Experiments with philosophy

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“Experimental philosophy is one of the most exciting and controversial developments in philosophy in recent years. Whether it undermines or extends the methods of traditional philosophy, it raises questions that go to the heart of philosophical inquiry."

— David Chalmers, Department of Philosophy, Australian National University

Experimental Philosophy or Academic Philosophy is an emerging new movement that seeks to return the discipline of philosophy to a focus on questions about how people actually think and feel.  Experimental Philosophy scholars go out and conduct systematic experiments to arrive at a better understanding of people’s ordinary intuitions related to significant philosophical questions.

Many of these scholars are attempting to gain insights into this philosophical dilemma by applying experimental methods. Among them is Shaun Nichols, a professor in the Philosophy Department at the University of Arizona. He is one of the major figures in the Experimental Philosophy movement and was awarded the Stanton Prize by the Society for Philosophy and Psychology in 2005. The research he carries out at the University of Arizona focuses on intuitive judgments that figure in philosophical inquiry.

Currently the research explores several issues, including intuitive judgments of consciousness, psychological limits on the imagination, group differences in moral judgment, and intuitions about free will and responsibility. His latest findings ‘Experimental Philosophy and the Problem of Free Will’ are carried in the current issue of the journal Science Daily, online, at  http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110317163634.htm

The concept

The Experimental Philosophy movement is hardly 10 years old, yet there are now hundreds of publications related to it. A great deal of research work on intriguing topics like moral judgment, causal reasoning, and how people think about consciousness is being carried out in many universities around the world. In the US there are many universities which offer graduate courses too on Experimental Philosophy (X-Phi). To name a few:

*Rutgers University: (http://philosophy.rutgers.edu/), one of the top ranked graduate programmes in philosophy, offers a great chance to work with some great philosophers including Stepehen Stich who has done cross-cultural work in experimental philosophy of language.

*The History of Philosophy and Science Department at the University of Pittsburgh  (http://www.pitt.edu/~hpsdept/) can be a good choice for students interested in Experimental Philosophy.

*The Yale University (http://www.yale.edu/philos/ ) offers one of the best places to do graduate work in Experimental Philosophy with a programme in cognitive science.

*The University of Arizona (w3.arizona.edu/~phil/)  has not only graduate programmes in Experimental Philosophy, it also has an experimental philosophy lab. The programme is guided by Shaun Nichols, who has been behind some of the most interesting work in x-phi. 

*The Indiana University: (http://www.indiana.edu/~phil/index.html), has a good school focused on empirical philosophy. It has an Experimental Philosophy epistemology lab led by Jonathan Weinberg who after carrying out some well known research on intuitions now focuses on the metaphilosophical importance of experimental philosophy. 

*The Washington University (http://artsci.wustl.edu/~philos/) is home to philosopher John Doris. His work has been important and influential in the area of moral psychology and ethics and fits firmly within the interdisciplinary nature of cognitive science.

Blogs and societies

If you are looking only for a brief overview of experimental philosophy and wish to know what is currently going on, you could visit the Experimental Philosophy blog at http://pantheon.yale.edu/~jk762/ExperimentalPhilosophy.html. The site also has x-phi related information, like journals which carry x-phi papers, and a list of Experimental Philosophy labs and organisations. If you want to follow the x-phi movement you can keep yourself updated at http://www.myspace.com/experimentalphilosophy.

However, if you wish to understand in detail what Experimental Philosophy is all about, a good place to start with is the EPS (Experimental Philosophy Society) at http://x-phi.org. The society promotes research at the cross-roads of philosophy and science. It supports, encourages, and publicises work in the area of academic philosophy known as ‘Experimental Philosophy’. One of the primary goals of XPS is to provide undergraduates and graduate students with the opportunity to meet and discuss their work with junior and senior experimental philosophers.  Also, the Experimental Philosophy page at
http://pantheon.yale.edu/~jk762/ExperimentalPhilosophy.html is worth looking at. This link  facilitates access to almost all of the Experimental Philosophy papers published thus far. Here, you can also check out the cutting edge section to read about the newest research in Experimental Philosophy. Another place on the web to browse would be The Experimental Philosophy Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia which has chronicled the areas of research under various categories, like Consciousness, Cultural diversity, Determinism and Moral Responsibility, Epistemology, Intentional Action and others. You could also view YouTube videos, among them are Experimental Philosophy Starring Eugene Mirman, Experimental Philosophy of Freedom, and Experimental Philosophy Anthem. 

A ppt presentation ‘What Can Experimental Philosophy Do’ can be downloaded too at www.consc.net/papers/xphi.ppt.

If you prefer to read a book on Experimental Philosophy, you needn’t go further than ‘Experimental Philosophy’, edited by Joshua Knobe and Shaun Nichols, an Oxford University Press publication. Kwame Anthony Appiah, Department of Philosophy, Princeton University, has this to say about this book — “Many philosophical questions are about human concepts. But the diversity of the philosophers’ intuitions suggests that our intuitive access to concepts is far from reliable. So why not explore human intuition experimentally by studying the intuition of our fellow humans? This sane and productive idea has been the impetus for the new Experimental Philosophy; and this book brings some of the best of that work — including some important reflections on the questions of method it raises-together. Anyone who is interested in what is going on in philosophy now should read this stuff.”

Most work in the field of Experimental Philosophy utilises survey research in order to discern the source of the various intuitions people have to philosophical thoughts. Close attention is paid to empirical matters in order to determine how those matters might bear on philosophical issues. According to Oxford Professor Neil Levy, who specialises in free will and moral responsibility, and empirical approaches to ethics, the Experimental Philosophy movement is certainly one of the most exciting developments in contemporary philosophy.

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