Monday, 8 November 2010

Looking at the Beliefs of Philosophers

David Chalmers and David Bourget have just released additional results from the PhilPapers Surveys, and the findings are pretty interesting.

Not to say that all of the results were interesting, some of them were deeply unsurprising - is anyone, for instance, shocked that metaphysical naturalism correlates strongly with physicalism of mind, that believing one would survive a teletransporter correlates strongly with holding a psychological view of personal identity, or that Chalmers thinks zombies are metaphysically possible? Nonetheless, there's plenty of novelty found within the numbers.

Philosophers affiliated with universities in the UK deviated from the average in intriguing ways. They're more likely to believe that one would survive the teletransporter (46.7% agree, compared to 39.7% from outside the UK), more likely to class themselves as analytic philosophers (95.1% vs 86.3%), less likely to hold the philosophy of cognitive science as their area of specialisation (2.6% vs 6.8%) but more likely to state that the philosophy of mind is their AoS (25.8% vs 19.1%), and were apparently younger than average (58.9% had a birthdate greater than or equal to the median, vs 48%; 62.1% UK philosophers also received their PhD in a year later than the average, vs 47.7%).

UK philosophers being younger than average might account for some of the deviation, given the correlations with year of birth; younger philosophers (i.e., those born later than the median) were significantly more likely to believe in survival through the teletransporter (45.5% vs 36.8%), externalism of mental content (59.5% vs 50.7%) and physicalism of mind (60% vs 54.8%). They were also more likely to classify themselves as analytic philosophers (93.3% vs 84.7%).

Given that the gender disparity in philosophy has gone under scrutiny previously, the gender correlations from this survey might well wind up being analysed in detail. The only significant findings that jumped out at me are that female philosophers were more likely to support virtue ethics (26.6% vs 16.8%) and the psychological view of personal identity (40.8% vs 35%), and less likely to support the metaphysical possibility of p-zombies (18% vs 28.4%). Female philosophers were also less likely than average to call metaphysics their AoS (16.5% vs 27.6%), but more likely to claim applied ethics (8% vs 3.6%). Interestingly, they were also slightly more likely to classify themselves as continental philosophers (4.7% vs 3.3%).

The one finding here that's going to generate the most discussion, I imagine, is that female philosophers were far more frequently not from the UK or USA than average (Canada, 12.2% vs 7.3%; Europe, 9.9% vs 5.8%; "other", 19.8% vs 3.8) and less likely to be based in America or the UK (America, 40.5% vs 53.9%; UK, 10.3% vs 18.3%). Apparently there's something about UK and US philosophy departments that turns women off the subject at some point.

Adhering to the physicalism of mind was, curiously, linked to consequentialist ethics (33.2% vs 12.2%); I'm not sure why that should be the case. Perhaps non-physicalists are more likely to be theists of some sort, which makes them more likely to hold non-consequentialist views? Another surprise was that physicalists were more likely to hold psychological theories of personal identity (41.1% vs 34.1%), but equally they were also more likely to support biological theories (22.2% vs 10.2%); I suspect it's safe to assume that physicalists are significantly less likely to claim a further fact theory of personal identity, artificially inflating the percentage holding psychological or biological theories to be the case. And it turns out this is probably the case, with non-physicalists being nearly five times more likely to support further-fact theories (27.3% vs 6.3%).

A minor thing I found amusing; those with decision theory as an AoS were more likely to support consequentialism. Is that due to Harsanyi, or because philosophers who spend much of their time thinking about the consequences of their decisions are, well, more accustomed to thinking about the consequences of their decisions?

Philosophers of mind and cognitive science were significantly more likely to support the physicalism of mind (mind, 61.5% vs 56.1%; cogsci, 76.7% vs 56%). Interestingly, there was a weak correlation between philosophy of mind as an AoS and belief in externalism of mental content (56.8% vs 55.1%), and no reported correlation between philosophy of cogsci and externalist views. Those with philosophy of cognitive science as an AoS were also slightly more likely to pick one box in Newcomb's problem (35% vs 29.5).

Interesting findings all round. I'm looking forward to the discussions of them which will no doubt start appearing over the next few weeks.

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