Bryan Caplan  

What Do Philosophers Think - and What Do Philosophers Think Philosophers Think?

Murphy on Geo-Engineering... Anti-Masonomics...
Today Tyler pointed me to the PhilPapers Surveys, the most fascinating opinion poll I've seen in years.  Not only does it survey philosophers' views on thirty classic and modern controversies; it meta-surveys philosophers' views on philosophers' typical views!
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 other 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.

A while back, I asked philosophers to explain exactly what they consider themselves experts at:

Profs and grad students alike largely seemed to accept the following list of topics where members of their occupation actually have expertise:

  • Accurately describing the views of other philosophers, living and dead.
  • Checking arguments for logical validity/internal consistency.
No one claimed that the philosophy profession was good at figuring out true answers to philosophical questions. One even claimed the the primary product of philosophy is "broken arguments."
So I'm not inclined to use philosophers' consensus as a benchmark of truth.  Still, it's fascinating to see their responses.  Here are the results for the full sample of 3226 respondents on some topics I've blogged before.  I omit a long list of "other" responses, so results don't add to 100%.

A priori knowledge: yes or no?

Accept: yes 1368 / 3226 (42.4%)
Lean toward: yes 779 / 3226 (24.1%)
Lean toward: no 502 / 3226 (15.5%)
Accept: no 268 / 3226 (8.3%)

Free will: compatibilism, libertarianism, or no free will?

Accept: compatibilism 873 / 3226 (27%)
Lean toward: compatibilism 788 / 3226 (24.4%)
Lean toward: libertarianism 303 / 3226 (9.3%)
Accept: libertarianism 288 / 3226 (8.9%)
Lean toward: no free will 255 / 3226 (7.9%)
Accept: no free will 236 / 3226 (7.3%)

Meta-ethics: moral realism or moral anti-realism?

Accept: moral realism 915 / 3226 (28.3%)
Lean toward: moral realism 779 / 3226 (24.1%)
Lean toward: moral anti-realism 550 / 3226 (17%)
Accept: moral anti-realism 447 / 3226 (13.8%)

Mind: physicalism or non-physicalism?

Accept: physicalism 1046 / 3226 (32.4%)
Lean toward: physicalism 695 / 3226 (21.5%)
Lean toward: non-physicalism 473 / 3226 (14.6%)
Accept: non-physicalism 468 / 3226 (14.5%)

Normative ethics: deontology, consequentialism, or virtue ethics?

Lean toward: virtue ethics 541 / 3226 (16.7%)
Lean toward: consequentialism 496 / 3226 (15.3%)
Lean toward: deontology 428 / 3226 (13.2%)
Accept: consequentialism 290 / 3226 (8.9%)
Accept: virtue ethics 263 / 3226 (8.1%)
Accept more than one 230 / 3226 (7.1%)
Accept: deontology 228 / 3226 (7%)
Accept an intermediate view 132 / 3226 (4%)

Politics: communitarianism, egalitarianism, or libertarianism?

Lean toward: egalitarianism 593 / 3226 (18.3%)
Lean toward: communitarianism 453 / 3226 (14%)
Accept: egalitarianism 381 / 3226 (11.8%)
Lean toward: libertarianism 360 / 3226 (11.1%)
Insufficiently familiar with the issue 343 / 3226 (10.6%)
Accept: libertarianism 181 / 3226 (5.6%)
Agnostic/undecided 162 / 3226 (5%)
Accept: communitarianism 129 / 3226 (3.9%)

and last but not least:

Teletransporter (new matter): survival or death?

Lean toward: survival 693 / 3226 (21.4%)
Lean toward: death 497 / 3226 (15.4%)
Accept: death 458 / 3226 (14.1%)
Insufficiently familiar with the issue 455 / 3226 (14.1%)
Accept: survival 424 / 3226 (13.1%)
Agnostic/undecided 213 / 3226 (6.6%)

To me, the single most surprising fact is probably philosophers' politics.  Egalitarians only outnumber libertarians by about 2:1.  If you adjust for the initial leftism of the humanities, it seems like libertarian arguments must be making a lot of converts among the philosophers.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (49 to date)
Jason Malloy writes:

Great link. Philosophers are atheists (PhDs):

God: theism or atheism?
Accept atheism 57.7%
Lean toward atheism 11.9%

Lean toward theism 4.7%
Accept theism 11.6%

Agnostic/undecided 6.4%

agnostic writes:

Pretty neat, but could've used a question about vampires.

