Are all x-phi’ers naturalists, and is that a good thing?

If that title buys me a few seconds of your attention, let me unpack those two questions just enough to show you exactly what I mean to ask here. What I mean to ask is: Is it universally understood that being an x-phi’er implies being a naturalist (that is, that the tie between those concepts is somehow knowable a priori)? Do most (but not all) people expect an x-phi’er to be a naturalist (just because being one is positively correlated with being the other)? And is there a metaphilosophically important rationale for a “yes” answer to either of the previous questions? Or is any correlation merely a sociological phenomenon, possibly arising from misconceptions and foggy, personality-driven ideology? Somehow, a five-line title to this post seemed like a bad idea. But those are the questions. And, if you look closely at them, you may see how loaded they are, in that they may lead to a host of issues in metaphilosophy that seem exciting to many CD readers. (The bulk of this post will be taken up with a perspective on the last of those questions.)

Those are honest questions (if “honest” is the right antonym for “rhetorical”). But I can’t help myself: I’ll feel somehow cowardly if I don’t volunteer some tentative answers to these potentially divisive questions. (The romantic voice in my head keeps asking: “Have you seen these questions posed in precisely the way they’ve been tormenting you? Don’t you suspect that there’s something potentially helpful to others in that torment – especially to the gullible among students out there?”) So, if you are reading this on the edge of your seat by now, here’s the button to click:

Now, I’m simply incapable of injecting honesty into an article like this unless I risk giving you a good look into what I fear may be the gargantuan depths of my ignorance in these metaphilosophical matters. If I’m going to claim any of your time here, I really must expose some of my innermost thoughts (mostly suspicions) about both naturalism and experimental philosophy. The piece would be a total waste of time without them. And, I’m sorry: there will have to be more autobiographical language here than I’m naturally inclined to use elsewhere.

It’s a great time to call oneself a “naturalist”, isn’t? I mean, there just doesn’t seem to be any downside, not even a hint of a disadvantage, to one’s calling oneself a “naturalist”. The label carries the allure of something forward-looking, anti-metaphysical, scientifically minded, iconoclastic, rigorous. Maybe that explains why it’s also a jolly good time to be an “experimental philosopher”. That’s basically what I’m asking. But I really think I’m the wrong person to ask that kind of question. It would be an understatement if I told you that I don’t get up in the morning looking forward to doing metaphilosophy. I’m ambivalent about it. I can love what looks to me like good metaphilosophy. But much of it fails to excite me. (Is it because so much of it looks like history and sociology masquerading as philosophy?) Still, in the absence of the cognoscenti among CD contributors who can do a much better job of asking these questions, you’re getting them from me. If there is any advantage in that to you as reader, the advantage must be in the bluntness to which I have to resort (possibly out of my simple-mindedness) in talking about these two metaphilosophical views (if they are, in fact, different): naturalism – as opposed to normative conceptual analysis – and experimental philosophy – as opposed to armchair (generally “aprioristic”) philosophy. (Here, I’m not interested in pursuing other contrasts in this general vicinity.)

So, let the bluntness begin. (The things I do for you, people!…)

X-phi first: What do I know about so-called “experimental philosophy”? Just the bits and pieces (mostly sound bites and sloganeering) I stumble upon at places like CD and other popular blogs. As a rule, the bits and pieces are introduced when the avowed x-phi’er introduces sociological data s/he has just gathered about some exciting philosophical claim. If there’s sustained metaphilosophical argument originating in the x-phi camp, I’m largely ignorant of it. I do see argument, yes, but much of it has to be pieced together from claims to the effect that armchair procedure in a given domain is suspect, or illegitimate, or misleading, or ill-informed, or otherwise defective. I’ll briefly comment on some of the fragments I’ve collected from recent statements made by an x-phi’er, Professor Eddy Nahmias. I trust that his credentials as an x-phi’er are beyond reproach.

The Nahmias reference comes from a recent interview he gave 3:AM Magazine’s Richard Marshall, who introduces Nahmias as “a leading member of the extra cool experimental philosophy clan of which the extra cool Josh Knobe is another member who we’ve interviewed here at 3:AM”. (Here is the link: http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/questioning-willusionism/ Professor Brian Leiter has advertised it at Leiter Reports.) There’s a lot of emphasis on Nahmias’ coolness. According to Marshall, Nahmias has “some pretty groovy experiments”, but, the thoughtful groovemeister that he is, Nahmias also has his “armchair moments”. But don’t get me wrong. I’m not holding any of this against Nahmias. Why would I (perversely) object to x-phi coolness? I’m all for it, all else being equal. (True: I’m beginning to lose hope that I will someday be introduced as “an another member of the extra cool armchair philosophy clan of which the extra cool Roderick Chisholm is a leading member”. But, no, for the record, I definitely do not begrudge Nahmias for his coolness!) So, there is this iconoclastic glamour that seems to endear the x-phi’er to coolness-seeking crowds. Not necessarily a bad thing, not at all. But I’m looking for arguments tending to show what it is that makes the armchair philosophers I admire so hopelessly uncool and wrong-headed. I just want to allot x-phi’ers the share of responsibility that comes with all that coolness. So, I’m sorry: they’re not getting extra credit for coolness in this post.

Some of the things Nahmias says in that interview worry me. He is clearly a very cautious x-phi’er, I hasten to add, in fairness. He wants to be seen as a moderate x-phi’er (whatever that means exactly), as opposed to a chair-burner. If you get swayed by the coziness of the interview, it may look like there’s nothing really eye-popping in his claims – not unless, like me, you’re struggling to understand, at the most fundamental level, what x-phi’ers think they can contribute to philosophy, and why they think it’s an important contribution. Reading Nahmias just reinforced my suspicions, unfortunately. He describes one of the experiments with which he’s been involved. The experiment is designed to collect data on how the non-philosophical folk intuitively react to some of the scenarios that inform philosophical theorizing about free will. The x-phi’er’s hypothesis is that the folk may not react in accordance with the armchair philosopher’s expectations. Somehow, that is supposed to be a sociological discovery that is important to philosophy, potentially revolutionary. (Frustratingly, though, there is never any explicit hint that the x-phi’er may be in the sociology business.) According to Nahmias, “[o]n the face of it, [the] results suggest that the armchair speculations of incompatibilists are mistaken”. But something seems very wrong with this picture, as, to his credit, Nahmias himself admits. First, there is the obvious problem: the folk have to be handled with care. Nahmias concedes that

you can get people to see the problems posed by determinism with some explanation or argument. Perhaps. But I suspect that either those explanations or arguments are presenting determinism in the guise of more threatening heads of the monster (e.g., fatalism or manipulation), which happens a lot in introductions to the “problem of determinism,” or the arguments are not so commonsensical after all. […] [A]cross a variety of descriptions of determinism, almost all of those participants (the minority) who say that agents lack free will and responsibility also respond that the agents’ mental states have no effect on what they end up doing. That is, they read the deterministic scenario to imply that our beliefs, desires, and decisions are bypassed such that they play no role in what we do. That is a mistake. Determinism entails no such thing.

Well, if I’m not much mistaken, that’s a very major problem for the x-phi’er right there: It looks like the relevant intuitions can be relied upon only after people get a philosophical education. And, to our ultimate dismay, the concepts in question may be so complex as to elude some of those who are educated enough to call themselves “experts” and put textbooks out there!

How surprising is that, really? I vaguely seem to remember a recent interview where Professor Kit Fine complains that it seems naively optimistic to expect the non-philosophical folk to react point-blank to complex philosophical scenarios in a way that might make those of us who think long and hard about them reconsider our perception of such scenarios. (Words to that effect. Please, correct me if I’m wrong.)

