Education, Philosophy, recent

Conservatives in Philosophy: A Brief Rejoinder to Tristan Rogers

In April, Tristan Rogers wrote an article for Quillette about “The Dearth of Conservatives in Academic Philosophy,” presenting data exploring the titular phenomenon and arguing that philosophers should seek out conservatives. I do not doubt that the proportion of politically conservative academic philosophers is lower than the proportion of the general population, but we should not therefore conclude that the situation is as dire as Rogers presents.

The Ideological Landscape of Philosophy

There is not much data concerning the state of conservatism in philosophy. The evidence Rogers does have paints a bleak picture for conservatives in the field at first glance. However, it deserves closer scrutiny.

A PhilPapers survey from 2009 asked one question about politics: “Politics: communitarianism, egalitarianism, or libertarianism?” Rogers finds it notable that “conservatism” is not listed as an option, but this is not actually noteworthy. The three options pick out approaches to political philosophy and motivating values, not political ideology. Egalitarians are concerned with equality. Libertarians are concerned with liberty. Communitarians stress the value of the community to human flourishing. There are conservative communitarians, including Phillip Blond and Patrick J. Deneen, who might be called “social conservatives.” Moreover, conservatives who are less concerned with religion might have answered that they “lean towards” libertarianism.

Of the surveyed philosophers, 33 percent answered egalitarianism, 16.3 percent answered communitarianism, and 13.4 percent answered libertarianism (and 37.3 percent answered “other”). If the concern of Rogers is the representation of the political views, then it is important to confine the analysis to philosophers who specialize in Value Theory (political philosophy, ethics, etc.) and related sections of History of Philosophy. Rogers should have no problem if it turns out that zero philosophers of physics are political conservatives. Nearly 50 percent of specialists in “Social and Political Philosophy” surveyed support egalitarianism, but the correlation is not statistically significant (p = 0.112). Since the American Founding Fathers were interested in classical philosophy, it seems plausible that interest in classical philosophy might correlate with conservatism. Indeed, the “Ancient Greek Philosophy” specialty has a very slight but significant correlation for not answering egalitarianism (r = 0.081, p = 0.026). Interestingly, 31.4 percent of specialists in “Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy” supported libertarianism (r = 0.076, p = 0.037). It was difficult to find other significant correlations between politics and specialty. With a closer analysis of the data, a clear picture of conservatism in academic philosophy cannot be made from this survey.

A further obstacle to understanding the ideological landscape of academic philosophy is the lack of a clear definition of who should be considered a conservative. While he does not offer a clear definition, it seems that by “conservative” Rogers means something like “someone who usually votes Republican.” Philosophers, however, might not associate that characteristic with conservatism per se. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on conservatism states that philosophical commentators “treat [conservatism] as a standpoint that is sceptical of abstract reasoning in politics, and that appeals instead to living tradition, allowing for the possibility of limited political reform.” It is conceivable that philosophers who identify with the liberal tradition, including classical liberals, are individuals who usually vote Republican. Additionally, while a libertarian political philosopher and a Christian philosopher of religion may differ in their policy preferences, there is a case that both should still be considered “conservative” by Rogers.

With the limited data available, the map of philosophy’s ideological landscape is practically terra incognita. Only more data can make the picture clear, and warning calls should not be made in its absence.

The Meta-Problem

Furthermore, worrying about conservatism within philosophy departments reinforces the isolation of different academic fields by suggesting a field has to be self-sufficient. The norms of any discipline emerge, at least partly, from the psychological traits of the people in the field. As Rogers puts it, openness to new ideas is “the philosophical character trait par excellence” and correlates with political liberalism. Activism intended to include more of a certain political ideology in any field, however, changes the psychological make-up of the field and might adversely affect its norms.

It is better for a discipline to recognize that it has created a specific dynamic and then go to different intellectual communities to engage their ideas. Many philosophers already engage in this inter-disciplinarity. Daniel Dennett, a philosopher at Tufts University, has drawn on biology throughout his career. During a 2017 interview, Georgetown University philosopher Jason Brennan stated that his work on democratic theory was partly inspired by reading the social science literature about how democracies work in practice, rather than the assumptions of philosophers.

If the whole academe is meant to pursue truth, then it can be fine for different traditions to develop that are not perfect ideological representatives of society at large. Agreement on certain foundational assumptions by one group can allow it to make breakthroughs by seeing what should follow from those assumptions, rather than spending time debating what those foundational assumptions should be. However, to avoid intellectual bubbles, this group should not totally isolate itself from the rest of the academe. Some degree of interaction is needed as a check against following mistaken paths. This process of dividing into different groups to work on a problem and then comparing results has been observed throughout the history of science, but it could be applied to the wider intellectual community. Brennan’s work on democratic theory is a perfect example of this process in action within philosophy, rather than an indication of a dire dearth of “social science thinkers” in academic philosophy. If the concern is the engagement of conservatism by academic philosophers, it can be addressed without worrying about conservatism in academic philosophy.


While Rogers is probably right that academic philosophers should engage with conservatives more than they do, there is no great evidence to support the idea that the current state of conservatism in academic in philosophy is dire. If one in six philosophers are libertarians, then conservative economic positions have representation comparable to conservative representation in some of the most ideologically balanced academic disciplines. Belief in God has even better representation within philosophy. And insistence that philosophers only need to talk with other philosophers is both an insult to other disciplines and ignores what some of the biggest names in academic philosophy actually do.