Dan writes:

I agree that the answer to the politics question is extremely surprising - anyone who has ever read around political philosophy will know how dominated it is by egalitarian views of one kind or another.

However, limiting the result to philosophy faculty or PhDs who cite social and political philosophy as an area of specialization, the results were:

Accept or lean toward: egalitarianism (49.7%)
Accept or lean toward: libertarianism (14.7%)

which seems to me to be much more representative of what you would find while browsing through a top journal.

It's interesting to ask why there is such a discrepancy. Is it because specialists in the field are more likely to come to the right views (which, then, are presumably closer to egalitarianism than libertarianism)? Or because there are other tendencies which make political philosophy a particularly unattractive area of study for libertarian philosophers?

Hume writes:

"It's interesting to ask why there is such a discrepancy."

I wonder how many political philosophers reach their conclusions during/after obtaining a PhD or entered the program looking for better arguments to support their theory.

Because of an egalitarian bias in undergraduate humanities departments, I would guess that most enter with strong egalitarian beliefs searching for arguments in support of such political theory.

Joshua Macy writes:

I'm most surprised to see virtue ethics in the lead, if only narrowly. I would have supposed that consequentialism would have a commanding lead, with most of the rest being deontologists. I don't think the arguments for consequentialism are any good, and it appears that most philosophers agree with me even if they can't settle on a single alternative. Of course, the even split means that both other major views can make the same claim.

Ryan Vann writes:

Eh, I'm not sure why they bother with offering a choice between deontological and virtue ethics, they only differ very slightly. That more philosophers ascribe to deontological and virtue ethics instead of teologicical/consequentialist ethics explains many of the other results.


I'm pretty sure your view is correct. Post-graduate studies usually have a certain culture that the student is engrossed and, to an extent, ensnared in; the result is bias.

Mike Kenny writes:

I was surprised at how many of the views seemed like what might plausibly be what many normal people would believe. There's that stereotype of the philosopher as making arguments that seem so ridiculous to everyday common sense.

It'd be interesting to study philosophers and see if they are better or worse at other things than the average person, to get some evidence as to what philosophy 'does'.

Ryan Vann writes:

I also find it odd there would be so many atheists when the prime beliefs are in deontological and virtue ethics. Anyone else have some ideas? Where is that Justin Martyr poster when you need him?

wittgenstein's_revenge writes:

There seems to be strong support for Zombies however.

Curt Doolittle writes:

Why criticize philosophy? Philosophy has helped us with uncountable problems in human history, and we all live by those solutions - not the least of which is the structure of scientific knowledge, the nature of justice, and certain mildly useful concepts like marginal utility or general equilibrium. Currently economics has taken over the place of social debate from philosophy, and philosophy is concerned overly with method - in an attempt to make a moral analysis into a science that it cannot be. A fact that is not dissimilar from the process that has been followed in economic theory.

The problem with most economists is that they lack sufficient philosophical rigor to understand the limitations of the statistical analysis that the employ, or the conclusions that they draw from their research.

The fact that reading through the philosophical literature every year leaves one with the impression that the vast majority of philosophical work is quite silly, and a complete waste of time, is no different from reading through the vast majority of economic literature, or any literature of the social sciences for that matter.

But the content of the peer reviewed journals appears to be specious in almost all fields - not just philosophy. One of the things we have learned of late is that the journal and paper process is less effective than the book process. Because the book process by necessity includes greater scope, and in doing so, eliminates assumptions, and opens the author to broader criticism. If you stick with the BOOKS on philosophy, it's almost all very valuable, at least as a history of ideas. The same is true for most economics. Very little of value seems to come out of the journal process compared to the book process. Essays by Hayek to the contrary perhaps.

