A new study looks at correlations between professional philosophers’ philosophical views and their psychological traits, religious beliefs, political views, demographic information, and other characteristics.The research was carried out by David B. Yaden (psychology, Johns Hopkins University) and Derek E. Anderson (philosophy, Boston University), and the results have recently been published as “The psychology of philosophy: Associating philosophical views with psychological traits in professional philosophers,” in Philosophical Psychology. They write:
Our interest was in how philosophical views (not merely intuitions about philosophical thought experiments) relate to psychological traits in professional philosophers… we aim to identify associations between psychological traits and philosophical views for further replication and study.
Their method involved asking philosophers questions based on the PhilPapers Survey and administering measures for “personality, well-being, mental health, numeracy, varieties of life experiences, questions related to public education of philosophy, and demographics.” Their results are based on a sample of 314 respondents (264 of which were philosophy professors, with the remaining being post-docs and graduate students), about which they gathered some background information, such as gender, race, political views, academic affiliation, and philosophical tradition.
What did they learn? Below are some of their findings (for which they used a “conservative criterion” for statistical significance “to increase the likelihood that the reported correlations would replicate”).
Some of their results were negative, or findings of a lack of correlation:
- Age, gender, relationship status, income, ethnicity, professional status yielded no significant findings of correlations with particular philosophical views.
- None of the five factor model’s list of personality traits (openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) were associated with specific philosophical views.
- Neither exercise nor meditation were associated with any views.
- “Anti-naturalism” (a cluster of beliefs including libertarian notions of free will, nonphysicalism about the mind, belief in God, non-naturalism, belief in the metaphysical possibility of philosophical Zombies, and the further fact view of personal identity) is largely unassociated with particular personality traits or well-being.
But they did find some positive correlations:
- Theism is associated with agreeableness.
- Hard determinism is associated with lower life satisfaction and higher depression/anxiety.
- Consequentialism, realism, physicalism, and correspondence theories of truth are associated with more numerical interest
- Believing philosophical zombies are metaphysically possible is associated with conscientiousness
- Theism and idealism are associated with having had a transformative or self-transcendent experience.
- Accepting non-classical logic is associated with having had a self-transcendent experience.
- Non-realism regarding aesthetics and morality is associated with having used psychoactive substances such as psychedelics and marijuana.
- Contextualism about knowledge claims is associated with supporting more public education about philosophy
- Naturalism is associated with the notion that projects such as this one by Yaden and Anderson have philosophical value
The authors also found evidence of correlations between being an analytic philosopher and supporting certain philosophical views, such as the correspondence theory of truth, realism about the external world, invariantism about knowledge claims, scientific realism, and that one ought to pull the switch (sacrifice one person to save five others) in the bystander part of the trolley problem.
Additionally, they found that being more politically right-leaning was associated with several philosophical views, such as theism, free will libertarianism, nonphysicalist views in philosophy of mind, and the correspondence theory of truth.
What are we to take from all of these findings, if anything? The authors write:
To the extent that reliable causal patterns emerge between philosophical beliefs and other psychological factors, we are presented with the opportunity to study the structure of belief in a way that is elided by typical discussions in the philosophy of mind. Epistemically significant mental states such as beliefs and credences are typically characterized in terms of their contents and/or their functional roles in rational inference. Relatively little attention has been paid to connections between philosophical beliefs/views and personality, mental health, life experiences, psychopharmacology, or other psychological variables. The present study suggests that there may be important relationships between philosophical beliefs and various psychological traits. These findings therefore could raise doubts about the adequacy of a purely rationalistic conception of belief.
It is also possible that certain psychological states provide evidence for philosophical positions. Perhaps, for example, some features of depression might (seem to) provide evidence for a lack of free will. Or perhaps experiences with some mind-altering substances (seem to) provide evidence related to objective esthetic value. These possibilities suggest empirical lines of research into the ways in which individuals understand or consciously perceive the evidential relationships between their psychological states and their philosophical views.
The full article (paywalled) is here.
Related: The Personality of Philosophy Majors