So, and with the above problem firmly in mind, what can we expect from x-phi? The key word seems to be “help”. But what kind of help? How much help? I can’t see how, exactly, Nahmias answers those questions. What I can see is that, again to his credit, he is quick to distance himself from belligerent goals and dismissive claims directed at the armchair philosopher:

I don’t believe in burning armchairs. I think we philosophers should be doing most of our work in the armchair (or better, a circle of armchairs) – and the best scientists do much of their work there too, thinking up theories and hypotheses to test, and considering paradigms to test them. I am not against the methodology of appeal to intuitions (I’m not in the ‘negative’ camp of x-phi that says the evidence suggests that all intuitions are unreliable), not even appeal to one’s own intuitions, nor the use of such appeals in one’s arguments. But I can’t imagine how attempts to get more systematic information about people’s intuitions or the psychological sources of them (the descriptive project) does any harm to philosophy.

That’s generally okay – okay-sounding anyway, at first blush. But, now, the bar for contribution has been set so low – as low as simply not doing any harm! – that I remain bogged down in my original perplexity. I had hopes of understanding why x-phi is supposed to be important, potentially revolutionary. For a moment there, Nahmias seems willing to settle for harmlessness. But then, noticing that he’s expected to do better than that, he comes back with the following:

How does it help? Well, at a minimum it allows us to test certain philosophical claims about what is commonsensical or widely believed or intuitive to ordinary people – and such claims are common in philosophy (when someone writes something like, “Obviously, we believe X,” I tell my students to pounce). It also allows us to gain insight into the sources of our intuitions and judgments, and that is important both to teach us about how our minds work – a quintessential philosophical question – and to give us some evidence about the reliability of our intuitions. For instance, if Knobe is right that our moral judgments can precede and influence our judgments about intentional action, causation, and knowledge, that is important for both our psychological theories and our philosophical theories. Certainly, such information helpfully supplements philosophical theorizing. I do not think it replaces it.

But, again, don’t be too impressed. There’s much to dislike in Nahmias’ answer. To begin with, some of it is hard to understand. For instance, what is the quintessential philosophical question about the workings of our minds, exactly, and how is that question set apart from the questions posed in the cognitive science lab? Depending on the question, it may not be one that any sane armchair philosopher would ever dare ask in his philosophical inquiries. So, I, for one, can’t be sure what he thinks is the quintessential philosophical question “about the workings of our minds”.

Second, some of it seems historically unwarranted. Wasn’t Russell’s paradox discovered in the armchair? (Replace the Russell reference, if you must, with your favorite philosophical paradox.) Wasn’t it also discovered there that our intuitions are not perfectly reliable? Is Nahmias suggesting that news of the unreliability of the “light of reason” has just been given us by experimental philosophy?

Third, some of it seems philosophically unwarranted. Claims about what people believe or what is intuitive to the folk have been routinely refuted by philosophers since time immemorial. They are cut down to size by anybody who suspects that they are false. The mere suspicion of falsehood is devastating in philosophy to claims about what the folk do or do not believe. But many of those claims according to which “obviously, we believe X” are elliptical. They certainly do not mean the same as “obviously, we believe X, even if we recklessly take just a second to think about whether X”. Often, such claims are about what any intelligent person would think when considering whether X after much careful examination of the relevant facts. Futhermore, to the bearer of intuitions that will strike us as deviant after we’re satisfied that they’ve reached a point of stability in their deliberation about whether X, on the other hand, it will always be easier to question aspects of the x-phi’er’s work than to dismiss the intuitions. (Hasn’t there been a dispute about data collection and analysis chronicled here, at CD, between x-phi’ers Professors Knobe & Schaffer and Professors Sripada & Stanley?) When bad armchair philosophers make appeals to intuitions (their own or somebody else’s) to which some of us cannot relate, we simply reply that our intuitions do not confirm the philosopher’s claim. Too bad for him. He’s not peddling a philosophy we can buy. But why isn’t that the end of the matter? Why is the bad philosopher’s false appeal to intuition somehow illegitimate? Why must we also impugn his armchair philosophy on highly abstract methodological grounds?

Fourth, some of it is question-begging. Didn’t Nahmias himself just admit that the folk may need some considerable amount of education in order to even have a useful understanding of the concepts and scenarios with which they are confronted by the x-phi’er? And where is that education coming from? The armchair?

Fifth, and by the way, why haven’t I seen any x-phi’ers trying to impugn the work of logicians and mathematicians for their armchair appeals to intuition? Here’s a scenario I’d love to see. The x-phi’er collects data on how a bunch of very ordinary people react to this most divisive armchair claim by a highly regarded logician, Graham Priest: “Sentences may be true, false, both, or neither.” (But, hey, let’s make sure the folk are really very ignorant and not very bright!) I tend to think this is a much simpler claim than any of the cases that the folk have been confronted with in x-phi research about Gettier cases, free will, pragmatic encroachment. Now, suppose that I’m wrong: suppose there is nothing simple in that claim, and the folk are scratching their heads, dumbfounded. The x-phi’er will have to carefully coach them just a little, just to make sure they are adequately primed for reacting to it (whatever the criteria for that may be). Here’s what I think the x-phi’er should do, in order to give the claim a fighting chance, given that the vast majority of armchair philosophers think the claim is counterintuitive: give the folk a couple of hours with Priest. You know what will happen there, don’t you? Priest will give them what will look like an airtight proof of the claim. What would such an experiment lead us to believe about armchair claims in philosophical logic? Is that the moment of glory Priest has been waiting for? But, this may only show how badly I misunderstand what x-phi’ers are trying to do. Which is why I’m here asking the question.

And how about the suspected intimacy between naturalism and x-phi? (The question with which I’ve dragged into this post.) I really should tell you, in broadest outline, how I see naturalism first.

Students often ask me if a discussion of naturalism in epistemology is welcome in my seminars. They usually come to the topic through papers by Hilary Kornblith and Richard Feldman in the Blackwell Guide to Epistemology. My answer is invariably: “Any topic on which philosophers like Kornblith and Feldman are engaged is welcome in my seminars.” This is something that I say without hesitation. I think very highly of both. But then we get to it, and the students learn that I’m ambivalent about the topic. Naturalism in epistemology – narrowly understood as the project of so-called “naturalized epistemology” – is unlike the vast majority of other epistemological topics to me, in that, try as I might, I’ve never found a single good thing to say about it. So, I don’t encourage my students to pursue it, but neither do I discourage them (in view of the way it excites authors like Kornblith).

So, I let the students go about their business of trying to persuade the class that the project of naturalized epistemology is an exciting one. Then, I’m supposed to respond to the prospects of excitement. I won’t go into great detail about it here, but I’ll give you the highlights.

The reference to Quine seems unavoidable. Fortunately, we can quickly get past it. Simply put – and, yes, bluntness will help here – Quine is an embarrassment when it comes to naturalized epistemology, even to those naturalists whose impetus is derived from his work. His clearest proposal is that the epistemologist would do well to leave traditional epistemology and go pursue some brand of cognitive psychology. (This is surely in the ballpark, and I’m eschewing sophistication here.) Well, I have no problem with anybody thinking that at all. Maybe there is more excitement for some of us at the cog-sci lab. That’s a matter of individual preference, opportunity, etc. It’s a far cry from anything that might deserve to be dignified as arising from deep philosophical insight or argument. How a philosopher’s expression of frustration with – or misunderstanding of – the traditional problems of epistemology ends up causing commotion in certain philosophical circles can only, to my mind, be explained by social psychology. In philosophy, some people get away with murder, if they are really good in something else. The overrated Quine is a prime example. Recall that piece of nonsense he gave Morton White (in the first Schilpp volume) when White gently pressed him on the issue. You may remember what he said about what he thinks normative epistemology is: “For me normative epistemology is a branch of engineering. It is the technology of truth-seeking, or […] prediction. Like any technology, it makes free use of whatever scientific findings may suit its purpose.” Can you picture the teacher’s embarrassment in trying to explain this kind of nonsense to a student who was beginning to think that this is what naturalized epistemology was supposed to be in the first place?! We let some people get away with murder. Quine surely enjoyed his own large chunk of that kind of permissiveness. (I suspect that he suffered from too much reverence and adulation, often a fatal condition in philosophy.)

