Input Sought on New Questions for Upcoming PhilPapers Survey of Philosophers

A draft of the follow-up to the 2009 Philpapers survey of philosophical positions held by academic philosophers on various topics includes about 70 new questions.

The survey’s creators, David Bourget (Western University) and David Chalmers (NYU), are seeking input from members of the profession about the new questions. (Previously.)

Gerhard Richter, “1025 Farben”

The new survey will include the original 30 questions, plus 10 new ones that will be asked of all respondents, and 60 new ones that will each be asked of 25% of the respondents. So each respondent will be asked to answer around 55 questions. They will also be given the option to answer more, up to the total of around 100 questions.

Here are the original 30 questions:

  • A priori knowledge: yes or no?
  • Abstract objects: Platonism or nominalism?
  • Aesthetic value: objective or subjective?
  • Analytic-synthetic distinction: yes or no?
  • Epistemic justification: internalism or externalism?
  • External world: idealism, skepticism, or non-skeptical realism?
  • Free will: compatibilism, libertarianism, or no free will?
  • God: theism or atheism?
  • Knowledge: empiricism or rationalism?
  • Knowledge claims: contextualism, relativism, or invariantism?
  • Laws of nature: Humean or non-Humean?
  • Logic: classical or non-classical?
  • Mental content: internalism or externalism?
  • Meta-ethics: moral realism or moral anti-realism?
  • Metaphilosophy: naturalism or non-naturalism?
  • Mind: physicalism or non-physicalism?
  • Moral judgment: cognitivism or non-cognitivism?
  • Moral motivation: internalism or externalism?
  • Newcomb’s problem: one box or two boxes?
  • Normative ethics: deontology, consequentialism, or virtue ethics?
  • Perceptual experience: disjunctivism, qualia theory, representationalism, or sense-datum theory?
  • Personal identity: biological view, psychological view, or further-fact view?
  • Politics: communitarianism, egalitarianism, or libertarianism?
  • Proper names: Fregean or Millian?
  • Science: scientific realism or scientific anti-realism?
  • Teletransporter (new matter): survival or death?
  • Time: A-theory or B-theory?
  • Trolley problem (five straight ahead, one on side track, turn requires switching, what ought one do?): switch or don’t switch?
  • Truth: correspondence, deflationary, or epistemic?
  • Zombies: inconceivable, conceivable but not metaphysically possible, or metaphysically possible?

Here are the 10 new questions that will be asked of all respondents:

  • Consciousness: dualism, eliminativism, functionalism, identity theory, panpsychism?
  • Eating animals and animal products (are they permissible in ordinary circumstances?): omnivorism (yes and yes), vegetarianism (no and yes), veganism (no and no)
  • Experience machine (is it rational to enter?): yes or no?
  • Footbridge (pushing man off bridge will save five on track below, what ought one do?): push or don’t push?
  • Gender: biological, psychological, social, unreal?
  • Meaning of life: subjective, objective, nonexistent?
  • Philosophical knowledge (is there any?): none, a little, a lot?
  • Quantum mechanics: collapse, hidden-variables, many-worlds, or epistemic?
  • Race: biological, social, unreal?
  • Vagueness: epistemic, metaphysical, or semantic?

And here are the additional questions, each of which will be asked of a quarter of the respondents:

