2020 PhilPapers Survey Begins
In 2009, the PhilPapers team—David Bourget of the University of Western Ontario and David Chalmers of New York University—conducted a survey of the views of professional philosophers in the English-speaking world. How have those views changed in the past 11 years?
That’s one thing we’ll learn from the 2020 PhilPapers Survey, which was launched on Thursday.
We’ll learn more than just that, though, as the survey has some new questions. The original survey had 30 questions about philosophy. The new version has those plus 70 more. Respondents will initially be asked to answer 50 of the questions (the original 30 and an additional 20); when they’re completed, they’ll have the option of answering the other 50.
“The aim of the survey is to discover information about the distribution of philosophical views among professional philosophers and others, and to make longitudinal comparisons with the 2009 survey for research purposes… The philosophical questions range across many areas of Western philosophy. Most of the questions are drawn from the analytic or Anglocentric philosophical tradition, though there are also a number of more general questions,” the authors write in the introduction to the survey. The survey also asks for some demographic information from respondents.
In addition to more questions, the new survey has a new answer option: “Evaluate multiple options (e.g., accept more than one, reject all)”. Respondents can also submit written comments on the questions.
Here’s what a sample question looks like:
Invitations to partake in the survey are being distributed by email to the “target group” of 8,000 professional philosophers in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as some faculty members who publish in English in selected departments in other countries. Others are permitted to take the survey and can do so here (you’ll need to log in or create a PhilPeople account).
Professors Bourget and Chalmers plan on running the survey for approximately two weeks, and are aiming to share the results sometime in November.
I answered all 100 questions this morning and enjoyed doing so. But part of me feels how I did after taking the original survey: there is not much diversity to the questions, and it feels like a rather old-fashioned list of issues for analytic philosophers of a bygone age.
Do others have this response? I mean, these old metaphysical quandaries are fun in their own way, but they don’t well represent what people today think about. Maybe the surveyists should poll the profession in advance to get a better sense of what they should be surveying us about.
I was happy to see that there’s a question on the metaphysics of race in the initial 50, and even one about historical methodology. There’s also a racial eliminativism question in the second 50. Still I think younger philosophers (I’m not so young anymore!) might find the bulk of the survey to speak to their teachers’ teachers more than to them.Report
“Do others have this response?” – Very much so. Although it was fun answering the questions, I felt almost outdated in thinking about them.Report
Nah. I was fine with the questions and felt that they not only encapsulate what I enjoy about philosophy, but also precisely what’s actually interesting in the discipline. It seems you feel it should’ve focused more on racial and social philosophy type of stuff but I find that terribly uninteresting. To each their own I suppose.Report
I also answered all 100 questions and for about 40% of them either chose that I wasn’t familiar enough with the issue to answer it or that the question itself was poorly formed. I’m not sure how these questions came to be but I wonder if having more eyeballs on them before releasing them wouldn’t have helped clear up the many ambiguous answers I saw. Still, it was fun.Report
This is a hard thing to do, and I appreciate those who put it together, but I think that some of the questions (even some hold-overs) are pretty ill-formed. Consider one from one of the areas I work on, political philosophy. It ask people if they support libertarianism, communitarianism, or egalitarianism. This is a bit like asking people what sort of meal they want – Italian, Chinese, or vegetarian, since a communitarian can be an egalitarian (or not), and there are arguably even some communitarian libertarians. (Historically, Kropotikin might count as such. More recently, maybe Jonathan Crowe, although I’m less sure. Or maybe Kevin Vallier.) (All of this leaves aside the fact that “egalitarian” is itself a complex and disputed idea.) Some other questions had similar issues. This doesn’t mean that it’s bad. I think it’s likely still pretty useful. But, it did look like many of the questions were put together by people who didn’t know the disputes in the relevant areas that well.Report
yes, this was always a weak spot in the survey. here’s what we wrote about it in the debrief in 2009 (https://philpapers.org/surveys/designthoughts.html). it’s also worth keeping in mind that answer options often aren’t exclusive, and in the 2020 survey we’ve made it easier for respondents to indicate that they accept multiple options and give details.
“Politics: communitarianism, egalitarianism, or libertarianism?
