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Philosophy Experimental Philosophy
by
Wesley Buckwalter, Joshua Knobe, Shaun Nichols, N. Ángel Pinillos, Philip Robbins, Hagop Sarkissian, Chris Weigel, Jonathan M. Weinberg

Introduction

Experimental philosophy is a new movement that uses systematic experimental studies to shed light on philosophical issues. In other words, experimental philosophers apply the methods commonly associated with psychology (experimentation, statistical analysis, developmental research, reaction time studies, patient studies, and so on), but they use those methods to address the kinds of questions that have been traditionally associated with philosophy. The experimental philosophy movement is united more by a shared methodology than by a shared research agenda or metaphilosophical viewpoint. Thus, while work in experimental philosophy makes use of systematic empirical study, this methodology has been applied to a wide array of different philosophical questions, and researchers have offered quite different views about the way in which such experimental work can prove philosophically valuable.

General Overviews

For those looking for an introduction to the field as a whole, there are a number of resources that either collect existing papers, as in PhilPapers and Knobe and Nichols 2008, or offer brief summaries of some of the major findings, as in Knobe, et al. 2012 and Nadelhoffer and Nahmias 2007.

Impact of Morality and Nonmoral Judgment

Perhaps the most well-known finding in experimental philosophy to date involves showing how people’s prior evaluative judgments, and in particular their moral judgments, can impact the subsequent application of a number of different folk psychological and causal concepts. This section is broken down into six parts, including a broad overview of which domains have displayed this kind of Moral Asymmetry in Intuitions, as well as the rival types of answers theorists have given for why they arise, including Distortion-Affect and Blame, Distortion-Pragmatics, Competence, Individual Differences, and Many-Explanation Explanations.

Moral Asymmetry in Intuitions

The side-effect effect, first presented in Knobe 2003, demonstrates that people’s moral judgments about an action influence their intuitions about whether or not that action was performed intentionally. This basic effect of moral judgment on intentionality judgments has been replicated developmentally, in children as young as four years old, in Leslie, et al. 2006. Although it was originally thought that these effects were restricted to judgments about intentional action, subsequent research has suggested that this effect extends to several concepts, including causation (Roxborough and Cumby 2009), knowledge (Beebe and Buckwalter 2010), valuing (Knobe and Preston-Roedder 2009), deciding and advocating (Pettit and Knobe 2009), weakness of will (May and Holton 2010), and freedom (Phillips and Knobe 2009).

Distortion Explanations: Affect and Blame

Distortion theories explain these effects of evaluative considerations on folk psychological and causal judgments by positing some additional cognitive process that distorts or interrupts the ordinary application of these concepts. Nadelhoffer 2006 suggests that these additional biasing processes arise as a result of emotional or affective reaction. Young, et al. 2006 challenges this explanation with neuropsychological evidence from patients with severe emotional deficits. Alternatively, Alicke 2008 and Malle and Nelson 2003 suggest that distortion-based judgments are buttressed by a desire to blame. This approach has also been challenged by the reaction time studies of Guglielmo and Malle 2010, as well as experiments described in Machery 2008 and Uttich and Lombrozo 2010 involving cases that seem to lack explicitly blameworthy norm violations.

  • Alicke, Mark D. “Blaming Badly.” Journal of Cognition and Culture 8.1–2 (2008): 179–186.

    DOI: 10.1163/156770908X289279Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that the influence of moral considerations on people’s causal judgments arises because the desire to blame leads people to attribute causation as a punishment for negative outcomes.

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  • Guglielmo, Steven, and Bertram F. Malle. “The Timing of Blame and Intentionality: Testing the Moral Bias Hypothesis.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 36 (2010): 1635–1647.

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    Criticizes blame-based distortion explanations of the side-effect effect by presenting evidence that judgments regarding intentionality typically precede judgments of blame.

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  • Machery, Edouard. “The Folk Concept of Intentional Action: Philosophical and Experimental Issues.” Mind & Language 23.2 (2008): 165–189.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0017.2007.00336.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents a deflationary explanation of the side-effect effect whereby the effect has nothing to do with folk morality, but rather involves judgments about trade-offs.

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  • Malle, Bertram F., and Sarah E. Nelson. “Judging Mens Rea: The Tension between Folk Concepts and Legal Concepts of Intentionality.” Behavioral Sciences and the Law 21.5 (2003): 563–580.

    DOI: 10.1002/bsl.554Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Contrasts the legal concept of mens rea with the folk concept of intentional action, argued to be highly influenced by people’s feelings of blame.

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  • Nadelhoffer, Thomas. “Bad Acts, Blameworthy Agents, and Intentional Actions: Some Problems for Jury Impartiality.” Philosophical Explorations 9.2 (2006): 203–220.

    DOI: 10.1080/13869790600641905Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues for a distortion-based explanation of the side-effect effect whereby positive and negative emotional reactions lead people to make asymmetric intentionality judgments.

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  • Uttich, Kevin, and Tania Lombrozo. “Norms Inform Mental State Ascriptions: A Rational Explanation for the Side-Effect Effect.” Cognition 116.1 (2010): 87–100.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2010.04.003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that the influence moral judgments have on people’s intentionality judgments arises due to the violation of general norms.

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  • Young, Liane, Fiery Cushman, Ralph Adolphs, Daniel Tranel, and Marc Hauser. “Does Emotion Mediate the Effect of an Action’s Moral Status on Its Intentional Status? Neuropsychological Evidence.” Journal of Cognition and Culture 6.1–2 (2006): 291–304.

    DOI: 10.1163/156853706776931312Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Challenges affective-based explanations of the side-effect effect by demonstrating that patients with severe emotional deficits due damage in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex continue to display the same pattern of intentional judgments as normal individuals.

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Distortion Explanations: Pragmatics

Other kinds of distortion theories have explained these effects in terms of conversational pragmatics. Adams and Steadman 2004a and Adams and Steadman 2004b argue that when people are presented with questions regarding intentionality, the presence of moral considerations influence the application of certain conversational rules. For instance, Adams and Steadman speculate that experimental participants infer that the “real question” experimenters are asking involves moral responsibility, and that they use intentionality measures to answer accordingly. Zalla and Leboyer 2011 challenges such explanations with evidence from patients with significant deficits in their capacity to understand conversational pragmatics. Driver 2008 argues that conversational pragmatics may explain the influence of moral considerations on causal judgments specifically. Knobe and Fraser 2008 replies with further experiments to test Driver’s hypothesis.

Competence Explanations

The competence theories presented in Hitchcock and Knobe 2009, Knobe 2010, and other works hold that the application of concepts on the basis of evaluative considerations such as moral judgment is not due to any kind of cognitive distortion, but instead somehow reflects people’s fundamental understanding of the world. Specifically, Halpern and Hitchcock 2010 suggests that judgments about norm violations play an important role in counterfactual reasoning, which in turn underlies the application of the concepts in question. However, Alicke and Rose 2010 challenges these competence views by proposing a rival explanatory model for results in the causal domain based on blame judgments. Through the use of advanced techniques in structural path modeling, Sripada and Konrath 2011 argues that the effect is not driven by normative assessments but rather by judgments people make about an agent’s character. See also Alexander, et al. 2010 (cited under Reactions to and Refinements of the Challenge) for a discussion of the general difficulties associated with identifying conceptual competences.

  • Alicke, Mark, and David Rose. “Culpable Control or Moral Concepts?” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 33.4 (2010): 330–331.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0140525X10001664Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Researchers argue for a “culpable control model” of blame, whereby negative evaluative reactions result in judgments of blame, and that these attributions of blame mediate the application of causal concepts independently of the moral valence of that case’s outcome.

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  • Halpern, Joseph Y., and Christopher Hitchcock. “Actual Causation and the Art of Modeling.” In Heuristics, Probability, and Causality: A Tribute to Judea Pearl. Edited by Rina Dechter, Hector Geffner, and Joseph Y. Halpern, 383–406. London: College Publications, 2010.

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    A discussion of structural equations to investigate the outcomes and appropriate variables selected that make a difference to the conclusions we draw about causality.