  • Abortion (in ordinary conditions): permissible or impermissible?
  • Arguments for theism (which is strongest?): cosmological, design, ontological, pragmatic, moral?
  • Aristotle (does he hold that virtue is necessary or sufficient for happiness?): necessary, sufficient, both, neither?
  • Belief or credence (which is more fundamental?): belief, credence, neither?
  • Capital punishment: permissible or impermissible?
  • Causation: Humean, non-Humean, eliminativism?
  • Causal relevance: counterfactual dependence, probability-raising, intervention, nomological relation, connecting process?
  • Chinese room: understands or doesn’t understand?
  • Concepts: nativism or empiricism?
  • Continuum hypothesis (does it have a determinate truth-value?): determinate, indeterminate?
  • Cosmological fine-tuning (what explains it?): design, multiverse, nothing?
  • Criminal punishment (what is its primary justification?): retribution, restoration, rehabilitation, deterrence?
  • Environmental ethics: anthropocentric or non-anthropocentric?
  • Epistemic justification: coherentism, nonreliabilist foundationalism, reliabilism?
  • Extended mind: yes or no?
  • Gender categories: preserve, revise, or eliminate?
  • Genetic engineering: permissible or impermissible?
  • Grounds of intentionality: causal/teleological, inferential, interpretational, phenomenal, primitive?
  • Hard problem of consciousness (is there one?): yes or no?
  • Kant (what is his view?): one world or two worlds?
  • Hume (what is his view?): skeptic or naturalist?
  • Immigration: open borders, some restrictions, heavy restrictions?
  • Immortality (would you choose it?): yes or no?
  • Indicative conditionals (what are their truth-conditions?): material conditionals, possible-worlds truth-conditions, no truth-conditions?
  • Interlevel metaphysics (which is the most useful?): grounding, identity, realization, supervenience?
  • Law: legal positivism or legal non-positivism?
  • Material composition: nihilism, restrictivism, or universalism?
  • Mathematics: constructivism, formalism, intuitionism, logicism, or structuralism?
  • Meta-ethics: non-naturalism, naturalist realism, constructivism, expressivism, error theory?
  • Metaontology: heavyweight realism, deflationary realism, anti-realism?
  • Method in history of philosophy: analytic or contextual?
  • Method in political philosophy: ideal theory or non-ideal theory?
  • Mind uploading: survival or death?
  • Moral duty to obey the law: yes or no?
  • Moral principles: moral generalism or moral particularism?
  • Other minds (for which groups are some members conscious?): adult humans, cats, fish, flies, worms, plants, particles, newborn babies, current AI systems, future AI systems [allow multiple answers].
  • Ought implies can: yes or no?
  • Peer disagreement (shared first-order evidence, A has responded rightly to it, should A reduce confidence?): conciliate fully (equal weight), conciliate somewhat, stand fast?
  • Philosophical progress (is there any?): none, a little, a lot
  • Philosophical methods (which methods are the most useful/important?): conceptual analysis, empirical philosophy, experimental philosophy, formal philosophy, intuition-based philosophy, linguistic philosophy? [allow multiple answers]
  • Plato (what is his view?): knowledge only of forms, knowledge also of concrete things?
  • Politics: capitalism or socialism?
  • Possible worlds: abstract, concrete, or nonexistent?
  • Properties: classes, immanent universals, transcendent universals, tropes, nonexistent?
  • Practical reason: Aristotelian, Humean, or Kantian?
  • Propositional attitudes: dispositional, phenomenal, representational, nonexistent?
  • Propositions: sets, structured entities, simple, acts, nonexistent?
  • Race categories: preserve, revise, or eliminate?
  • Reference: causal, descriptive, deflationary?
  • Response to external-world skepticism (which is strongest?): abductive, contextualist, dogmatist, externalist, pragmatic?
  • Rational disagreement (can two people with the same evidence rationally disagree): uniqueness or permissiveness?
  • Sleeping beauty (woken once if heads, woken twice if tails, credence in heads on waking?): one-third or one-half?
  • Spacetime: relationism or substantivalism?
  • Statue and lump: one thing or two things?
  • Temporal ontology: presentism, eternalism, or growing block?
  • Time travel: metaphysically possible or metaphysically impossible?
  • True contradictions: impossible, possible but non-actual, actual?
  • Units of selection: genes, organisms, or groups?
  • Values in science (is ideal scientific reasoning necessarily sensitive or insensitive to non-epistemic values?): necessarily value-free, necessarily value-laden, sometimes both?
  • Well-being: hedonism, desire satisfaction, objective list?
  • Wittgenstein: early or late?