This was the hardest question to design. We wanted a question on political philosophy, but it is very unclear what that question should be. Perhaps the most central view in the field is liberalism, but after trialing questions involving this term, it became clear that one can’t use it as it is ambiguous between a US political meaning, a European political meaning, a contemporary philosophical meaning, and more, sometimes labeling views that are diametrically opposed. There’s also the question of what it should be opposed to. In much popular discourse liberalism is opposed to conservatism, but this doesn’t straightforwardly reflect philosophical discourse. Left-wing vs. right-wing isn’t really philosophy per se, either. A question about the relative importance of freedom and liberty seemed natural, but it’s hard to phrase this question well. We tried “Egalitarianism vs libertarianism”, but found relatively few taking the latter option (perhaps because it’s often taken to stand for a relatively extreme view). A couple of people suggested including “communitarianism” too (thereby covering liberty, equality, fraternity!), and it polled well, so we decided that this was a good balance. The list is obviously imperfect and there are obviously other views that could have been included. But as far as we can tell, there is no really good canonical set of options here.”Report
I answered, of course, “utilitarianism”, which supports elements of all three, depending on empirical conditions.Report
I don’t doubt it’s tricky to make good questions, and appreciate the effort. Even if they are not perfect, it seems to me to be a useful task.Report
I didn’t have this reaction at all, and the questions, especially the first 50, pretty well covered the issues I consider central in philosophy. Great job on the survey!Report
thanks for these thoughts! it might be helpful to say a little about what we’re trying to do with the 2020 survey. there are perhaps five main things.
(1) re-ask the 30 original questions from the 2009 survey to update the results and get a longitudinal picture of how views in the profession are changing. hundreds of people have cited the 2009 survey in their work (460 citations for our 2014 paper), mostly as relevant sociological background, and it makes sense to get this up to date.
(2) ask 10 new questions as part of a wider core group of 40, focusing especially on questions of broad interest and accessibility. these include questions about the aim of philosophy, eating animals, the experience machine, the footbridge case, gender, the meaning of life, philosophical methods, philosophical progress, race, and vagueness.
(3) ask 60 additional questions of somewhat more specialized interest, from many different areas of philosophy, fleshing out our picture of philosophical views in various subfields.
(4) expand the target group of philosophers surveyed to a much broader group, including around 8000 anglophone philosophers from around the world, for a more representative survey of the philosophical community.
(5) use all this to build a database of opinion on philosophical questions to serve as background for an upcoming project on philosophical views, in which people will be able to survey the profession on questions of their choice.
our plan was that where the 40 core questions would go to everyone, the 60 specialized questions would go to just a minority of respondents: everyone would see a randomly selected 10 of them (for a total of 50 assigned questions), and people could optionally answer the rest.
we assumed that only a relatively small number of survey aficionados would take the time to answer all 100 questions. since launching the survey on thursday, that assumption has turned out to be false. in fact, more than half of respondents who answered their assigned 50 questions have gone on to answer all 100 questions.
that’s great for getting useful and reliable results. but it does change the experience of most survey-takers, in most cases for the worse. the 60 specialized questions are inevitably less familiar to many, and they’re often more awkward with less clean-cut options. so the optional second batch of 50 questions may come across as more alienating for users. perhaps this partially explains CG’s experiences reported above on answering all 100 questions. i’d encourage anyone who does answer the extra 50 questions to be very ready to click “skip” or “insufficiently familiar with the issue” when appropriate.
as for having questions that mirror 2020: of course philosophy in 2020 is a very broad church. we tried to bring in a broader range of topics this time around: two questions each on race and gender, questions on abortion, animals, AI, capital punishment, environmental ethics, genetic engineering, history, law, method, uploading, values in science, and more. but the extra 60 questions of course includes specialized traditional questions too. again, respondents should be ready to skip questions where they don’t have an opinion.
we’d have loved to include more questions on social topics (e.g. disability, epistemic injustice, feminism, oppression, racial justice, sexual orientation), as well as questions from continental and nonwestern philosophical traditions. after a lot of discussion with a wide group of philosophers (resulting in some of the new questions that we did ask) no one could come up with questions on these topics that work well enough in the format given various constraints. perhaps that’s a limitation of the discussion or the format. we did go through an extensive process of public consultation about the questions over a period of a year or so, including discussion here on daily nous (e.g. http://dailynous.com/2019/10/16/input-sought-new-questions-upcoming-philpapers-survey-philosophers/), on philpeople, and numerous other online venues. as anyone who’s been part of that process knows, it’s an imperfect art.
