Sep 30, 2008

x-phi hogging the spotlight

Experimental philosophers continue to irk the armchairists.
Experimental philosophy has suggested, for example, that people from East Asian cultures may have different intuitions on very basic philosophical questions — reference (what nouns refer to in certain situations), morality, epistemology (what it means "to know" something) — than members of Western societies do. Experimental philosophers also draw on work by contemporary psychologists demonstrating just how malleable human cognition is, how easily redirected and reshaped it is by external cues, even as the conscious mind remains blissfully unaware. Opinions on crime and punishment, for instance, can be altered by placing people in a dirty room designed to trigger feelings of disgust: Subjects in such experiments respond more punitively when asked what should be done to certain hypothetical criminals.

"If we keep getting the same kind of results with the right kinds of controls and right kind of experiments," says Stich, "then there is a problem with the central method that philosophers have used throughout the 20th century, and for a long time before that": the reliance on armchair intuitions.

Understandably, such claims have met with resistance. "A philosophical problem is not an empirical problem," writes Judith Jarvis Thomson, the noted MIT moral philosopher, in an e-mail message to The Chronicle, "so I don't see how their empirical investigations can be thought to have any bearing on any philosophical problem — much less help anyone to solve a philosophical problem."
For an academic's take on the role of x-phi in the philosophy of morality, see here.

1 comment:

Matthew Anderson said...

You'll have to ask my wife about experimental philosophy next time we're all together. Her work touches on it a little....