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10/09/2014

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anonymousethicist

It would be interesting to re-run some parts of the study with more specific questions, or versions of questions that allowed for more options. You write, for instance, "I was surprised that ethics was not viewed as depending on integration with cognitive and social science because I think that, to the extent that it is central to philosophy, ethical theory should be informed by facts about welfare, psychology, and social relations of humans with other animals." One might agree with all, or at least part, of the latter claim that "ethical theory should be informed by facts about welfare, psychology, and social relations of humans with other animals" and yet hold, for instance, that cognitive science as it is currently understood and practiced can give us no or almost no relevant information about relevant such facts, that whether or not psychology can do so depends on which branch of psychology (and whether clinical or research) we're talking about, and that (as you allude to later in the paper) history might, indirectly, give us some prima facie relevant evidence as to relevant facts of this sort, but it is unclear--descriptively as a matter of current institutional structures in academe, but also normatively-- whether history is properly classified as a social science. Add to that that undoubtedly at least some people filling out the survey had some not implausible grounds for suspecting that endorsing the dependence claim in this arena would be read as endorsing the currently prevailing experimental-philosopher claims about the ways and sense in which ethics might be thought to depend on "cognitive and social sciences" and one filling out the survey might well have thought the best way to reflect one's views would be to reject the dependence claim altogether.

John Turri

Hi Anon Ethicist,

I agree that all of the following could contribute to the result(s) in question: (1) some people falsely believe that current cognitive science gives "no or almost no relevant information" for ethics; (2) some people might have not noticed or might have misunderstood "relevant" and so disagreed because no specific branch of psychology was mentioned; (3) some people might have (though I would not say "undoubtedly," unless you're implicitly indicating that you did this) used the opportunity to protest against experimental philosophy.

I do not agree, however, that there are "not implausible grounds for suspecting that endorsing the dependence claim" amounts to endorsing experimental philosophy. That interpretation of the task is implausible, even if you're correct that some people adopted it.

anonymousethicist

I didn't say "amounts to endorsing"; I said "would be read as endorsing"-- that still seems to me not implausible, given e.g. : the author's own commitments-- as avowed even in your response, and the fact that the results are being announced and linked to through the experimental philosophers blog.

But perhaps we can return to more neutral territory. I take it that (part of) the point is that you want to know what philosophers, perhaps especially specialists in individual fields, think with regard to these issues. Here, for instance, would be one way to find out when it comes to ethics: You could pose the general question, (1) Agree/disagree "Facts about human psychology, human social relations, and/or similarities/differences between human beings and other animals should inform, in important and substantive respects, philosophical works in ethics". (2) If you agree with regard to (1), in what fields? (followed by list of usual subdivisions in ethics) If you agree with regard to (1), from which particular academic disciplines outside of philosophy might pertinent information relevant to such facts as are at issue in (1) be gleaned? [Followed by, e.g., a checklist that includes many different particular disciplines, and perhaps several blank spaces for participants to offer suggestions that do not appear on the checklist] Some ethicists, I would expect, will jump off board even at (1)--there are certain traditional Kantians, for instance, who will not avow even that. Others, I would guess, would endorse (1), but have subfield-specific views about the relevance of such facts. And some, I would guess, would name disciplines/departments that are not easily or obviously categorized as "cognitive and social sciences" in response to (3).

John Turri

Yes, I'm afraid, it is also implausible to think that it "would be read as endorsing" that. I doubt that very many participants were aware of my views on the issue. And, of course, the fact that I've endorsed the (correct) view here and posted the survey results on this blog could not possibly have influenced people's responses on the survey a month ago.

Your alternative proposal for questioning ethicists is interesting and I see a lot of merit in it. It's another way of getting relevant and potentially useful information.

anonymousethicist

I have no way of knowing whether others were aware of your views before filling out the survey. My own guess is that a good number were, and at least some who were not already so aware googled you and read around before filling out the survey. But you could always do a follow-up survey and ask.
I appreciate your words about my suggestions from the previous post.

Wesley Buckwalter

I find the hypotheses above to explain differences in opinion about ethics and empirical inquiry as opposed to several other areas pretty interesting. But I was also wondering, how would knowing the personal views of the author of the study, or not liking experimental philosophy, lead to different answers about ethics over other areas of philosophy? I also wonder why false beliefs about current research in cognitive science would affect judgments about ethics specifically over the other areas. In any event, I suppose even if the later does end up being the best explanation of the finding, it's still pretty interesting that this basic measure of professional reactions indicates, initially at least, or without a bunch of qualifications, lower integration judgements for ethics. I'm curious if this initial reaction resonates with some anecdotal experiences moral psychologists have had in their interactions with philosophers.

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3QD Prize 2012: Wesley Buckwalter