Shelby T. Hanna is an undergraduate at Hampden-Sydney College studying philosophy and political science. You can follow him on Twitter at @ShelbyTHanna

Photo by Cole Keister on Unsplash


  1. E. Olson says

    I think the author is correct that the term “conservative” is difficult to define, but does not make a strong case that academic philosophers are a politically diverse group. It is much clearer to use the terms Left and Right instead of Liberal and Conservative, because there is very little disagreement that being Left means being for Big “collective” government (i.e. Marxism, socialism, big welfare state) and a preference for heavily regulated/government controlled markets, while political Right means relatively small government (i.e. Democracy, Republicanism, small/non-welfare state) and a preference for relatively free markets and individual rights.

    Confusion reigns because on issues such as support for free speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion, which have been traditional markers of classic liberals, it is clearly people on the Right side of the political spectrum that believe and support such freedoms and people on the Left who are wearing masks to violently suppressing them (and trying to elect officials and appoint judges who will do the same). Thus it might be said that today’s liberals are also its conservatives.

    Whether there are a substantial number of Right leaning academic philosophers in today’s academia is not a question I can empirically address, but given the overwhelming Left leaning nature of the social sciences and humanities on most campuses today, I suspect there are very few.

    • NashTiger says

      I think Left and Right are even more confusing. Especially since people now define National Socialism as the epitome of being Right Wing.

      Left and Right go back to the French revolution, with the divide being the attachment to the old Institutions (primarily the Church).

      I myself think of Leftism as being defined by Classicism (class hatred), and Rightism by Nationalism. But even that isn’t sufficient.

      I have stopped using Liberal and Conservative altogether. The Democrat Left have rightly reclaimed Progressive as their standard, and most Conservatives actually want to conserve Classic Liberalism, which was a radical notion born of the Enlightenment.

      I consider myself a Conservatarian, and also a Federalist (not in the original meaning of the term. Back then, I guess I would have been more of an Anti-Federalist. Come join my new group AntiFed!)

      • Peter from Oz says

        The notion of left and right goes further back to the English Parliament of the Restoration period where the Opposition sat on the left of the Speaker and the Government to the right. The real division is Tories versus Whigs or even Cavaliers and Roundheads.
        A Roundhead is more concerned with government, a Cavalier with convention. The Roundhead wants legislation and enforceable rules. The Cavalier is more attached to what Lord Moulton called “the third domain”, i.e. the are between government fiat and individual choice where most of the conventions we live by can be found.

        • Charlie says

          The Stuart Kings were of Scottish descent and introduced the French concept of the Divine Right of Kings, which had never been part of English custom. After the War of the Roses ended, the Tudor enabled a massive increase in the middle classes, yeoman and squires and minor gentry. Elizabeth consulted The House of Commons, her rule being based upon the adages of – that which affects all must be consulted by all and consultation and consent . Charles 1 wife was French and believed in the Divine Right of Kings. Taxes could not be approved without the consent of The House Of Commons, Charles 1 objected and declared war on Parliament. Parliament was supported by richer East Anglia, The City of London and The Royal Navy, basically well to do Puritans.

          I would suggest that the Civil War was a result of the traditional English beliefs in Liberty , rule through consent and consultation plus Common Law resisting an attempt to impose the centralising tyrannical Divine Right of Kings and use of Roman Law.

          When considering Left and Right, there is the English Speaking Perceptions and the Continental European ; they are not the same. The Anglican Church allowed Quakers and Dissenters to thrive, allowed Locke to write “The Reasonableness of Christianity “, Newton, Hooke, The Royal Society to be created but not controlled by The Crown and return of Jewish people. In England people were free and so The Enlightenment did involve reaction to central authority. Under Walpole, up to the 1740s, people in England could much as they wanted; there was hardly any army and freedom was sacrosanct.

          In Continental Europe, The Roman Catholic Church supported the Persecution of Protestants, the tyranny of Louis XIV; centralisation of knowledge and manufacture under royal control. Consequently, The Enlightenment included attacks on The Roman Catholic Church and royal authority.

          Mussolini was friend of Lenin in Zurich and much of the 1925 Nazi manifesto is the same as communist.

          I suggest the difference is between freedom, where the individual is sovereign and lives under laws of their making and tyranny whether communist, Nazi or Islamicist ( ISIS) where the state is sovereign, ruled by a small cadre and the duty of the individual is total obedience and loyalty, even above that to family and friends.

          As Prof S Hicks has mentioned, democracy and freedom has only existed in a few, Greek states, Republican Rome, the English Speaking World and a few other states ( Switzerland , France post 1848, etc, etc ). The Liberalism of J S Mill and Gladstone basically ended in the UK in 1922 with the defeat of the Liberal Government, as Explained in the Strange Death of Liberal England by Dangerfield. Liberalism is now middle class white collar socialism, cultural Marxism and post modernism. There are no people who call themselves Liberals who have the belief in Liberty and Reason that was espoused by Locke, JS Mill, Gladstone or Asquith.

          I would suggest a phrase Liberty under Common Law Conservatism which underpins Lincolns ” By the people, of the people and for the people “, ” No taxation without representation “, ” That which affects all must be consulted by all “. Wilkes described England as ” Liberty and Beef”. I would suggest that the British empirical tradition is conservative – follow the evidence, keep what works and change what does not. Bruce Lee said absorb what is useful and add your own expertise. Evolution is conservatism in action, a lobsters serotonin system evolved 350 million years ago and is still used in humans because it works.