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  • Hitchcock, Christopher, and Joshua Knobe. “Cause and Norm.” Journal of Philosophy 106.11 (2009): 587–612.

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    Presents evidence that professional philosophers display the effect whereby moral considerations influence their judgments about causation, and argues that these data support an explanation based on the way people evaluate counterfactuals.

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  • Knobe, Joshua. “Person as Scientist, Person as Moralist.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 33.4 (2010): 315–329.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0140525X10000907Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Provides a review of the explanation of the effects that moral judgments have on the application of folk psychological and causal concepts, and presents an explanation of those effects based on people’s fundamental conceptual competences.

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  • Sripada, C. S., and S. Konrath. “Telling More Than We Can Know About Intentional Action.” Mind & Language 26.3 (2011): 353–380.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0017.2011.01421.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues for the “deep self-concordance model,” which holds that people’s intentionality judgments in the “chairman cases” are best explained by people’s assessments of the chairman’s underling character, values, and dispositions. Includes a discussion of the method of structural path modeling and its relevance to experimental philosophy.

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Individual Differences Explanations

A number of researchers have suggested that the influence of moral considerations on intentionality judgments is best explained by stable individual differences. Cushman and Mele 2008 speculates that there are at least two different folk concepts of intentional action. Nichols and Ulatowski 2007 hypothesizes that the effect above arises because the word “intentional” has multiple interpretations. Cokely and Feltz 2008 finds that intentionality judgments are predicted by certain kinds of personality traits. Lastly, Pinillos, et al. 2011 demonstrates that the effect may arise due to differences in intelligence, as measured by scores on cognitive reflection tasks.

  • Cokely, Edward T., and Adam Feltz. “Individual Differences, Judgment Biases, and Theory-of-Mind: Deconstructing the Intentional Action Side Effect Asymmetry.” Journal of Research in Personality 43.1 (2008): 18–24.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2008.10.007Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that individuals possessing the personality trait extraversion are more likely to display the effect found in Knobe 2003 (cited under Moral Asymmetry in Intuitions). Evidence also suggests these judgments are susceptible to priming manipulations.

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  • Cushman, Fiery, and Alfred Mele. “Intentional Action: Two-and-a-Half Folk Concepts?” In Experimental Philosophy. Edited by Joshua Knobe and Shaun Nichols, 171–188. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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    Authors present experiments attempting to demonstrate the existence of multiple ordinary concepts of intentional action, one based on an agent’s belief, the other based on an agent’s desire for a side-effect’s occurrence.

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  • Nichols, Shaun, and Joseph Ulatowski. “Intuitions and Individual Differences: The Knobe Effect Revisited.” Mind & Language 22.4 (2007): 346–365.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0017.2007.00312.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that the word “intentional” has multiple, yet consistent, interpretations among different groups of people. Evidence from participant self-reports suggests that one interpretation is based on foreknowledge, while another is based on judgments concerning motives.

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  • Pinillos, N. Ángel, Nick Smith, G. Shyam Nair, Peter Marchetto, and Cecilea Mun. “Philosophy’s New Challenge: Experiments and Intentional Action.” Mind & Language 26.1 (2011): 115–139.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0017.2010.01412.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Finds that experimental participants with higher scores on certain kinds of cognitive reflection tasks are less likely to display asymmetric intentionality judgments.

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Many-Explanations Explanations

When accounting for the influence people’s moral judgments have on concept application, many of the theories reviewed above have attempted to show how one factor (e.g., blame or emotional response) could explain all of the effects discovered regarding nonmoral concepts such as intentional action. However Phelan and Sarkissian 2009 and Phelan 2011 argue that these researchers should abandon the desire for theoretical parsimony. Citing the number of effects discovered, and the lack of consensus regarding their cause, they suggest we are unlikely to find one unified explanation for these phenomena.

Metaethics

Metaethics is a research area in philosophy that explores topics such as the nature and status of moral judgments, as well as the presuppositions and commitments that may be at play in ordinary moral discourse. One of the main questions experimental philosophers have investigated in metaethics concerns moral relativism. Philosophers have long debated whether morality is fundamentally subjective (akin to matters of personal taste) or objective (akin to matters of scientific fact), and whether moral standards can apply across cultures and eras or are instead local and applicable only to one’s contemporary society. Though philosophers disagree in these matters, many have assumed in their arguments that nonphilosophers are objectivists about morality, that ordinary folk view moral issues as having a single correct answer as opposed to several correct answers that are all true relative to a given perspective or culture. This empirical claim has been akin to an article of faith, a datum that must be captured or explained by any metaethical theory. But is the claim correct? Are ordinary people objectivists about morality?

Moral Objectivism and Relativism

Experimental philosophers have begun to address the question of folk morality by studying the extent to which—and in what specific ways—ordinary people really are committed to objective moral truth. Studies like Nichols 2004 appear to support the claim philosophers had previously made regarding folk objectivism, and work by Geoffrey Goodwin and John Darley (Goodwin and Darley 2008, Goodwin and Darley 2010) on canonical moral judgments seems to support this conclusion. Developmental studies on young children (Wainryb, et al. 2004), as well as experiments looking at moral judgments across the life span (Beebe and Sackris 2010), follow the same trend. However, Feltz and Cokely 2008 suggests that these intuitions supporting folk objectivism may be predicted by stable personality traits. Similarly, Wright, et al. 2012 argues that certain individuals are more objectivist than others, particularly when evaluating certain sorts of moral acts. Lastly, Sarkissian, et al. 2011 provides evidence suggesting that ordinary people are actually more likely to adopt relativistic answers when prompted with more information about cultural practices.

  • Beebe, James R., and David Sackris. “Moral Objectivism across the Lifespan.” Unpublished paper delivered at the Experimental Philosophy Society meeting, at the Eastern Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association, Boston, 28 December 2010. Buffalo, NY: University of Buffalo, 2010.

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    A study of people’s metaethical views across a range of age groups, from young teenagers to mature adults. Authors found that most people were objectivists about morality throughout their lives, except for during their twenties.

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  • Feltz, Adam, and Edward T. Cokely. “The Fragmented Folk: More Evidence of Stable Individual Differences in Moral Judgments and Folk Intuitions.” In Proceedings of the 30th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Edited by B. C. Love, K. McRae, and V. M. Sloutsky, 1771–1776. Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society, 2008.

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    Using the same stimulus materials as Nichols 2004, Feltz and Cokely found that a majority of subjects were moral objectivists. However, objectivism was uniquely predicted by a single personality trait: openness to experience. The lower subjects scored on being open to new experiences, the higher they scored as being moral objectivists.

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  • Goodwin, Geoffrey P., and John M. Darley. “The Psychology of Meta-Ethics: Exploring Objectivism.” Cognition 106.3 (2008): 1339–1366.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2007.06.007Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors found that participants treated factual and moral statements similarly, and both differed from statements of convention and taste. The authors conclude that this suggests that people are objectivist about many canonical moral transgressions.

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  • Goodwin, Geoffrey P., and John M. Darley. “The Perceived Objectivity of Ethical Beliefs: Psychological Findings and Implications for Public Policy.” Review of Philosophy and Psychology 1.2 (2010): 161–188.

    DOI: 10.1007/s13164-009-0013-4Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Authors investigated how participants explain their judgments concerning moral disagreement and found the following correlations: those who responded as objectivists did not seem to think of alternative reasons or points of view when reasoning through a moral issue, whereas those who responded as relativists did consider such alternative reasons.

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  • Nichols, Shaun. “After Objectivity: An Empirical Study of Moral Judgment.” Philosophical Psychology 17 (2004): 3–26.

    DOI: 10.1080/0951508042000202354Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study using a disagreement task to assess the extent of people’s commitment to moral objectivism. Participants tended to respond as objectivists. However, those who responded as relativists still distinguished between morality and convention.

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  • Sarkissian, Hagop, John J. Park, David Tien, Jennifer Cole Wright, and Joshua Knobe. “Folk Moral Relativism.” Mind & Language 26.4 (2011): 482–505.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0017.2011.01428.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Authors argue that apparently objectivist responses can be explained in terms of cultural proximity. When asked about the views of peers, people responded in predictably objectivist ways. But when one of the disagreeing individuals was depicted as being from a different cultural group, people began to give more relativist responses.