But whatever credit Quine may be due as one of the great philosophers we have known – and I do agree that he is a venerable figure, of course – it remains that a bunch of first-rate epistemologists thought there was some merit in the notion of a naturalized epistemology. And so we come to the delicate case of Professor Alvin Goldman. I should hardly be expected to tell you how much we, epistemologists, owe him. It’s as big a debt as any in the history of the field. Let’s move past the obvious and look at Goldman’s naturalism. Oh, my!… Since I have to do this at breakneck speed, suffice it to say that, after he pays lip service to some project of naturalization for epistemology (some project of establishing a “link” between epistemology and cognitive science) in the introduction to Epistemology and Cognition, there is no naturalism in sight for the next 120 pages – not coincidentally, that book’s greatest contribution to epistemology. We could look at more evidence. But I’m sure you get the point. (Running epistemological views alongside results from cognitive science is still some distance from changing epistemology.)

(Note: I won’t discuss William Alston’s views here. There is no support for any popular notion of naturalized epistemology in Alston’s work. Enlisting Alston to the naturalistic camp, his winks at it notwithstanding, will require ignoring part 2 of his book Beyond “Justification”, which he explicitly warns naturalists not to do in his name.)

So, once we’re past the grand gestures and programmatic promises, it seems that the project of naturalized epistemology will at the very least boil down to this piece of warning: “Epistemologist, you had better look closely at what’s coming from the cog-sci lab, because your epistemology may have to accommodate the cog-scientist’s findings. Understand that you’re vulnerable in that armchair!” What is the proper response to this? Can we be vulnerable on some front to surprises from scientific research? I think any sensible armchair philosopher won’t see himself in a position to rule it out. But that’s much less than we want to know about our prospects. How likely is it that we will have to reconsider our armchair epistemology in light of the cog-scientist’s findings? The odds seem amazingly low. (It may even look goofy to put the matter in probabilistic terms.) But, to measure them, you have to think about the traditional problems and how vulnerable they are to scientific discovery. Consider epistemic principles. Here’s one: If S knows that P&Q, then S know that P and S knows that Q. Might that be in any risk of being reconsidered in light of the output of the lab? Might anybody’s preferred resolution of the Gettier Problem be thus vulnerable? Skepticism in general (and epistemic circularity)? Epistemic goals? The merits of Bayesianism? The notion of coherence? Contextualism? Pragmatic encroachment? I’m sure you know what I mean.

Now, is any naturalization project worth talking about? Maybe some is. Let’s keep talking. Let’s make sure we get it all sorted out. But let’s seriously curb our enthusiasm about “naturalized epistemology”. Some charming uses of the term have been rubber checks.

The foregoing is my lightning-fast introduction to the tentative answers I can give the questions in the first paragraph of this post.

Is it universally understood that being an x-phi’er implies being a naturalist (that is, that the tie between those concepts is somehow knowable a priori)? No, I can’t see how the argument would be made that, necessarily, if you are an x-phi’er, you are a naturalizer.

Do most (but not all) people expect an x-phi’er to be a naturalist (just because being one is positively correlated with being the other)? On anecdotal evidence, that surely seems to be the case. And it’s disappointing. We should expect the experimental philosopher to be unbiased in these metaphilosophical matters, shouldn’t we? Aren’t they all sociologists and cognitive scientists qua x-phi’ers?

Is there a metaphilosophically important rationale for a “yes” answer to either of the previous (original) questions? I can’t see any. And is any correlation merely a sociological phenomenon, possibly arising from misconceptions and foggy, personality-driven ideology? This is the question I most care about here. The title of this post is actually a Trojan horse. The post was primarily meant as a request for help in understanding both the project of naturalized epistemology and experimental philosophy. My problem is that something that puzzles me – x-phi – seems fueled by something that befuddles me – naturalized epistemology – in a most bewildering way. But my emphasis really is on the puzzlement and the befuddlement. And my tentative answer is: Both the popularity of x-phi and that of naturalism in epistemology seem to be personality-driven, mostly ideological, and based on microscopic traces of philosophy. And yet, no, I wouldn’t dismiss either of them as unworthy of attention, definitely not.

There you have it. Now that I’ve burned my chances of being pursued by 3:AM Magazine faster than an arsonist can burn an armchair, I can only hope that the cognoscenti at CD will find it in their hearts to show me the error of my ways.

 


Comments

Are all x-phi’ers naturalists, and is that a good thing? — 34 Comments

  1. A (very!) quick reaction:

    Most of what I know about x-phi comes from reading and talking to Steve Stich. I know Stich is heavily influenced by the bias and heuristics literature in social psychology. The experiments those psychologists conduct seem to show that the folk commits all kinds of mistakes when reasoning about very simple matters. Moreover, those mistakes, according to psychologists, are, to a great extent, caused by the intuitive and fast brain mechanisms of system one. Now, I think Stich thinks that intuitions about philosophical claims (whether they are elicited by thought experiments or not) are also caused mechanisms in system one and, therefore, that we should be suspicious of those intuitions and of the judgments we base on them. Jennifer Nagel (????) has written about this. If memory serves me well, she challenges Stich’s assumption that the same system one mechanisms are operating in both the philosophical and the psychological contexts. Stich (????) has replied to Nagel’s arguments in a rather convincing way, I think. I guess what I am trying to say is that one can see how at least one major x-phi’er like Stich connects (methodological) naturalism to the ‘burn-the-arm-chair’ slogan.

  2. “Here’s one: If S knows that P&Q, then S know that P and S knows that Q. Might that be in any risk of being reconsidered in light of the output of the lab? ”

    Claudio,
    I can’t help but comment that both Dretske and Nozick are committed to the falsity of this principle, and Nozick acknowledges this committment explicitly.

  3. Come to think of it, Juan, I think Claudio himself is committed to denying this principle, given what he says against closure in a recent Synthese paper….

  4. Hi Claudio,

    This post raises a number of important issues, but instead of trying to address them all at once, I thought it might be a good idea to start by focusing just on the (very interesting) question you raise in the title.

    On one common understanding, a ‘naturalistic’ account of a given question is one that says that this question can be answered through scientific inquiry. Thus, suppose we develop a naturalistic epistemology. Then we would be committed to the view that epistemological questions (e.g., ‘Does she know that?’) can be answered using the standard methods of science.

    I’m sure others will disagree, but my own view is that the results coming out of experimental philosophy have not been kind to this sort of naturalism. Take the recent paper on knowledge ascriptions by James Beebe and Wesley Buckwalter:

    http://www.acsu.buffalo.edu/~jbeebe2/Beebe%20Buckwalter%20ESEE.pdf

    They show in this paper and in their subsequent work that people’s knowledge ascriptions can actually be impacted by their moral judgments. My sense (though, again, I’m sure others will disagree) is that this finding provides evidence against purely naturalistic views in epistemology. It suggests that the question people are trying to answer when they make knowledge ascriptions is not entirely a scientific question. (Rather, it seems to be a question that involves moral considerations in some way.)