      • E. Olson says

        NashTiger – Leftists want nothing to do with National Socialists even though they support much of the Nazi political platform (i.e. single payer healthcare, environmentalism, anti-Semitic, high taxes and regulations), and as a result the Leftist historians and political scientists have used their propaganda arms to promote the idea that Nazis were far Right. But if Left is defined by big government and heavily regulated markets the Nazis were definitely far Left, and only slightly to the Right of the USSR. That is why I think the Left/Right terms make sense as the Left always prefers big government and the Right always prefer relatively small government (mainly for defense and courts).

    • David of Kirkland says

      Hence the issue. Is forcing women to remain pregnant no matter the state of the fetus or the desire of the woman left or right? If rounding up undocumented immigrants who are otherwise not violating the law left or right? If separating children from their parents left or right? Are wars in Afghanistan left or right? Is the desire for homosexuals to be free and equal under the law tied to big government or small government and how does that map to left and right?

  2. Geary Johansen says

    I am currently in the process of watching a panel discussion on YouTube, by PolicyExchangeUK entitled ‘Is there an ideological monoculture in British Universities, and does it matter? (I found it by typing ‘panel’ into YouTube, only to find a library of over 2,700 talks, and skimming through). Quite apart from being very much on point, Jonathan Haidt argues that a lack of political diversity in the social sciences makes for bad science, and what is true for social science should also be true for philosophy. Diversity of thought is more important than other form of diversity, in that both in science and philosophy, it aids the process of disconfirmation.

    Jordan Peterson makes the point that liberals traditionally generate new ideas and push boundaries in society, and the evidence from the Founding Fathers through to the civil rights era, would tend to support this. Although a superficial examination of the latter part of the 20th century might lead one to think that the goal of conservatives was to push back against civil rights reforms, this analysis in essentially incorrect as it views the world through the lens of the political- the true purpose of the conservative during this period was to protect the status quo and the institutions of family, church, Judeo-Christian thinking.

    Their failure was in appointing themselves the guardians of morality (for mainly political purposes) in lieu of exercising the necessary discretion to only protect what was Just. Had they solely defended the institution of the family, and focused their ire on the feminist notion that women could raise boys without the help or intervention of men, then America would not be facing a legacy of mass incarceration and Warren Farrell never would have had to write his landmark book ‘The Boy Crisis’. The statistics on fatherless boys finishing high school (or failing to average good results) and ending up in prison are as indisputable as they are universal to the Western world.

    But in Philosophy, the role of the conservative should not only be to preserve and teach good ideas, but also to discredit and disconfirm bad ones. So the proof is in the pudding, so to speak- if there are a sufficient number of conservatives occupying the field of philosophy, then bad ideas should be consigned to the wastebin of history. The fact that Postmodernism still exists within the field of Philosophy, should be proof enough of a lack of conservatives. Because fundamentally, whether one looks at social interactions and association, business and commerce, or even politics, the basic building block of civilisation is Trust, not Power, with power merely a useful by-product. Politics is the exception that proves the rule, in that we vote for those we distrust least. Had there been sufficient conservatives occupying the field of philosophy for the past 50 years, then the garden of ideas would be far better tended, and postmodernism would not have spread throughout the social sciences and humanities like some noxious self-seeding weed.

    • E. Olson says

      “Jordan Peterson makes the point that liberals traditionally generate new ideas and push boundaries in society, and the evidence from the Founding Fathers through to the civil rights era, would tend to support this….But in Philosophy, the role of the conservative should not only be to preserve and teach good ideas, but also to discredit and disconfirm bad ones. So the proof is in the pudding, so to speak- if there are a sufficient number of conservatives occupying the field of philosophy, then bad ideas should be consigned to the wastebin of history.”

      Good comment as usual Geary – and I might add that “liberals” have been pushing the same tired Marxism as if it was some “new idea” for over 100 years even though it has been discredited everywhere except in academia and Labor/Democrat parties. Even more laughable is how they see Marxism as a solution for Capitalism/Democracy induced global warming, because the USSR, Maoist China, and current day Venezuela and N. Korea have such fine models of sustainability and environmental splendor.

      • Geary Johansen says

        @ E. Olsen

        Cheers. I think it’s because they don’t really fully understand how markets work, or are unwilling to acknowledge just how beneficial they have been for humanity. Capitalism may appear brutal, but it’s only when one understands that profits can be redeployed to invest in new productive endeavours, that it can be seen as a benign fiscal water cycle. Similarly, socialism may appear compassionate, but the feckless wonders that it usually throws up as leaders, inevitably end up hunting for culprits to blame (and kill or imprison), when it all goes horribly wrong. It’s the age old story of means vs ends- Adam Smith’s vile maxim and invisible hand vs Marx’s divisive maxim and vile hand.

        The current unrest in the West is largely due to the fact that over a billion people have been raised out of absolute poverty in the Developing World. It’s beyond doubt that this process had been hard for the working and middle classes in the West, but the Elephant graph really blew my mind when I first saw it- with nearly 50% of the world’s population living standards substantially raised, who cares if a few billionaires got rich in the process.

        • Ray Andrews says

          @Geary Johansen

          “who cares if a few billionaires got rich in the process”

          I care. But I make a very sharp distinction between innovators who got rich (Jobs, Musk, Bezos), and the sort of people who got rich just before ’08 selling financial fraud, and who were then bailed out at taxpayer’s expense. I’ve always wished it were possible to strip bare the richest people in the world, from the top down, and see what these people actually do. And whether or not it would really hurt if these folks paid taxes at even the rate of working people.

