Polling Today’s Philosophers about What They Believe

Want to know what today’s philosophers believe? Anthony Gottlieb reports results of a poll taken by Australian philosopher David Chalmers. The Chalmers poll probes philosophers’ beliefs about knowledge, moral facts and principles, universals, the existence of God, the nature of laws of nature, personal identity, language, logic, mind and body, aesthetics, human freedom, science, and mathematics.

Polls of this sort tend to yield results that are ambiguous and that invite unwarranted speculation—two things that make philosophers run for the hills. So what does David Chalmers, a prominent and tough-minded philosopher, hope to prove with this poll?

That’s hard to say. But he does raise an interesting question. First, he observes that, for questions in certain areas of specialization, the poll results among practitioners of that specialization differ from the poll results among all philosophers who participated in the poll. The question is, why the differential, sometimes a very significant differential?

The differential is most striking in poll results for and against theism in philosophy of religion. Chalmers reports that, among specialists in the philosophy of religion, the ratio of philosophers more likely to favor theism is 72:19. But the ratio is 15:73 among all philosophers polled.

What do other philosophers make of the Chalmers report?

One commentator, from Washington University in St. Louis, laments the preponderance of “Judeo-Christocentric” theists among specialists in the philosophy of religion. He says this is “unsurprising but unfortunate.” Why “unfortunate”? He doesn’t say.

Another, from the University of New Orleans, acknowledges that believing philosophers that he encounters are “often very good philosophers,” and says that “atheists in the field [I think he means philosophy of religion] tend to develop a healthy respect for theism.”

A commentator from the University of Toronto compares the majority opinion among philosophers on major topics with the “common-sense” or pre-reflective view. Out of 20 questions, philosophers and those with common sense (well, that’s not quite how he puts it) agree on answers to 13 of them. It does surprise me that he considers perceptual representationalism to be the common-sense view. The chief alternative version of perceptual realism, namely “direct realism” or “naive realism,” has often been called “commonsense realism,” and for good reason.

Notes:

  • Anthony Gottlieb’s essay, “What do Philosophers Believe?” can be found here.
  • David Chalmers talks about the effects of specialization here.
  • There are two excellent books with autobiographical accounts by philosophers who “favor theism”: (1) Philosophers Who Believe, edited by Kelly Clark, and (2) God and the Philosophers, edited by Thomas V. Morris.

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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

3 Responses to Polling Today’s Philosophers about What They Believe

  1. Doug Geivett says:

    Yes, Ross, books can be life changers!

    Like

  2. Ross Parker says:

    Dr. Geivett,

    Interesting comments. BTW, the two books that you recommended giving autobiographical accounts of philosophers who are theists were both influential in my commitment in becoming a philosopher.

    — Ross Parker

    Like

  3. Paul says:

    Excellent post, Doug! Thanks for the pointers and the observations.

    Like

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