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  • Wainryb, Cecilia, Leigh A. Shaw, Marcie Langley, Kim Cottam, and Renee Lewis. “Children’s Thinking about Diversity of Belief in the Early School Years: Judgments of Relativism, Tolerance, and Disagreeing Persons.” Child Development 75.3 (2004): 687–703.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2004.00701.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Authors found that children were more intolerant toward disagreement when it concerned moral beliefs rather than other types of beliefs, including matters of taste/preference and beliefs about the world. This suggests that individuals tend to be objectivists about morality at a very early age.

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  • Wright, Jennifer Cole, Piper T. Grandjean, and Cullen B. McWhite. “The Meta-Ethical Grounding of Our Moral Beliefs: Evidence for Meta-Ethical Pluralism.” Philosophical Psychology (2012): 1–26.

    DOI: 10.1080/09515089.2011.633751Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Participants classified statements as moral or not moral, and the authors measured participants’ metaethical commitments for the issues that they classified as moral. Some moral issues (such as racial discrimination and robbery) to be far more objective than others (such as abortion and assisted suicide). Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Free Will

Because philosophers often appeal to intuitions when arguing about free will, experimental philosophers have taken up the task of empirically examining these intuitions. Answering the question “What do ordinary people intuit about free will?” turns out to be an incredibly nuanced and complex undertaking. Besides seeking to understand what ordinary people think, experimental philosophers also seek to understand how the mind works, and to examine the role of intuitions. These projects have enhanced the more traditional debates about the nature of free will. Among the overviews of experimental philosophy, a few focus specifically on the question of free will. Nichols 2011 presents the state of the field not only for philosophers but also for the broader scientific community. The article focuses on the role of abstraction in intuitions about free will and moral responsibility. Sommers 2011 presents the literature in depth while offering an analysis of its contributions. The article suggests further avenues for research and has a useful bibliography.

Foundations of Compatibilism versus Incompatibilism

Much of the literature focuses on the question of whether compatibilism or incompatibilism is intuitive. Nahmias, et al. 2004; Nahmias, et al. 2005; Nahmias, et al. 2006; and Woolfolk, et al. 2008 provide early and important work that launched the contemporary experimental work on the question of compatibilism. Vargas 2006 gives an overview, exploring what the data mean for discussions about compatibilism versus incompatibilism.

  • Nahmias, Eddy, Stephen Morris, Thomas Nadelhoffer, and Jason Turner. “The Phenomenology of Free Will.” Journal of Consciousness Studies 11.7–8 (2004): 162–179.

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    Gives data to argue that the phenomenology of free will favors compatibilist over libertarian accounts.

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  • Nahmias, Eddy, Stephen Morris, Thomas Nadelhoffer, and Jason Turner. “Surveying Freedom: Folk Intuitions about Free Will and Moral Responsibility.” Philosophical Psychology 18.5 (2005): 561–584.

    DOI: 10.1080/09515080500264180Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reports on experiments that present subjects with a determinist universe and ask whether free will and moral responsibility exist in both high and low affect scenarios. Argues that the folk are intuitively compatibilists.

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  • Nahmias, Eddy, Stephen Morris, Thomas Nadelhoffer, and Jason Turner. “Is Incompatibilism Intuitive?” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 73.1 (2006): 28–53.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1933-1592.2006.tb00603.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Gives experimental evidence in favor of the view that ordinary notions of free will and moral responsibility are compatibilist. Argues that this presents a challenge for motivating incompatibilism.

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  • Vargas, Manuel. “Philosophy and the Folk: On Some Implications of Experimental Work for Philosophical Debates on Free Will.” Journal of Cognition and Culture 6.1–2 (2006): 249–264.

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    Explores the relevance of experimental work on the question of whether free will is compatible with causal determinism.

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  • Woolfolk, Robert, John Doris, and John Darley. “Identification, Situational Constraint, and Social Cognition: Studies in the Attribution of Moral Responsibility.” In Experimental Philosophy. Edited by Joshua Knobe and Shaun Nichols, 61–80. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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    Examines hierarchical compatibilist views that treat identification with actions as central to free will. Presents evidence that folk intuitions accord with these views.

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Recent Developments in Compatibilism versus Incompatibilism

The question of compatibilism continues to receive attention. Monroe and Malle 2010 and Stillman, et al. 2011 argue that the question needs broader exploration, so these papers examine the contours of folk intuitions beyond just the question of compatibilism. Faraci and Shoemaker 2010 explores Susan Wolf’s “sane deep self view,” showing that a case that supports her argument does not have as much intuitive support as she claims. Sripada 2011 examines the basis for the intuition that manipulated agents are unfree, finding that volitional capacities are central to the intuition.

  • Faraci, David, and David Shoemaker. “Insanity, Deep Selves and Moral Responsibility: The Case of JoJo.” Review of Philosophy and Psychology 1.3 (2010): 319–332.

    DOI: 10.1007/s13164-010-0026-zSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Empirically examines whether folk intuitions accord with the characterization given by certain compatibilists, specifically the characterization that we would find people who are insane not responsible for their actions. Finds that folk intuitions do not accord with this characterization.

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  • Monroe, Andrew E., and Bertram F. Malle. “From Uncaused Will to Conscious Choice: The Need to Study, Not Speculate about People’s Folk Concept of Free Will.” Review of Philosophy and Psychology 1 (2010): 211–224.

    DOI: 10.1007/s13164-009-0010-7Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Broadens the question of whether the folk find free will possible in a deterministic universe to the question of what the folk concept of free will is generally. Finds that people think of free will as an unconstrained choice that follows from desire.

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  • Sripada, Chandra. “What Makes a Manipulated Agent Unfree?” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (2011).

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1933-1592.2011.00527.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores the basis for the intuition that a manipulated agent is unfree. Presents experimental support for the contention that the intuition has a compatibilist basis. Published online prior to print publication.

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  • Stillman, Tyler F., Roy F. Baumeister, and Alfred R. Mele. “Free Will in Everyday Life: Autobiographical Accounts of Free and Unfree Actions.” Philosophical Psychology 24.3 (2011): 381–394.

    DOI: 10.1080/09515089.2011.556607Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Characterizes the folk understanding of free will by eliciting open-ended, autobiographical narratives.

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Folk Reductionism

Whether or not the folk misunderstand determinism as entailing reductionism is an important precursor to understanding whether people are intuitively incompatibilists. Nahmias 2006 advocates carefully distinguishing determinism and reductionism; Nahmias, et al. 2007 makes the case for distinguishing determinism and mechanism; Feltz, et al. 2009 shows the importance of distinguishing determinism and fatalism, and Nahmias 2011 gives an overview of much of this literature, showing the problems with implying that determinism means our psychological states play no causal role.

  • Feltz, Adam, Edward Cokely, and Thomas Nadelhoffer. “Natural Compatibilism versus Natural Incompatibilism: Back to the Drawing Board.” Mind & Language 24.1 (2009): 1–23.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0017.2008.01351.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Critiques previous experiments for not being careful enough about determinism versus fatalism, for not looking at both free will and moral responsibility, and for not clarifying what it means to say that an agent could have done otherwise. Argues that such issues need to be clarified before adjudicating whether the folk are natural compatibilists or natural incompatibilists.

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  • Nahmias, Eddy. “Folk Fears about Freedom and Responsibility: Determinism vs. Reductionism.” Journal of Cognition and Culture 6.1–2 (2006): 215–237.

    DOI: 10.1163/156853706776931295Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines whether apparently incompatibilist intuitions are really the result of conflating determinism with reductionism.

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  • Nahmias, Eddy. “Intuitions about Free Will, Determinism, and Bypassing.” In The Oxford Handbook of Free Will. 2d ed. Edited by Robert Kane, 555–576. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

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    Evaluates the literature on bypassing to argue that people are intuitively compatibilists. Gives an error theory for apparently incompatibilist intuitions. Argues that the error arises from mistakenly conflating determinism with the view that psychological states are bypassed.

