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« What does the experimental evidence actually say about the stability of moral intuitions? | Main | Intuitive Expertise and Irrelevant Options »

08/23/2016

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Joshua Knobe

I have a great deal of respect for all of the participants in this meta-philosophical discussion, but for reasons that are closely related to these last few posts, I worry that the discussion has kind of gotten off on the wrong foot.

For example, both the book and the review suggest that experimental philosophy has provided evidence for cross-cultural differences in epistemic intuitions, and they then explore questions about the philosophical implications of these purported differences. However, the actual finding coming out of experimental philosophy is exactly the opposite, namely, that the patterns in people's epistemic intuitions are shockingly robust across cultures. This is the result obtained in all of the following experimental papers:

http://philpapers.org/archive/YUACUO.pdf
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/nous.12110/abstract
http://philpapers.org/rec/KIMNCD
http://philpapers.org/rec/SEYONA-2
http://www.yorku.ca/mar/Nagel%20et%20al%20in%20press_Cog_Lay%20denial%20of%20knowledge%20for%20justified%20true%20beliefs.pdf

This result leaves us with some difficult and important philosophical questions -- questions that can only be addressed through sustained philosophical reflection. However, the questions we face are exactly the opposite of the ones being debated in contemporary metaphilosophical work. What we need to be exploring are the philosophical implications of the fact that the patterns in people's epistemic intuitions are so remarkably similar from one culture to the next.

More generally, I sometimes worry that the metaphilosophical literature on experimental philosophy might be going a little bit in the wrong direction. I have the utmost respect for the rigor and ingenuity displayed by participants in these discussions, and we absolutely do need serious meta-philosophical reflection of precisely sort these people are pursuing. But I fear that this kind of work is becoming increasingly disconnected from the concrete empirical research. The result is that a large portion of the metaphilosophical literature just doesn't in any way involve philosophizing about the results experimental philosophers have actually obtained.

I don't know if there is any hope for this, but it would be wonderful if we could foster more connections between these different communities. The philosophers pursuing meta-philosophical questions have demonstrated a truly impressive ability to explore the philosophical implications of possible results, and if we could initiate more of a dialogue between them and the people who are generating lots of results all the time, I think there could be potential for really deep and important insights into the meta-philosophical implications of the results we are actually getting.

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