Experimental philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-P063-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2011
Retrieved July 25, 2024, from

4. Challenges to experimental philosophy

Perhaps the most direct threat to experimental philosophical work is the imputation that folk intuitions are irrelevant to philosophical work because at bottom, folk intuitions play no important role in mature philosophy. This sort of critique would apply not just to experimental philosophy, but also to those philosophers (some of them critics of experimental philosophy) who have defended an important role for folk intuitions in the philosophical enterprise (e.g. Jackson, Sosa). A broad philosophical dismissal of folk intuitions is promoted, on quite different grounds, by naturalistic critics of intuitions (e.g. Cummins 1998). Indeed the role of intuitions is challenged within experimental philosophy by defenders of the so-called ‘negative programme’, which attempts to undermine the use of folk intuitions as evidence. This is in contrast with a ‘positive programme’ which takes experimental techniques to provide a more powerful and rigorous way of carrying out the conceptual analyses pursued by traditional a priori approaches (e.g. Glasgow 2008; Jackson 1998).

Even among those who allow the philosophical relevance of folk concepts and intuitions, many challenge experimental philosophical results on the grounds that in practice, experimental philosophical techniques cannot or do not succeed in revealing the contours of those concepts. One version of this critique maintains that survey responses of the philosophically untrained are, in principle, unable to reveal facts about folk concepts, perhaps because these facts can be discerned only in philosophical dialogue or only by philosophically trained experts (Kaupinnen 2007; Ludwig 2007). A weaker version of the critique holds that while experimental techniques may in principle be able to reveal the shape of folk concepts, existing experiments do not do so. Indeed, perhaps the most common objection to experimental philosophical results is that the superficial responses to an experimental probe often do not reflect the genuine semantics of the folk concept (e.g. Adams and Steadman 2004; Kauppinen 2007; Nadelhoffer 2006; Ludwig 2007; Deutsch 2009). These objections depend closely on the details of particular experiments, and sometimes venture into criticism of experimental design. However, even if they are correct, they leave alive the possibility that additional, better empirical work can be done to advance philosophical discussion.

Citing this article:
Mallon, Ron and Shaun Nichols. Challenges to experimental philosophy. Experimental philosophy, 2011, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-P063-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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