When you read (I do) a great deal of the literature, it generally appears that the process of introspection used by philosophers, (self testing of concepts) would be better supported by economic data and analysis, because that data extends perception and our ability to make comparisons and judgements. LIkewise, the number of papers (or lectures) I have been in where the economist makes profoundly childish errors in reasoning, especially with regard to causality versus correlation, is exhausting.

WHile most philosophers would be better served with a little knowledge of economics, most economists would be better served with much more knowledge of philosophy. we can forgive a philosopher, because they have little effect on policy these days. But it is very hard to forgive an economist, because we determine policy based on their judgements.

It is very hard right now to forgive economists for the stock that they have put in Macro. Very hard. :)

mark writes:

Ah, but then there is the epistemological attack on the survey itself ....

Greg Ransom writes:

What matters is what the elite philosophers believe what. It doesn't much matter what all the rest of them believe.

What matters is what philosophers at the top 10 grad schools believe.

What matters is what the philosophers who edit the philosophy journals believe.

What doesn't matter is what the philosophers at the community colleges believe.

What doesn't matter is what the traveling non-tenured philosophers believe.

What doesn't matter is what the philosophers at the Catholic colleges believe.


Steve Sailer writes:

In terms of z scores, philosophy students score second highest on the Graduate Record Exam, following only physics students.

Jon Miller writes:

Disclosure: I am an adjunct professor in philosophy.

I don't know if this means anything, but the results of the survey didn't seem that surprising. Even when it came to politics. Nozick is still a fixture of political philosophy; it makes sense that libertarianism has many supporters among philosophers, even if they are still the minority.

I am surprised and a little confused by all the anti-philosophy rhetoric on this blog. Not that I don't share some of the same frustrations with philosophy and philosophers. But surely there is some value to posing and answering philosophical questions? Most of the questions regarding the foundations of economics, for example, have a philosophical ring. At the very least, how we can answer policy questions without looking at ethical questions? (Assuming we don't want to just beg the question and shout "utility!" or "Lockean rights!" or whatever.)

And Bryan and Robin spend a lot of time discussing the philosophy of mind for people who have no patience for philosophy. . .

Barry Stocker writes:

I agree there are more libertarians than might be expected, which is good
Communitarians tend to be egalitarians, usually known as liberal egalitarians. mostly they're variations on the same thing. The variation comes down to the role of ethics as a foundation for politics and the view that we live in a community of ethical responsibilities rather than a contractual community.
From a libertarian point of view communitarians tend to be worse than egalitarians since they tend to be both more morally conservative than egalitarians and to be just as egalitarian as the egalitarians.
The above may love perverse, but this is not controversial. Egalitarian is short for liberal egalitarian and communitarian means egalitarian (mostly) who thinks the state should promote moral cohesion and is disturbed by alleged lack of 'moral cohesion' in a contractual capitalist individualist society.

Joshua Macy
I am not a consequentialist, I answered the survey as philosophy faculty (a Brit teaching philosophy in Istanbul) and put virtue theory as my preference. Nevertheless, I find what you say about consequentialism unreasonable. What you may be thinking of is the way philosopher enjoy setting up utilitarian straw man arguments and knocking them down, e.g. utilitarian arguments for torture, executing the unhappy, executing unpopular minorities. Things which are just as unpopular with consequentialists as anyone else Current 'consequentialists' include very respected figures like Derek Parfit, Peter Singer (whatever one might think about his politics), Peter Unger, Amertya Sen (same comment as for Singer), Brad Hooker.

Ryan Vann
Of course there are examples of deontological ethics and virtue ethics overlapping, but there are examples of virtue ethics and consequentialism overlapping (quite a popular reading of Kant at present) with J.S. Mill as the obvious example. There are examples of consequentialism and deontology overlapping though that is more of an accusation than a position anyone advocates, e.g. Hegel on Kant, Bernard Williams on utilitarianism. Rawls tries to give utilitarianism a place within an avowedly Kantian theory.
Virtue ethics (like natural right theory) might be rooted in deontological absolute values, but it might also be rooted in actions, practices, habits and reflections on them, so be essentially rooted in a view of psychological, social and historical learning processes about co-operation.