          One might say that ‘capitalism’ has lifted many people out of poverty and that’s doubtless true, defining the word very broadly, but at the end of the day what we have is what the workers produce, so if much of the 3d world is richer it is simply because they are producing more. It is questionable how many billionaires really contribute to this fact. Some of course, but some are only rent seekers.

          • Ardy says

            Ray you need to becareful about who you laud and who you decry. Life is not that simple. I understand that Musk only got Tesla off the ground by a 3 billion hand out (over time) from Obama. Is this rent seeking?

            The problem with huge amounts of money is many folded, ie how to hold onto it with a gang of ‘rent seeking’ lawyers coming up with bogus cases against you hoping to chip off 1/2 a mill, What to do with it during and after your life, family impacts ie children and wives who resent working and just want to live off the money and so it goes on. A very wealthy friend of mine stated that up to a point a few million is wonderful, once it gets to 10’s of millions it becomes an ongoing problem you have to deal with as it has impacts you never expected.

            QED don’t get too rich but being poor is no solution to happiness either!

            Please don’t quote Bhutan. We are westeners incapable of living in a 3rd world manner.

          • Ray Andrews says


            Interesting rebuttal! Yeah don’t take my list too literally, I’m just trying to make a point. Rentier capitalism and financeism are not the same thing as genuine entrepreneurial capitalism. The former suck wealth out, the latter put wealth in.

            “Please don’t quote Bhutan.”

            Did I? I admire their attitude, but they like cellphones too.

          • Geary Johansen says

            @ Ray Andrews

            Hello mate. One of the least well-known factors that created the conditions for the 2008 financial crash, was the US government. Both the Clinton and Bush administrations wanted to boost home ownership from 63% to 70%. In addition, they wanted to expand the availability of credit to traditionally marginalised groups- which was a great idea in principle- but would have been better accomplished by first removing the structural location/valuation barriers to home ownership, and creating better income and revenue stream within communities- through better community relationship management with financial institutions, instead of the failed government-based programs of the past.

            To their credit, the financial industry as a whole did raise substantial concerns with this policy (although any credit one might apportion them is negated by the fact that they were defending their own interest), to which they were told, don’t worry about that- we’ll bail you out, as we have done with the various S & L scandals of the past. This deeply embedded structural problem was only exacerbated by further deregulation of the finance sector, the bundling of sub-prime mortgages in with safer lending risks, the abandonment of income to lending ratios as a means of calculating maximum lending and the complete subordination of the credit rating system to the financial sector.

            Now this does not in any way mitigate the harm caused by the financial sector, or absolve individual actors of bad faith bordering on the criminal- but it does explain why only one person was ever charged with the monumental clusterfuck that was 2008 crash- because government, and both political parties in the US, were perfectly aware that their hands were implicated in the crash, and they knew that the major financial institutions in the US were perfectly aware where the bodies were buried and they didn’t want to implicate themselves. It’s a pattern reminiscent of congressional hearings on 9/11, in that politicians want to publicly apportion blame when things go wrong, but don’t want to claim their fair portion of it. On a broader note, it really does beg the question as to why the US government continues to chiefly rely on advice on the economy, from one big US firm in particular.

            On capitalism in general, it’s worth remembering that the real rate of return on capital, once you account for everything from taxes to risk to interest rates, is only about 9%. Now if you’ve read Thomas Piketty’s book this might seem alarming, until one considers that it’s only housing is a problem when it comes to rent-seeking- most capital can and should be invested in productive enterprise, especially given the structural risks inherent to investing in residential real estate. But in a more real sense, this 9% across the economy, is incredibly important from the point of view of buffering against catastrophic system-wide failure. Indeed, the crash itself was in part due to the fact that economics has never really found a satisfactory way of dealing with long-term debt cycles, other than periodic high inflation to diminish the debt.

          • ga gamba says

            … who were then bailed out at taxpayer’s expense.

            True, they were bailed out. Personally, I’d left them go under. Yet, I have to commend grudgingly those government officials who structured the deals. In the US, TARP’s loans were repaid with interest and the bailed out companies’ stock sold at a net profit, in aggregate. Fannie and Freddie received nearly $190 billion in bailout funds. However, the government has now [Jan 2017] netted more than $68 billion in profit from the investment. The government turned a profit of more than $13.4 billion on its Citigroup bailout. It also added $5 billion in profit from the American International Group bailout, $4.5 billion from the Bank of America bailout, and $3 billion from the GMAC bailout. In total, $623 billion in taxpayer money was dispersed via bailouts and roughly $698 billion has come back via dividend revenue, interest, fees and asset sales. Not all investments earned a profit. Most notably, GM lost the taxpayer $11.3 billion. The bailouts ultimately earned taxpayers more than $75 billion in profit, and that sum is still growing.

            A chipper outlook, isn’t it?

            It’s worth evaluating the riskiness of the bailouts and determine whether the return was commensurate to the risk. Given that no one else was willing to lend money to or buy these failing companies and banks, these were high-risk junk-grade investments. Is a 11% return over almost 10 years commensurate to the risk? Hell no.

            In the UK, as of March 2018, the £1,029 billion ($1.3 trillion) in guarantees and support provided, all but £46 billion ($58 billion) had been returned to the Treasury. The outstanding schemes and investments are loans to Northern Rock Bank and 62 per cent ownership of Royal Bank of Scotland that will be sold. Shares in the bank are worth less than half what was paid at time of £45 billion bailout in 2008 (502p per share in 2008 vice 230p per share presently). The Treasury plans to sell the entire public stake by 2023-2024.