    In short, my view is that research in experimental philosophy specifically provides evidence against naturalism as traditionally conceived. It suggests that many of the questions we have been examining as philosophers (e.g., ‘Did she know that?’) are not purely scientific questions and hence that it might not be possible to resolve them entirely through scientific research.

  5. Hi Josh,

    are you suggesting that naturalism about knowledge ascription commits one to the claim that only epistemic considerations influence that kind of ascription? Is there an argument for that claim anywhere? I don’t see why any naturalist would think that. If I were a naturalist, I’d think all kinds of considerations motivate ordinary knowledge ascriptions, not that only epistemic considerations did. In fact, I don’t think anyone (naturalist or not) believes the folk has only epistemic considerations in mind when ascribing knowledge. Many think we SHOULD have only epistemic considerations in mind when assessing whether someone knows or not, but I can’t think of anyone who has argued that we ordinarily do that.

  6. Hello Josh and Rodrigo,

    I endorse Physicalism which is close to Naturalism. Perhaps this predisposes me to a sympathetic reading of Quine’s Indeterminism. I can’t find a flaw in John Pollock’s reasoning which I think anticipates the Beebe, Buckwalter and Knobe results for actual beliefs versus what cognizers should believe … what is the fact of the matter?

    http://oscarhome.soc-sci.arizona.edu/ftp/PAPERS/Problems%20for%20Bayesian%20Epistemology.pdf
    … “Bayesians are well aware of this, and so (at least when they are being careful), they do not identify subjective probabilities with the degrees of belief of real cognizers. Instead, as we have noted, the orthodox Bayesian strategy is to identify subjective probabilities with the degrees of belief a cognizer rationally should have in propositions rather than the degrees of belief he actually has.

    It is not wholly implausible to suppose that however we ultimately decide to define “degree of belief”, there will be empirical techniques enabling us to measure the degrees of belief real cognizers have in many propositions. So let us simply grant that for the sake of argument.
    Subjective probabilities are then taken to be the degrees of belief the cognizer rationally should have in propositions. But what determines what degrees of belief cognizers should have? No Bayesian has ever proposed an answer to this question.”

    I think he likely should have said, ‘ever proposed a plausible answer to this question’. The problem of assigning the proper context is another way of elaborating the question.

  7. Hi Claudio!

    Regarding the naturalism question, the short answer is: no, there is no particular connection between naturalism and experimental philosophy on the whole. Certainly no commitment to any sort of ontological or metaphysical naturalism is required. Epistemologically, nothing is required beyond an endorsement of the minimal — and surely near-consensus in philosophy on the whole today — claim methods of the sciences themselves as good methods for investigating the sorts of questions that the sciences have historically directed themselves towards. X-phi is completely consistent with an endorsement of the existence of the a priori, for example (though it may well involve the further belief that there is _less_ that is a priori than more ambitiously rationalist philosophers, such as Bealer, have claimed). And it certainly does not require, or even incline one towards, any of the Quinean elements in terms of normativity, etc. that you are objecting to here. So I doubt there are on the whole even any systematic _contingent_ relations between x-phi and naturalized epistemology.

    Regarding the rest of the post, I think there’s a lot of confusion about x-phi in the main post that, were it removed, should go a long way towards also removing what feel like objections to it. (It probably also would have helped if you had targeted some actual published work in the area, and not an informal interview!)

    First & perhaps foremost, there’s the presupposition that any piece of academic work must be either philosopher or psychology/sociology, where that’s an exclusive “or”. But there is no reason whatsoever to think that: lots of great work in philosophy is both philosophy and something else, with lots of uncontroversial examples in logic & math, history, political science, film theory & art criticism, and so on. So much of the work in question is both psychology and philosophy, all at once, and indeed both good psychology and good philosophy, all at once, including very much the sort of work that Joshua is celebrated for.

    Second, the bar that x-phi needs to cross seems to be moving around over the course of the post. It should be enough, given what Eddy says, for x-phi to have _some_ places where it can make a philosophical contribution. It is surely inappropriate to require of it that it can make a contribution _everywhere & at all points_. So the existence of _some_ places where x-phi may _not_ make a contribution, such as (arguably) a handful of bedrock epistemic principles, is simply beside the point. Now, having said that, I think that philosophers are often overconfident about such principles, and surely the history of our field is full of places in which one philosopher declares P a truth of reason, and another philosopher declares that P is not only not a truth of reason, it’s not a truth at all. So this particular point in the main post seems to me a statement of rather substantial metaphilosophical hubris: “How likely is it that we will have to reconsider our armchair epistemology in light of the cog-scientist’s findings? The odds seem amazingly low.” Indeed, given the current state of the literature, I’d say that your inclusion of “pragmatic encroachment” as an area in which no one will feel any rational pressure from x-phi is already clearly falsified! And I also have no doubt that one could in principle put pressure on specific analyses of knowledge using these methods; I don’t think that our work has caused any practicing epistemologist (other than me) to doubt Gettier in general, but the differences between specific theories can be very small, and depend on just one or two weird thought-experiments, and surely if we were to find out that people’s judgments about such cases robustly go one way or the other about such cases, then we would be irresponsible not to let such results inform our deliberations about the competing theories.

    Third, there’s a common sort of mistake in the discussion here, in which an x-phi person who is investigating an empirical commitment by a non-x-phi philosopher, gets held responsible for that initial commitment itself. There are lots of points in the free will literature where the non-x-phi philosophers make claims about what “we” or “people” or “the folk” commonly believe about free will. Those are empirical claims. Eddy et al. are investigating those claims, using some of the best tools we have around for investigating them. I’m inclined to say: if the claims themselves are properly considered part of an extended philosophical argument, then work done to evaluate those claims well is also legitimately considered part of that argument. At a minimum, such work would have to be seen as philosophically _relevant_, even if one has strong views about the boundaries of what is or is not a _part_ of philosophy. But anyway, if you have a problem with the idea that the folk’s views or intuitions or predilections about free will are relevant to philosophers’ debates about free will… take it up with Eddy’s armchair interlocutors first. They are the ones you are most fundamentally disagreeing with.

    If one keeps those points clearly in mind, I think that there’s not much left in the main post to constitute any worries about the possible value of x-phi for epistemology. I would recommend going out & reading some of the actual work itself, especially some of the many pieces in which the x-phi practitioners explicitly discuss what they take themselves to be doing, metaphilosophically, and see whether you still think it’s all just ideology & personality at that point.

  8. Hi Rodrigo,

    I am certainly not suggesting that naturalism commits us to the view that people’s ordinary knowledge ascriptions are based only on scientifically respectable considerations. (Surely, no one thinks that!) The claim is rather that experimental results like the ones obtained by Beebe & Buckwalter provide some defeasible evidence for a view about the concept of knowledge itself.

    One possible view would be that these results simply point to a way in which people are failing to correctly apply their own concept, while another would be that people are applying their concept correctly in these cases and that the experiments thereby reveal a role for moral considerations in people’s concept of knowledge. If we go with this second view, we may end up with a theory according to which people’s concept of knowledge is not picking out the kind of relation we should care about when we are doing systematic scientific research.

  9. Once we distinguish between metaphysical naturalism (i.e., the metaphysical thesis that there is nothing to reality beyond nature—there is no “supernatural”) and methodological naturalism (i.e., the methodological thesis that some philosophical questions can be investigated by scientific methods), as some have suggested already in comments, then it becomes clear that an experimental philosopher need not be committed to metaN just as scientists themselves need not be committed to metaN. A scientist might think that the supernatural is real but that it is beyond the purview of science. Or a scientist might think that scientific methods can be used to investigate the supernatural. (In the creationism-evolution debate, you can find scientists pretty much occupying every position in this logical space.)

