Materialism Remains the Majority View…But Only Just!

comments 8
Uncategorized

The 2020 PhilPapers Survey of Anglophone academic philosophers’ views has just been published. On the philosophy of mind, physicalism (AKA materialism) remains the view of the majority, but only just, with 51.9% of philosophers professing to accept/lean towards physicalism about the mind. However, a very large minority of 32.1% align with non-physicalism about the mind (15.9% are undecided, accept an alternative to both, or think the question is too unclear to answer*). There was also a more specific question on ‘Consciousness’ which allows us to dig a bit deeper. Among those who accept/lean towards non-physicalism, approximately 3/4 are dualists and 1/4 are panpsychists.

How do I feel about these results? I didn’t doubt that materialism would come out the most popular position, although I hoped it would be under 50% this time. I was also hoping that, among non-physicalist positions, panpsychism and dualism would be a bit closer to 50/50. However, panpsychism did not even feature in the 2009 survey: it’s gone from being a view that hardly anyone took seriously option to being one of the standard options to consider.

There’s a prima facie inconsistency in the data. The ‘Other Minds’ questions asks which things are conscious, and only 2% accepted/leaned towards particles being conscious, a much lower percentage than accept/lean towards panpsychism in the ‘Consciousness’ question. I suspect this is because when addressing the ‘Other Minds’ question, people were generally considering what is suggested by the empirical data concerning the neural correlates of consciousness, whereas when addressing the ‘Consciousness’ question, people are giving their opinion on the best solution to the hard problem. The case for panpsychism is built on the latter not the former.

Of course, ultimately this isn’t a popularity contest. I think there are good reasons to take panpsychism to be the most plausible option, and those reasons would still be there even if nobody accepted them. But it’s nice to see that the Anglophone philosophical community is very slowly inching its way towards the truth 😉

Incidentally, the only view of consciousness less popular than panpsychism was eliminitivism, the view of Daniel Dennett and others that consciousness doesn’t really exist.

*A smaller % of the ‘other’ accept a combination of the two, think there is no fact of the matter, or reject all of the above.

The Author

I am a philosopher and consciousness researcher at Durham University, UK. My research focuses on how to integrate consciousness into our scientific worldview.

8 Comments

  1. Ryan Clark says

    I’m really surprised that there are more dualists than panpsychists. I had the impression that dualists were rare among philosophers, while panpsychism was having a major resurgence.

    Was this a surprise to you too?

  2. Not really, I think still for many the strangeness of thinking particles are conscious is a deal breaker, even though that attitude is less common than it once was. Most dualists are David Chalmers-style naturalistic property dualists rather than Descartes-style believers in souls.

  3. Nicholas Krause says

    I would be curious about your respond to this as these are my concern:
    1. Is pansychism just hype? I mean we have seen theories in metaphysics including philosophy of mind go in and out of fashion like the identity theory or say platonism in the high Middle Ages with Ockham.
    2. How is pansychism better than Nietzsche’s will to power ontology when it comes to consciousness. It seems non-naturalist materialism like this works as well if not better. Thoughts?
    Thanks for answering my questions if you do.

  4. Are there no more Bishop Berkeley’s (idealists) left in philosophy?

    It seems that the new mysterians are the latest trend. What would you think they mostly ascribe to?

    Signed,

    A quantum interactive dualist

    • Helen Yetter-Chappel defends a kind of Berkeleyan view (not sure how you spell that)…we interviewed her recently on ‘Mind Chat’. Mysterians just think it’s all a big mystery.

      • Nicholas Krause says

        Sure but what about Kantian antinomies? Seems this fits right in them. If I were a mysterian, then I would just raise the problem of Kant”s antinomies here. Levine I believe makes this point here. It seems analytic metaphysics wants to undo Kant’s revolution. But my question is why do you and others want to do this? It seems you hoping realism metaphysics can come back post Kant. My question is why do you want to do this like in After Finitude? Seems like a really complicated path to go. That’s the ongoing debate you are getting into when the chips are down. Sorry for the second reply.

      • Thanks for the reply,

        It seems like the high water mark for materialism at least in the science part was in the late 80s/early 90s. Crick and his neural correlates was going to explain everything, behaviorism was still a thing, US had the Decade of the Brain, and Marvin Minsky had us all thinking that computers were going to be conscious. Do you see that reflected in the philosophy part?

  5. I just discovered you via the Phil Rogan podcast. You were so patient with him, but I’m having a hard time finishing listening to the episode because he just doesn’t understand what you’re saying and it’s frustrating.

    When I was in my early 20s I made up a theory a reality that was basically me coming up with panpsychism all on my own. I’m a layman, not a scientist, but I am a computer expert and a professional photographer, and looking from that perspective makes me think that what our brains do is process consciousness into memory, and that is our experience. But the consciousness is already there, our brains are just processing it. And without memory we don’t have a sense of time, which enables us as an animal to predict future events, like which way the bison is going to go, so we know where to throw the spear. I think that’s all the brain is. The consciousness is inherent in reality itself.

    How far off the mark am I with us? Just curious.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s