Thursday, December 10, 2009

Only 14.6% of professional philosophers are theists

David Bourget and David Chalmers have released the results of the largest survey of professional philosophers ever conducted. Some interesting results:

72.8% atheism
14.6% theism
12.5% other

49.8% naturalism
25.8% non-naturalism (but not necessarily supernaturalism)
24.2% other

Of course, quite what any of this shows re the truth of any of these beliefs, if anything, can be debated....

nb see this earlier post.

29 comments:

Fergus Gallagher said...

Anyone know of any similar studies correlating (for example) level of education and theism?

The Atheist Missionary said...

4.8% of them are brains in vats.

Kosh3 said...

Accept or lean toward: objective 382 / 931 (41%)
Accept or lean toward: subjective 321 / 931 (34.4%)
Other 228 / 931 (24.4%)

I'm surprised that aesthetic value as objective exceeds aesthetic value as subjective. Could someone explain to me how it is that beauty could plausibly be considered an objective property of an object?

Anonymous said...

14.6% are rubbish philosophers.

Mike said...

There has been some interesting discussion of this survey today among professional philosophers on Leiter Reports (www.leiterreports.typepad.com).

Readers here might also be interested in the ongoing flap, on the same blog, over prominent philosopher Thomas Nagel's recent endorsement of a pro "intelligent design" book.

vella said...

Дети часто задают разные вопросы, вот нашла ответы на разные вопросы юного натуралиста

pikeamus Mike said...

I'm amazed by the low response to "Accept or lean towards: no-free-will" at a lowly 12.2%.

On the other hand, can't you accept both compatibilism and that there is no free will? For that matter, although it would seem an odd position, can't you accept libertarianism and that there is no free will?

The Atheist Missionary said...

I am a mental midgit compared to the majority of those who responded to the survey but I find it amazing that the percentage of those accepting "no free will" is so low.

Kosh3 said...

"On the other hand, can't you accept both compatibilism and that there is no free will?"

Compatibilists call a free exercise of will any uncoerced decision. They thus deny free will in the transcendental sense, and define it in a way to suit them. There is not a lot (I presume) to separate many of the 'no free willers' and the 'compatibilists' except that the latter still like to use the word to pick out certain situations of choice they find favourably (coercion free decisions).

So, depending on what we mean by 'free will', the answer to your question is yes (or no).

David said...

But of course there is another obvious way to interpret the results in question – as clear evidence that those philosophers who have actually studied the arguments for theism in depth, and thus understand them the best – as philosophers of religion and medieval specialists naturally would – are far more likely to conclude that theism is true, or at least to be less certain that atheism is true, than other philosophers are. And if that’s what the experts on the subject think, then what the “all respondents” data shows is that most academic philosophers have a degree of confidence in atheism that is rationally unwarranted.

pikeamus Mike said...

David:

I'd be inclined to guess that philosophers that specialize in religious philosophy are more likely to be those that were religious to begin with so I wouldn't buy into your line of reasoning there I'm afraid.

thenarcissimofsmalldifferences said...

Kosh3

I think that at least one argument that would crop up would be an abductive argument to the best explanation of the convergence of aesthetic value judgments.

An example sometimes used is that most people who listen to classical music rate Mozart as a better composer than Bruckner.

So a defender of the objectivity of aesthetic judgment might hold that the best explanation for this this convergence in judgment is that Mozart is in fact a better composer than Bruckner. The more people listen to classical music the more you would expect their judgments to converge on this fact.

Further when people disagree on matters of aesthetic value like the above it does appear intuitive that the people are in fact disagreeing over who is the best composer (rather than not disagreeing but expressing their personal preferences).


The same type of argument is used to support the objectivity of moral value. I don't have any strong view on this but it doesn't strike me as obviously false.

Whether it is the best explanation depends on what other explanations for the same phenomena are on the table.

Kosh3 said...

That same argument works to show similar neural arrangement however, rather than the idea that aesthetic appeal is an objective feature of things in the world.

