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Edouard Machery

Join us and help the society grow!


So I am confused about what exactly experimental philosophy is? From the description on the homepage, it sounds like it is just empirically informed philosophy. But, it seems that in the past experimental philosophy has been something more like a matter of polling people in order to determine whether they share philosopher's intuitions about how terms refer, whether someone is morally responsible, etc. Am I right to understand that experimental philosophy now takes itself to just be empirically informed philosophy? If so, should we call someone like John Bickle, someone who definitely is an empirically informed and minded philosopher, an experimental philosopher? I for one am interested in looking at the bearing of empirical data on philosophical issues-I take this to be key to being an empirically informed and minded philosopher- but would not consider myself a proponent of experimental philosophy (though I am also not an opponent of the program-- I just think that experimental philosophy and empirically informed philosophy are different things; perhaps the former is a subset of the latter). Maybe I have just missed the point about experimental philosophy. Any clarification would be appreciated.

Eric Schwitzgebel

Thomas deserves a lot of credit for herding the cats.

(And reader, I'm confused about exactly the same thing you are, and I've pestered the other members of the executive committee about it. We did have a go-round about this sort of thing maybe a year and a half ago on this blog.) Maybe what we've got here is an open-textured, partly sociological, cluster concept. (With apologies to Edouard.)

Edouard Machery

indeed, Eric, there is no such thing...



I take it that the difference between experimental philosophy and empirically informed philosophy is that the former involves philosophers who actually run controlled and systematic studies, collect and analyze data, and explore the relevance of these data to first order philosophical theorizing (hence it is both "experimental" and "philosophical"). Empirically informed philosophers, on the other hand, don't usually have a hand in collecting the data they use when they philosophize.


That reminds me, perhaps I should have mentioned that we are presently registered as a non-profit organization in PA and we plan to register with the IRS soon for similar federal status. So, any membership dues will be deposited directly into the XPS bank account. One of our goals is to be able to provide some modest travel stipends for undergrads and grad students who are presenting at our society meetings at the APA. In short, I didn't want anyone to mistakenly think that their membership dues would be going into the pockets of me or any of the other members of the executive committee. Perhaps I should have made that clear in the earlier post...

Josh May

Congrats on setting this up! I just went over and payed my dues via Paypal. It was way easy!


Congrats! to all the people inolved in this enterprise.


so looking at the X-phi website I am once again confused. the way that the society is described is that it involves "the collection of empirical data to shed light on philosophical issues." This seems to include not only what you (nadelhoffer) consider experimental philosophy, but empirically informed philosophy as well. If the idea is that one (i.e., experimental philosophy) does not subsume the other (empirically informed philosophy), then it might be useful to make this clear on the society's homepage.


As I said earlier in this thread, experimental philosophy is a species of empirically informed philosophy. Whereas the latter is just philosophy that draws on empirical literature to shed light on philosophical problems, the former actually involves running controlled and systematic studies to get at the salient data. To be honest, I have never fully understood why this issue is so perplexing to others. By my lights, the distinction between the two is clear cut. Of course, the difficulty is trying to figure out the philosophical part rather than the experimental part since we don't want to view x-phi so broadly than any work in psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc. counts. The solution is to limit x-phi to work that is both overtly experimental and overtly philosophical. That being said, I have now changed the mission statement in the following way:

The purpose of this society is to support, encourage, and publicize work in the area of academic philosophy known as "experimental philosophy." Experimental philosophers run controlled and systematic studies to shed light on philosophical issues. Therefore, it is expected that the membership of the society will include faculty, students, and interested amateurs not only in philosophy but also in psychology, anthropology, sociology, law, and other related fields.

Hopefully this sufficiently clarifies the issue for the purposes of the XPS homepage.


Perhaps some people have a hard time understanding what experimental philosophy is because they want to draw an analogy between experimental philosophy and, e.g., experimental physics, but find that the analogy does not work very well. After all, experimental physicists do not go around asking people from different countries, different economic backgrounds, etc. what they think the trajectory of a cannon ball will be in some hypothetical circumstance. What would be the point? No sane physicist would give weight to folk ‘intuitions’ about how bodies behave, and it was a mark of progress when physicists no longer felt it necessary to square their theories with such physical intuitions. Of course, there is a good reason why a psychologist would conduct such experiments, since they might reveal something about our cognitive architecture (see the ‘naïve’ physics literature!). But it would be nuts if such a psychologist tried to publish her findings in a physics journal. So why would it make sense in philosophy? I suppose the thought is that, since some philosophers do think that consulting intuitions is (sometimes) a way to discover truths about a variety of phenomena, it makes a kind of sense to investigate the intuitions of those outside of academic philosophy. Still, it is not clear why we should bother. Suppose it turns out that everyone has Kripkean intuitions about reference. Would this vindicate the use of intuitions to establish claims about language? If so, why? After all, it might turn out that intuitions about motion are widely shared, too. But if those intuitions supported Aristotelian physics, no physicist would care (and rightly so).

jonathan weinberg

Martin, there are a great many different answers to your queries already extant in the literature, and they are not hard to find and they are not hard to follow. Why don't you, like, actually _read_ some of it, and come back when (and only when) you have an informed opinion?