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  • Nahmias, Eddy, D. Justin Coates, and Trevor Kvaran. “Free Will, Moral Responsibility, and Mechanism: Experiments on Folk Intuitions.” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 31.1 (2007): 214–242.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4975.2007.00158.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that mechanism and determinism should not be conflated. Finds that the folk think that free will and moral responsibility are incompatible with the former only.

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Affect and Abstraction

The roles of affect and abstraction have received a great deal of attention. Much of the discussion centers on whether they create a performance error or a competence. Nichols and Knobe 2007 comes down on the side of saying that affect both generates compatibilist intuitions and creates a performance error. Roskies and Nichols 2008 finds that the abstraction generated by thinking about a hypothetical world generates incompatibilist intuitions. Nahmias and Murray 2011 argues, to the contrary, that abstraction both generates incompatibilist intuitions and creates a performance error. Sinnott-Armstrong 2008 argues that abstraction and concreteness both serve important functions, so neither should be considered error producing. Weigel 2011 argues that abstraction is tied to both compatibilism and incompatibilism, so neither abstract nor concrete mental representations create an error. Nichols 2006 argues that conflicting intuitions are generated by different psychological mechanisms. Knobe and Nichols 2011 argues that the way we think about free will is tied to the way we think about the self. Depending on how broad the context under consideration is, emotions may or may not be considered part of the self, so there is no single, stable view. Knobe and Doris 2010 also explores the ways variance is generated in judgments of moral responsibility. Nelkin 2007, however, suggests that the amount of variance may be overstated.

  • Knobe, Joshua, and John M. Doris. “Responsibility.” In The Moral Psychology Handbook. Edited by John Doris, Fiery Cushman, et al., 321–354. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199582143.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines empirical evidence against the view that moral responsibility judgments remain invariant across all cases. Considers how abstraction, moral valence, and social distance create variance.

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  • Knobe, Joshua, and Shaun Nichols. “Free Will and the Bounds of the Self.” In The Oxford Handbook of Free Will. 2d ed. Edited by Robert Kane, 530–554. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

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    Argues that we do not have a stable view about the bounds of the self, and that this affects how we understand moral responsibility. Finds that when we consider the broad context, emotions are taken to be part of the self, but when we consider actions in isolation, emotions are not taken to be part of the self.

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  • Nahmias, Eddy, and Dylan Murray. “Experimental Philosophy on Free Will: An Error Theory for Incompatibilist Intuitions.” In New Waves in Philosophy of Action. Edited by Jesús Aguilar, Andrei Buckareff, and Keith Frankish, 189–216. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

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    Argues that apparently incompatibilist intuitions arise due to an error, the error of thinking that the causal chain bypasses agents’ mental states. Argues that abstraction promotes the error.

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  • Nelkin, Dana K. “Do We Have a Coherent Set of Intuitions about Moral Responsibility?” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 31.1 (2007): 243–259.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4975.2007.00159.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Gives alternative explanations of the data to argue that moral responsibility judgments may be more unified than experimental philosophers suggest.

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  • Nichols, Shaun. “Folk Intuitions on Free Will.” Journal of Cognition and Culture 6.1–2 (2006): 57–86.

    DOI: 10.1163/156853706776931385Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores the psychological mechanisms involved in generating intuitions about free will and moral responsibility, paying close attention to the role of affect.

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  • Nichols, Shaun, and Joshua Knobe. “Moral Responsibility and Determinism: The Cognitive Science of Folk Intuitions.” Noûs 41.4 (2007): 663–685.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0068.2007.00666.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Shows that abstract thinking generates incompatibilist intuitions and concrete thinking generates compatibilist intuitions. Explores the question of whether concreteness and affect create a performance error.

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  • Roskies, Adina, and Shaun Nichols. “Bringing Moral Responsibility Down to Earth.” Journal of Philosophy 105.7 (2008): 371–388.

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    Presents an experiment in which people are compatibilists when considering determinism on the actual world but incompatibilists on an alternate world. Contains an extended discussion of possible psychological explanations (including affect) and philosophical explanations (in particular, two-dimensional semantics).

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  • Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter. “Abstract + Concrete = Paradox.” In Experimental Philosophy. Edited by Joshua Knobe and Shaun Nichols, 209–230. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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    Considers the possibility that many philosophical paradoxes arise because of abstract and concrete thinking. Shows how experimental philosophy can help understand the source of paradoxes.

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  • Weigel, Chris. “Distance, Anger, Freedom: An Account of the Role of Abstraction in Compatibilist and Incompatibilist Intuitions.” Philosophical Psychology 24.6 (2011): 803–823.

    DOI: 10.1080/09515089.2011.562640Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Varies temporal distance to argue that intuitions change based on level of abstraction.

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Personality

Experimental philosophers sometimes find that philosophically irrelevant factors affect intuitions. In the context of free will, the role of personality has gained attention. Feltz and Cokely 2009 finds a connection between extraversion and compatibilism, whereas Nadelhoffer, et al. 2009 argues that further work needs to be done to understand the role of affect in the original results.

  • Feltz, Adam, and Edward Cokely. “Do Judgments about Freedom and Responsibility Depend on Who You Are? Personality Differences in Intuitions about Compatibilism and Incompatibilism.” Consciousness and Cognition 18.1 (2009): 356–358.

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    Finds that people who are high in extraversion are much more likely to have compatibilist intuitions.

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  • Nadelhoffer, Thomas, Trevor Kvaran, and Eddy Nahmias. “Temperament and Intuition: A Commentary on Feltz and Cokely.” Consciousness and Cognition 18.1 (2009): 351–355.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.concog.2008.11.006Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Agrees that the relationship between personality traits and philosophical intuitions exists, but is more complicated than previously suggested.

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Cross-Cultural and Developmental Studies

Experimental philosophers often use cross-cultural studies to explore whether intuitions are unified across culture and developmental studies are used to explore how we acquire our intuitions. Nichols 2004 argues that children believe in agent-causation, while Turner and Nahmias 2006 argues that children might be compatibilists instead. Sarkissian, et al. 2010 bolsters the case that the folk are intuitive incompatibilists by showing that in four diverse countries, most people give incompatibilist responses.

  • Nichols, Shaun. “The Folk Psychology of Free Will: Fits and Starts.” Mind & Language 19.5 (2004): 473–502.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.0268-1064.2004.00269.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents experimental evidence to show that young children believe in agent-causation, and considers various explanations for how children acquire the notion.

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  • Sarkissian, Hagop, Amita Chatterjee, Felipe De Brigard, Joshua Knobe, Shaun Nichols, and Smita Sirker. “Is Belief in Free Will a Cultural Universal?” Mind & Language 25.3 (2010): 364–368.

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    Examines intuitions of people in the United States, Hong Kong, India, and Columbia. Finds that most believe that our universe is indeterministic and moral responsibility is incompatible with determinism.

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  • Turner, Jason, and Nahmias, Eddy. “Are the Folk Agent-Causationists?” Mind & Language 21.5 (2006): 597–609.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0017.2006.00295.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents evidence that children’s implicit beliefs might accord more with compatibilism, while agreeing that the notion of moral obligation is likely an important part of the explanation of how children acquire their beliefs.

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Science

Experimental philosophy on free will pays close attention to scientific developments. In particular, it examines whether advances in neuroscience will affect folk intuitions, and it asks whether undermining the belief in free will can lead to problematic moral situations. This section is limited to articles that (a) deal with the question of the threat of nihilism and (b) either present new experiments or explicitly discuss or propose experimental philosophy. Most believe that neuroscience will not lead to nihilism. Roskies 2006; Nichols 2007; Nadelhoffer and Feltz 2007; and De Brigard, et al. 2009 all make the case, in various ways, that neuroscience is not a threat. Nahmias 2010 clarifies the issues surrounding the question of whether science shows that free will is an illusion. Mele 2010 gives a careful analysis of the kinds of claims neuroscientists make about free will, showing that the bridge between the experiments and the claims about free will is not as strong as generally believed.