That is, the best explanation of the fact that aesthetic consensus forms around certain things is that people have similar tastes, and so find beauty in the same things as one another (rather than that the thing in question itself is the bearer of beauty).

K. Corbett said...

Gadzooks...analytic philosophers are predominately atheists! Who would have thought?

narcissismofsmalldifferences said...

Kosh3


"That is, the best explanation of the fact that aesthetic consensus forms around certain things is that people have similar tastes, and so find beauty in the same things as one another (rather than that the thing in question itself is the bearer of beauty)."

1: This is manifestly false. People do not start off with similar tastes. IF people started off with similar tastes there would be no process of convergence.

2:If aesthetic judgments only expressed personal taste then the phenomena of disagreement becomes problematic. For instance I like Mozart and I don't like Mozart when uttered by different speakers are not expressing disagreement whereas Mozart is a better composer than Bruckner is plausibly expressing disagreement over who is the better composer.


But to stick with your initial question -you asked what reasons made the notion of objective aesthetic value plausible not what makes it logically inevitable.

If your question was genuine the least you could do is re-examine your prejudices that the claim is obviously false.

narcissismofsmalldifferences said...

I totally agree with P Mike.

Further I don't think it is useful to think of Philosophy as a discipline where you just study some ancient arguments for the existence of God and then make up your own mind. This is a very unreliable way to form beliefs because it is more likely to re-affirm your existing prejudices.

The presentation of papers to fellow philosophers is and should be an integral part of philosophy because people who disagree with you are much better at spotting the weak spots and non-sequitars in your reasoning.

Regarding arguments for the existence of God I have never heard them gain wide spread agreement when presented to fellow philosophers and more often than not the objections are overwhelming.

If philosophers of religion who think they have reasonable grounds for theism really did have reasonable grounds for theism I would expect them to be able to convince others that this was the case regardless of whether those philosophers were religious or not but in my experience they never do.

There is something very suspicious about arguments that only work for those that already believe in the conclusions.

Stephen Law said...

David's comment:

"But of course there is another obvious way to interpret the results in question – as clear evidence that those philosophers who have actually studied the arguments for theism in depth, and thus understand them the best – as philosophers of religion and medieval specialists naturally would – are far more likely to conclude that theism is true, or at least to be less certain that atheism is true, than other philosophers are."

I never offered an interpretation. But this explanation does not look very convincing. In the US, the vast majority of people are theists. Thus, if philosophers embrace the position they do because they have not really thought about it much, then their views should remain in line with the general population. yet their views are dramatically at odds with the general population. Suggesting they have actually thought about in depth and so ended up with a very different view than they would have had if they had not.

The philosophers of religion are more likely to believe in God because, reason has failed to overcome their already ingrained irrational bias!

Stephen Law said...

...and of course the atheist philosophers are unlikely to go in for philosophy of religion -any more than fairy-ology.

Bill Snedden said...

No doubt Kosh3 can answer for himself, but I'd like to put my $0.02 in...

@narcissismofsmalldifferences: "This [Kosh3's statement about people having similar tastes] is manifestly false. People do not start off with similar tastes. IF people started off with similar tastes there would be no process of convergence."

Not so. "Similar" does not mean "Exactly the same". Similarity of taste (due to similar biological function - mechanisms of perception, neurology, etc) does not mean that there will be NO differences and thus convergence can still be in operation. In fact, we should NOT expect convergence to exist if people DON'T start out with similar tastes (in the sense of similarly functioning biological mechanisms). Individuals with wildly divergent perceiving and judging mechanisms should most certainly NOT be expected to arrive at similar judgements about ANYTHING, even granting objectivity of value.

But even so, the idea that most people find Mozart a "better composer" than Bruckner doesn't at all illustrate any alleged objectivity of value. Even if EVERYONE agreed, it wouldn't necessarily demonstrate that. The best you can necessarily demonstrate with this example is intersubjectivity. And we should certainly expect broad intersubjective agreement around values that are culturally based like music. I guarantee that non-Western music listeners won't find Mozart a better composer than what they consider the best of their native culture.