anyway, the survey is a work in progress and we’re building toward the broader project where people can formulate questions of their own. if anyone has suggestions about other questions we might ask, including (but not limited to) questions that reflect philosophy in 2020, please feel free to suggest them below or by email to [email protected].Report
Thanks for all the work y’all have put into this. Looking forward to seeing the results!Report
Thanks for the reply, David. It gives a lot of helpful context. It’s especially encouraging to see that you’re sensitive to the issues I was alluding to. It’s not so much that I’d prefer to see more social philosophy, but rather that there are very large contingents in the anglophone profession who are likely to feel alienated by the survey. People who do history of philosophy (yes, there was a contextualism vs reconstruction question and two attempts at Kant/Hume interpretation), continental philosophy, American philosophy, Latin American philosophy, and many others will find nothing at all in this survey that speaks to their main professional areas. Maybe it’s just the way it has to be, and I wasn’t surprised to learn that in some areas the identification of multiple choice questions was harder than in analytic M&E. I don’t mean to disparage your efforts, and I’ve referred to the previous survey several times. It’s just that it warrants repeating that this survey represents just a sliver of anglophone philosophers, and probably one skewing older, whiter, etc. It would be interesting to me if there was some demographic breakdown of replies, not only by gender, race, and age, but also of graduate departments, professional affiliation, etc.Report
thanks, kevin. it’s a reasonable complaint that the survey is heavily biased toward analytic philosophy and may alienate philosophers from other traditions. this issue arose with the last survey as well (see https://philpapers.org/surveys/designthoughts.html, item 2). we do label the survey as analytic in orientation up from, but of course that doesn’t make the alienation issue go away.
this time around we trialed questions specific to continental and asian philosophy, but not too surprisingly they ended up being unfamiliar to too much of the audience to work. we did build in six or seven historically oriented questions. in the extra 10 core questions, we aimed to have a good number of questions of relatively general interest, so that around half of the main 40 questions would be general rather than specifically analytic; but the 60 specialized questions remain more heavily analytic. we considered asking different questions to people in different specialties, which might allow less alienation and more flexible accommodation. that proved too difficult this time around, but hopefully the new survey project will make this sort of thing more feasible.
regarding a demographic breakdown: we have a breakdown by gender and by age in the article on the 2009 survey: https://philpapers.org/archive/bouwdp.Report
David, how was the “target group” selected?Report
here’s a summary from the discussion document at http://consc.net/ppsurvey.html, which has various details on the survey.
“Our aim is a broad survey of professional philosophers in the Anglophone philosophical world. We are constrained by the need for a well-controlled target population for whom we have reliable lists of names and contact information. In the 2009 survey, this was limited to 99 leading departments, but now that PhilPeople has its own broader faculty lists (especially in Anglophone countries), we can drop that restriction.
The restriction to the Anglophone philosophical world arises mainly because (1) we do not have reliable information about non-Anglophone philosophers, and (2) many non-Anglophone philosophical traditions are different enough that it would not make sense to ask these questions to philosophers in those traditions. At some future point it might be interesting to conduct a truly global survey, but it would have to be a different sort of thing. Still, we aim to include many philosophers in non-Anglophone countries who publish Anglophone philosophy.
More precisely, the main target group will include (1) regular faculty (tenure-track or permanent) in BA-granting philosophy departments (or the equivalent) in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and Ireland and (2) regular faculty who are Anglophone-publishing in Anglophone-publishing departments in other countries. Here an Anglophone-publishing philosopher is one who has published at least one item (according to PhilPapers records) in a list of Anglophone journals or with an Anglophone book publisher, and an Anglophone-publishing department is a department with two or more Anglophone-publishing faculty (according to our records). On current figures we have around 6300 philosophers in group (1) and 1500 philosophers in group (2).”
of course our databases are imperfect (even after considerable data entry) so our target list of philosophers is an imperfect reflection of philosophers in groups (1) and (2).Report
You say that the target group will include “(1) regular faculty (tenure-track or permanent) in BA-granting philosophy departments (or the equivalent) in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and Ireland and (2) regular faculty who are Anglophone-publishing in Anglophone-publishing departments in other countries.”
But it doesn’t include everyone in those categories. What are the criteria for inclusion and exclusion within those categories? Or did you attempt to include everyone in those categories?Report
we’re aiming for everyone in groups (1) and (2) but as noted above, our databases are not perfect. it’s inevitable that there will be omissions and mistaken inclusions.
i see now that one omission is you. apologies! we’ll fix it and you should get an invitation to take the survey before long.Report
I must be an outlier because I started the survey, got annoyed with it, and decided not to finish. I don’t have firm views about the majority the questions asked. Nor do I care about what most philosophers think about these questions, or the relative percentages. I just kept thinking of a common stereotype of philosophers as men who like to spout off at length on niche issues, especially in M & E, with fancy labels. So I just stopped. No thanks!Report
What sort of things would you have preferred them to ask about instead?Report
Bad, based on comments I’ve seen on social media, you’re not alone in finding the survey annoying.