            It is questionable how many billionaires really contribute to this fact.

            A problem with this sentiment is that often people look for a tangible item as proof of productivity. Yet, there is value to be found in intangible goods and services. Presumably guns aren’t being held to heads, so why would consumers buy these products? If the consumer finds value in it, such as an airline that buys petroleum futures to hedge its jet fuel cost months from now, I have no objection. It wants the security of forecasting what its future fuel cost will be, and it’s willing to pay a price to have this guaranteed. I just don’t want the taxpayer to be stuck with the bill if the contract sellers screw up their models and are left with an enormous shortfall.

      • Amin says

        @ E. Olson

        [[and I might add that “liberals” have been pushing the same tired Marxism as if it was some “new idea” for over 100 years even though it has been discredited everywhere except in academia and Labor/Democrat parties.]]

        This is not even remotely true. Yes, Marxism is part of left. But to say that is the only Left/Liberal has pushed is widely inaccurate. John Ruskin was a great Liberal, and on the outer edges of being 100 years old now, was one major figure who greatly defined Left’s ideals. And there are many, many others.

        As per usual, you post from sheer ignorance and/or wilful untruths that are oh so easy to expose.

        • Peter from Oz says

          Ruskin was a Liberal in the classical sense, not in the American sense.
          E. Olson’s comment was about the left who claim to be liberal but who are really collectivists. You cannot be a collectivist and be liberal.

          • Ray Andrews says

            @Peter from Oz

            The word should be quarantined because it can now mean two things which are almost exactly opposite each other.

          • E. Olson says

            Thank you Peter – you are exactly correct.

        • Ray Andrews says

          @Geary Johansen

          “Both the Clinton and Bush administrations wanted to boost home ownership from 63% to 70%.”

          All too true. There’s lots of guilt to go around. But it rather makes my point that there are great numbers of very rich people in the system who, far from creating value, actually destroy value thru their frauds and manipulations. That the government might have assisted in this does not change the fact of it even if it does smear out the guilt.

          “we’ll bail you out, as we have done with the various S & L scandals of the past”

          Yup. I respect your detailed understanding of the thing.

          “from one big US firm in particular”

          Indeed. Some say they own the government. Another thing that demi-socialists like myself worry about, when it comes to The Free Market is that winners tend to want to protect themselves from competition by Freely purchasing politicians to do their bidding.

          “Indeed, the crash itself was in part due to the fact that economics has never really found a satisfactory way of dealing with long-term debt cycles”

          Agreed. This gets over my head when it comes to the nitty-gritty details, but I always come back to Ray’s Law: We have what the workers have made for us — not a trinket more, not a trinket less. There is no such thing a debt in the sense that we have something before it is made. Of course we lend at interest, and yet somehow it always goes toxic when rich folks feel that they are entitled to see their dollars breed like mice irrespective of any investments in actual production. Right now the whole world is in debt, but that’s impossible. It isn’t healthy.

      • NashTiger says

        @E Olson

        They keep pushing Marxism, because it hasn’t Really been tried yet. At least not the right way by the right people. Without the human nature thingy. It does work great for bees and ants (though ants tend to get a little militant)

        • Geary Johansen says

          @ NashTiger

          You should watch FreedomToons on YouTube- the socialism one is hilarious.

    • Closed Range says


      There’s been a book on my to read list for a while which you might find interesting. It is Families without fatherhood by Norman Dennis, who was a left wing sociologist (in the old sense of pro-working class). He was very active with the Labour party but became gradually disillusioned with them. I can’t tell you exactly what it says or how well written it is but maybe it’s worth a look?

      • Geary Johansen says

        @ Closed Range

        Thanks. I’ll add it by my list. At the moment I’m reading ‘The New Jim Crow’, as a counterbalance to Heather Mac Donald’s ‘War on Cops’. I’ve also booked ‘Drawdown’ through my local library service, but as usual I’m being lazy with my reading (happened to spot ‘Fatherland’ by Robert Harris last time I went in to collect my reservations).

        • Closed Range says


          Fatherland by Robert Harris is excellent. I’ve read his second book Enigma, which I found a bit less interesting.

          • Geary Johansen says

            @ Closed Range

            I am also halfway through re-reading Dictator, which is the third in his trilogy about the life and times of Cicero, told from the perspective of his manservant. It’s a modern take, but very worthwhile nonetheless.

    • Shelby T. Hanna says

      I don’t think the presence of conservatives alone would disconfirm bad ideas like Postmodernism, as you suggest. I agree you need some level of diversity in thought within the whole academe, but am still skeptical of the idea that we should avoid intellectual traditions from developing that agree on assumptions. My idea here is partly inspired from Kuhn in The Structure of Scietific Revolutions (though I’m not fully endorsing him or the book). As long as those traditions are willing to engage with different traditions every now and then, I think the process Haidt talks about can occur (which is why I cite Brennan and Dennett). It’s when people are unwilling to engage in that process that there is a problem.

      And that unwillingness to engage with other opinions would be a problem even if it was an unwillingness to engage philosophers who had different opinions. I’m skeptical of trying to sociologically engineer any academic field on the grounds of the political ideology of the members who make up that field, largely because the norms and practices of that field emerge out of the individuals who compose the field. I’m especially opposed to attempts to sociological engineer a field for ideology where we don’t even have good information regarding the current shape of the idelogical landscape, like in academic philosophy.