Further, your idea that "The more people listen to classical music the more you would expect their judgments to converge on this fact (that Mozart is better than Bruckner)" seems to me only to rebut your own theory. There are numerous "Bruckner-lovers" who have listened to hours upon hours of classical music and have arrived at a differing opinion of Mozart. Disclosure: I am a musician. Many of those I know solidly in the "Bruckner/Wagner" camp might say they find Mozart's music trite and facile. Listening to more Mozart isn't going to change their opinion.

We should expect convergence where similar perceiving/judging mechanisms are in use AND where similar standards are being employed. Neither of these have anything necessarily to do with objectivity of value.

At any rate, I wonder what the survey intended (and by extension, what the philosophers taking the survey understood) by "objective" and "subjective". My understanding has always been that the difference is to do with the mind. "Objective" means "independent of mind" whereas "Subjective" indicates mind-dependence. But on this understanding, proving the subjectivity of value is a trivial matter: value requires a valuer. QED.

But surely that can't be what 41% of these philosophers would deny, can it?

Kosh3 said...

Narcissism:

1: This is manifestly false. People do not start off with similar tastes. IF people started off with similar tastes there would be no process of convergence.

Nobody denies that aesthetic tastes cannot be developed. When I say 'similar tastes', I don't mean 'tastes determined right down to the ground, such that differences in tastes are an impossibility'. I mean that there are common themes and aesthetic dispositions in people as a result of shared cognitive architecture.

Take preferences for landscapes: cross-culturally, people from all different backgrounds favour scenes of landscapes with something like the following: mountains in the distance, some evidence of water (either rivers, or rainclouds on the horizon), short grass interspersed with longer grass in patches, scattered trees that fork low to the ground, evidence of bird or animal life, and a path heading off into the distance, with some suggestion of mystery in the background.

What people don't tend to feel attracted to (as much) are rocky mountain cliffs, marshes and swamps, tundra, and so on.

One explanation is that people, as a result of their evolutionary heritage, have evolved to find such scenery attractive.

One explanation is that such scenes are objectively beautiful or attractive; that it is a property of such scenes that they are beautiful.

2:If aesthetic judgments only expressed personal taste then the phenomena of disagreement becomes problematic. For instance I like Mozart and I don't like Mozart when uttered by different speakers are not expressing disagreement whereas Mozart is a better composer than Bruckner is plausibly expressing disagreement over who is the better composer.

Even if you are right, then let it be so: if it is problematic, it won't change the truth of whether aesthetic qualities are objective or subjective. It is like trying to argue that because evolutionary psychology is morally problematic, that the principles that it is founded upon are false: quite simply, the conclusion does not follow.

If your question was genuine the least you could do is re-examine your prejudices that the claim is obviously false.

Yes, thank you, but that is precisely what I am doing now. I am saying 'present me the reasons, such that I can examine the grounds for objective beauty'. (None so far provided, by the way)

narcissismofsmalldifferences said...

Kosh:

The arguments for objective aesthetic value are ABDUCTIVE not DEDUCTIVE.

All your objections treat the arguments as if they were DEDUCTIVE.

There are often competing explanations for the same phenomena in Philosophy. And as you note there are competing explanation of the process of convergence of aesthetic value.


Most revealing about the way you reason is that you are prepared to accept an abductive argument for what you already believe but are not prepared to allow that there are similar abductive arguments that support conclusions that you do not believe. That indicates closed mindedness to me.


Notably you omit any explanation of the phenomena of disagreement.
With regard to this all you have to say is that it does not entail DEDUCTIVELY from the phenomena of disagreement that there is objective aesthetic value.

However no one argues that this does follow because the argument form is ABDUCTIVE rather than DEDUCTIVE. At least the defender of objective aesthetic value has an explanation here whereas you haven't presented any explanation.



My inclination is to say that if you can only see explanations for what you already believe as being reasons for your initial conclusion then you are just not open to reasoning about this topic.


P.S. Just for clarification.
I am not trying to argue for the existence of objective aesthetic value here just indicating that there may be equally good arguments that support the existence of objective aesthetic value as there are that support the notion of subjective aesthetic value.


