Experimental Philosophy

20 August 2010 at 2:37 pm 4 comments

| Peter Klein |

Experimental economics is mainstream, and is increasingly popular in management (as well as sociology, political science, criminology, etc.). Laboratory and natural experiments seem to fill more journal pages every year. Esther Duflo took home this year’s Clark Medal for her work on randomized controlled trials. Identification is all the rage in empirical social science, and who needs instrumental variables or fixed effects if you can force ceteris to be paribus through experimental design?

But wait a minute: philosophy? Apparently philosophers are getting into the game, via a new experimental philosophy movement (“X-Phi,” to the cool kids). The NYT Magazine surveyed the field a few years back, and this week’s this week’s “Room for Debate” asks important philosophers what they think. Note the wide range of opinions. My initial reaction was similar to Brian Leiter’s, namely that X-Phi is about being trendy, attracting funding, and keeping philosophy departments from being shredded by budget-conscious administrators. Academia, after all, is among the most faddish of the professions. But who knows. (Thanks to MLC for the link.)

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. srp  |  20 August 2010 at 7:48 pm

    On the face of it, experimental philosophy sounds like psychology to me. Most of the stuff they do is ethical dilemma/lifeboat stuff, which frankly bores the hell out of me–I haven’t pushed anyone in front of a train in years.

    On the other hand, it might be interesting to experiment with philosophy of science by making different teams investigate some puzzle using different methods. Kind of like the Argote papers making teams create origami sailboats and the like using different protocols. Popperian/inductivist shootout, anyone?

  • 2. FC  |  21 August 2010 at 12:43 am

    Experimental philosophy? Michelson, Rutherford and Heisenberg already did it.

  • 3. Peter Klein  |  21 August 2010 at 12:51 am

    I’d like to do one of those train experiments. Might be hard to get the IRB approval, though.

  • 4. Roger Koppl  |  23 August 2010 at 8:48 am

    I think there’s potential in X-Phi. Results so far may look a bit thin to non-philosophers, but it has pushed some basic ideas that meet resistance within discipline. I have a bit of a review of X-Phi here:

    http://www.springerlink.com/content/j8t041l135112617/

    In it, I push an experiment of my own (done with Rob Kurzban and Larry Kobilinsky) as X-Phi based on social epistemology. Here is url for that experiment:

    http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/episteme/summary/v005/5.2.koppl.html

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