Thomas, for whats its worth, I think the intro is much better now.

Martin Roth


Perhaps you will consider the possibility that I _have read_ some of it, do have an informed opinion, but still have doubts about what the results of such experiments would or would not show, or why they matter. If I told you that I was largely in agreement with the views of Cummins and Churchland, e.g., that intuitions reflect something like "folk" theories, that folk theories have had a dismal track record in other fields, and that this gives us some reason to be pessimistic that folk theories of, e.g., mind, are accurate, would that thereby render my opinions uninformed (as opposed to merely controversial or disputable)?

jonathan weinberg

Martin, you asked a question about what experimental philosophers take themselves to be doing, such that it is a contribution to philosophy. ("So why would it make sense in philosophy?") It is, as I said, a question that is taken up in a great many -- probably a majority -- of the published papers in experimental philosophy. And a number of interestingly different answers have been given to it. That you simply hadn't read any of the papers was (and still is) the most charitable interpretation I can think of for the ignorance of these various metaphilosophical positions that your comment seemed to display.

If you find any or all of those many extant self-understandings of x-phi inadequate, then by all means _engage with them_. Raising intelligent & informed doubts about our views is of course very much welcomed. But your earlier comment does not seem to me to count as such, and indeed seems to presume a kind of metaphilosophical slack-jawedness on the part of experimental philosophers which would simply not be borne out by attention to our actual published texts.

Martin Roth


The tightness of jaws is not in dispute.

Perhaps you will agree that the following is a fair (albeit quick and dirty) account of much of what’s gone on in x-phi and in disputes over x-phi:

1. Philosopher A claims to establish result R on the basis of method M. M involves the use of intuitions.
2. Philosopher A accepts that whether her intuitions establish R depends (at least somewhat) on whether others share her intuitions (including the folk).
3. Philosopher X produces evidence that A’s intuitions are not widely shared by the folk
4. Philosopher X uses this evidence to call into question the use of M to establish results in some domain
5. Philosopher A challenges X’s methods of gathering this evidence and/or challenges the conclusion X draws from the evidence.
6. A lively debate ensues.

Philosopher X may have other reasons to call into question the use of M, of course (from reading “Challenging Intuitions,” I assume you agree). But I think it is fair to say that much of the discussion surrounding x-phi has focused on the methods used to gather evidence about the folk and what such evidence does or does not show about M (do you disagree?).

My concern is that not enough attention has been paid to what we should say if

7. Philosopher X produces evidence that A’s intuitions are widely shared by the folk

The worry is that a possible effect of focusing on the putative evidence of disagreement may be that cases where there is evidence of widespread agreement will be interpreted as giving authority to the judgments in such cases. Your response is that there’s lots of stuff out there about this and that I should look into it before voicing an opinion. Fair enough, but before I shuffle off to the library, I will risk re-expressing my original suspicions. Consider the following:

In a forthcoming paper by Moffett, Bengson, and Wright (“The Folk on Knowing-How”), M, B, and W present experimental data that suggest that the folk are “intellectualists” about know-how (their inspiration for doing this was a remark made by Noe about what the folk would or would not say about certain hypothetical cases). Suppose they are right; that is, suppose the data show that an overwhelming majority of people are intellectualists. How should we respond to such data; more specifically, how should those of us interested in cognitive science respond? Here are a couple of options (not exhaustive and perhaps not mutually exclusive):

1. Those like Bechtel, Abrahamsen, and Churchland (to name just a few) are all wrong, since each of them denies intellectualism about know-how.
2. The data are irrelevant to what Bechtel, Abrahamsen, Churchland, etc. are arguing. ‘Know-how’ is an ordinary concept, not a scientific one, and so Bechtel, Abrahamsen, and Churchland may be right in what they say, but wrong in thinking that they are talking about know-how; instead, they are talking about something else.

Suppose you embrace option 1. Then what you are saying is that folk judgments about ‘know-how’ can actually settle debates in cognitive science about the architecture of the mind (or have a substantive role to play in those debates).

Suppose you embrace option 2. Then what you are saying is that folk judgments about ‘know-how’ have nothing interesting to tell us about the architecture of the mind (except insofar as those judgments may reveal something about how we *think* about know-how; but then such experiments should be interpreted in the way we interpret experiments concerning folk judgments of motion—they do not tell us anything about mechanics).

My original point was that if we were talking about the concept of motion, it would look nuts to suppose that questions in physics could be settled by folk judgments about motion. So out goes option 1. This leaves option 2. But option 2 makes folk judgments irrelevant to physics.

Why should cognitive science be any different from physics in this regard? And if it isn’t, then why do so many of those philosophers who defend intellectualism (from the armchair) claim to have refuted Bechtel and Abrahamsen?

A Philosopher

I agree with Martin.

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