  • De Brigard, Felipe, Eric Mandelbaum, and David Ripley. “Responsibility and the Brain Sciences.” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 12.5 (2009): 511–524.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10677-008-9143-5Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that neuroscientific advances will not lead to a general excusing of behavior, presenting experiments in support.

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  • Mele, Alfred. “Testing Free Will.” Neuroethics 3.2 (2010): 161–172.

    DOI: 10.1007/s12152-008-9027-3Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Considers neuroscientific research that purports to undermine the causal powers of conscious intentions, and presents three tests that would help establish whether that research shows what it is typically taken to show.

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  • Nadelhoffer, Thomas, and Adam Feltz. “Folk Intuitions, Slippery Slopes, and Necessary Fictions: An Essay on Saul Smilansky’s Free Will Illusionism.” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 31.1 (2007): 202–213.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4975.2007.00156.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Empirically examines Smilansky’s claims that most people have illusory beliefs about the existence of libertarian free will and require those beliefs to maintain moral ties to others. Casts doubt on the empirical foundations of Smilansky’s theory.

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  • Nahmias, Eddy. “Scientific Challenges to Free Will.” In A Companion to the Philosophy of Action. Edited by Timothy O’Connor and Constantine Sandis, 345–356. Chichester, UK: Blackwell, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781444323528Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores putative scientific threats to free will and considers whether these threats bear fruit. Discusses work in experimental philosophy that helps clarify the issue of whether incompatibilism is intuitive, in order to show that more nuance is required when scientists say that determinism is a threat.

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  • Nichols, Shaun. “After Incompatibilism: A Naturalistic Defense of the Reactive Attitudes.” Philosophical Perspectives 21.1 (2007): 405–428.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1520-8583.2007.00131.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores empirical and experimental literature to argue that a belief in determinism neither would nor should lead to changes in our practices of ascribing moral responsibility.

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  • Roskies, Adina. “Neuroscientific Challenges to Free Will and Responsibility.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 10.9 (2006): 419–423.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2006.07.011Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that advances in neuroscience do not bear on the question of free will, but even if people mistakenly think they do, this will not lead to a general abandonment of moral responsibility.

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Consciousness

There is a long-standing philosophical puzzle concerning our knowledge of other minds. It seems obvious that certain sorts of things—like people—have thoughts and feelings, whereas certain other sorts of things—like pencils—do not. What’s less obvious is how we decide whether or not something has a mind at all, and if different processes are implicated in the attribution of different kinds of psychological capacities. These questions have led experimental philosophers to explore the factors relevant in ordinary mind perception. What they have found is that there seem to be important differences between attributions of consciousness and attributions of nonconscious mentality, especially when it comes to minds and morality. Additionally, other researchers have focused on the relationship between minds and bodies, or the effect of an entity’s physical constitution on attributions of mindedness. Lastly, experimental philosophers have also investigated the machinery of attribution, attempting to isolate the specific mechanisms that underlie people’s theory of mind judgments.

Minds and Morals

Initial evidence for the folk-psychological “specialness” of attributions of consciousness, as opposed to nonconscious mentality, comes from an investigation of mental-state attribution in Gray, et al. 2007. The results point to a distinction between two “dimensions of mind”: those capacities for conscious experience (such as pain and joy), and capacities for cognition (such as self-control and planning). Additionally, Gray and colleagues also found important correlations between moral agency and patiency with these different dimensions. This pattern of correlation was later shown to be linked to the phenomenon of “moral typecasting,” according to which perceptions of moral agency and moral patiency are negatively correlated, as shown in Gray and Wegner 2009. Collectively, these results suggest that the folk conception of the mind has a multidimensional structure, whereby one dimension is distinctively associated with phenomenal consciousness (see Robbins and Jack 2006).

  • Gray, Heather, Kurt Gray, and Daniel M. Wegner. “Dimensions of Mind Perception.” Science 315.5812 (2007): 619.

    DOI: 10.1126/science.1134475Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of mental-state attribution arguing for a dimensional approach to mind perception.

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  • Gray, Kurt, and Daniel M. Wegner. “Moral Typecasting: Divergent Perceptions of Moral Agents and Moral Patients.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 96.3 (2009): 505–520.

    DOI: 10.1037/a0013748Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Building on Gray, et al. 2007, this paper reports the results of follow-up studies suggesting that perceptions of moral agency and moral patiency are inversely correlated.

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  • Robbins, Philip, and Anthony I. Jack. “The Phenomenal Stance.” Philosophical Studies 127.1 (2006): 59–85.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11098-005-1730-xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Drawing on evidence from neuropsychology and brain imaging, the authors distinguish between the “phenomenal stance” (the capacity to attribute feelings) and the “intentional stance” (the capacity to attribute thoughts), emphasizing the connection between seeing something as a locus of conscious experience and seeing it as a target of moral consideration. This distinction plays a central role in their account of the psychological origins of the mind-body problem.

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Minds and Bodies

Experimental philosophers have also explored the degree to which folk attributions of mindedness depend on whether or not the entity under consideration has a specific kind of physical body. Initial evidence from studies asking people to rate different kinds of mental-state attributions to entities that lack physical bodies, such as corporations (Knobe and Prinz 2008) or robots (Huebner 2010), suggests that bodies play an important role in mind perception. However, subsequent work in this area has raised the possibility that these results may be an experimental artifact (Arico 2010, Sytsma and Machery 2009, Sytsma and Machery 2010), as well as specific to Western culture (Huebner, et al. 2010). Similarly, people think of the mind of God, who presumably lacks a physical instantiation altogether, as cognitively rich but experientially poor (see Gray, et al. 2007 and Gray and Wegner 2009, both cited under Minds and Morals).

  • Arico, Adam. “Folk Psychology, Consciousness, and Context Effects.” Review of Philosophy and Psychology 1.3 (2010): 371–393.

    DOI: 10.1007/s13164-010-0029-9Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Targeting Knobe and Prinz 2008, Arico argues that the apparent anomalousness of phenomenal-state ascriptions to corporations is an experimental artifact.

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  • Huebner, Bryce. “Commonsense Concepts of Phenomenal Consciousness: Does Anyone Care about Functional Zombies?” Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 9.1 (2010): 133–155.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11097-009-9126-6Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents the results of experimental studies suggesting that folk attributions of phenomenal states like pain are sensitive in complex ways to facts about embodiment in a way that attributions of nonphenomenal states like belief are not.

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  • Huebner, Bryce, Michael Bruno, and Hagop Sarkissian. “What Does the Nation of China Think about Phenomenal States?” Review of Philosophy and Psychology 1.2 (2010): 225–243.

    DOI: 10.1007/s13164-009-0009-0Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This paper reports the results of a cross-cultural study suggesting that non-Westerners regard the attribution of phenomenal consciousness to corporations as less anomalous than their Western counterparts.

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  • Knobe, Joshua, and Jesse J. Prinz. “Intuitions about Consciousness: Experimental Studies.” Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 7.1 (2008): 67–83.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11097-007-9066-ySave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The experimental philosophy of consciousness literature begins with this paper. In it, the authors present the results of a variety of studies, arguing (inter alia) that attributions of mindedness are not all of a piece, and that attributions of phenomenal consciousness in particular typically depend upon perception of the target’s physical constitution.

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  • Sytsma, Justin, and Edouard Machery. “How to Study Folk Intuitions about Phenomenal Consciousness.” Philosophical Psychology 22.1 (2009): 21–35.

    DOI: 10.1080/09515080802703653Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this critique of Knobe and Prinz 2008, the authors argue on methodological and interpretive grounds that robust evidence for the anomalousness of phenomenal-state ascriptions to corporations is lacking.

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  • Sytsma, Justin, and Edouard Machery. “Two Conceptions of Subjective Experience.” Philosophical Studies 151.2 (2010): 299–327.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11098-009-9439-xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues on empirical grounds that the philosophical conception of phenomenal consciousness at play in discussions of the mind-body problem has no analog in common sense, and that the folk conception of consciousness—which differs from the philosophical conception in a fundamental way—has more to do with valence, or hedonic tone, than phenomenal character.

