Elucidations: Prev Next

What is it?

It’s an alternative source of evidence towards philosophical theses. It’s not always meant to undermine traditional (armchair / mathematical) philosophy.

Free will example

  • Philosphers use “our intuitions” as evidence for a compatibilist view
  • Among all our externally determined actions, they need to identify a subset of them as “free” - meaning things for which people can be credited / praised / blamed for.
  • Our concept of “freedom” is compatible with our concept of “externally caused”
  • To demonstrate this, they use a thought experiment, but empirically we find that the result of that experiment by varying trivial details - calls into doubt whether the thought experiment was only convincing to a biased group of people.
  • We tend to believe people can be held accountable when the stakes are higher (the thought experiment example action is trivial => people conclude determinism, the action is something heinous => people conclude compatibilism)

Why care?

Why do we care what laypeople think over professional philosophers? Are philosophers biased away from the truth? Aren’t we learning about what people say rather than what really is?

  1. We’re supplementing traditional philosophy - we want to show philosophical conclusions are not at odds with reality (we at least need an account in light of the evidence, e.g., above)
  2. Laypeople lack prior theoretical commitments to bias them.
  3. A general psychological investigation into how we draw conclusions from evidence (what biases are at play when we go data -> theory) is precisely what philosophy has always done. - We can learn how to do philosophy better by understanding, e.g., that we are likely to draw certain conclusions given our human desire to punish. - Some of our theories are an expression of current cultural identity rather than universal truth

Moral consequences

  • This is in line with Nietzsche’s geneology of morality, which leads to severe relativism. Is this a natural consequence?
    • Experimental philosophy is neutral - people disagreeing about morality is evidence for our knowledge of morality rather than evidence for it being relative
    • Arguments about morality that are based on people sharing intuitions however could be invalidated/validated based on the evidence.
    • Utilitarians may have conclusions that can be demonstrably against layperson ethical intuitions, but they can have independent arguments for why they are still right and our intuitions are wrong.

Empiricism vs rationalism

  • Do we have faculties that trancend experience?
  • Empiricists see a continuity between what we observe and how we reason
    • David Hume argues that we “think in pictures” and arrives at this conclusion by personal reflection.
    • Rationalists like Descartes says we can conceive of distinct figures of 1000 vs 999 sides, even if they are visually indistinguishable.
  • This point could be resolved by traditional psychology.