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Our panel of 88 professional philosophers has responded to

Question of the day

Philosophers are routinely asked these questions, whereas (say) physicists never are. I'm not sure that's fair. If the task of physics is to discover the fundamental laws governing the physical world, then there's no guarantee that physics can accomplish that task. For one thing, there may not be fundamental physical laws; it may be that for every physical law, there's a more basic physical law that implies it, without end. (The alternatives seem to be that some physical laws are not just physically but metaphysically necessary, which seems implausible, or that some physical facts are inexplicable and therefore not explained by physics.) Even if fundamental physical laws do exist, physicists can't reasonably claim to have discovered them given (for example) the ongoing disputes over how to reconcile general relativity with quantum mechanics. Are physicists therefore wasting their time? Some of the controversies in biology (e.g., abiogenesis; one tree of life or more than one?) seem just as hard to resolve, but no one asks if biologists are wasting their time.

It's a caricature of philosophy that it never makes progress in answering its questions. If that were so, then we'd expect that all of the answers that once commanded a large following among the experts would still command a large following. But a glance at the Phil Papers survey results shows otherwise: idealism in ontology used to command a much larger following among experts than it now does (currently just 4%); so too with the sense-datum theory of perception (now just 3%) and theism (now less than 15%). Even where the experts remain more equally divided, philosophy has made progress in refining and sharpening the questions themselves and in avoiding fallacies and other mistakes that past philosophers made in answering them. By the standards that people seem to apply to physics and biology, this effort hasn't been a waste of time or energy.