Experimental philosophy

Experimental philosophy

Experimental philosophy is a form of philosophical inquiry that makes at least partial use of quantitative research—especially "opinion polling"—in order to address philosophical questions. This is in contrast with more traditional methods found in analytic philosophy, whereby a philosopher will frequently begin by appealing to his or her intuitions on an issue and then form an argument with those intuitions as premises. [Knobe (forthcoming).] Experimental philosophy is a recent movement—all or almost all published papers in the movement date from after 2000. As of December 2007, Joshua Knobe's experimental philosophy page lists more than 50 individuals who have done research in experimental philosophy.

Disagreement about what experimental philosophy can accomplish and what experimental philosophers are trying to accomplish is widespread. One possibility is that experimental philosophers are studying empirical questions which are connected to philosophy so far as they concern traditional philosophical topics. Others claim that experimental philosophers are engaged in conceptual analysis, but taking advantage of the rigor of quantitative research to aid in that project. Finally, some work in experimental philosophy can be seen as undercutting the traditional methods and presuppositions of analytic philosophy. [Machery, Edouard. [http://experimentalphilosophy.typepad.com/experimental_philosophy/2007/07/index.html "What are Experimental Philosophers Doing?"] .]

Topics studied by experimental philosophers have included, but are not limited to: the concept of intentional action, the putative conflict between free will and determinism, causal vs. descriptive accounts of reference and Gettier cases.

Intentional action

A prominent topic in experimental philosophy is intentional action. Work by Joshua Knobe has especially been influential. "The Knobe Effect", as it is often called, concerns an asymmetry in our judgments of whether an agent intentionally performed an action. Knobe (2003a) asked people to suppose that the CEO of a corporation is presented with a proposal that would, as a side effect, affect the environment. In one version of the scenario, the effect on the environment will be negative (it will "harm" it), while in another version the effect on the environment will be positive (it will "help" it). In both cases, the CEO opts to pursue the policy and the effect does occur (the environment is harmed or helped by the policy). However, the CEO only adopts the program because he wants to raise profits; he does not care about the effect that the action will have on the environment. Although all features of the scenarios are held constant—except for whether the side effect on the environment will be positive or negative—a majority of people judge that the CEO intentionally hurt the environment in the one case, but did not intentionally help it in the other. Knobe ultimately argues that the effect is a reflection of a feature of the speakers' underlying concept of intentional action: broadly moral considerations affect whether we judge that an action is performed intentionally. However, his exact views have changed in response to further research.

Cultural Diversity

Following the work of Richard Nisbett, which showed that there were differences in a wide range of cognitive tasks between Westerners and East Asians, Jonathan Weinberg, Shaun Nichols and Stephen Stich (2001) compared epistemic intuitions of Western college students and East Asian college students. The students were presented with a number of cases, including some Gettier cases, and asked to judge whether a person in the case really knew some fact or merely believed it. They found that the East Asian subjects were more likely to judge that the subjects really knew. Later, a Edouard Machery, Ron Mallon, Nichols and Stich performed a similar experiment concerning intuitions about the reference of proper names, using cases from Saul Kripke's "Naming and Necessity" (1980). Again, they found significant cultural differences. Each group of authors argued that these cultural variances undermined the philosophical project of using intuitions to create theories of knowledge or reference.


Antti Kauppinen (2007) has argued that intuitions will not reflect the content of folk concepts unless they are intuitions of competent concept users who reflect in ideal circumstances and whose judgments reflect the semantics of their concepts rather than pragmatic considerations. Experimental philosophers are aware ofthese concerns,Fact|date=February 2007 and have in some cases explicitly argued against pragmatic explanations of the phenomena they study.Fact|date=February 2007 In turn, Kauppinen has arguedFact|date=February 2007 that any satisfactory way of ensuring his three conditions are met would involve dialogue with the subject that would be engaging in traditional philosophy.

In History

In early modern philosophy, natural philosophy was sometimes referred to as experimental philosophy.


References and further reading

* Kauppinen, A. (2007). "The Rise and Fall of Experimental Philosophy". "Philosophical Explorations" 10 (2), pp. 95-118. [http://www.helsinki.fi/%7Eamkauppi/phil/The_Rise_and_Fall_of_Experimental_Philosophy.pdf (link)]
* Knobe, J. (forthcoming). "What is Experimental Philosophy?" "The Philosophers' Magazine". [http://www.unc.edu/~knobe/ExperimentalPhilosophy.pdf (link)]
* Knobe, J. (2003a). "Intentional action and side effects in ordinary language". "Analysis" 63, pp. 190-193. [http://www.unc.edu/~knobe/Side-Effect.pdf (link)]
* Knobe, J. (2003b). "Intentional action in folk psychology: An experimental investigation". "Philosophical Psychology" 16, pp. 309-324. [http://www.unc.edu/~knobe/IntentionSkill.pdf (link)]
* Knobe, J. (2004). "Intention, Intentional Action and Moral Considerations". "Analysis" 64, pp. 181-187.
* Knobe, J. & Nichols, S. (eds.) (2008). "Experimental Philosophy". Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195323262
* Kripke, S. (1980). "Naming and Necessity". Harvard University Press.
* Machery, E., Mallon, R., Nichols, S., & Stich, S. (2004). "Semantics, Cross-Cultural Style". "Cognition" 92, pp. B1-B12.
* Nichols, S. (2002). "How Psychopaths Threaten Moral Rationalism: Is It Irrational to Be Amoral?" "The Monist" 85, pp. 285-304.
* Nichols, S. (2004). "After Objectivity: An Empirical Study of Moral Judgment". "Philosophical Psychology" 17, pp. 5-28.
* Nichols, S. and Folds-Bennett, T. (2003). "Are Children Moral Objectivists? Childrens Judgments about Moral and Response-Dependent Properties". "Cognition" 90, pp. B23-32.
* Weinberg, J., Nichols, S., & Stich, S. (2001). "Normativity and Epistemic Intuitions". "Philosophical Topics" 29, pp. 429-460.

External links

* [http://www.unc.edu/~knobe/ExperimentalPhilosophy.html The Experimental Philosophy Page] - by Josh Knobe.
* [http://experimentalphilosophy.typepad.com/ The Experimental Philosophy Blog] - with several prominent contemporary philosophers as contributors.
* [http://www.slate.com/id/2137223/ The X-Philes: Philosophy Meets the Real World] - an article in "Slate" on experimental philosophy by Jon Lackman.
* [http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/09/magazine/09wwln-idealab-t.html?_r=1&oref=slogin The New New Philosophy] - an article by Kwame Anthony Appiah in "The New York Times" about experimental philosophy.
* [http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=17815241 The 'Next Big Thing' in Ideas] - an installment of Talk of the Nation on NPR about experimental philosophy in which Appiah is interviewed.
* [http://philosophy.uwaterloo.ca/MindDict/experimentalphilosophy.html Experimental Philosophy] - an entry by Knobe in the Online Dictionary of Philosophy of Mind.

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