Bourget and Chalmers have set up a page with these questions, requests for questions in certain areas, other possible questions arranged by subject, and further information about the survey. Your thoughts are welcome at a page there, and also in the comments here.


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3 years ago

I hate to be impertinent and I value immensely the service that Philpapers and its sister sites offer the profession, but this survey makes me despair about the state of academic philosophy. (For one, what on earth could “Wittgenstein: early or late?” even mean such that it would be worth knowing the distribution of answers?) I shudder at “Footbridge (pushing man off bridge will save five on track below, what ought one do?): push or don’t push?” The assumption, built into the survey, is that academic philosophers should have “views” on such subjects, as professionals. I do not know what to say about the footbridge case, except that I suspect that thinking too much about it has the tendency to corrupt one’s moral principles, whatever the right answer is. There are questions where it is better not to hold a “view” in this sense. Perhaps the ancient skeptics were right and in fact that is true of everything we discuss.

Reply to  Carneades
3 years ago

Not to mention that the one and only high-priority aesthetics question (and the only one at all on the main survey) is “subjective or objective?” Ouch.

I can see my work will be cut out for me making suggestions! (FTR, I’m somewhat happier with the other sub-survey questions, although it’s too bad none have any kind of priority yet.)

3 years ago

Several of the newer questions seem to me to be problematic in that they ask questions about policy issues where the practical facts matter _a lot_. Take the genetic engineering question. In principle, I might say “permissible” – but in practice I am very likely to be in favor of it – the risk is high for harm, chance for miss-use is high, chance of promoting or entrenching inequality is non-trivial, etc. Some other questions are similar. I don’t think it’s very useful to reduce these to yes/no questions in the way that many of the questions can be, even if that eliminates a degree on nuance. Even on some of those, the question seems confused to me. Take the ideal theory / non-ideal theory issue. I don’t think I know anyone who thinks that non-ideal theory is not important or interesting, even if they, themselves, don’t work on it. And while I know some people who think ideal theory is worthless (personally, I think these arguments are pretty bad, but leave that aside), lots of people who work on non-ideal theory think that ideal theory can still have a place. So, what is the answer here for most people? Just what they spend their time on? Most likely we’ll get a result that is, at best, highly misleading. Perhaps a better formulated question can be made, something like, “Do we need to do ideal theory before doing non-ideal theory?”, or something like that, but as-is, it doesn’t seem like a helpful question to me. Others seem to have similar problems.

(This isn’t a critique of the whole project – I thought the first version was pretty good, and many of the new questions are also good, but some seem pretty unhappy to me.)

Reply to  Matt
3 years ago

Damned typos – I meant to say that in practice I am very _unlikely_ to be in favor of genetic engineering, I think, for practical, not philosophical, reasons.

3 years ago

I’m really wanting to see a sort of, “Initiating intimate relationships with students: permissible? Impermissible, or permissible with grads?” question because I think people have really strong feelings on the subject and I’m wondering how anonymous survey results would square with how the profession tends to react to interactions like these when they are discovered or end in less than great circumstances.

Tristan J. Rogers
3 years ago

This one is puzzling:

“Aristotle (does he hold that virtue is necessary or sufficient for happiness?): necessary, sufficient, both, neither?”

There are problems, of course, associated with interpreting Aristotle’s conception of happiness. But does anyone dispute that he holds that virtue is *not* sufficient for happiness? I would have thought this is reasonably clear from Book One of Nic. Ethics, even if the justification for the claim is not so clear. A better question would leave Aristotle out and simply ask whether virtue is necessary for happiness.

David Chalmers
Reply to  Tristan J. Rogers
3 years ago

thanks for the feedback. we’re asking this one because we’d like an aristotle question and because numerous people thought this is the most natural interpretive issue to ask about. a non-interpretive question about whether virtue is necessary for happiness wouldn’t make the cut. as for the formulation, i have no expertise here, but this version was suggested through discussion with a distinguished scholar of these issues, who also suggested “sufficient or only necessary” as possible options. that said, this is just a tentative draft and i’m interested to hear opinions from others about different formulations. e.g. if almost everyone agrees that aristotle denies sufficiency, perhaps we should just ask about necessity. someone else suggested asking whether aristotle’s view is “inclusivism or exclusivism about happiness”, but i suspect that too few non-specialists will know what these terms mean.