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The Machinery of Attribution

Experimental philosophers have also wondered whether the attribution of conscious experience to a target is implemented by a psychological mechanism specialized for that purpose. According to the “agency model,” attributions of conscious experience are automatically triggered by default whenever a target shows signs of animacy, such as biological motion and contingent interactivity (Arico, et al. 2011; Fiala, et al. 2012). This model, supported by the reaction times studies of Arico, et al. 2011, suggests that a single mechanism is responsible for the attribution of both mindedness in general and conscious mindedness in particular. Importantly, however, the agency model does not exhaust the possibilities for explaining attributions of mindedness. It could be that the capacity to attribute consciousness to something—or to adopt the “phenomenal stance” toward that thing—rests on a functionally specialized mechanism, at least partially distinct from the mechanism responsible for the attribution of thoughts (see Robbins and Jack 2006, cited under Minds and Morals).

  • Arico, Adam, Brian Fiala, Robert F. Goldberg, and Shaun Nichols. “The Folk Psychology of Consciousness.” Mind & Language 26.3 (2011): 327–352.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0017.2011.01420.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents and defends the “agency model” of mental-state attribution, according to which phenomenal consciousness is automatically attributed by default to any entity exhibiting animacy cues—a default that is only overridden as a consequence of controlled processing reflecting the attributor’s beliefs about which sorts of entity are conscious and which are not.

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  • Fiala, Brian, Adam Arico, and Shaun Nichols. “On the Psychological Origins of Dualism: Dual-Process Cognition and the Explanatory Gap.” In Creating Consilience: Integrating the Sciences and the Humanities. Edited by Edward Slingerland and Mark Collard, 88–110. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

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    Deploys the “agency model” (described above) in a dual-process account of the psychological origins of the mind-body problem.

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Epistemology

Within the Western philosophical tradition, epistemology is the subfield that mainly studies the philosophical aspects of knowledge and justified belief. One important methodological commitment of epistemology, at least as it has been practiced recently, involves the use of intuitions about hypothetical cases to gather evidence in favor of theses concerning knowledge and other epistemic notions. Because experimental philosophy involves the experimental study of philosophical intuitions, its methods are naturally applied to epistemology. Experimental epistemologists have mainly focused on specific first-order debates regarding contextualism and pragmatic encroachment, but they have also begun to explore a mix of moral general issues such as intuitions concerning know-how, knowledge entailing belief, and moral encroachment. Lastly, a subsequent portion of the work in experimental epistemology regards issues in philosophical methodology, where the reliability of epistemic intuitions are called into question and debated in light of certain experimental results. These latter contributions are discussed under Metaphilosophy. Pinillos 2011 reviews and challenges some recent work in the field, specifically focusing on how these data might bear on current debates between contextualists and supporters of pragmatic encroachment.

  • Pinillos, N. Ángel. “Some Recent Work in Experimental Epistemology.” Philosophy Compass 6.10 (2011): 675–688.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2011.00440.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This paper summarizes some experimental work that suggests that people’s intuitions do not accord with predictions made by some interpretations of contextualism and pragmatic encroachment. The paper is somewhat critical of this experimental work.

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Contextualism and Pragmatic Encroachment

Experimental philosophers have carried out research that aims to illuminate various first-order theories in epistemology. These include contextualism (the thesis that knowledge attributions can vary in content in epistemically interesting ways depending on the context of utterance) and pragmatic encroachment (the thesis that whether someone who believes P also counts as knowing P may depend on that person’s practical interests). For experimental evidence that goes against pragmatic encroachment and certain types of contextualism, see Buckwalter 2010; Feltz and Zarpentine 2010; and May, et al. 2010. For experimental evidence in favor of contrastivism (a type of contextualism), see Schaffer and Knobe 2010. A good critique of this work can be found in DeRose 2011. For an argument that a lot of the experimental work cannot, in principle, count against pragmatic encroachment, see Brown 2011. For experimental work supporting pragmatic encroachment, see Pinillos 2012.

  • Brown, Jessica. “Experimental Philosophy, Contextualism and SSI.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (12 January 2011).

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1933-1592.2010.00461.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The author argues that the sort of experimental work that has been taken by some to impugn pragmatic encroachment cannot do so. This is because pragmatic encroachment, according to the author, does not make predictions about folk usage of the sort the experiments were aimed to probe. The author argues the same cannot be said about contextualism. Published online prior to print publication.

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  • Buckwalter, Wesley. “Knowledge Isn’t Closed on Saturday: A Study in Ordinary Language.” Review of Philosophy and Psychology 1.3 (2010): 395–406.

    DOI: 10.1007/s13164-010-0030-3Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The author reports on experiments suggesting that people’s use of knowledge may not be sensitive to what is at stake for the purported knower, raising questions about the evidentiary support for some versions of contextualism and pragmatic encroachment based on ordinary intuitions.

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  • DeRose, Keith. “Contextualism, Contrastivism, and X-Phi Surveys.” Philosophical Studies 156.1 (2011): 81–110.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11098-011-9799-xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The author defends contextualism against some experimental philosophy results. The defense does not report on any new experiments. The discussion is particularly useful because it discusses various possibilities for contextualism.

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  • Feltz, Adam, and Chris Zarpentine. “Do You Know More When It Matters Less?” Philosophical Psychology 23.5 (2010): 683–706.

    DOI: 10.1080/09515089.2010.514572Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors present evidence from many different types of experiments that knowledge attributions are not sensitive to what is at stake for the purported knower. This is thought to be problematic for certain versions of pragmatic encroachment.

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  • May, Joshua, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Jay G. Hull, and Aaron Zimmerman. “Practical Interests, Relevant Alternatives, and Knowledge Attributions: An Empirical Study.” Review of Philosophy and Psychology 1.2 (2010): 265–273.

    DOI: 10.1007/s13164-009-0014-3Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Authors report on experiments challenging certain predictions made by theories of pragmatic encroachment and contextualism. Results suggest that agents do not use knowledge in a way that is sensitive to what is at stake for the purported knower, or in a way that is sensitive to error salience.

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  • Pinillos, N. Ángel. “Knowledge, Experiments and Practical Interests.” In Knowledge Ascriptions. Edited by Jessica Brown and Mikkel Gerken, 192–219. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

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    The author reports on experiments suggesting that folk use of knowledge is sensitive to stakes, and that people accept an intuitive principle connecting knowledge and action. This principle has been taken to strongly support pragmatic encroachment. Some of the data presented also goes against certain versions of contextualism.

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  • Schaffer, Jonathan, and Joshua Knobe. “Contrastive Knowledge Surveyed.” Noûs (15 December 2010).

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0068.2010.00795.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors defend contrastivism about knowledge (a type of contextualism) using experimental methods. They also report on evidence that folk knowledge ascriptions are sensitive to salience of error. Published online prior to print publication.

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Know-How, Knowledge Entailing Belief, and Moral Encroachment

Experimental work has also been taken to support other theories in epistemology. For example, a Rylean argument against the reduction of know-how to propositional knowledge is challenged by Bengson, et al. 2009. Also, the idea that there is moral encroachment in knowledge attributions is defended in Beebe and Buckwalter 2010 (cited under Moral Asymmetry in Intuitions).

  • Bengson, John, Marc A. Moffett, and Jennifer C. Wright. “The Folk on Knowing How.” Philosophical Studies 142.3 (2009): 387–401.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11098-007-9193-xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    According to Gilbert Ryle, “knowing how” does not analyze to propositional knowledge. One reason he gave for this is that such a reduction overintellectualizes our mental life. The authors provide some experimental evidence that this charge is without merit.

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Metaphilosophy

Although the majority of the work conducted under the rubric of experimental philosophy have positive projects aimed to secure various positive philosophical theses, one project has had a more specifically negative metaphilosophical goal: raising empirically based concerns about the widespread practice in philosophy today of appealing to intuitions about cases as evidence. In its most basic form, this negative project (also known as “restrictionism,” because of its stated goal of curtailing that target philosophical practice) argues from a starting point of the empirical evidence that reveals unexpected sources of error in intuition. This section reviews several central areas of research in experimental philosophy relating to these challenges. First, experimental philosophers have argued that the demographic diversity of intuitions and instability of intuitions in terms of framing, context, order, and materials effects have important metaphilosophical implications. Second, experimental philosophers have used these data to phrase the challenge this evidence poses to traditional philosophical methods in a number of ways. Third, armchair defenses have been given to meet these challenges, with considerable emphasis on what might be called “wrong intuitions” defenses. Lastly, some philosophers have argued that these findings point to an irresolvable instability of intuitions, further questioning their reliability.

