PhilPapers Survey 2020: Discussion Document


In November 2009, David Bourget and U conducted the first PhilPapers Survey of the philosophical views of professional philosophers. We wrote an article on the results ("What Do Philosophers Believe?", published in Philosophical Studies 170:465-500, 2014) and made various other information available. We're now launching a second survey in October 2020.

Below is the list of questions we will ask, after many rounds of suggestions and feedback (see e.g. the PhilPeople discussion group PhilPapers Survey 2020 and also the longer list of potential questions below).

Questions from the 2009 PhilPapers Survey

Answer options included "Accept" or "Lean toward" any of the options listed, and other responses as follows (with minor variations for non-binary questions): (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

There were also some background questions: area of specialization, philosophical tradition (analytic, continental, other), affiliation/role, year of birth, nationality, gender, consent. We also asked: "With which nonliving philosophers X would you describe yourself or your work as X-ian, or the equivalent? List in order, and choose "other" to specify a new option." Answer options (see here for criteria) were: Anscombe, Aquinas, Aristotle, Augustine, Berkeley, Carnap, Davidson, Descartes, Frege, Hegel, Heidegger, Hobbes, Hume, Husserl, Kant, Kierkegaard, Leibniz, Lewis, Locke, Marx, Mill, Moore, Nietzsche, Plato, Quine, Rawls, Rousseau, Russell, Socrates, Spinoza, Wittgenstein. We also conducted a Metasurvey where respondents predicted the percentage responses to the main survey questions.


We will ask the same 30 questions (largely unchanged to enable longitudinal comparisons) plus 70 new questions. We will tweak the answer options in order to allow people to select multiple answers more straightforwardly (for every question, there will be a "select multiple answers" option that allows people to accept/reject/lean for or against multiple answers). We won't conduct a Metasurvey this time as it would be less interesting now that the results of the first Survey are well known. We'll ask the same demographic questions.

We will add more options to the "nonliving philosophers" question: Dewey, Foucault, James, Merleau-Ponty, Peirce, Popper, Reid, Rorty, Sellars, Whitehead (the ten most popular write-in choices in 2009), Parfit, Putnam (the leading candidates per previous criteria who died in the last decade or so), Arendt, Avicenna, Beauvoir, Buddha, Confucius, Deleuze, Derrida, Du Bois, Laozi, Nagarjuna, Rand, Sartre, Wollstonecraft (to expand coverage of other traditions).

Additional main questions

We will add ten main questions to be asked of everyone.

  • Aim of philosophy (which is most important?): truth/knowledge, understanding, wisdom, happiness, goodness/justice?
  • 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 (would you 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 method (which methods are the most useful/important?): conceptual analysis, conceptual engineering, empirical philosophy, experimental philosophy, formal philosophy, intuition-based philosophy, linguistic philosophy? [allow multiple answers]
  • Philosophical progress (how much is there?): none, a little, a lot?
  • Race: biological, social, unreal?
  • Vagueness: epistemic, metaphysical, or semantic?

    Additional questions

    We will add another 60 questions that will be asked of at least one-sixth of respondents each. Each respondent will answer at least 10 additional questions on top of the 40 main questions for a total of 50. We will also give respondents the option to answer the remaining 50 additional questions for a total of 100. Many of these questions come from suggestions made on the 2009 survey and from recent discussion online. These questions aim for a reasonable coverage of areas of philosophy and may be somewhat more specialized that the main survey questions.