  10. Thank you all for the comments, Rodrigo, Juan, Josh, Stephen, Jonathan, Moti! Some replies follow. There will hopefully be more replies.

    Juan,

    Closure is stronger than knowledge-distribution for conjunctions. I think you are saying that both Nozick and Dretske deny closure, is that it? They do, and I’m with them on that one. (As Rodrigo notes, my case against closure is put forward in a recent Synthese paper. The argument implies no commitment to Dretskean or Nozickian epistemologies, and, I like to think, it’s quite a bit less vulnerable than their anti-closure cases.) But I should think that a closure denier may be in the clear to hold on to knowledge-distribution. What you need, to be thus in the clear, is an explanation of when (why, under what conditions) closure fails that does not imply distribution failure. I have offered my own. (Some more on this below.)

    Rodrigo,

    1. So, Professor Stich is among chair-burners on the x-phi map? My problem with somebody’s crying wolf when faced with intuition failure (and then burning chairs in the process) is: What’s new? It seems we’ve known about – and somehow dealt with – the fallibility of intuitions for a long time. But, if this is right, then we have two problems: (a) Why turn to the folk? This problem is, of course, acknowledged by x-phi’ers, but somehow doesn’t give them pause. I’ve seen that Josh Alexander is at pains to respond to it, in his book, and so are other x-phi’ers. I’ll keep looking at the answers. And (b): How does catastrophism about intuitions have any bearing on problems that seem perfectly intelligible *and* deeply paradoxical? (The set of those problems is what we call “philosophy”.) More generally still: doesn’t it lead to a self-undermining view (of the anti-expertise kind)?

    2. No, I don’t reject knowledge-distribution for conjunctions. Please, see my reply to Juan, above. Unfortunately, the matter is put by an influential author like John Hawthorne (in his 2005 paper) as one of transmission of epistemic status by deduction. But, if you accept a distribution claim for conjunctive *belief*, as so many do (I’m yet to find somebody who doesn’t!), then your knowledge of the conjuncts is not obviously one involving deduction. In fact, it may be entirely wrong to see it as a case of transmission. (See the claim, in my Synthese paper, that Simplification is an epistemically circular rule of inference.) Still, in my reply to Juan, above, I just make the more conservative claim that knowledge-distribution is not obviously unavailable to a closure denier.

  11. Thanks, Josh! That’s helpful. I think I get what you are saying, but now I don’t get why do you think that the empirical hypotheses the work done by Beebe & Buckwalter raises for you show anything about naturalized epistemology.

    I think someone like Quine would have no problem with either one of them being true. I think he would say something like ‘Yes. The folk usually conflates epistemic and non-epistemic considerations when ascribing knowledge. So what? The job of naturalized epistemology is to use the tools of social and cognitive psychology to describe how the folk go about ascribing knowledge. So, if the best description of the folk’s practice is one according to which they conflate epistemic and non-epistemic standards when ascribing knowledge, that’s all there is to it. Our job as naturalized epistemologists would end there.’

    Of course, Quine holds a very extreme view when it comes to the naturalization of epistemology. However, I can’t see how the hypotheses you mention could cause trouble even to milder versions of naturalized epistemology, such as the one proposed by (some) reliabilists. Take Goldman in ‘Epistemology and Cognition’, for example. I take Goldman’s reliabilism, as stated in that book, to have a normative and a non-normative component. Roughly, the normative component says ‘Ascribe knowledge to S iff S’s belief is true and reliable enough’, while the non-normative component says ‘A psychological process or method X is reliable iff X causes more true than false beliefs in the long run’. I don’t see how either one of the hypotheses you say the work of Beebe & Buckwalter raises show that there’s anything wrong with Goldman’s naturalized epistemology. The hypotheses are irrelevant to the normative component of the view and clearly not directly relevant to the non-normative component either. Am I missing something here? Maybe you have some other naturalized epistemology in mind….

  12. “They show in this paper and in their subsequent work that people’s knowledge ascriptions can actually be impacted by their moral judgments. My sense (though, again, I’m sure others will disagree) is that this finding provides evidence against purely naturalistic views in epistemology. It suggests that the question people are trying to answer when they make knowledge ascriptions is not entirely a scientific question. (Rather, it seems to be a question that involves moral considerations in some way.)
    In short, my view is that research in experimental philosophy specifically provides evidence against naturalism as traditionally conceived. It suggests that many of the questions we have been examining as philosophers (e.g., ‘Did she know that?’) are not purely scientific questions and hence that it might not be possible to resolve them entirely through scientific research.”

    Hi, Josh,

    Thank you for the Beebe & Buckwalter reference, and for the thoughtful reply as a whole.

    I can’t quite see the threat to naturalism on that front, but it’s an intriguing suggestion nonetheless. If you’re the kind of naturalist to whom a normative approach to epistemological concepts (and knowledge ascriptions in any context) is simply an error to be corrected – in a way that makes every trace of normativism disappear from your completed epistemology – I suppose you wouldn’t be given pause by the fact that the folk speak the language of morals (or otherwise hold normative concerns). Your error theory should explain away every trace of normativity in folkspeak. I think that, ultimately, this can be seen to be folly of the very fancy kind, but I can’t see that evidence about folkspeak, by itself, will stop a naturalist.

    But, yes, I do see how the x-phi’er may be on a collision course with the naturalist. Interesting! Thanks, again, for the heads-up!

  13. Claudio,
    I meant what I said, that both Nozick and Dretske are committed to the failure of knowledge to distribute over conjunction, in addition to the failure of closure. If you accept distributivity over conjunction as well as closure over logical equivalence you get closure over entailment. Nozick realizes this, and says explicitly that you can know that p and you are not a brain in a vat, but you cannot know that you are not a brain in a vat.

  14. Hello, Jonathan!

    I knew I could count on your sharpness when I stuck my neck out! 🙂

    Thank you much for the detailed and exciting response! I’ll address your points one by one.

    Not much to say about your first paragraph. It’s accepted in toto. (Some of it had already been in my reply to Josh Knobe.) I’m happy to see that you don’t seem to think that nothing in my motivation is worth discussing.

    It’s in the remainder of your post that I find something to disagree with. Here are the main points:

    1. “I think there’s a lot of confusion about x-phi in the main post that, were it removed, should go a long way towards also removing what feel like objections to it. (It probably also would have helped if you had targeted some actual published work in the area, and not an informal interview!)”
    Yes, there is confusion on my part about x-phi. I said so myself. That’s why I turn to the accomplished x-phi’ers like you, and also to the critics, if any, who contribute to Certain Doubts. And I certainly understand that, had I addressed published work, the post might look better to some. But we’re in real disagreement if you see something improper in my assumption that a leading x-phi’er like Eddy Nahmias might deserve to be taken to task for his claims about x-phi in an interview where he had ample opportunity to sell x-phi as an important contribution to philosophy. Maybe he only did a good job of preaching to the converted, and didn’t put as much effort into addressing the skeptics like me as he could have. (Unfortunately, the interviewer didn’t seem to have the skeptical perspective in mind. Maybe because x-phi has been received by most as _obviously_ important?) I don’t know. That’s for experts like you to decide. But I saw my puzzlement reinforced by the interview. Is it improper of me to express that puzzlement here? What is it about CD that I don’t understand?