Demographic Diversity

Some experimental work suggests ways in which intuitions vary with such factors as the intuiter’s ethnicity (Machery, et al. 2004, extended in Mallon, et al. 2009; Weinberg, et al. 2001; see also Sarkissian, et al. 2010, cited under Cross-Cultural and Developmental Studies) or gender (Zamzow and Nichols 2009), or other demographic dimensions, such as philosophical background (Nichols, et al. 2003) or personality (Feltz and Cokely 2009, cited under Personality).

  • Machery, Edouard, Ron Mallon, Shaun Nichols, and Stephen Stich. “Semantics, Cross-Cultural Style.” Cognition 92 (2004): B1–B12.

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    The authors report evidence of cross-cultural variation in referential intuitions on variants of Kripke’s “Goedel/Schmidt” case.

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  • Mallon, Ron, Edouard Machery, Shaun Nichols, and Stephen Stich. “Against Arguments from Reference.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 79.2 (2009): 332–356.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1933-1592.2009.00281.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores the substantial range of debates in philosophy that would be radically undermined by results suggesting widespread demographic variation in intuitions about reference.

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  • Nichols, Shaun, Stephen Stich, and Jonathan Weinberg. “Meta-skepticism: Meditations in Ethno-epistemology.” In The Skeptics: Contemporary Essays. Edited by Steven Luper, 227–247. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2003.

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    Participants with less philosophical training seemed more willing to accept a Moorean response to external-world skepticism than did those with more coursework in philosophy. This is perhaps the only negative project paper that makes an argument based on differences between philosophically trained and philosophically naïve subjects.

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  • Weinberg, Jonathan, Shaun Nichols, and Stephen Stich. “Normativity and Epistemic Intuitions.” Philosophical Topics 29.1–2 (2001): 429–460

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    The authors report evidence of cultural and SES variability in intuitions about classical epistemology thought-experiments. There is also evidence of philosophical universality: participants across all demographics were uniformly unwilling to attribute knowledge to someone who was just lucky at guessing whether a coin would land heads or tails.

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  • Zamzow, Jennifer, and Shaun Nichols. “Variations in Ethical Intuitions.” Philosophical Issues 19.1 (2009): 368–388.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1533-6077.2009.00164.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors report evidence of a number of differences in how male and female subjects judge a set of trolley cases. They also explore whether variation in ethical intuitions could actually be, overall, an epistemically good thing for the community to have.

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Framing, Context, Order, and Materials Effects

In addition to variation across persons, there is also evidence of instability of intuitions, in which the philosophical intuitions are susceptible to a number of contextual, framing, or other environmental effects (Petrinovich and O’Neill 1996; Swain, et al. 2008, which is responded to, with new data, in Wright 2010; see also Beebe and Buckwalter 2010, cited under Moral Asymmetry in Intuitions). In addition, a great deal of the work on free will discussed above is also relevant; see Nichols and Knobe 2007, Roskies and Nichols 2008, and Weigel 2011 (all cited under Affect and Abstraction).

  • Petrinovich, Lewis, and Patricia O’Neill. “Influence of Wording and Framing Effects on Moral Intuitions.” Ethology and Sociobiology 17.3 (1996): 145–171.

    DOI: 10.1016/0162-3095(96)00041-6Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors report evidence that framing trolley cases in terms of who will be saved versus who will die can influence judgments about the cases. They also found some influence on judgments from what cases preceded the case being judged.

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  • Swain, Stacey, Joshua Alexander, and Jonathan Weinberg. “The Instability of Philosophical Intuitions: Running Hot and Cold on Truetemp.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 76.1 (2008): 138–155.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1933-1592.2007.00118.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors report evidence of an order effect on a “Truetemp” case. Roughly speaking, when the case follows a clear case of knowledge, subjects are less willing to attribute knowledge in the case than they are when the case is the first one they see.

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  • Wright, Jennifer. “On Intuitional Stability: The Clear, the Strong, and the Paradigmatic.” Cognition 115.3 (2010): 491–503.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2010.02.003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Evidence that degree of confidence in an intuitive judgment may track its instability. Philosophers may thus, it is conjectured, exploit this correlation to help determine where they may be more prone to methodologically unfortunate influences, such as order effects.

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The Challenge

The raw materials of the experimental findings are only one part of the overall argument concerning the use of intuitions in philosophy. There are a number of theoretical questions that arise—in terms of diagnosing the specific nature of the (alleged) epistemological or methodological deficiencies in the traditional practices; in understanding just how severe or wide-reaching the threat of the results are meant to be; and in seeing what possible responses can be made on behalf of the traditional practices. So, what sorts of epistemological and methodological commitments and assumptions must be made in order for the sorts of results canvassed above to begin to make trouble for traditional philosophical practices of appealing to intuitions? This question is explored in Alexander and Weinberg 2007, Goldman 2010, Mallon 2007, Appiah 2008, and Machery 2011. Other works examine which aspects of these practices are under threat, and to what extent, including Feltz 2008; Mallon, et al. 2009 (cited under Demographic Diversity); Horvath 2010; and Ichikawa, et al. 2011.

  • Alexander, Joshua, and Jonathan Weinberg. “Analytic Epistemology and Experimental Philosophy.” Philosophy Compass 2.1 (2007): 56–80.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2006.00048.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents a basic framework for distinguishing the negative project (“restrictionist”) uses of experimental philosophy from positive approaches; different models of the philosophical practice of appealing to intuitions; and a survey of some early responses on behalf of that practice.

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  • Appiah, Kwame Anthony. Experiments in Ethics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008.

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    A wide-ranging exploration of a number of the theoretical issues involved in bringing scientific work to bear on ethical questions, arguing for a position that can respect both the contribution of the scientific work and more traditional approaches.

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  • Feltz, Adam. “Problems with the Appeal to Intuition in Epistemology.” Philosophical Explorations 11.2 (2008): 131–141.

    DOI: 10.1080/13869790802015650Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Targets some a priori arguments that would purport to show no experimental demonstration of the unreliability of intuitions in philosophy.

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  • Goldman, Alvin. “Philosophical Naturalism and Intuitional Methodology.” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 84 (2010): 115–150.

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    Presents a naturalistic and reliabilist framework for thinking about the use of intuitions in philosophy, with an extended exploration of what it means to understand intuitions as distinctively classificatory judgments.

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  • Horvath, Joachim. “How (Not) to React to Experimental Philosophy.” Philosophical Psychology 23.4 (2010): 447–480.

    DOI: 10.1080/09515089.2010.505878Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Offers a construal of the debate that suggests only a “conservative restrictionism” is well motivated—not that the practices on the whole are challenged, but only the specific cases that have been experimentally examined.

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  • Ichikawa, Jonathan, Ishani Maitra, and Brian Weatherson. “In Defense of a Kripkean Dogma.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (18 February 2011).

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    Contends that intuitions about reference of the sort that have been studied in experimental philosophy do not play much of a role in philosophical debates about reference, or that appeal to causal-historical theories of reference as a premise. Published online prior to print publication.

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  • Machery, Edouard. “Thought Experiments and Philosophical Knowledge.” Metaphilosophy 42.3 (2011): 191–214.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9973.2011.01700.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Construes the negative project as offering a limited and conditional version of skepticism about thought experiments. The author argues that there are several different ways that ordinary cognition might be inadequate for some thought experiments.

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  • Mallon, Ron. “Arguments from Reference and the Worry about Dependence.” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 31.1 (2007): 160–183.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4975.2007.00155.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Frames the concern about philosophical intuitions not in terms of whether philosophers’ judgments about which premises to accept in an important class of arguments is itself dependent on their desired conclusions.