Tristan J. Rogers
Reply to  David Chalmers
3 years ago

Thank you for your response, Prof. Chalmers. I am neither a scholar of Aristotle in particular, nor distinguished, so I will defer to others. But my understanding is that there is debate about whether Aristotle ought to have embraced the sufficiency of virtue for happiness, given the theoretical commitments of his ethical theory, but not about what his own stated position is. And certainly there should be little doubt that Aristotle thought virtue necessary for happiness. The interesting philosophical issue is really between Aristotle, who denies the sufficiency of virtue, and the Stoics, who do not. I’m less sure about what a good interpretative question would be with respect to Aristotle that would be familiar and of interest to non-specialists.

Daniel Propson
Daniel Propson
Reply to  David Chalmers
3 years ago

I agree with Tristan here. Aristotle clearly says that virtue without certain external goods and wakefulness does not reliably result in happiness. And it’s reasonably clear that virtue is necessary for happiness, which Aristotle calls “a kind of living and doing well”. It’s hard to imagine how happiness could arise without this virtuous activity, though for all I know some scholars see a bit of daylight here.

I don’t think the responses of survey takers would tell us anything but how competent they were in Aristotelian ethics.

David Chalmers
Reply to  Daniel Propson
3 years ago

ok — any suggestions for another aristotle question are welcome! e.g. perhaps there is some way to spell out “inclusivism vs exclusivism” in somewhat more accessible terms.

Reply to  David Chalmers
3 years ago

For Aristotle, who can be described as living a flourishing human life: (a) someone with theoretical wisdom but lacking all of the virtues of character, (b) someone with all the virtues of character but lacking theoretical wisdom (c) someone with both the virtues of character and theoretical wisdom, (d) all of the above (e) some combination of a+b, or a+c or b+c?

Reply to  Tristan J. Rogers
3 years ago

yes. He’s clear that even if you are completely virtuous is, say, all your children die young and tragically, no one would say that you are happy. Whether you lived a flourishing life is even effected by what happens after you die: if your children grow up to be vicious, their actions can redound upon you and are relevant to evaluating whether you lived a eudaimon life

Reply to  Theo
3 years ago

sorry for all the typos. *if, *affected

Jon Light
Jon Light
3 years ago

But why…? What does any of this have to do with how most of us live our professional lives (i.e., not engaging 90% of these questions)? This is more like a test to see what we remember from graduate school than anything constructive. (I thought Barnes’ recent interview was quite good insofar as she pretty clearly wasn’t interested in most of this.)

Matthew Capps
Matthew Capps
Reply to  Jon Light
3 years ago

It provides data that is relevant for several questions philosophers might want to ask. It might especially have bearing on many meta-philosophical questions, especially given that professional philosophy and modern empirical science have only just got going. E.g. do we reach consensus in philosophy? If so, of what kind–unitary, plural, bi-polar. Do we make progress in philosophy? What is modern philosophical professionalism? How does it relate to philosophical projects and traditions?

Perhaps this survey is closer to being the endeavor of scientists of professional philosophy than meta-philosophy. But then, science of professional philosophy is probably important to meta-philosophy, and if we don’t do it, who will?

David Chalmers
Reply to  Jon Light
3 years ago

our answer to the “but why” question is in the first few paragraphs of the article on the previous survey at the article has been cited a few hundred times since its publication in 2014, so it looks as if some others have found it useful.

Reply to  Jon Light
3 years ago

”But why…?”

Because information on what is the state of consensus, or lack thereof, on these questions is useful and interesting? At the very least, that fact can figure in various arguments for or against metaphilosophical skepticism.