    2. “First & perhaps foremost, there’s the presupposition that any piece of academic work must be either philosopher or psychology/sociology, where that’s an exclusive “or”. But there is no reason whatsoever to think that: lots of great work in philosophy is both philosophy and something else, with lots of uncontroversial examples in logic & math, history, political science, film theory & art criticism, and so on.”
    No, you’re mistaken here. To my mind – and to like-minded people – you can run as much as you want in parallel. For instance, you may have great epistemology alongside great cognitive science, all under one cover. So many authors have done that. And they may be perfectly fine contributions to multiple disciplines. The really ambitious metaphilosophical claim I think you mean to be making is that boundaries will be blurred in the process. Maybe they will. But I meant to convey the thought that some of us are yet to be convinced that boundaries will be blurred. Is that passé? But passé as a matter of philosophy, under the lash of philosophical argument? Or just as a sociological phenomenon (the coolness thing)?

    3. “It should be enough, given what Eddy says, for x-phi to have _some_ places where it can make a philosophical contribution. It is surely inappropriate to require of it that it can make a contribution _everywhere & at all points_. So the existence of _some_ places where x-phi may _not_ make a contribution, such as (arguably) a handful of bedrock epistemic principles, is simply beside the point.”
    Unfair. Nowhere did I say, or imply, or insinuate that x-phi should be expected to contribute everywhere & at all points. I did say that it looks like x-phi’ers expect to be seen as “important, potentially revolutionary”. You do, don’t you? But my main claim on this front is that I’m yet to understand where some contribution will come from. I did say that, as I look at epistemological topics – other than those introduced by x-phi’ers themselves, or by naturalists – I haven’t yet detected the contribution.

    4. “Now, having said that, I think that philosophers are often overconfident about such principles, and surely the history of our field is full of places in which one philosopher declares P a truth of reason, and another philosopher declares that P is not only not a truth of reason, it’s not a truth at all. So this particular point in the main post seems to me a statement of rather substantial metaphilosophical hubris: “How likely is it that we will have to reconsider our armchair epistemology in light of the cog-scientist’s findings? The odds seem amazingly low.”
    Unwarranted. The post is clear in this regard. I have claimed that conflicts about intuition are routinely dealt with by philosophers. Have we learned about it from sociological research by x-phi’ers? Have we failed to worry about it in the absence of admonition from x-phi’ers? Seriously, please, have we learned about the perils of the tightrope that we’ve been walking for millennia from x-phi’ers?

    5. “Indeed, given the current state of the literature, I’d say that your inclusion of “pragmatic encroachment” as an area in which no one will feel any rational pressure from x-phi is already clearly falsified!”
    You are at your best here. I don’t want to second-guess encroachers, or their critics, without careful examination of potential impact from x-phi research on this particular topic. But the general point remains: If incautious encroachers (or their critics) were making false claims while in the armchair, they were just doing what bad philosophers have done for millennia (and paid the price for it in attracting criticism from other armchairs).

    6. “I don’t think that our work has caused any practicing epistemologist (other than me) to doubt Gettier in general, but the differences between specific theories can be very small, and depend on just one or two weird thought-experiments, and surely if we were to find out that people’s judgments about such cases robustly go one way or the other about such cases, then we would be irresponsible not to let such results inform our deliberations about the competing theories.”
    I wholeheartedly agree. But the original point remains: We’ve been chasing bad armchair pilots for millennia, armed only with this time-honored piece of equipment: a better armchair!

    7. “Third, there’s a common sort of mistake in the discussion here, in which an x-phi person who is investigating an empirical commitment by a non-x-phi philosopher, gets held responsible for that initial commitment itself. There are lots of points in the free will literature where the non-x-phi philosophers make claims about what “we” or “people” or “the folk” commonly believe about free will. Those are empirical claims. Eddy et al. are investigating those claims, using some of the best tools we have around for investigating them. I’m inclined to say: if the claims themselves are properly considered part of an extended philosophical argument, then work done to evaluate those claims well is also legitimately considered part of that argument. At a minimum, such work would have to be seen as philosophically _relevant_, even if one has strong views about the boundaries of what is or is not a _part_ of philosophy. But anyway, if you have a problem with the idea that the folk’s views or intuitions or predilections about free will are relevant to philosophers’ debates about free will… take it up with Eddy’s armchair interlocutors first. They are the ones you are most fundamentally disagreeing with.”
    Please, see my replies at 5 and 6, above. In short: Eddy’s armchair interlocutors are, and will always be, my primary target. Now, can an armchair philosopher come after Eddy too?

    8. “If one keeps those points clearly in mind, I think that there’s not much left in the main post to constitute any worries about the possible value of x-phi for epistemology.”
    I can only hope that these replies will give you something to think about, especially in view of your cautionary remark about hubris.

    9. “I would recommend going out & reading some of the actual work itself, especially some of the many pieces in which the x-phi practitioners explicitly discuss what they take themselves to be doing, metaphilosophically, and see whether you still think it’s all just ideology & personality at that point.”
    Absolutely! I have much to learn about the issue, and you’ve just given me some help in your criticism. But: (a) I confess my suspicions remain unabated at this point; and (b) I still think that an interview by Eddy Nahmias should not be disregarded as a second-rate source about what x-phi is or should be.

    Always a pleasure debating you, Jonathan!

  15. Hello. I’m new here. Very interesting blog.

    Cluadio writes: “Why turn to the folk? This problem is, of course, acknowledged by x-phi’ers, but somehow doesn’t give them pause.”

    I’ll give you my own answer to that question, but I’m not speaking for experimental philosophers. I’m with Wittgenstein in seeing philosophy as largely a matter of sorting out linguistic confusion. And that means paying attention to the meaning and usage of words. For me the value of experimental philosophy lies in its potential ability to help reveal what folk mean by their words. I’m interested in the folk’s answers to questions about free will, not because I take their opinions to be authoritative as to the facts, but because their answers may help us understand how they use and understand the term “free will”.

    Why should we care what “free will” means to the folk? Most obviously, if we’re going to address our conclusions to the folk, we need to speak their language, and use words as they use them. But even philosophers are likely (at some level) to retain roughly the folk sense of a word. If a philosopher stipulates a sense that differs significantly from the folk sense, we should suspect that he is unwittingly conflating the two senses. (I believe this is the case with moral naturalist definitions of moral terms.)

    I’m not saying that we will always need experimental philosophy to address questions of meaning. On the whole I think we have sufficient experience with human discourse to judge the meanings of terms from our armchairs, if we approach the question correctly. But it may sometimes be useful. Whereas we are all very familiar with moral discourse, discourse about the existence of free will is relatively unusual among the folk, and I feel less confident about what people mean by it. In fact I would question whether it is even common enough to have a well-established meaning. For me Eddy Nahmias didn’t ask quite the right questions, but his results have nevertheless helped move me from being an incompatibilist to the conclusion that the unqualified term “free will” is too nebulous to be of any use. I now think it is misleading either to deny or assert its existence. (But I still deny the existence of “libertarian free will”.)

  16. Hi Rodrigo and Claudio,

    Thanks so much for your gracious responses. Just a few extra words to clarify what I was trying to say above.

    Clearly, it is possible to develop a purely scientific theory that would address some of the questions that people have been concerned about in epistemology. Such a theory might tell us how people typically form beliefs, how we might go about forming beliefs differently if we wanted to be more accurate, and so forth.

    The suggestion I was making, though, is that a purely scientific theory might not be able to answer the sort of question people are ordinarily asking when they ask ‘Does he know that?’ Specifically, a growing body of experimental evidence suggests that people’s concept of knowledge is wrapped up in some fundamental ways with their value judgments and, in particular, with their moral judgments. Thus, it might be that if we want to answer the question as to whether someone knows something, we would have to go beyond simply addressing the purely scientific questions and also begin venturing into moral issues that might ordinarily be regarded as outside the domain of properly scientific inquiry.

  17. Thanks Josh! You say:

    “Thus, it might be that if we want to answer the question as to whether someone knows something, we would have to go beyond simply addressing the purely scientific questions and also begin venturing into moral issues that might ordinarily be regarded as outside the domain of properly scientific inquiry.”

