The future of experimental philosophy

March’s Prospect magazine has an excellent article on ‘experimental philosophy’ that gives a good overview of an exciting new branch of philosophy as well as picking up on some of the growing criticisms and detractors.

The first half of the article covers the current methods and strands of thought in the field, discussing brain scans, trolley problems and intentionality. If you’re familiar with the ‘x-phi’ movement this is really just a well-written recap.

However, the second half tackles criticisms of the field by more established philosophers and is a useful counter-point to much of the unfettered enthusiasm which has gripped the recent media reports.

Points of disagreement include relying on the fuzzy data of brain scans, the fact that the field aims to find out about what people think in general rather than building the soundest conceptual solutions, and the accusation that it’s “a cynical step by researchers to appear cutting edge and to tap into scientists‚Äô funding”.

Ouch. If you’re not wincing already, it’s probably worth noting that this is the philosophical equivalent of saying your girlfriend looks fat in her new dress.

The piece finishes on the interesting idea that perhaps one of the field’s main contributions is to develop a context dependent philosophy that isn’t so swayed by the world view of academic thinkers.

Link to Prospect article ‘Philosophy‚Äôs great experiment’.

One Comment

  1. Michael MacAskill
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    Oh, experimental philosophy, I think I’ve heard of that. Started up by those hip, cutting-edge guys Wundt, Helmholtz, and James. But in the late 19th century it was renamed ‘psychology’ :)


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