Barry Stocker writes:

Despite doing the Preview, I realise I mangled the fourth line above. I appear to be saying that communitarian are known as liberal egalitarians. I meant to say 'egalitarians' are usually known as 'liberal egalitarians' as I hope the comment as a whole makes clear. Anyway, it is true that liberal egalitarians and communitarians strongly overlap. Michael Sandel and Charles Taylor are clearly just as egalitarian as the 'egalitarians'.

Ak Mike writes:

Jon Miller - you pose (in your third paragraph) a good question, and I'll take a whack at answering it. The question is whether there is any value in posing and answering philosophical questions.

The response is "what value?" Macaulay in his essay on Francis Bacon commented that from Socrates until Bacon all of philosophy was basically a dead end, because it did not result in any actual improvement in the human condition, nor did all the rumination on virtue result in an increase in virtue, nor did all the discourse on happiness result in any increase in happiness.

On the other hand, the focus on the physical world that Bacon advocated resulted in dramatic improvements in the wealth and health of humanity.

I think a lot of people feel that philosophers engage primarily in word games, that no actual progress is ever made, but only change, and that philosophy has little application to real life.

Does that help?

Carl The EconGuy writes:

@ Curt Doolittle: I think macro sucks, big time. Does that make me a philosopher?

I think there's a fundamental criticism of modern economists missing here. One of the great contributions to political philosophy, as applied to economics, is the Arrow Impossibility Theorem, based on Condorcet's work from the late 18th C. It proves that in a heterogeneous society -- and all large societies can be expected to be very heterogeneous -- there is no social welfare function that can be maximized. That kinda ripped the house of welfare economics completely apart.

But both macro and microeconomists still use the Pareto optimality characteristic of a notional general equilibrium solution to propose various welfare policies, in disregard of the Arrow proof.

Go figure. Some philosophy, that. By using the representative agent, they simply assumed away the heterogeneity problem that is the essence of political philosophy.

In fact, I think a survey of economists on this issue would be quite interesting. I believe they overwhelmingly would pay lip service to their acceptance of the absence of a social welfare function, and then merrily keep using welfare economics based on general equilibrium's Pareto optimality implications for their policy advice. They would not even admit of any cognitive dissonance, I suspect.

Jon Miller writes:

Yes, Ak Mike, that helps.

I'm familiar with debates about the value (if any) of philosophy. Up until a few years ago I questioned almost every day whether philosophy has made any significant contribution to human well-being.

Interestingly, there may be less disagreement between me and Bryan (or whomever) about the value of philosophy than there at first seems. The view I want to defend is that there is some value to at least some of the work done by philosophy. That's a pretty weak thesis. It's compatible with the view that most of the work done by philosophers does not have value, and with the view that the value contributed by philosophy is quite small, and with the view that we spend too much time doing philosophy.

Examples of valuable philosophy? Francis Bacon and other philosophers of science have created value by helping to articulate the methods of science, to distinguish them from non-scientific methods, and to explain why scientific methods are often or usually superior to those of rival attempts to answer questions about the world (such as religion, alchemy, or astrology).

Philosophers of religion have helped articulate problems with the traditional arguments for the existence of God. (Is this why most philosophers are atheists? Or did most philosophers already start out as atheists and then spend a lot of time trying to find flaws in theists' arguments?)

At some margins, it pays to spend time thinking critically about philosophical issues.

Hume writes:

How do you define "value" in this context?

CJ Smith writes:

@ Ak Mike and Hume:

"I think a lot of people feel that philosophers engage primarily in word games, that no actual progress is ever made, but only change, and that philosophy has little application to real life."

"How do you define "value" in this context?"

Ak Mike addresses the question as a complaint, while Hume addresses the issue as a question: A significant part of meta-ethics involves attempting to come to a consensus on what the words mean. Example: ask 5 people to define moral and ethical and explain the difference between the two. Ask Ak Mike and Hume to define "value" and compare/contrast the two.

We've seen this semantics issue on this blog, where what some people define as good or beneficial conflict with what others beleive as good or beneficial.