    You seem to presuppose that the naturalist epistemologist will likely regard moral issues as laying outside the scientific purview and, that being so, that she should worry about B&B’s results, for they suggest that knowledge ascriptions involve moral considerations. I think this presupposition is unwarranted, however. Calling someone a ‘non-naturalist’ in meta-ethical circles is liable to start a fight and I doubt there is a principled reason for someone to apply scientific methods to one part of the normative domain and not to others.

  18. Hello Roderigo (Josh)

    …”and I doubt there is a principled reason for someone to apply scientific methods to one part of the normative domain and not to others.”

    I don’t think this part of your response confronts what Josh’s generalization intends, because his claim has an epistemological focus, but your comment seems to have a broader scope.

    For instance Chaitin of Omega incompleteness fame writes,
    “But independently a new school on the philosophy of mathematics is emerging called the “quasi-empirical” school of thought regarding the foundations of mathematics.”

    Maybe I missed something so I’ll just proceed to what I think Josh’s salient points are.
    Evolutionary Epistemology is considered a subset of Naturalized Epistemology.

    “In his book The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker makes an interesting point about the fact that our brains haven’t evolved to intuitively grasp probabilities. It is an acquired skill like reading, not something innate like walking.”

    http://www.cogsci.ucsd.edu/~coulson/203/oaksford.pdf
    “These are the logically valid inferences of modus ponens (MP) and modus tollens (MT) respectively. [There] are the logical fallacies of denying the antecedent (DA) and affirming the consequent. So, logically, participants should endorse MP and MT equally and they should refuse to endorse DA or AC. However, in fact they endorse MP signi-
    ficantly more than MT and they endorse DA and AC at levels significantly above zero.”

    SH: This leads me to believe that thinking is not rational but biased by evolutionary factors and the resulting probabilistic, analogical / inference weighing mechanisms for value judgments are skewed. I don’t see a reason for moral judgments to be more so, but perhaps moral questions are phrased so that they are more likely to trigger an innate evolutionary distortion (herd instinct?) in thinking.

    Epistemology: An Anthology Edited by Earnest Sosa and Jaegwon Kim

    Why Reason Can’t be Naturalized Hilary Putnam
    “Yet, for better or worse, not all our beliefs are rational. The problem here is that there are no sharp lines in the brain between one ‘capacity’ and another (Chomskians to the contrary). Even seeing includes not just the visual organs, the eyes, but the whole brain; and what is true of seeing is certainly true of thinking and inferring. We draw lines between one ‘capacity’ and another (or build them into the various versions we construct); but a sharp line at one level does not usually correspond to a sharp line at a lower level. …
    What is wrong with evolutionary epistemology is not that the scientific facts are wrong, but that they don’t answer any of the philosophical questions. What I am saying is that the ‘standards’ accepted by a culture or a subculture, either explicitly or implicitly, cannot define what reason is, even in context, because they presuppose reason (reasonableness) for their interpretation. …

    I want to talk about cultural relativism, because it is one of the most influential – perhaps the most influential – forms of naturalized epistemology extant, although not usually recognized as such.”

    SH: I read in one of the Naturalized Epistemology papers an example where Westernized Asians (WAs) and Eastern Asians (EAs) evaluated a couple of sentences and were asked to draw a conclusion. The WAs chose the conclusion deemed more analytical while the EAs chose the conclusion considered as more holistic. I think this outcome could have been predicted from the Armchair, but it seems useful to have these intuitions confirmed by experiment. I think that this is Hilary Putnam at his best.

  19. Hi Claudio,

    I’d like to second Jonathan Weinberg’s observation that experimentalists need not be naturalists. I do experimental work and am not an epistemological naturalist, if you are looking for a concrete example. And looking around more broadly, I must say I haven’t seen the correlation you worry about — experimentalists seem to me to occupy a pretty healthy array of philosophical positions.

    One of your main concerns about xphi is that it can’t tell us anything new, because we’ve known for a long time that “intuitions are unreliable” — and here you observe that philosophical paradoxes acquainted us with the phenomenon of clashing intuitions a long time ago. Traditional philosophy nevertheless relies on intuition at various crucial junctures, and faces the difficult task of sorting out which intuitive judgments have genuine significance. Various methods can be applied here, but I think there is something new to be learned from the application of experimental methods in particular. I think some of the most interesting recent work in xphi has been dedicated not to trashing intuition but to seeking a more precise understanding of its character and natural limits, by the application of careful empirical investigation. (See Mark Alfano and Brian Robinson’s work on the Knobe effect, for example.) The more we know about our natural intuitive apparatus, the more accurately we can read its deliverances, and the better we can offset the influence of its known biases and limitations in our reasoning.

    My main reason for being interested in the judgments of the folk? We philosophers are folk too, at least as far as certain crucial pre-theoretical judgments are concerned. There is a lot to be learned from systematic empirical exploration of the natural patterns and variations in those judgments. It is worth emphasizing that the discovery that there is variation in a natural capacity does not amount to a discovery that this capacity lacks evidential value (there is variation in the acuity of our senses, for example, and no one takes that to be a good reason to disregard the testimony of the senses).

    I was amused by Rodrigo’s claim that I *oppose* “Stich’s assumption that the same system one mechanisms are operating in both the philosophical and psychological contexts.” My paper on this issue (“Intuitions and Experiments”) was in fact dedicated to arguing that the same (largely S1) mechanisms underpin philosophers’ pre-theoretical intuitive judgments about epistemological scenarios and ordinary folk ascriptions of knowledge and belief. As for concerns about “unreliability”, it’s true that S1 mechanisms deliver incorrect results in an interesting class of cases, but not even the most extreme psychologist in the heuristics and biases tradition thinks that S1 mechanisms are generally unreliable, in the sense of having generally false deliverances. S1 mechanisms have certain natural limitations which philosophers would do well to understand, but this fact doesn’t justify the wholesale rejection of intuitive methods.

    Experimental methods are not necessarily a threat to the armchair: in at least some cases, experimental methods can complement traditional philosophical techniques.

  20. Hi, Jennifer,

    Thanks for commenting!

    A minor point: I didn’t write that “intuitions are unreliable”. I did speak of the “unreliability of ‘the light of reason’”. It was a mere slip, as you can see from the fact that, in that very same paragraph, I note that we’ve known, for a long time now, that intuitions “are not perfectly reliable”. I was just acknowledging the fallibility of intuitions. Elsewhere, I decry “catastrophism about intuitions” and suggest that, in full generality, a view of the unreliability of intuitions would be self-undermining.

    To the substantive point: I have a brief comment on the following, crucial lines in your reply: “The more we know about our natural intuitive apparatus, the more accurately we can read its deliverances, and the better we can offset the influence of its known biases and limitations in our reasoning. […] Experimental methods are not necessarily a threat to the armchair: in at least some cases, experimental methods can complement traditional philosophical techniques.”

    That’s exactly what I’ve been questioning. It sounds good at that level of generality. But I don’t see why my procedure would be unwelcome with the experimental philosopher. The procedure is: I start thinking of traditional topics in epistemology, make a list of those topics, and then ask the x-phi’er how exactly s/he will have an impact on the disputes within that topic. But I expect a detailed answer, not just more promissory notes. It is a fair procedure, isn’t it? The problem is that we can’t seem to get past the generalities, or the claims according to which some armchair philosophers have been making false claims about what the folk believe. To which I reply that we’ve known, for a very long time, that there are, and there always have been, bad armchair philosophers out there.

  21. Jennifer, I can now say with confidence: I thought there was the need to warn the kids, and I was right. I’ve posted to warn the kids. The kids have been warned.