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Reactions to and Refinements of the Challenge

Further statements of this challenge have also explored its specificity and scope. Are the practices already sufficiently empirical to avoid the challenge? This question is explored in Stich and Weinberg 2001, Weinberg 2007, Grundmann 2010, Talbot 2009, Brown 2011, and Ichikawa 2011. Further, does the challenge apply not just to armchair philosophy, but also to some forms of experimental philosophy as well (Alexander, et al. 2010)?

  • Alexander, Joshua, Ron Mallon, and Jonathan Weinberg. “Accentuate the Negative.” Review of Philosophy and Psychology 1.2 (2010): 297–314.

    DOI: 10.1007/s13164-009-0015-2Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Points out that not just traditional “armchair” methods are under pressure from these experimental results, but also a number of positive projects in experimental philosophy as well.

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  • Brown, Jessica. “Intuitions, Evidence, and Hopefulness.” Synthese 182 (2011): 1–26.

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    Points out several cases in which it looks like we might want to endorse a methodology even if it were not hopeful, and that the pragmatic nature of the case for hopefulness entails that its importance can in principle be overridden by other pragmatic factors.

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  • Grundmann, Thomas. “Some Hope for Intuitions: A Reply to Weinberg.” Philosophical Psychology 23.4 (2010): 481–509.

    DOI: 10.1080/09515089.2010.505958Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that a high degree of reliability entails the existence of a capacity to detect and correct for errors, and so Weinberg’s attempt to distinguish hopefulness as a further condition on trustworthiness, above and beyond reliability, fails.

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  • Ichikawa, Jonathan. “Experimentalist Pressure against Traditional Methodology.” Philosophical Psychology (28 October 2011).

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    Suggests a number of ways, with close attention to specific papers in the literature, in which current philosophical practice already contains a fair capacity to check for its own errors. Available online prior to print publication.

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  • Stich, Stephen, and Jonathan Weinberg. “Jackson’s Empirical Assumptions.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 62.3 (2001): 637–643.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1933-1592.2001.tb00081.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Points out that philosophers may be relying illegitimately on unsystematic and uncontrolled observations of people’s intuitions, in a way that will lead them to overestimate the degree of agreement about those intuitions.

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  • Talbot, Brian. “Psychology and the Use of Intuitions in Philosophy.” Studia Philosophica Estonica 2.2 (2009): 157–176.

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    Emphasizes the importance of investigating not just the pattern of intuitions, but also the underlying psychological mechanisms that produce them, if we are to understand where they are and are not trustworthy.

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  • Weinberg, Jonathan. “How to Challenge Intuitions Empirically without Risking Skepticism.” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 31.1 (2007): 318–343.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4975.2007.00157.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents a framework for debating the trustworthiness of intuitions in terms of “hopefulness”: not the reliability of a source of evidence, but our capacity to detect, quarantine, and correct errors in that source. The author contends that the practice of appealing to intuitions in philosophy is substantially without “hope.”

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Armchair Defenses

Unsurprisingly, the challenge of the negative project has received many responses looking to defend the traditional intuition-deploying practices from the experimental critique. In a series of papers, Ernest Sosa has articulated an attempt to assimilate the negative project arguments to more traditional forms of skeptical argument, which thus should be seen as failing for the same reason that those skeptical arguments do (Sosa 2006, Sosa 2009, Sosa 2011). Alternatively, some philosophers have addressed the design of the existing experiments, suggesting ways in which they might not yield appropriate results, perhaps because of the pragmatics of survey design (Cullen 2010), or because the experiments as run have not successfully targeted the philosophical claims they meant to address (DeRose 2011, cited under Contextualism and Pragmatic Encroachment). Still others have argued that philosophers do not make any serious reliance on intuitions, and thus all of the experimental philosophy work is simply irrelevant to evaluating its methodology (Cappelan 2012, Deutsch 2010), though this line turns out to be somewhat hard to sustain, as the experiments may still be relevant under different construals as one also reconstrues philosophical practice (Alexander 2010).

The “Wrong Intuitions” Defenses

A number of philosophers have argued against one specific part of the negative project’s commitments, which holds that the patterns found in the experimental work can be expected to be found in professional philosophical intuitions as well. These can be taxonomized in terms of what sorts of differences they posit between what is measured in the experiments and what gets used by the philosophers: intuiting only upon sufficient reflection (Kauppinen 2007; Livengood, et al. 2010; Weinberg, et al. 2010), appealing to a phenomenology of seeming (Schwitzgebel and Cushman 2012), or the deployment of training that makes one a philosophical expert (Ludwig 2007; Schulz, et al. 2011; Weinberg, et al. 2010; Williamson 2011).

  • Kauppinen, Antti. “The Rise and Fall of Experimental Philosophy.” Philosophical Explorations 10.2 (2007): 95–118.

    DOI: 10.1080/13869790701305871Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The author argues that surveys of the sort used by experimental philosophers can only measure “surface” intuitions, but “robust” intuitions of the sort arrived at by thinking harder and reflecting on the scenarios may not have the kind of instability and variation reported in the experimental studies.

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  • Livengood, Jonathan, Justin Sytsma, Adam Feltz, Richard Scheines, and Edouard Machery. “Philosophical Temperament.” Philosophical Psychology 23.3 (2010): 313–330.

    DOI: 10.1080/09515089.2010.490941Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A large-scale survey indicating that, even controlling for other factors like general education level, philosophers are more reflective than nonphilosophers, as measured by performance on the Cognitive Reflection Task.

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  • Ludwig, Kirk. “The Epistemology of Thought Experiments: First Person versus Third Person Approaches.” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 31 (2007): 128–159.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4975.2007.00160.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analogizes philosophers to expert mathematicians making judgments about infinity, who we would clearly trust over any untrained folk making their own judgments about such matters.

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  • Schulz, Eric, Edward Cokely, and Adam Feltz. “Persistent Bias in Expert Judgments about Free Will and Moral Responsibility: A Test of the Expertise Defense.” Consciousness and Cognition 20.4 (2011): 1722–1731.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.concog.2011.04.007Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors report an actual recent investigation of the philosophical expert population, and report evidence indicating persistent influence of the personality trait of extraversion on judgments concerning free will even in that population (see also Feltz and Cokely 2009, cited under Personality).

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  • Schwitzgebel, Eric, and Fiery Cushman. “Expertise in Moral Reasoning? Order Effects on Moral Judgment in Professional Philosophers and Non-Philosophers.” Mind & Language 27.2 (2012): 135–153.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0017.2012.01438.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors report an actual recent investigation of the philosophical expert population, and report evidence of persistent order effects, in their judgments, about trolley cases, and even a heightened order effect about moral principles.

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  • Weinberg, Jonathan, Chad Gonnerman, Cameron Buckner, and Joshua Alexander. “Are Philosophers Expert Intuiters?” Philosophical Psychology 23.3 (2010): 331–355.

    DOI: 10.1080/09515089.2010.490944Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Surveys portions of the extant psychological literature on expertise, then renders a pessimistic verdict on the likelihood that philosophers have expertise of the very specific sort needed to preempt the challenge of the negative project.

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  • Williamson, Timothy. “Philosophical Expertise and the Burden of Proof.” Metaphilosophy 42.3 (2011): 215–229.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9973.2011.01685.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Contends that, because performing actual investigations of the philosophical expert population would be so difficult that it would be unreasonable to expect anyone to pursue such investigations, we should instead grant substantial deference to the philosophical experts.

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Irresolvable Instability?

Several philosophers have suggested that some of the effects suggested by experimental philosophy could be understood as signs that we as individuals do not have any one stable inner epistemology, morality, metaphysics, and so on. Thus it may be futile to try to separate those that are the “competent” intuitions from the ones that may be mere performance errors: these instabilities may be part and parcel of our competences. This is explored in Nichols and Ulatowski 2007 (cited under Individual Differences Explanations), Gendler 2007, and Spicer 2010. See also Sinnott-Armstrong 2008 (cited under Affect and Abstraction).

LAST MODIFIED: 10/25/2012

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195396577-0162

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