I don't know what other considerations might come into play. I am just reasoning from analogy with debates in meta-ethics over objective moral value and noting that the same type of arguments that support moral realism could be used to support aesthetic realism.

Where there are equally good explanations of the same phenomena leading to different conclusions it strikes me as rational to be agnostic on the matter rather than declare the one side must be mistaken.

Kosh3 said...

All your objections treat the arguments as if they were DEDUCTIVE. All your objections treat the arguments as if they were DEDUCTIVE.

Nonsense. To quote myself from rather earlier on,

"That same argument works to show similar neural arrangement however..."

I.e. that same style of argument, abduction

Continuing on:

"That is, the best explanation of the fact that aesthetic consensus forms around certain things is that people have similar tastes, and so find beauty in the same things as one another"

The phrase I have used, 'the best explanation', is the language of abduction.

In other words, I have both acknowledged that the style of your argument is abductive, and state that abduction works just well for a different conclusion - that aesthetic qualities are subjective.

Now, if you want to persist, you need to give some reason as to why aesthetic qualitites as subjective isn't as good an explanation for aesthetic qualities as your abductive argument for their objective status.

Most revealing about the way you reason is that you are prepared to accept an abductive argument for what you already believe but are not prepared to allow that there are similar abductive arguments that support conclusions that you do not believe. That indicates closed mindedness to me.

Well, this indicates non-comprehension to me. So... I guess 'nah nah na na nah' is appropriate at this point?

Kosh3 said...

P.S. Just for clarification.
I am not trying to argue for the existence of objective aesthetic value here just indicating that there may be equally good arguments that support the existence of objective aesthetic value as there are that support the notion of subjective aesthetic value.


Well, the mere possibility of abductive arguments for the objectivity of aesthetic qualities is thoroughly uninteresting. What would not be uninteresting is if those arguments were any good. That was what I was hoping to hear from someone.

narcissismofsmalldifferences said...

Hi Bill

I agree with most of what you say and of course abductive arguments (they are not my arguments) do not necessarily lead to any conclusions about what sort of things exist. Hence when you say:

"We should expect convergence where similar perceiving/judging mechanisms are in use AND where similar standards are being employed. Neither of these have anything necessarily to do with objectivity of value."

I agree, but it needs to be said that neither of these features have anything necessarily to do with subjectivity of value either.


In your post you indicate that there are a small number of music lovers who disagree with a large number of other music listeners over whether mozart is trite by comparison with Bruckner or Wagner.

If the small number of music lovers are right (which presumably they take themselves to be) then what makes aesthetic judgments true cannot by their own lights be determined by individual preference simpliciter, neither can it be determined by majority opinion. So what is the best account for the truth of aesthetic judgment??

narcissismofsmalldifferences said...

Kosh

And how old are you?

Kosh3 said...

Kosh
And how old are you?


Yeah but seriously though.

narcissismofsmalldifferences said...

Yeah but seriously though.

Seriously you sound about 10.

Some people are just closed minded and not open to reasoning. There are dogmatic atheists and dogmatic theists who have fixed views about subjects (aesthetics/evolution) they know nothing about and have no motivation to find out more.

For such people persuasion is wasted as they will not listen to reason. They {mistakenly} take themselves to know it all already.

Kosh3 said...

Seriously you sound about 10.

Opinions on persons sway both ways of course, but I have kept mine to myself, since they are not relevant to the question of the status of aesthetic truths, and they rarely contribute to the health of any discourse.

I suppose on the matter of my displayed maturity I will have to leave it to others to judge, along with those of my alleged close-mindedness, dogmatism, and inability to see beyond my intellectually crippling prejudices, which you so efficiently adduced me of.

Steven Law said...

Any thinking man naturally questions the existance of God. Religion is a salve for the hollowness of Life. Every man gets the answer to the Great Riddle at the moment of Death. What is on the Other Side? Every man wishes to know and no one can say. Is this not what philosophy seeks to find? Religion is the bread on which this hunger to know feeds on.