I think that there is a serious question about whether there is much of interest and value in philosophy that can be reduced to a small number of positions with familiar labels, and I think that there are quite a few people who are simply uninterested in the issues that are so well-worn that they can be treated in such a way (if, in fact, there are any issues that can be treated that way without serious distortion).
David mentioned, in an earlier comment, that they sought “to include more questions on social topics (e.g. disability, epistemic injustice, feminism, oppression, racial justice, sexual orientation), as well as questions from continental and nonwestern philosophical traditions. after a lot of discussion with a wide group of philosophers (resulting in some of the new questions that we did ask) no one could come up with questions on these topics that work well enough in the format given various constraints.”
I, for one, think that the fact the people consulted were unable to come up with questions on those topics that fit within the constraints of the format speaks well of the work that they do. These are topics on which views *should* be more nuanced than possible on an approach that involves labelling a small number of bins that everything has to fit in.Report
“I think that there is a serious question about whether there is much of interest and value in philosophy that can be reduced to a small number of positions with familiar labels.”
To pick something in our mutual area of expertise, doesn’t the quantum measurement problem looks like that to first approximation? Of course there are subtleties and nuances, and of course agnosticism as to the correct solution is perfectly reasonable and quite common, but it doesn’t seem a terrible misrepresentation of the field.
Or to choose something more specialised: ‘wavefunction: ontic/representational, epistemic, nomic?’ That again seems to do a fairly good first-approximation job of characterizing the debate – and your own recent (very good) paper on the subject seems pretty reasonably characterised as defending an ontic/representational take.Report
Hi, David W,
One of the questions I chose “other” on was Interpretations of QM, because there’s a regrettable tendency for folks to take sides, whereas I think we’re still in the stage of getting clear about what the viable options are.
Point taken, though, that there are some areas in which we can come close to coming up with a neat categorization of options. Close, because one comment I’ve gotten on that paper you refer to is that I disregarded some options.Report
@Wayne Myrvoid, I haven’t looked on social media, but those critiques resonate with me.
In my case, there were two distinct issues. The first was the “ick factor.” I started filling out the survey and felt as if I was participating in a problematic stereotype: the stereotype of a philosopher who opines about every philosophical issue under the sun, at length. I have been to too many Q & As in my life! I do not want to be that person, and the impulse to have views about everything is something that I try to cultivate out of my students (and myself) in the name of epistemic humility. For that reason, I am probably in principle opposed to any large, wide-ranging philosophical survey of this kind.
The second issue, which is related, is that I just don’t see the value in quantifying popular opinion in this way. Why should we care about the shifting waves of philosophical opinion on the analytic/synthetic distinction, or whether people are persuaded more by virtue ethics or some other ethical theory at this moment in time? Give me a philosophical article, and I’ll read it and enjoy it. Let me listen to a talk, and I’ll dig into the arguments. But I am not convinced that there is great value in tabulating people’s views via a 50 question survey. It’s like asking all professional historians to sit down and answer questions on issues that span way beyond their specialty: “What do you think about the causes of the American Revolution? Do you believe the Marxist version of history works in a Japanese context? What are your views about the success of African post-colonial liberation movements?” What would such a survey tell us? It would tell us about the opinions of professional historians, sure. But not all of these would be educated opinions. For me, it’s the same problem with the philpapers survey. I just don’t see the point.
Which brings me to David Mathers question: what sort of things would I have been preferred to be asked about? It’s true that questions themselves did annoy me. They connect so tightly to institutional power dynamics, which loop back into the issue about stereotypes and which philosophical questions are valued over others. But the bigger issue is that I just don’t see the value in a big, wide-ranging survey of this kind. The format seems inherently reductive, as Wayne Myrvoid put it, and the results (whatever they are) strike me as not very interesting.Report
You are not alone in your assessment, although my field of choice for analogy was archaeology. Do other academic fields do this as well, or are we alone in this endeavour? To the extent that this reinforces the image of philosophy, broadly, as “white, western, and analytic” it seems on the whole more harmful than good for the reasons you brought up.Report
bad sport and matt: i respect the ick factor. a lot of people just don’t like the idea of surveying philosophical views, especially by multiple choice. even an advocate like me has to admit there is something ridiculous about the idea. no one should feel an obligation to take part or to pay attention.
i also take seriously the idea that there could be harmful effects by cementing a certain vision of what philosophy should look like. i wouldn’t want people to take this survey as defining the field. i’d like to think that the 2009 survey wasn’t received that way (maybe because no one mistakes the survey questions for a set of hot topics), but it’s something to watch out for.
