New Philosophy

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What are the pitfalls and promises of experimental philosophy?

In its degenerate forms, experimental philosophy could resemble philosophy by opinion poll, but that is not its goal or method. Rather, the view is that before relying on ordinary intuitions, philosophers should check what non-philosophers actually believe. That is, if philosophical theories depend on a certain view of intuitions, then philosophers should begin with the empirically accurate view: they should make sure that when they say the public thinks X, that the public does think X. The promise of philosophy is that experimental philosophy has the potential to make social and political philosophy more scientific.

This does not deprive philosophers of the freedom to construct theories that explain why ordinary intuitions are incorrect, insofar as they are complex judgments and not mere expressions of taste. Recent work in experimental philosophy includes: Joshua Knobe and Shaun Nichols, Experimental Philosophy (2008); Joshua Knobe, “Intentional Action in Folk Psychology: An Experimental Investigation,” in Philosophical Psychology, 16, (2003); and K. Anthony Appiah, Experiments in Ethics (2008). Critical responses to experimental philosophy include: Ernest Sosa, “Experimental Philosophy and Philosophical Intuition,” in Philosophical Studies, 132 (2006); Kirk Ludwig, “The Epistemology of Thought Experiments: First vs. Third Person Approaches,” in Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 31 (2007); and Antti Kauppinen, “The Rise and Fall of Experimental Philosophy,” in Philosophical Explorations, 10 (2007).


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