What do philosophers believe? A new study has some answers

David Bourget and David J. Chalmers have a noteworthy paper forthcoming in Philosophical Studies in which they report their findings from a study they recently conducted about the “philosophical views of contemporary professional philosophers.”

I posted on this study last week at the AMU philosophy department blog. Since I assume that we do not have the same traffic here as we do there I thought I would also put up a post here.

Among the questions that Bourget and Chalmers have tried to answer are the following: Are more philosophers theists or atheists? Are more physicalists or non-physicalists? Are the majority of philosophers deontologists, consequentialists, or virtue ethicists?

You can find a draft of the paper at PhilPapers.org. It is is titled “What Do Philosophers Believe?” The authors admit that it might be misleading to say that their work is a report on the beliefs of a representative group of all philosophers. Indeed, their paper might be more aptly called “What Do Analytic Philosophers Believe?” Bourget and Chalmers explain:

It should be acknowledged that this target group has a strong (although not exclusive) bias toward analytic or Anglocentric philosophy. As a consequence, the results of the survey are a much better guide to what analytic/Anglocentric philosophers (or at least philosophers in strong analytic/Anglocentric departments believe) believe than to what philosophers from other traditions believe. We conceived of the survey that way from the start, in part because that is where our own expertise lies. It is also not clear how much can be learned by requiring (for example) specialists in Anglocentric philosophy to answer questions drawn from Asian philosophy or vice versa. Furthermore, attempting full representation of philosophers worldwide from all traditions would require linguistic resources and contact details that were unavailable to us.

I suppose this narrow sampling is forgivable. With more funding and assistance they might have been able to do something more comprehensive. While I found the paper informative, a friend of mine, who read it at my suggestion (and who reads much more analytic philosophy than I do), told me that he found it uninformative. Oh well, you can judge for yourself.