      Additionally, from my understanding of the field, Postmodernism isn’t particularly in any position of prominence. That includes what I’ve gleaned from other philosophers, which is to say I don’t think that is strictly due to my not being able to examine the whole field. In that Brennan interview, he talks about how at plenty of places you might not get a job as an academic philosopher if you even express interest in people like Derrida (let alone if you specialize in him). It has mostly spread to other fields, from my understanding.

  3. Paul A. Thompson says

    All of the statistics done in this article are incorrect. You do not look at the relationship between counts of persons in one category and counts of persons in a cross-category with correlation. The author is invited to communicate with me at I’d be happy to revise this to present correct statistical methods.

    • Closed Range says


      Can you elaborate on the methodology issue for the benefit of the rest of the readership, and this humble fellow scientist?

      • Paul A. Thompson says

        Well, since I don’t have any info about what they are doing, I can’t. But correlation is not the method for looking at cross-classifications.

    • Shelby T. Hanna says

      Hey Paul,

      I’ll confess right now that I didn’t run any of my own statistical analysis. I was relying on what PhilPapers did (, and, additionally, I might have misunderstood how they were presenting them.


  4. X. Citoyen says

    Both of you and Rogers have lost the plot. How many or how few conservatives, libertarians, or communitarians there are in philosophy departments is neither here nor there, no matter how you define those terms. The problem isn’t the balance between right and left any more than it’s about a diversity of views.

    The battle is between philosophy as the pursuit of truth and philosophy as political activism—or, rather, using philosophy teaching positions to proselytize on behalf of your ideology, turning the whole curriculum into one long lecture about social justice, and using the hiring and granting processes to hire and reward fellow travelers. Everyone has his biases, to be sure, but only radical progressives intentionally do these things as a matter of course.

    I understand that this will surprise you because you’re surrounded by good liberals who, until they personally get bit by the beast, refuse to acknowledge that this has been going on for decades and that they’re losing.

    • X. Citoyen, Your verbal violence has triggered me. I’m currently hiding under my bed and curled up in a fetal position while clutching a kitten.

      Mommy and my therapist want me to come out but not even freshly baked chocolate chip cookies can overcome my paralysis.

      I hope your happy.

    • NashTiger says

      Well, there it is.
      “The battle is between X as the pursuit of truth and X as political activism, or rather using X teaching positions to proselytize on behalf of ideology”

      You had X = Philosophy, but it also could be Sociology, Psychology, Cultural Anthropology, any of the ‘soft’ sciences on up to and including Climate Science, and surprisingly bleeding over into Theoretical Physics and Astrophysics.

      That is what has happened in Academia the last 50 years, really the last 25 years where the progressive gatekeepers have successfully marginalized and then eliminated the heterodox.

      And with that a rise of the cornucopia of crapola fields of “Studies” , based around any and all subsets other than cisgender heterosexual white male christians

      • Ha. All the really toxic fights in philosophy are about such politically fraught matters as Lewis’s modal realism.

        • X. Citoyen says


          I was going to let this go because it’s a old self-deprecating joke that philosophers tell. But the fact is, it’s more self-deluding than self-deprecating nowadays, and you probably know it. Eve Browning’s speech to Alfred MacDonald (google it) contains more truth about philosophy department politics than your old canard.

  5. codadmin says

    A ‘classical liberal’ implies the existence of a ‘modern liberal’.

    What is a ‘modern liberal’, however? And more importantly are they actually liberal?

  6. I worked in academic philosophy for a long time. There are libertarians, classical liberals, but very few conservatives. There are conservative people who work in areas of the subject that have little to do with politics (W.V Quine would be a classic example of this type) and those who work in a religious tradition, like Catholicism. Outside that, there’s hardly anyone.

    The reason is that strictly conservative principles tend to be either non-existent, otiose, or rationally indefensible (when theological claims are excluded). Libertarians at least have some principles to defend, even if it doesn’t quite work in the end (see Karl Widerquist on the Libertarian’s Dilemma). There are plenty of wacky theories endorsed by philosophers, but that’s because these have at least some principles to defend.

    It’s also true that very few academic philosophers in English speaking philosophy have time for “postmodernism” or whatever you want to call that French claptrap. It’s funny that people mention Jordan Peterson, since he’s regarded by philosophers as someone who specialises in weird, European rubbish (Jung).

    Rational defences of conservatism usually revolve around practical constraints that apply to moral principles, and this takes us away from the realm of concepts and value to empirical matters, which don’t really figure that much in philosophy. This may be a problem for philosophy but it’s rooted in the peculiarities of the subject rather than any political bias.

    • Geary Johansen says

      @ A

      Great comment. I wonder whether multidisciplinary courses like PPE tend to attract more psychological conservatives. I also wonder whether Adam Smith taught in combination with the utilitarian philosophers might produce a naturally conservative school. I also think that there s probably a very lucrative and culturally significant publishing opportunity for any open-minded professor willing to work with Sir Roger Scruton, to define what a conservative philosophy might actually look like.

      You’re probably right that in the past conservatism tended to suffer from the ‘appeal to knowledge’ fallacy, but I rather think that’s more true of the illiberal left these days.