that said, i do think there are a couple of clear sources of value (roughly, sociological and methodological) in the survey. we discuss those on pp. 1-3 of the article about the survey (https://philpapers.org/archive/bouwdp). of course it’s a substantive question whether we’re right, and whether the positive outweighs the negative. enough people have cited the survey results to suggest that a good number of others find value in it, but clearly others disagree. (i suppose a survey on the topic — “Philosophical surveys: good idea or bad idea” — wouldn’t help.) anyway, your substantive disagreement about these issue is useful and welcome.Report
I wanted to acknowledge your response to the concerns brought up by Bad and myself. It is heartening when disagreement is heard and taken seriously.Report
The value of it to me seems fairly simple: I’m interested both in many of the topics mentioned in it, and in the opinions (well-informed or otherwise!*) of academic philosophers on those topics, and how they have changed over the past 10 years. But I don’t know why the survey has to be about information that’s objectively intellectually important in order to be worth doing. Knowing how they answer the sort of questions the survey asks doesn’t tell me everything about their opinions obviously, but reading the survey results isn’t an *alternative* to actually reading philosophy that engages with the question. It’s just delivers a different sort of information about very coarse-grained distinctions of opinion. But it’s a kind of information you can’t really get from just reading papers, because of time-constraints etc.
Now, of course, ‘some people find it interesting’ probably isn’t sufficient justification for the survey if it really is *actively harmful* in the way you suggest. I guess my first thought about that is ‘are you saying the survey questions give a distorted picture of current academic philosophy, or that they give an accurate picture, but an accurate picture of a bad, exclusionary state of affairs’. If the latter, it might still be of value even if you’re correct, in that it’s exposing something important (though I get that it’s still reasonable on that view to worry that it’s also naturalizing what it exposes.)
*For example, it would be interesting to me if the wider profession mostly said X about a question where I thought the answer was fairly obviously not X, even if I suspected the reason why most people had said X was just ‘no one outside that subfield has paid attention to new work on this that overturns old dogmas’.Report
I love that the survey is being run again, and I can’t wait to see the results.
I am a philosopher at a community college, so I exclusively teach intro-level survey courses. I take it that a major function of my role as a community college instructor is to give students a broad exposure to the field as a whole. I’ve used the past survey to make decisions about what views to emphasize in my classes to ensure that my students are familiar with the majority opinions in the discipline.
I find the survey especially helpful when I’m teaching topics outside of my AOS (bioethics). For example, in grad school, I didn’t have much exposure to contextualism about knowledge claims, so I was quite surprised to see that 32% of PhDs and philosophy faculty with an AOS in epistemology were contextualists. Because of the survey, I spent extra time researching contextualism and paid more attention to it in my lectures. I’ve done the same with several specializations.
I use the sorting feature a lot. For my own development as a philosopher, I am always interested in where professionals in an AOS land on particular issues. When I hold a view rejected by the majority of experts in a discipline, it gives me serious pause, and it drives me to reexamine my thinking on that topic.
Thanks to all involved in creating the survey. It is such a great tool for the profession.Report
I know I’m late to the discussion here, but one idea is to have primary, secondary, tertiary (maybe more?) areas in which people choose to answer questions. This might mitigate some of the usefulness worries, and it might be nice to be able to compare (e.g.) specialists in metaphysics and people who rank metaphysics #3 or #4 in their areas of knowledge. Of course there could be general questions, too, which don’t fit neatly into an area (existence of God, analytic/synthetic distinction, which philosopher do you identify with, etc) but this would also take care of the alienation problem, and I’m sure people from various areas would volunteer to help come up with well-formed questions.
Thanks for doing the survey! It’s fun, both to take it and to see the results, even though it “skews analytic”.Report
thanks for the suggestions! we originally thought we might have different lists of questions for people in different specialties, but drawing up all these lists turned out to be a huge amount of work, even after a lot of consultation with philpapers editors and others. we also thought that the results would be less interesting we only had specialist results and not more general results. your tiered approach seems worth thinking about as an intermediate option. perhaps we could still ask specialized questions of few nonspecialists to get some data there while reducing the alienation issue. one reason we didn’t go in this direction was that we’d have to weight responses so that the nonspecialists get much more weight than specialists in reporting general results across the profession. but there are plenty of designs worth thinking about here.Report
Thanks for considering it! As more of a historian, I would love to see something more wide-ranging. But I understand it’s a huge undertaking. Thanks for all you do!Report