The words are important. Why are the words important? Because without a common frame of reference and shared vocabulary, particularly in using "broad" terms (i.e., good/bad, beneficial/detrimental, value) in factually and philosophically dense conversations, the participants "talk past" one another. Each attempts to use the same words to explain or advocate different positions, and each becomes frustrated because the other "doesn't get it." It can range for the silly (Bill Clinton: It depends on what the verb "is" means.) to the profound (Is it moral to abort a fetus in all circumstances, in some circumstances, or in no circumstances?)

Matt writes:

Hmm there are more libertarians then there are libertarians. Only 15% of philosophers didn't believe in free will.

Philosophy is supposed to be the love of wisdom, but too much philosophy nowadays is postmodern criticism or logic games -- not that we don't need some of that. But philosophy is Greek for "love of wisdom," and there's not a lot of interest in wisdom in philosophy anymore. That's what it needs to get back to, and it will continue to have a vibrant life. The wise are able to see the connections among things. The philosopher should thus act as the other side of the coin that contains the knowledge-producers (natural and humane scientists). Knowledge is many and disparate. The philosophers' jobs should be to tell us how it all fits together. Which is why I, as a humanities scholar, study complex systems (which is why I just got back from the Fund for the Study of Spontaneous Orders conference). Philosophers should all be complexity and systems experts (logic still has a place, as a part of information theory).

hacs writes:

Out of the subject.

Nature x nurture - very interesting

Eric H writes:

Nothing about ninjas? meh.

Jason Brennan, Ph.D. writes:


I'm a philosopher. I'm not sure what you mean by "wisdom". What I want as a philosopher are good answers to difficult, intriguing philosophical questions, such as what makes actions right, whether science should be interpreted as truth-tracking, what makes societies just, etc. This is what my colleagues and I work on, and while you might lament that we tend to be specialists rather than system-builders, we're mostly working on deep, important questions. If you find that worthless, that's fine.

Also, postmodern critique has almost no play whatsoever in philosophy. Postmodernism is exceedingly unpopular among philosophers.

I didn't say philosophers should be systems builders -- I'm too much of a Nietzschean for that -- but that a systems approach should be used. The fact that you admit that you don't know what I mean by "wisdom" shows me that postmodernism has completely taken over the profession. Philosophers understand the world in its full complexity. Those who are true philosophers. THen there are the scholars of philosophy -- who have a role in understanding the works of others, but aren't philosophers themselves. Most people with degrees in philosophy are the latter.

Prof. Jason Brennan, B.A., M.A., Ph.D. writes:


Based on your comments, I am quite certain that you have little to no familiarity with academic philosophy.

First of all, hardly anyone in academic philosophy is a postmodernist. Postmodernism and post-structuralism are considered by most of us to be b.s. pseudo-philosophies. They are popular philosophies in certain humanities departments, but not in philosophy.

Second of all, most philosophers who publish are doing original work, not the history of ideas. You can verify this easily by perusing the table of contents of philosophy journals.

Ryan Vann writes:

"Virtue ethics (like natural right theory) might be rooted in deontological absolute values, but it might also be rooted in actions, practices, habits and reflections on them, so be essentially rooted in a view of psychological, social and historical learning processes about co-operation."

I would definitely concede your point, but I still believe the pragmatic implications of a virtue or deontological ethic are basically the same. Perhaps I'm a bit biased because my area of specialization is in Economics and Finance which ascribes to a teleological creed, and to me the practical results of deontological and virtue ethics seem pretty similar.

I'd admit I'm no Ph.D in philosophy, though I do get my girlfriend's hand-me-downs from her gradschool philosophy courses. So, I could be wrong.

David Mazella writes:

Hi everyone,

I'm writing as professor of 18th century British literature, where as a matter of course we read figures like Locke, Hume, or Rousseau, in conjunction with other writers. I'm interested in your distinction between "popular philosophers" and "academic philosophy."

If there is no interest, as you say, in the history of ideas, or for that matter, in the history of philosophy, then what place, if any, do figures like Rousseau have in contemporary academic philosophy? Does Rousseau, for example, represent another "popular philosophy" destined to fade in the wake of academic philosophy's more lasting accomplishments?