    • Samedi says

      “Conservative principles tend to be either non-existent, otiose, or rationally indefensible” is painting with a rather broad brush. Is respect for tradition and a healthy skepticism of change rationally indefensible? Hardly. Conservatives (those favoring constancy) and liberals (those favoring change) are equally important in any group. Too much conservatism leads to ossification, to much liberalism leads to chaos. A good balance between them can result in slow but steady progress. Radicals are always in a hurry and in their haste create more problems than they solve.

      • Geary Johansen says

        @ Samedi

        Good comment. The principal problem with radicals in the modern context is that, even moreso than the average human, they lack the capacity to vet their own ideas. It’s not just an absence of conservatives in universities in certain fields, it’s also a wilful feature of the ideology.

      • “Is respect for tradition and a healthy skepticism of change rationally indefensible?”

        As a prescriptive principle, yes, it is rationally indefensible. It’s just as daft as being for change at all costs. As a post hoc description of an attitude, it’s fine, but that doesn’t tell us what to do. We need evidence based policy, not blind prejudice against change. A lot of conservatism boils down to FUD.

        Ted Honderich was once hired to write a book on conservative political philosophy. In his autobiography, he says he found it really hard to do, because there’s just not a lot of philosophical content there.

        Also, conservatives increasingly have nothing to offer in discussions of social ethics, because their views tend to require a religious perspective and religious perspectives are hopeless unless others share them, which in a pluralistic society they do not.

        For example, many many years ago we had a module on whether homosexuality was morally acceptable and should be illegal. We had to stop teaching it, because there just aren’t any plausible non-religious arguments against homosexuality.

        It’s now the same for euthanasia, which opponents have little more than scaremongering to back them up and public anti-euthanasia groups (at least in my country) are fronts for religious people. One of the most widely syndicated anti-euthanasia articles used in classes is a fake, written by a liberal because existing anti-euthanasia articles were so bad. Abortion is going the same way as well.

        There are topics where this is not the case, such as capital punishment and affirmative action, but on a lot of things conservatives just don’t have much in the way of argument to offer a secular society other than FUD.

        • Samedi says

          You seem to be conflating conservative with religious. Some conservatives are religious but not all. It is not a defining feature. Just like some liberals are socialists but it would be incorrect to call all liberals socialists.

          Perhaps we don’t share the same understanding of the term “conservative” and “tradition”. By tradition I mean traditions such as the requirement for sound logical argumentation in support of one’s position, the primacy of empirical evidence, and the free exchange of ideas. I am very skeptical of ideas that attempt to undermine these traditions. This is not to say that traditional ideas are always right, of course they aren’t. Every idea, ultimately, requires justification. Traditional ideas represent, by analogy with scientific practice, the “null hypothesis”. The null hypothesis isn’t always correct but those wishing to overturn it have the primary burden of proof.

          Being careful with change seems like an urgent topic to me. Apparently we have learned nothing from the sordid history of the 20th century. In biological evolution most mutations (i.e. changes) are harmful and very few are beneficial. Evolution is consequently conservative. Furthermore, in complex dynamic systems it is notoriously difficult to make change without severe unintended consequences. Our ability to model changes to such systems, when we even bother, is poor. The tragedy of liberalism (in the contemporary sense) is that the apparently kind thing to do often leads to worse longer term consequences. For these reasons I would argue that a conservative approach to change is not only rational but the most rational approach.

          • “By tradition I mean traditions such as the requirement for sound logical argumentation in support of one’s position, the primacy of empirical evidence, and the free exchange of ideas.”

            These things are firmly baked into modern Analytic philosophy. Everyone agrees on them so they can’t be markers of conservatism.

            If you look at John Rawls, Gerry Cohen, Robert Nozick, or pretty much any other Analytic political philosopher, you get a set of argued-for, action guiding principles that provide a measure of a just society. That’s what conservatism lacks, apparently by design. Conservatism is, in a way, anti-philosophy.

          • “Furthermore, in complex dynamic systems it is notoriously difficult to make change without severe unintended consequences.”

            We’ve already made these changes. Part of the problem with conservatism is that it assumes, by fiat, that the default position is sustainable. However, we’ve had a few hundred years of very radical change that has radically reshaped our impact on the environment. Business as usual won’t work in the long run.

    • X. Citoyen says


      The reason is that strictly conservative principles tend to be either non-existent, otiose, or rationally indefensible (when theological claims are excluded).

      Methinks we’re getting more feelings than observations. Or perhaps, like the author of this piece, you’re looking for a brand that has (1) only existed within liberal democracies since Burke, (2) arose in opposition to radicalism, and thus (3) comes in a number of different forms. For that matter, if you lump the history of philosophy into “radicals/progressive” and “not radicals/progressives,” most political philosophers would be conservatives in the sense I’m using it.

    • Shelby T. Hanna says

      I think you’re probably right about some of what we’re talking about being rooted in the peculiarities of the field rather than explicit political bias.

      If the SEP article is any indication, a part of why one might think conservative principles are rationally indefensible might be because conservatism is skeptical about the power of reason. It might be said that conservatism operates under a strong presumption of epistemic uncertainty regarding what we can know RE: moral principles and trying to perfect them. Perhaps that’s another way of saying “practical constraints”.

      I suppose I’d also underscore some of what Samedia said regarding religion and evolutionary thinking.

      • Basically, yeah. It sort of means that “conservative political philosophy” turns out to be somewhat of an oxymoron, even if rationally defensible positions on some issues could correctly be labelled conservative.