  • Abortion (first trimester, no special circumstances): permissible or impermissible?
  • Aesthetic experience: perception, pleasure, or sui generis?
  • Analysis of knowledge: justified true belief, other analysis, no analysis?
  • Arguments for theism (which is strongest?): cosmological, design, ontological, pragmatic, moral?
  • Belief or credence (which is more fundamental?): belief, credence, neither?
  • Capital punishment: permissible or impermissible?
  • Causation: counterfactual/difference-making, process/production, primitive, or nonexistent?
  • Chinese room: understands or doesn't understand?
  • Concepts: nativism or empiricism?
  • Consciousness: dualism, eliminativism, functionalism, identity theory, panpsychism?
  • Continuum hypothesis (does it have a determinate truth-value?): determinate, indeterminate?
  • Cosmological fine-tuning (what explains it?): design, multiverse, brute fact, no fine-tuning?
  • Environmental ethics: anthropocentric or non-anthropocentric?
  • Epistemic justification: coherentism, infinitism, nonreliabilist foundationalism, reliabilism?
  • Extended mind: yes or no?
  • Foundations of mathematics: intuitionism/constructivism, formalism, logicism, structuralism, or set-theoretic?
  • Gender categories: preserve, revise, or eliminate?
  • Grounds of intentionality: causal/teleological, inferential, interpretational, phenomenal, primitive?
  • Hard problem of consciousness (is there one?): yes or no?
  • Human genetic engineering: permissible or impermissible?
  • Hume (what is his view?): skeptic or naturalist?
  • Immortality (would you choose it?): yes or no?
  • Interlevel metaphysics (which is the most useful?): grounding, identity, realization, supervenience?
  • Kant (what is his view?): one world or two worlds?
  • Law: legal positivism or legal non-positivism?
  • Material composition: nihilism, restrictivism, or universalism?
  • Metaontology: heavyweight realism, deflationary realism, anti-realism?
  • Method in history of philosophy (which do you prefer?): analytic/rational reconstruction or contextual/historicist?
  • Method in political philosophy (which do you prefer?): ideal theory or non-ideal theory?
  • Mind uploading (brain replaced by digital emulation): survival or death?
  • Moral principles: moral generalism or moral particularism?
  • Morality: non-naturalism, naturalist realism, constructivism, expressivism, error theory?
  • Normative concepts (which is most fundamental?): fit, ought, reason, or value?
  • 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?
  • Philosophical knowledge (how much is there?): none, a little, a lot
  • Plato (what is his view?): knowledge only of forms, knowledge also of concrete things?
  • Politics: capitalism or socialism?
  • Possible worlds: abstract, concrete, or nonexistent?
  • Principle of sufficient reason: true or false?
  • 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 entities, acts, nonexistent?
  • Quantum mechanics: collapse, hidden-variables, many-worlds, or epistemic?
  • Race categories: preserve, revise, or eliminate?
  • Response to external-world skepticism (which is strongest?): abductive, contextualist, dogmatist, epistemic externalist, semantic externalist, pragmatic?
  • Rational disagreement (can two people with the same evidence rationally disagree): uniqueness or permissiveness?
  • Semantic content (which expressions are context-dependent?): minimalism (no more than a few), moderate contextualism (intermediate), radical contextualism (most or all)
  • 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?
  • Theory of reference: causal, descriptive, or deflationary?
  • Time travel: metaphysically possible or metaphysically impossible?
  • True contradictions: impossible, possible but non-actual, actual?
  • Units of natural selection: genes or organisms?
  • Values in science (is ideal scientific reasoning necessarily sensitive or insensitive to non-epistemic values?): necessarily value-free, necessarily value-laden, can be either?
  • Well-being: hedonism, desire satisfaction, or objective list?
  • Wittgenstein (which do you prefer?): early or late?

    Target population

    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 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) in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and Ireland: regular faculty (tenure-track or permanent) in BA-granting philosophy departments with four or more regular faculty members, (2) in the rest of the world: Anglophone-publishing regular faculty in BA-granting philosophy departments (or the equivalent) with four or more Anglophone-publishing regular faculty members. 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. On current figures our target list includes around 6300 philosophers in group (1) and 1500 philosophers in group (2).

    Aside from the main target population, we will report results for a number of other groups in addition. At the broadest level, we will advertise the survey on PhilPapers and other outlets, and anyone interested in philosophy is welcome to take the survey. We will also report results for all philosophy faculty and graduate students who respond. More narrowly, for valid longitudinal comparison to the 2009 survey results we will have a list of philosophers in 100 leading departments compiled using standard rankings.

    Previous draft of possible additional questions (by area)

    This a list (from a previous draft of this document) of most of the questions that we have considered or that have been suggested, arranged by area. Many of these questions come from suggestions made on the 2009 survey and from recent discussion online.

    Within each area, we've listed (**) main questions from the original thirty, followed by (*) questions from among the new 70, followed by () questions we considered but aren't including in the end.

    Philosophy of mind


    Philosophy of language


    Philosophy of action and decision theory

    Philosophy of religion

    Philosophy of science, math, logic

    Ethical theory

    Value theory

    Applied ethics

    Political philosophy

    Legal philosophy

    Social philosophy



    History of philosophy