1. Experimental Philosophy: Setting the Scene
We ask philosophical intuitions - what we would say or how things seem to us to be - to do a lot of work for us. We advance philosophical theories on the basis of their ability to explain our philosophical intuitions, defend their truth on the basis of their overall agreement with our philosophical intuitions, and justify our philosophical beliefs on the basis of their accordance with our philosophical intuitions. This may not be all that we do and maybe not all of us do it. But enough of us do it, and often enough, that this way of thinking about philosophy has come, at least in certain circles, to be the way to think about philosophy.
On this way of thinking about philosophy, it should seem natural for philosophers to be interested in studying people's philosophical intuitions. Traditionally, this interest has taken the form of an introspective investigation of our own philosophical intuitions. Assuming that our own philosophical intuitions are appropriately representative, nothing more is needed. The problem with this approach is that the habit of assuming that our own philosophical intuitions are appropriately representative turns out to be a bad habit. It ignores our human tendency to overestimate the degree to which others agree with us (see, e.g., Fields & Schuman 1976, and Ross 1977) and fails to recognize that philosophers compose a rather distinctive group, determined not only by a shared educational history but also by a shared interest in certain kinds of questions and in certain ways of approaching those questions. A better approach is needed.
In recent years, experimental philosophy has emerged as an exciting new approach to the study of people's philosophical intuitions. Experimental philosophers apply the methods of the social and cognitive sciences to the study of philosophical cognition since these methods are better suited than introspective methods to the study of what people, especially other people, actually think. These methods not only provide us with better access to the relevant intuitions themselves, they can also provide us with insight into the psychological mechanisms that are responsible for them and their overall evidentiary fitness. In this way, experimental philosophy can both complement more traditional approaches to philosophical questions and help identify ways in which this approach should be reformed.
Experimental philosophy is a diverse movement and, in this book, we will focus on three of its different programs:
- Experimental Philosophy and Philosophical Analysis : What has traditionally interested philosophers about people's philosophical intuitions has been what these intuitions are supposed to be able to tell us about the world and ourselves. This view is most commonly associated with philosophical analysis . Philosophical analyses often involve arguments that move from claims about people's philosophical intuitions to claims about the truth or plausibility of specific philosophical theories. Sometimes these theories are about our concepts of things; sometimes they are about things themselves. Either way, the idea is that philosophical intuitions are supposed to be able to help us answer certain kinds of philosophical questions, and some experimental philosophers see themselves as making important contributions to this project. These experimental philosophers typically share with more traditional analytic philosophers the idea that philosophical intuitions provide us with important philosophical insight, but believe that we should employ methods better suited to the careful study of philosophical intuitions, namely, the methods of the social and cognitive sciences. - td