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05/01/2013

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Alex

I don't want to sound overly dismissive about the project, because I think that doing the sociology of philosophy is a worthy endeavor, but I didn't find much of interest in the paper. Leaving issues regarding the sampling method aside, most of the raw results from the first-order survey don't seem all that surprising, and their importance is, at any rate, anecdotal. I don’t think that the formation of a consensus around a philosophical view is evidence of progress, so it's not clear to me what conclusion - if any - to draw from the fact that, e.g., 71% of respondents think we have a priori knowledge.

The raw results from the meta-survey are hardly more interesting: Why should one have expected individual philosophers to have an accurate representation of the distribution of philosophical views in the discipline (or in the subset of the discipline considered by the survey) as a whole?

Leaving aside the raw survey results, the correlations Chalmers and Bourget list are just that - correlations. To state the obvious, correlation isn’t causation, and Chalmers and Bourget sometimes blur the line, e.g. when they say in the conclusion: “much of one’s position on the questions we asked appears to be *determined* by one’s view on these five issues [i.e. naturalism vs. anti-naturalism, realism vs. anti-realism, etc.]. Positions on these issues are significantly *affected* by respondents’ professional backgrounds, their specializations, and their orientations as philosophers.” They also title the subsections of Section 3 ‘Gender *effect*’, ‘Age *effect*’, etc., which is misleading. I’m obviously not claiming they did so on purpose, I just want to draw attention to the fact that all they do is list correlations, without even a hint of the beginnings of an explanation -- in the form of a hypothesis regarding the underlying mechanism responsible these correlations -- which, incidentally, is what a good sociology paper would do.

I could say more about the correlations they find (about why it’s not surprising that they are statistically significant - note that they omit to state the null hypothesis they assume - and about why ‘strong correlation’ doesn’t mean anything), but my comment is already long enough. It seems to me that Chalmers and Bourget have done little more than describe their dataset and, at any rate, haven’t done any sociology of philosophy just yet. Again, I don't think the endeavor is vain. I just think it should be undertaken more seriously by (or in collaboration with) professional sociologists (I'm thinking of people like Kieran Healy).

Marcus Arvan

Alex: I'm sympathetic to a lot of your concerns. The "effects" language is misleading, the correlation-coefficients are pretty small, etc. But you don't find the data set itself at all interesting?

Roger Turner

Not to say that the statistics in the paper aren't interesting, but I can't believe this paper made it into Phil. Studies. This couldn't have been peer reviewed, right? Not blindly, anyway. If it had been, there's no way a sociology paper like this would have gotten into a philosophy journal. There's not even a whiff of philosophy going on in the paper. So, anyway, the paper's interesting; but, it weirds me out that it made Phil. Studies. It doesn't seem an appropriate venue for such a paper. But what do I know? *shrugs*

Alex

Marcus, I don't find the raw (first-order) survey results interesting. I'm not surprised overall by what they are and I'm not surprised that some views I take to be obviously false (e.g. non-Humeanism about laws) enjoy wide support. But I agree that the correlations you point out are intriguing, though I think some of them might have straightforward - and not very interesting - explanations.

The Europe/Fregeanism one (34 out of 58 European respondents are Fregeans), for instance, might be explained by the departments targeted. Both the Institut Jean Nicod (not an academic department, by the way, but a research center several members of which are not primarily philosophers) and the U. of Barcelona have *a lot* of professional philosophers of language, and these tend to be Fregeans/direct reference people about proper names - and other things. Francois Recanati, for instance, is a very influential Fregean and is a member of Jean Nicod. Looking at the list of public European respondents, I see 1 from Konstanz, 2 from Lund, 3 from Stockholm, 2 from CEU and 6 from Geneva. That's 14 people. For all one can tell from the publicly available data, the remaining 44 European respondents (58-14) might *all* be from Jean Nicod and Barcelona, and might make up the bulk of the European respondents who are Fregeans. If that’s the case, then the correlation found by Chalmers and Bourget really isn’t all that interesting.

A more general remark about the ‘European’ category in the survey. I’d be curious to know how they selected the departments in it. In the paper, Chalmers and Bourget say they “were chosen in consultation with the editor of the Gourmet Report and a number of other philosophers, on the grounds of their having strength in analytic philosophy comparable to the other 86 departments.” If that’s the criterion for inclusion, then where are Salzburg, Leuven, Paris I, Madrid (Complutense & UNED), Copenhagen, Rotterdam (Erasmus), Helsinki, Amsterdam (Uva) or Tillburg, to name just a few? One can hardly draw any conclusions (or comparisons) about (Anglocentric) philosophy in Europe given the bizarre sample they selected. I mean, why in the world did they select two Swedish departments - good departments, that’s not the question - but none of the ones I listed above?

Note that I'm not claiming that all the correlations Chalmers and Bourget list can similarly be explained away. This certainly doesn't seem to be the case for correlations regarding US philosophers and departments. But I think one should be careful not to mistake patterns in the data for interesting phenomena to explain when they might just be artifacts of the sampling scheme.

Marcus Arvan

Alex: very interesting points. Fwiw, I think the view that you consider obviously false -- non-Humeanism about laws -- is obviously true. ;)

Michel X.

I haven't read the article (I don't have access yet--or is everyone just getting it from someone's website?), but I have to ask... is there anything new in it?

I mean, the surveys were conducted almost 4 years ago, in 2009, and the results have been available since. Are there any reasons left to get excited?

T.M.

The factor analysis was kinda neat, but they don't do anything interesting at all with any of the data,like control for views about X to try nd explain why Y predicts Z or anything. For philosophers who make such contoversial arguments it is surprising how little they could do with the data.

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