  7. David of Kirkland says

    I think all the labels are so confused nowadays as to be nearly meaningless.
    For example, I think transgender people suffer some form of mental/sexual dysphoria. But I don’t think government needs to protect them specially, or criminalize them specially. I think I should be free to decide if I want to hang out with transgender people, but that government must treat them equally.
    I am for government egalitarianism per equal protection under the law; but I don’t think government should provide for all in any equal way. Equal rights and protection are different from ensuring equality by force.
    Humans should be kind and generous and be charitable. But that goodness is destroyed by coercion of central planning.
    I think government should tax to cover its expenses; and while I wouldn’t agree with many government programs, if the citizens accept and pay the taxes necessary to operate them, so be it (that’s what happens in democracy, in nations and in families). Debt is fine for long-term capital improvements, but not for operations other than in an emergency. So some would say that’s fiscally conservative, but I’ve not seen the left or right do this in practice. And I’d allow for government provided health insurance if people paid for it, so I’m not for such a plan, but would accept it.

  8. Christopher Chantrill says

    Look. All universities are ideological forcing houses, seminaries devoted to maintaining some ruling-class religious tradition.

    Used to be that universities were there to produce priests and ministers for the state church. Then the Germans invented the research university to make Germany strong enough to beat the French. Boy, did they succeed!

    Now the university is designed to preserve the administrative state of the educated ruling class and various lefty churches and cults. Boy, does it ever!

    If you want the university to preserve the ruling ideology of the day before yesterday, ain’t gonna happen. If you want the university to create a new philosophy that challenges the status quo, ain’t gonna happen.

    If you want real philosophy — or real religion — you better look around for people currently regarded as madmen and charlatans by all the best people. Don’t expect anything out of the current crop of academic bureaucrats.

  9. The Count says

    I’m all for the debate of this issue, but let it never be said that philosophers always show superior and serious scholarly rectitude relative to more lowly empiricists. The section above is odd: “r = 0.081, p = 0.026). Interestingly, 31.4 percent of specialists in “Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy” supported libertarianism (r = 0.076, p = 0.037)”. This shows either the sample was so massive that anything is true ( which I suppose some po-mos might like) or that they don’t understand stats, give that an r of 0.1 (higher than the coefficients here, of 0.081 and 0.076) would explain just 1% of the observed variance. If anything is found here, it is so trivial as to not be worth reporting. At least not using the spurious precision of statistics.

    • Sardonicus says

      It might be these are regression betas, but the point still holds that these results are trivial and that stats are being reported incorrectly but being used to obtain the slap of scientific authority.

  10. Photondancer says

    This article seems weird to me. PhilPapers is open to all, not just USAians, so talking about how many of its authors vote for Republicans is inapplicable.

    Also philosophers, especially analytical philosophers, spend much of their time considering definitions. Since the terms ‘left’, ‘right’, ‘conservative’ don’t have agreed meanings it’s hardly likely they’d be used in a survey.

    • Shelby T. Hanna says

      In some ways, that was kind of the point or at least underscore the point that we don’t have enough information to know about the ideological shape of the field with great precision.

  11. Urusigh says

    ‘The norms of any discipline emerge, at least partly, from the psychological traits of the people in the field. As Rogers puts it, openness to new ideas is “the philosophical character trait par excellence” and correlates with political liberalism. Activism intended to include more of a certain political ideology in any field, however, changes the psychological make-up of the field and might adversely affect its norms.’

    That’s an ironically conservative sentiment, given that you display concern for the possible adverse consequences of changing a status quo, but don’t likewise devote any attention to the positive possibility of the introduction of more conservatives instead improving the norms of the field.

    This places you in something of a contradiction, if openness to new ideas is indeed the defining character trait of philosophers, then why have they proven so reluctant to engage with ideas from conservatives? Indeed, judging by this article, you yourself aren’t particularly open to experimenting in this way. With all due credit to Rogers, the correlation to political liberalism is exactly why it may be necessary to encourage more ideological conservatives within the field. As Haidt & Lukoff have shown, political liberals usually aren’t reasoning from the full set of moral bases. As further research has shown (at least in America), the more highly educated a Democrat (which likewise correlates with personality trait openness, the less able they are to accurately describe or model the beliefs of other political viewpoints, particularly conservative viewpoints. Conversely, conservatives were largely accurate in describing and modeling liberal beliefs and showed no such decrease in ability from higher education. It should be obvious that an inability to accurately model competing systems of thought is detrimental to a philosopher. Further, research has also shown that self-identified liberals are neither any more tolerant of nor open to their out groups and associated concepts than conservatives are, they just have a different set of out groups they marginalize (such as traditional religious believers).

    Bluntly, that means that conservatives can navigate within the norms of liberal-characterized spaces just fine, but ivory tower liberals by themselves have psychological and moral blind spots that you could drive a metaphorical freight train through and their much vaunted “openness to new ideas” is in fact only openness to “certain” ideas, those that do not stray outside their limited moral bases and in-group sympathies, flaws that are worsened by ideological monoculture group polarization. To sum, seeking truth while leaving the field in the hands of a left-wing monoculture is like trying to drive a cross-country trip in a car that can’t turn to the right. The car may keep moving, but it’s going to spend more time going in circles than making progress toward its destination and will certainly take far longer to get there than a vehicle without such a handicap.

    “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion… Nor is it enough that he should hear the opinions of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them…he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.”
    John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

    I would add that he must hear them from people he respects enough to listen to, which is easiest accomplished for people in the same field, not left to voluntary and infrequent interdisciplinary efforts.

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