Matthew Capps
Matthew Capps
3 years ago

Perhaps a control study should be done on people with similar backgrounds but who have not studied philosophy. I say this because I suspect that philosophers of language, say, might react to a blunt question about the hard problem of consciousness similarly to how people who do not study philosophy at all might respond to the trolley problem or to the question about capital punishment. Of course, some of the questions just wouldn’t make sense to non-philosophers, but then again, certain of the specialist questions posed here are likely to be similarly foreign to some philosophers. E.g. I doubt that most philosophers even have a good idea of what the various fundamental positions on quantum mechanics are.

I think that if philosophical training has a peculiar effect on a person, it is one that manifests through critical reflection and research, not in immediate responses (unless that response is to refer a question to a process of critical reflection and research). So, where deliberation has occurred or is involved in the study itself, there I would expect philosophical training to shine through empirically. Otherwise, I suspect that philosophers’ responses are a function of many of the contingent elements that also go to making up the subjectivities of other members of their social/historical niches. Even if this were wrong, and studying philosophy did predict some special propensity for answering philosophical questions that one has not had the time or resources to deliberate, that effect would probably be distinct from the effect that follows from thorough familiarity and prior deliberation.

So (very roughly) we might do well to hypothesis three distinct groupings– (1) a set of philosophically untrained academics of the relevant social backgrounds with relation to those philosophical questions that mean enough to them to induce a response, (2) the set of philosophically trained academics with relation to questions that they have not deliberated over (with reflection on relevant literature) but which mean enough to them to induce a response (3) the set of philosophically trained academics with relation to questions that they have deliberated over with reflection on relevant literature.

Bob Kirkman
3 years ago

How about this one:
“Every matter of philosophical interest can be reduced to a dilemma or forced multiple-choice question: yes or no?”
My answer to that one is easy: “no”.
Seriously, though, if I were presented with this survey and asked to respond, I would simply refuse. What I tell my students about dilemmas like the Trolley Problem is that the only way to win is not to play.
I might be more open to the survey if every one of these questions included some version of that classic option from Facebook profiles: “it’s complicated.”

Reply to  Bob Kirkman
3 years ago

I believe last time the survey was done there was several extra options you could select (that weren’t listed here), such as “An intermediate position”, “None of the above”, “Question is too vague to answer”, “There is no correct answer”, and “Other”.

David Chalmers
Reply to  William
3 years ago

we’ll have the same “other” options as last time, which included: (1) Accept both (2) Reject both (3) Accept an intermediate view (4) Accept another alternative (5) The question is too unclear to answer (6) There is no fact of the matter (7) Insufficiently familiar with the issue (8) Agnostic/undecided (9) Other (10) Skip. we’ll also make it easier than last time to choose multiple answers and express different attitudes about each (and also give write-in answers).

John DePoe
3 years ago

I’ve always thought the “God: theism or atheism?” question should be expanded to include some other options. To keep things manageable, I would propose that the survey be amended to say, “God: theism, pantheism, agnosticism, or atheism?” If it’s not too much hair splitting, there may be value in including panentheism in the mix as well.

Reply to  John DePoe
3 years ago

I don’t think they’re changing many of the original questions in part so they can accurately measure change from the 09 to 19 survey.

J. Edward Hackett
J. Edward Hackett
3 years ago

There are no process philosophies and no sense of philosophies that overcome the subject/object divide such as pragmatism or phenomenology. To top it off, there’s no real inclination to the awareness of Continental philosophy at all. The taxonomy of problem-solving methodology typical of analytic training is replicated everywhere in the above questions.

3 years ago

a possible question concerning Socrates:

Socrates’ profession of ignorance: (a) insincere (he knows plently), (b) sincere and he thinks knowledge is possible (he has very high standards he doesn’t yet meet, but thinks his questions will ultimately lead to knowledge), (c) sincere and he thinks knowledge is impossible (knowledge of matters of most importance is reserved for the gods).