So what is the relationship of "academic philosophy" to its very long history, which includes lots of things that don't resemble academic peer-reviewed journal articles?

Jason Brennan writes:

By "academic philosophy", I simply mean the kind of philosophy written and studied in philosophy departments today. (The survey above, which I took, was sent primarily to philosophers, including graduate students, at English-speaking philosophy departments.)

Rousseau is studied and written about quite frequently, though few philosophers specialize in writing about or studying Rousseau.

I have nothing but the utmost respect for Nehemas, but he was a scholar of philosophy, not a philosopher. And as much as I dislike RIchard Rorty, he was a philosopher. Dennett, to pick another I like, primarily analyzes others' ideas. This isn't to say that Nehemas and Dennett haven't contributed some original ideas of their own -- that's just not what they primarily do.

Rorty was one of the better known postmodern philosophers, though David Donaldson could be classified as such as well. One can pretend to not be a postmodernist while being influenced by Heidegger, Quine, Kuhn, Feyerabend, Baudrillard, Lyotard, and Derrida, but that is all one would be doing is pretending. Let me go further and say that if one is primarily Rousseauean in philosophy, one is primarily postmodern in outlook. The roots are deeper than people realize or acknowledge. Any philosopher who believe in the social construction of reality and is epistemologically a radical skeptic is fundamentally a postmodernist. Anyone who can make a happy marriage of Heidegger and Marx/Rousseau is a postmodernist -- as that is, in its essence, what postmodernism is.

Yes. pomo is sadly still the dominant paradigm in literary studies -- but that doesn't get the philosophers off the hook. I will agree that many of the scholars of philosophy are not and were never postmodernists -- but there is a difference between being a philosopher and being a scholar of philosophy that those in philosophy do not want to acknowledge or admit to. More, there is far more postmodernist influence than you want to admit to as well.

What philosophy needs is a 12-step program. And the first step is of course first admitting that you have a problem.

Hume writes:

Who are the more influential libertarian political philosophers out there today? Jan Narveson and Roderick Long come to mind, but who else out there would you consider a "political philosopher" and a libertarian?

jrshiple writes:

Philosophy grad student here. I'm not inclined to wade into the debate, but I'll second Brennan's claim that Camplin is long on opinion and short on knowledge about what academic philosophers are up to.

Ok, I can't resist taking a shot... Camplin wrote: "Any philosopher who believe in the social construction of reality and is epistemologically a radical skeptic is fundamentally a postmodernist."

This strikes me as borderline incoherent. If you thought reality was a social construct you probably wouldn't be a radical skeptic, since social constructs are ipso facto intersubjectively accessible. On the other hand, if you were a radical skeptic you would never claim to know something so contentious as the claim that reality is a social construct. So here's one thing philosophers like to do: pick apart fluffed up nonsense peddled by self-avowed intellectual tourists like Camplin. Logic, as it happens, has always been good for that (even if it is now also applied in information theory).

Gene Callahan writes:

"Macaulay in his essay on Francis Bacon commented that from Socrates until Bacon all of philosophy was basically a dead end, because it did not result in any actual improvement in the human condition..."

You'd have to be very ignorant of history to believe this.

Az writes:

Hume: David Schmidtz and Gerald Gaus are libertarian, in a broad sense, and much more influential than Narveson or Long.

zefreak writes:

I'm surprised to see so many moral realists among a group that is predominantly atheist and materialist. I have noticed in my readings (most recently those of Thomas Metzinger and Douglas Hofstadter) how brilliant philosophers in their respective fields can be so ham-fisted and uncritical when it comes to ethics.

Christopher M writes:

I was also surprised (and, to be honest, a little dismayed) that so many philosophers are moral realists. To me this suggests that many philosophers have not taken the resounding successes of physics and evolutionary biology seriously enough. The overwhelming weight of evidence suggests that (1) the universe is physical and rule-governed at a very low level, and (2) we humans -- our minds and moral inclinations included -- are physical systems, whose very complicated present states result from physical processes, parts of which we call "evolution," parts of which we call "culture," etc. And if you buy that -- as just about all scientists do -- then what is the motivation supposed to be for moral realism?

