Tuesday, February 01, 2011

"Experimental" Philosophy

Ugh. I'm not going to get into the details here, but you may have heard of the latest fad in philosophy, "experimental philosophy." "Hey," you might think..."that's awesome; it'd be great if we could get experimental data to bear on philosophical problems!" And you'd be right. Unfortunately, what these folks mostly do is...give surveys. So to call such philosophy "experimental" is rather a stretch...and to call it "experimental" without qualification is downright ridiculous. What this is is survey-based or survey-driven philosophy, not experimental philosophy. The Bell test experiments...now there were experiments with philosophical implications. Surveys of people's so-called "intuitions" are just...well...surveys...

There might be something good that comes from all of this, though. It seems to be forcing analytic-y (or whatever we're being called these days) philosophers to think about what they mean by 'intuition.' That's a term (and an associated concept) that's caused immeasurable harm, IMHO. It's used to mean everything from 'hunch' to 'linguistic inclination' to 'indubitable deliverance of reason'...and that's an extremely destructive ambiguity.

But as for the survey fad, it's largely just a new manifestation of the view that psychology has some special relationship to philosophy...and that's a view that we've been in a position to put to rest for well over a hundred years.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought the various game theory economic tests counted as experimental philosophy, especially the ones where people would willingly take less profit if it would decrease income inequality. (It was in Science some years back.)


11:10 AM  

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