction at least for certain examples that happen to fall in relatively clear-cut cases (by analogy, you can usually distinguish between an adult and a child, even though the line between the two is an arbitrary social norm).

My guess on naturalism was probably the one I feel the dumbest for. I don't know what I was smoking when I took the survey, but something made me put down 94% naturalists, 5% non-naturalists. I figured there would be a lot stronger support for it than physicalism, but on the contrary, this survey indicates support for naturalism is weaker than physicalism (although both of them are better supported than their negation). I guess I must have been interpreting non-naturalism to mean "explicit belief in the supernatural". Even then, you might think that my estimate of 94% was ridiculous considering I guessed that 20% were theists. I think I remember that crossing my mind, but I rationalized it somehow by thinking that most theists were probably pantheists, who believe that God is essentially another name for the natural world, rather than something supernatural. I knew there was also an epistemological notion of naturalism, but I thought that one was roughly equivalent to believing that the scientific method was the most reliable means of investigating the world... which seems pretty clearly true. Although maybe the issue is that it has to be the *only* means. Anyway, I should go figure out what naturalism actually means since I obviously fail on that one.

More analysis and discussion here: http://philpapers.org/surveys/



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