I'm not trying to gin up a debate here -- what I'm wondering is whether moral realists have serious arguments against naturalist, physicalist anti-realism, or whether (as I have to admit I suspect) the support for moral realism is mostly a matter of philosophers' failure to grapple with what physics & biology have taught us about the origins of complex systems in the real world?

zefreak writes:

Interesting comments, Christopher; I had always assumed in my readings that philosophers like Metzinger et al were moral fictionalists, or emotivists. Whenever I came across a normative assertion in a text, I pictured the author winking and nodding, in a "this is obviously cultural shorthand for predominant preference, and nothing more" kind of way.

It seems there is an opportunity available for a layman's text ala Dennett regarding normativity. If only I had the time and writing ability!

Barry Stocker writes:

Hume, Az

Current libertarian philosophers of some note.
I don't care too much about who is more or less influential, these judgements change over time and vary strongly between different niches in the philosophical ecology. I have different opinions about how good the people are below, but they all have some presence in debates
Chandran Kukathas
Tibor Machan
'Left Libertarians' (minimum state with equalisation of property/collective ownership of land, not the EconLog view, or my view, but stuff that needs to be considered and is of value to to non 'left' libertarians)
Michael Otsuka
Hillel Steiner

Nathanael writes:

"One of the great contributions to political philosophy, as applied to economics, is the Arrow Impossibility Theorem, based on Condorcet's work from the late 18th C. It proves that in a heterogeneous society -- and all large societies can be expected to be very heterogeneous -- there is no social welfare function that can be maximized."

Had to speak out because this is a gross misinterpretation of Arrow's Theorem. Ask a mathemetician what Arrow's Theorem means; it's a proof involving a *very specific definition* of a "suitable" function to maximize, with a *very specific definition* of the type of choices available.

The definition is not accepted by a lot of people as the correct type of social welfare function (Arrow's choices of restrictions *sound* plausible but are likely to be wrong). And the type of choices available are simply wrong for utility questions, because Arrow's Theorem was in *election* theory and restricts itself to *ranked choice* methods.

There are other methods of utility evaluation other than ranked choice (uh, weighted, for instance?) and it simply doesn't apply to them. Arrow's theorem, if anything, shows that ranked choice systems are inherently flawed.

I never said the postmodernists were coherent or consistent. They believe in the blank slate and are radical skeptics. That's their position, not mine. If you're not familiar with the postmodernists, that is not my problem -- but not knowing about them will prevent you from understanding much of what is going on over here in the real world.

Until you have your Ph.D., Mr. Grad Student, don't be accusing anyone of being an intellectual tourist. My experience of humanities grad students is that the vast majority are intellectual tourists -- the ones who, like me, actually have what it takes to get that Ph.D. (not an easy thing to do) are the real deal. Your ignorance of the postmodernists doesn't speak well of you right now, including your own tourist status.

Too many scholars of philosophy have their heads in the sand, paying attention only to their narrow interests, and pretending that nothing much is happening outside of that. It's one of the things that differentiates them from actual philosophers, who their progeny will be studying in the future.

And don't get me wrong -- we need such scholars. But let's stop calling them philosophers. Especially those who don't know what wisdom is (philosophy means "love of wisdom," meaning if you don't know what wisdom is, then you can't love it, and you aren't a philosopher!).

jrshipley writes:

@ Camplin, PhD

Well, I suppose the postmodernists are well outside my aos, and I won't be so vain as to pretend to have knowledge beyond my ken. It just seemed to me that one of the principle motives behind anti-realism (e.g., social constructivism) would be avoidance of skepticism. It struck me that you might simply be running together anti-realism and skepticism. But if you're an expert on postmodernism, I'll not play tourist to your views.

