My PhilPapers Philosophical Positions survey answers

12-6-19: I just saw that someone actually read this, so I wanted to note that a lot of my positions have changed since I filled this out however many years ago. I’m leaving it up, but it’s outdated. 

I originally filled this out to answer in response to a Quora question: How does Holly Elmore respond to the PhilPapers “What are your Philosophical Positions?” survey? Forgive my ignorance on some of these questions.

A priori knowledge: yes or no?

  • Some a priori beliefs are justified, but they can be undercut by new evidence. It’s hard to see how tautologies or logical absolutes could be undercut by any new information, although I could imagine that being the case if the new information violated some unrecognized assumption (like the assumption in Euclidean geometry that all the shapes are on a flat surface).

Abstract objects: Platonism or nominalism? Not sure

  • Not really sure what everyone else means by these terms. I think I do believe in universals but not really sure if there are abstract objects. I’m not really knowledgeable enough on the philosophy here.

Aesthetic value: objective or subjective?

  • My real answer is “both.” Aesthetic judgments all come from subjective entities (brains), but natural selection rewards aesthetic tastes that  tend to reflect objective qualities. Also, there’s some objective truth about how subjectively beautiful people find something even if it’s in flux and impossible to find out. There are objective third person facts about first person experiences.

Analytic-synthetic distinction: yes or no? maybe?

  • I think some statements might as well be analytically true because they depend only on the most basic facts about the world. Ultimately, though I think the truth of a statement has to be in relation to the external world. I am sure I don’t understand everything at stake in this argument.

Epistemic justification: internalism or externalism?

  • Is this a descriptive or a normative question? Descriptively, I think almost everyone is an internalist. In the limit, it’s hard to see how anyone could be anything but. Normatively, we should strive to be externalist. Most claims could only ever in fact be justified by external facts.

External world: idealism, skepticism, or non-skeptical realism?

  • Can’t prove it but think it’s overwhelmingly likely to be true.

Free will: compatibilism, libertarianism, or no free will?

God: theism or atheism?

Knowledge: empiricism or rationalism?

  • It’s straight-up false that there’s “nothing in the mind that was not first in the senses.” We are born with drives, instincts, and leanings. Just being able to learn from our senses requires a complex machine from day one.
  • There’s a sense in which our knowledge is all empirical, which is that all of our innate knowledge was put there by natural selection, which ultimately means that it’s molded by the external world (though beyond the traditional senses). However, a lot of the “knowledge” we possess innately isn’t actually justified or true, but merely a useful heuristic to adhere to.

Knowledge claims: contextualism, relativism, or invariantism?

  • Contextualist with regard to the statement. Invariantist with regard to the statement+context. For example, if George Bush said “I am president,” that would be false during Obama’s term. If George Bush said “I am president” during his own term, the fact that the statement was true is invariant. (I may not understand the subtleties of how these terms are usually employed.)

Laws of nature: Humean or non-Humean?

Logic: classical or non-classical?

  • Don’t honestly know enough mathematical logic, but I trust those who do seem to get it that classical logic has some pitfalls.

Mental content: internalism or externalism? Pass

  • The terms of this debate have gotten too convoluted for me to follow.

Meta-ethics: moral realism or moral anti-realism?

Metaphilosophy: naturalism or non-naturalism?

Mind: physicalism or non-physicalism?

Moral judgment: cognitivism or non-cognitivism?

Moral motivation: internalism or externalism? Both?

  • Again, descriptive or normative? Either way, it seems like it’s obviously  both… I think I’m missing some context here.

Newcomb’s problem: one box or two boxes?

  • This is the first time I’ve heard about it. I have to think about it.

Normative ethics: deontology, consequentialism, or virtue ethics?

Perceptual experience: disjunctivism, qualia theory, representationalism, or sense-datum theory?

Personal identity: biological view, psychological view, or further-fact view?

  • Very convinced by Parfit’s writings on identity.

Politics: communitarianism, egalitarianism, or libertarianism? utilitarianism

  • Whatever works (=maximizes utility)

Proper names: Fregean or Millian?

  • I think? This is the first I’ve heard of this version of the argument, though a similar thing comes up a lot in Linguistics (maybe it was this and I just didn’t know). I might be reading unnuanced accounts of the Millian position, but it seems wrong to me. We can definitely have sensible names for things for which there is no actual referent, and there can be names that only apply to their referent in the right context. Unless you count an imagined but mutually agreed upon concept as a referent…

Science: scientific realism or scientific anti-realism?

Teletransporter (new matter): survival or death?

  • I basically think Derek Parfit is right on everything he says about subjective experience. In a sense, the self of the person who went into the teletransporter lives on in the new person who comes out on the other side with their memories, just as a person’s self can live on in the minds of others that it influence (as was influenced by in turn), but in terms of conscious experience, the person who went into the teletransporter is dead.

Time: A-theory or B-theory?

  • I have a strong intuition for B-theory, but I don’t know what could prove or disprove it to me. Since I was a child I was convinced time was an illusion, but obviously I had no principled basis for such a belief at the time. I remember being shocked that time could be accounted for in physics, but later feeling strangely vindicated when I learned that it’s a deep question why time only moves in one direction. It’s possible that I’m not adopting a broad enough perspective, and that if I zoomed out far enough on my own intuitions I would see an A-theory concept of time so deeply-ingrained that it was invisible to me.
  • It’s also my impression that B theory has the greater scientific grounding, but, again, don’t really know what could address the ultimate question.

Trolley problem (five straight ahead, one on side track, turn requires switching, what ought one do?): switch or don’t switch?

  • Obvi

Truth: correspondence, deflationary, or epistemic?

  • Another case of convoluted terminology. I definitely disagree with the deflationary account (although I’m not sure I even understand what it means).

Zombies: inconceivable, conceivable but not metaphysically possible, or metaphysically possible?

  • Again, not sure if I understand everything that goes into this philosophical argument. If the premise is that every fact about the physical world is the same in the zombie world, then I say the p-zombies are conceivable but not metaphysically possible, since I think consciousness arises from physical facts. If all the physical facts are exactly the same, there must also be consciousness. Although I definitely get the point of the exercise– I can absolutely conceive of a philosophical zombie.
  • Like, I don’t see this argument as disproof of physicalism just because it’s conceivable that a zombie could appear (operative word) to be conscious without the lights actually being on:
  1. According to physicalism, all that exists in our world (including consciousness) is physical.
  2. Thus, if physicalism is true, a metaphysically possible world in which all physical facts are the same as those of the actual world must contain everything that exists in our actual world. In particular, conscious experience must exist in such a possible world.
  3. In fact we can conceive of a world physically indistinguishable from our world but in which there is no consciousness (a zombie world). From this (so Chalmers argues) it follows that such a world is metaphysically possible.
  4. Therefore, physicalism is false. (The conclusion follows from 2. and 3. by modus tollens.)
  • All that^ proves as far as I’m concerned is that we can conceive of such a world. In order to actually realize that world, some fact (however small or slight) would have to be different to lead to there being no consciousness.
  • On the other hand, I accept that consciousness is the preeminent fact of existence. I am conscious before anything else I know. It is possible that everything I think I know about the physical world and the physical basis of consciousness is spurious (solipsism). I don’t see any reason to think that is in fact the case.


And… which of the following philosophers do you identify with?

The philosophers available to choose from for the “which philosophers do you identify with?” question were:


























Rawls (only because I love the Veil of Ignorance thought experiment, not because I think justice is a terminal value)







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