Political Hostility and Willingness to Discriminate in Philosophy


A new study of nearly 800 academic philosophers provides support for several claims about their political views, perceptions of politics-based hostility, and willingness to engage in politics-based discrimination.

The study, “Ideological Diversity, Hostility, and Discrimination in Philosophy“, by Uwe Peters (KU Leuven), Nathan Honeycutt (Rutgers), Andreas De Block (KU Leuven), and Lee Jussim (Rutgers), is forthcoming in Philosophical Psychology.

Alvin Loving, untitled

Their findings include the following:

  1. “Philosophers are predominantly left leaning”
    74.8% of philosophers are left-leaning, 14.2% were right-leaning, 11% were moderates. Analytic philosophers in general identified as slightly less left-leaning than continental philosophers. Additionally, “participants also perceived their colleagues as primarily left-leaning” and “viewed them as more left-leaning than themselves”
  2. “The more right-leaning the participant, the more hostility they reported personally experiencing from colleagues, and, overall, the more left-leaning the participant, the less hostility they reported personally experiencing.”
    “Participants also perceived right-leaning individuals in the field… to experience more hostility than left-leaning subjects.”
  3. “Participants reported that they would be more reluctant to defend their own argument if it led to a right-leaning conclusion… than if it led to a left-leaning one”
    “There was no association between ideology and how often participants would be reluctant to defend their argument if it led to a left-leaning conclusion… These findings point toward an apparent stigma held by most participants, regardless of their political ideology, against defending right-leaning conclusions. Considered together with our other results, this reluctance to defend right-leaning conclusions may be the by-product of perceived or actual ideological discrimination within the field. It suggests the presence of ideological ‘self-censorship'”.
  4.  “Significant correlations were found between ideology and the WTD [willingness to discriminate]”
    “The more left-leaning the participant, the more frequently a right-leaning perspective/individual would be viewed negatively in assessing grant applications, evaluating papers, inviting colleagues to symposia, and making hiring decisions involving two otherwise equally qualified candidates. On the other side, the more right-leaning the participant, the more frequently a left-leaning perspective/individual would be viewed negatively in assessing grant applications  evaluating paper, inviting colleagues to symposia , and making hiring decisions… But overall, WTD against right-leaning perspective/individuals was significantly greater than WTD against left-leaning perspective/individuals.” Also, “continental philosophers were willing to discriminate against right-leaning perspectives/colleagues more frequently than analytic philosophers.” Additionally, “participants reported believing that colleagues would engage in discrimination against right-leaning individuals more often than against left-leaning individuals.”
  5. A slight majority of philosophers surveyed believe that discrimination against individuals in the field based on their political beliefs is “not at all justified.”
    However, “there was a significant association between ideology and justification of discrimination against right-leaning individuals in the field… The more left-leaning the participant, the more justified they believed discrimination against right-leaning individuals to be. But… there was no significant association between ideology and justification of discrimination against left-leaning individuals.”

In their discussion of their findings, the authors write:

One factor contributing to the imbalance in representation of ideological viewpoints might be an aversion and discrimination against right-leaning and moderate individuals. Our study doesn’t directly show that they do contribute to it. It does, however, provide evidence that ideological hostility and a readiness to discriminate on the basis of ideology are not only real in philosophy but also directed at various ideologies, including a moderate stance (moderate participants reported experiencing more hostility than left-leaning participants, but less than right-leaning participants). Our findings thus suggest that across the political spectrum, from very left-leaning to very right-leaning individuals, philosophers sometimes experience politically motivated hostility in the field which, in some cases, prevents them from expressing their viewpoints, from being taken seriously, and from contributing to debates. This is striking, because given the pervasiveness of explicit commitments to open-mindedness, and inclusiveness among philosophers, philosophy departments, and organizations, one would expect the opposite.

Equally surprisingly, our qualitative data, combined with the quantitative findings, reveal a significant discrepancy between many philosophers’ beliefs that ideological bias and discrimination are either rare or non-existent in the field and many more other philosophers’ reports of having actually experienced or witnessed them first hand, or being willing to engage in it themselves. Starting with the political right, the more right-leaning the participant was, the more hostility they reported personally experiencing from colleagues, and the stronger their impression that they and their political ideology would be negatively viewed in judgment- and decision-making in the field. The validity of this subjective impression was partly confirmed by the fact that the more left-leaning the participant was, the more frequent their WTD against right-leaning individuals and contents in judgment- and decision-making. Similarly, while left-leaning participants didn’t report more experiences of hostility the more left-leaning they were, the more left-leaning the participant was, the stronger their impression that they themselves and their ideology would be negatively assessed in the mentioned contexts. This subjective impression too was partly confirmed by the fact that the more right-leaning the participant was, the more frequent their WTD against left-leaning individuals or contents in application/paper reviewing, conference invitations, and hiring…

Independently of their strength, it is worth noting that hostility and discrimination against a particular ideology in philosophy or any other academic discipline needn’t be problematic. An aversion against creationists in biology or against flat-earthers in geology seems unobjectionable. The same might hold for individuals with certain ideologies in philosophy. If so, then one would expect members of the field to take discrimination against some subjects on the basis of their ideology to be justified. And indeed we did find that the more left-leaning the participant was, the more justified they believed discrimination against right-leaning contents/individuals in the field to be, while the reverse didn’t hold. Yet, importantly, we also found that about half of the participants took discrimination against either left- or right-leaning contents/individuals in the field to be not justified at all, which starkly contrasts with the fact that many participants on both the left and the right in fact openly acknowledged they would discriminate against contents/individuals of the opposite ideology. 

You can read the whole study here.

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