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What is Experimental Philosophy?. … and what is its value?. Eddy Nahmias Georgia State University SPP Workshop 2008. What Experimental Philosophy is not …. An attempt to solve philosophical debates by polling the folk … An attempt to replace “old-fashioned” philosophical methods …

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what is experimental philosophy

What is Experimental Philosophy?

… and what is its value?

Eddy Nahmias

Georgia State University

SPP Workshop 2008

what experimental philosophy is not
What Experimental Philosophy is not …
  • An attempt to solve philosophical debates by polling the folk …
  • An attempt to replace

“old-fashioned” philosophical methods …

  • An entirely new movement.
  • A movement limited to polling the folk.
  • An entirely unified movement.
what experimental philosophy is
What Experimental Philosophy is
  • An attempt to supplement traditional philosophical methods with systematic, controlled studies, including but not limited to, surveys of non-philosophers’ intuitions about a variety of philosophical issues …
  • from epistemology to action theory (e.g., intentionality, free will) to ethics (trolleyology!) to the philosophy of mind, of language, of law, and of science.
  • One part of a more general trend of “empirically informed philosophy” (Doris and Stich) or “empirical philosophy” (Prinz), but rather than collecting data like experimental philosophers, empirical philosophers mine data, making “use of empirical results that have been acquired by professional scientists…. to support or refute philosophical theories.”
“Experimental philosophy is the name for a recent movement whose participants use the methods of experimental psychology to probe the way people make judgments that bear on debates in philosophy. Although the movement has a name, it includes a variety of projects driven by different interests, assumptions, and goals.”

Nadelhoffer and Nahmias, “The Past and Future of Experimental Philosophy” (Philosophical Explorations 2007)

“Experimental philosophers proceed by conducting experimental investigations of the psychological processes underlying people’s intuitions about central philosophical issues. Again and again, these investigations have challenged familiar assumptions, showing that people do not actually think about these issues in anything like the way philosophers had assumed.”

Knobe and Nichols “Manifesto” in Experimental Philosophy (OUP 2008)

motivations for experimental philosophy
Motivations for Experimental Philosophy
  • In almost every area of philosophy, philosophers make numerous appeals to ordinary intuitions and commonsense to support their thought experiments, conceptual claims, arguments (e.g., basic premises), burden shifting moves, etc.
  • Experimental philosophers share (1) a skepticism about the accuracy of these claims made from the armchair about what actually is intuitive, common sense, ordinary concept use, etc. (worries about theory contamination, cross-cultural diversity, cognitive biases, etc.)
  • And they share (2) a confidence that intuitions, conceptual usage, and the psychological processes that generate them can be studied using systematic experimental methods … though sometimes it is very difficult to do this (well).
who counts as an experimental philosopher
Who counts as an Experimental Philosopher?
  • Whoever wants to be counted … within reason!
  • Professional philosophers (including graduate students) who perform experiments, the results of which arguably inform philosophical debates.
  • Psychologists, neuroscientists, linguists, and other cognitive scientists who do experiments, the results of which arguably inform philosophical debates? However, this is probably too broad because it includes all the scientists whose results are used by empirical philosophers, so we might narrow it to include only those scientists who explicitly aim to obtain results relevant to philosophical issues and who write about these issues.
methods of experimental philosophy
Methods of Experimental Philosophy
  • See presentations to follow.
  • Most philosophers have run surveys on non-philosophers asking for judgments about various scenarios, but…
  • with increasingly complex manipulations and statistics, online resources, branching, open-ended questions, cross-cultural studies, etc.
  • Goal is to get at “robust intuitions” as well as “surface intuitions.”
  • Psychologists and cognitive scientists have used fMRI studies, behavioral studies, introspective studies, etc.
three projects of experimental philosophy see nadelhoffer and nahmias 2007
Three projects of Experimental Philosophy(see Nadelhoffer and Nahmias 2007)
  • Sometimes interrelated, sometimes in conflict…
  • Experimental Analysis (EA): systematic studies of intuitions to help set the targets and boundaries for conceptual analysis and revision.
  • Experimental Descriptivism (ED): systematic studies of the psychological processes that generate intuitions, often with goal of determining which processes (and hence which intuitions) may be unreliable.
  • Experimental Restrictivism (ER): systematic studies of cross-cultural diversity of intuitions and cognitive biases that suggest intuitions lack evidential value for philosophical investigations.
value of experimental philosophy
Value of Experimental Philosophy?
  • See above: testing philosophers’ (numerous) claims about folk intuitions and concepts, exploring psychological sources of philosophical intuitions and their reliability, etc.
  • But see (especially) what will follow in this workshop.
  • Plus three good side-effects:
  • New way of highlighting meta-philosophical questions @
    • the nature and evidentiary status of intuitions.
    • relations between intuitions, theories, concepts.
    • methods and goals of conceptual analysis and reflective equilibrium.
  • Fruitful interdisciplinary interactions and collaborations among philosophers and scientists.
  • Exciting projects for grad students (and great way for professors to collaborate with them and learn from them).
some questions and potential objections to consider during this workshop
Some questions and potential objections to consider during this workshop
  • Is there something properly called “experimental philosophy”? In what ways, if any, is it new?
  • To what extent is experimental philosophy focused on folk intuitions? To the extent that it is, why should we care about the way the (untutored) folk think about complex philosophical issues?
  • Even if we do care about folk intuitions, do we really need to run experiments to understand them? (Compare Kauppinen’s “Dialogue and Reflection Model”)
  • What philosophical questions are ripe for exploration by experimental philosophers?
  • Are the methods used by experimental philosophers getting at what they aim for? Are there better methods they could use?
  • The meta-philosophical questions: What are (folk) intuitions, concepts, theories and relations between them? How should they be studied? What role should they play in philosophical theorizing?