One thing you don't seem to be much of an expert on, however, is what philosophers are up to. You write that "too many" philosophers "have their head in the sand" and "only pay attention to their narrow interests". This at a time when cross pollination between philosophy and other disciplines is so great. In the past year, I've attended philosophy conferences where ideas are exchanged between philosophers, mathematicians, computer scientists, and economists. Though outside my specialization, communication between philosophy, cognitive science, and neuroscience is also extremely common. A great many philosophers nowadays specialize in "philosophy of _____" (for me its mathematics, in which I'm working toward an MS). So, you just seem completely clueless about what's happening in philosophy, though I'll grant that you have your PhD and I don't (yet).

I don't mean to get in the way of you self-inflating huffpuffery, but perhaps you can make yourself feel good otherwise than by beating up on my discipline, about which you evidently know so little.

David Mazella writes:

Again, as an outsider who works in a historically-defined field, it seems strange to me that so much contemporary academic philosophy, as it is being discussed here, is conceived in this presentist fashion. Clearly, this is not news to those on the list, but I'd like to hear more about why this occurred.

The other observation that I'd offer is that all the interdisciplinary work mentioned by jrshipley is conceived as part of the sciences, not the humanities. These two things seem to hang together, as does the hostility to what many are calling "postmodernism," which if we can use the term at all (I'd rather talk about individual writers than treating the pomos as representing a collectively held set of positions) derives from the literary- and humanities-based versions of philosophy derived from "philosophic" sources like Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, and so forth. (I suppose Nietzsche, Marx, Freud cannot be cited here as "philosophic" in the same way as your chosen forebears)

I don't consider this literary orientation heretical, because the greatest philosophers of the 18th century, say, Hume and Rousseau, wrote in a variety of genres, some of which were literary. Again, it seems to me that a considerable reorientation of philosophy has occurred between the 18th century and the 20th century, which redefined vast amounts of its history (as well as many contemporary variants) as "non-philosophical" or at best "pre-philosophical."

So does a knowledge of philosophy as a discipline also demand knowledge of its very long disciplinary history?

Joshua Macy writes:

@Barry Stocker - I don't understand where you think I'm being unreasonable. If you think there are good arguments for consequentialism, why aren't you a consequentialist?

Suzy writes:

I feel like Enlightenment philosophy has done a lot of good for the whole human world. Am I wrong? It's not my only example, either, but I would start there.

I'd also submit that Socrates was right about the unexamined life being not worth living, and about the most pernicious form of ignorance being the false belief that you're not ignorant. Though contemporary academic philosophers write about a lot of things, I think on the whole they're accomplishing Socratic goals of examining "life, the universe, and everything", and trying to expose false beliefs that could cause us to make serious errors.

It's a mistake to suppose that "academic philosophy" has to produce some precisely contoured Contribution, for it to be a worthwhile enterprise. Rather, philosophy influences unknown thousands of individual persons to think more carefully about how to live and what to believe. What could be more important, really?

Suzy writes:

In response to Christopher M, I would say it's both that moral realists have serious responses to materialist views that would deny the possibility of moral realism, AND that some moral realists are in fact physicalists themselves! I.e. physicalists who think that moral truths are real, either as part of our natures, or as facts about how humans live best together with others. The view that everything is ultimately reducible to a physical account doesn't require rejecting the reality of moral concepts any more than it requires rejecting the reality of, for example, love or responsibility for one's actions.

Arthur writes:

Interesting: If you go to the main page and restrict the survey to target faculty whose area of specialization is philosophy of religion, you get that

72% Accept or lean toward theism.

Quite a difference from the 16% of the target faculty in general.

Red Flagg writes:

This survey must also be taken with a huge grain of salt because it only was given to academic philosophers. In other words, those whose main occupation is tied to a university, which itself precludes a large (and funded) bias. In addition, the proportion of academic philosophers to the set of all philosophers makes the survey sampling size entirely inadequate for the purposes of forming any conclusions regarding philosophers in general.

Just in looking at it, I would bet that the same survey given to other (non-philosopher) academics would give you the same, or very closely similar results. If that is the case, then this survey simply indicates a general mindset of university faculty, rather than of one particular field.

Conclusion: The survey is next to useless, and the article makes erroneous conclusions about what the survey is telling us.

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