  22. Juan,

    Indeed, you are right about the historical Nozick, the historical Dretske and their “abominable conjunctions”. That is all compatible with my claim that, given the proper view of knowledge-distribution and a good, non-Dretskean, non-Nozickian account of closure failure, a closure denier need not be abominable. So, the motivation in my Synthese paper is historically grounded.

    Thanks for forcing the clarification!

  23. Josh,

    In your first reply to Rodrigo, you write:

    “The claim is rather that experimental results like the ones obtained by Beebe & Buckwalter provide some defeasible evidence for a view about the concept of knowledge itself. […] One possible view would be that these results simply point to a way in which people are failing to correctly apply their own concept, while another would be that people are applying their concept correctly in these cases and that the experiments thereby reveal a role for moral considerations in people’s concept of knowledge.”

    This looks puzzling, and I’d like to emphasize the puzzlement, since it involves the very intelligibility of what you write above, and, more generally, the intelligibility of much of the x-phi project (as exemplified in the Nahmias interview on which I’ve commented). I’d appreciate it if you addressed the problem.

    Classroom experience abundantly shows that, whatever the folk may have previously thought about knowledge, they are fairly easily persuaded by epistemological theorizing at its most fundamental level. Thus, for instance, with minimal care from minimally competent teachers, they immediately latch on to the Platonic JTB view of knowledge. It hasn’t been a hard sell at all. (Granted, the Gettier scenarios require a whole lot more care. And, needless to say, we all know the harm that bad teachers can do.) They also immediately latch on to a distinction of moral, prudential, and epistemic goals (and attendant notions of justification). (I trust encroachers would agree that this is a necessary step in one’s education.) This is smooth sailing in the classroom. So, once the epistemology 101 is in full swing, these newly enlightened subjects disavow their previous (mis)conceptions of what knowledge might be. What does this say about the significance of the kind of research you describe?

    Again, this may come from my ignorance or simple-mindedness, but, if so, it shouldn’t be hard to correct.

  24. Claudio early: .. “talking about these two metaphilosophical views (if they are, in fact, different): naturalism – as opposed to normative conceptual analysis – and experimental philosophy – as opposed to armchair (generally “aprioristic”) philosophy.” Claudio later:

    “So, once the epistemology 101 is in full swing, these newly enlightened subjects disavow their previous (mis)conceptions of what knowledge might be. What does this say about the significance of the kind of research you describe?”

    I think one must also consider the significance of armchair philosophy also to answer this question, and whether the approaches must be mutually exclusive as you question.

    Consider a few “great” philosophers, Wittgenstein, Quine and Putnam. They all changed their early to later views … what philosophers produce is highly nuanced speculation, not truth or a fact of the matter. Experiments can show the bias in such views. Consider:

    “Call for Participants: Experiment on Knowledge” this experimental question,

    “The director of a sculpture museum is so impressed with recent improvements of hologram images that she decides to perform a secret test on the visitors of her museum. To this end, she orders hologram images that even art experts cannot visually distinguish from the real sculptures in her museum, and she replaces all but one of the sculptures by their hologram image. As the director had expected, no one realizes any difference between the hologram images and the real sculptures. One day, the world’s greatest Rodin expert is visiting her museum. The expert is standing in front of a famous marble sculpture by Rodin, which is the only real sculpture that is presently on display in the museum, and she thinks to herself: “I’m facing one of Rodin’s famous marble sculptures now.”
    How much do you disagree or agree with the following claim:

    The Rodin expert knows that the sculpture in front of her is one of Rodin’s famous marble sculptures.”

    strongly disagree _ disagree _ mildly disagree _ mildly agree _ agree _ strongly agree_

    Who is and isn’t in the epistemology 101 category is a philosophical question, it depends. According to the current received view, which seems aprioristic/armchair to me, the correct answer is either “strongly disagree” or “disagree”. Those with unwashed ears would answer “agree” or “strongly agree”. The well-read position interprets these hologram images to be analogous to fake diamonds or ersatz. The world’s greatest Rodin expert has a JTB, but does not _know_ that the sculpture she is standing in front is actually a genuine Rodin sculpture. That’s because Honors Epistemology holds that a JTB that is made true by luck isn’t something which is known. It is lucky that of the several sculptures replaced by hologram images, the expert just happens to be standing in front of display with the only genuine Rodin sculpture in the museum. But, you may find some advanced in epistemology who deny that “luck” is a relevant criteria in distinguishing JTB from knowledge. I think the quoted test question demonstrates some philosophical utility. Does the position “An unexamined life is not worth living.”, an absolute moral view, replace “‘beauty is truth, truth beauty,’ – that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”; which dictum is more valuable?

  25. Hi, Stephen,

    Thanks for commenting!

    I’m not advertising any form of methodological monism for philosophy, or any metaphilosophical view. It’s just a fact that philosophy as we know it has come from the armchair, and those who claim that the armchair has not served us well, that we can do better in grappling with those very same problems that we’ve received from the armchair if we leave it, should be expected to show us why that is so, shouldn’t they? I’ll be ready to follow when my suspicions are tamed by arguments from x-phi’ers. But I yawn at sloganeering and appeals to the authority of Quine et al.

    You mention Quine, Putnam and Wittgenstein, three brilliant authors, powerful personalities all. At some point in my education, I overdosed on those three. Looking back at my early fascination with them, I wish I had had the good luck of being nearer to critics of those three, people like, say, Roy Sorensen, Peter Klein, Paul Boghossian, Richard Fumerton (not to mention Ruth Marcus and the ones outside mainstream epistemology). As much as we owe those three, and it’s quite a bit, no doubt, I like to think I now know how wrong one can also be under their influence. (And, as I write this, I’m thinking of a book that my students have found helpful: Boghossian’s Fear of Knowledge. Not meaning to agree with all he writes there, that’s a job well-done overall. The reference seems pertinent here.)

    I’ll comment on that variant on the original fake barn case if I have something worth saying that’s not clearly implied by what I’ve already written in this thread.

  26. I’ve found this discussion very interesting. Thank you. For what it’s worth, I don’t see the main divide as being one between armchair philosophers and experimental ones. For me the more important divide is between a traditional approach to philosophy and one which more fully appreciates the role of language. I think philosophers who take the latter approach are likely to pay more attention to how language is used, and so may be more interested in empirical evidence. We already know quite a lot about how language is used from our personal experience, so may be able to judge such matters effectively from the armchair. But we should be open to experimental evidence that may surprise us.

    With regard to Stephen’s scenario, I doubt that the question is precise enough to have a definite answer. We have been told all that matters about the scenario. We would gain no additional substantive information from discovering whether the Rodin expert “knows”. All that is left to establish is the semantic question of whether the word “know” is applicable. It seems to me that Gettier-type scenarios push the word “know” into regions where it does not have a well-established usage, and so it’s not clear that any particular usage can be considered the correct one. We can try to extrapolate from more established usage, and that seems to make the “not by luck” interpretation attractive. But I don’t think such an interpretation is required. And why does it matter? If we wish to communicate the facts about the scenario to another party, we can do so more clearly if we avoid the word “knows”. If we see speech as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself, then we can see that there is no need for an unequivocal answer to the question.

    I found Beebe and Buckwalter’s paper very interesting. Thank you for the link, Joshua. But their findings will not lead me to change my own use of the word “know”. Despite the fact that ascriptions of knowledge are often dependent on moral judgements, I don’t believe that deliberately attempting to make our own ascriptions of knowledge dependent on moral judgements would facilitate our communication, even with folk whose own ascriptions are so dependent.

  27. Thanks, Richard. I hope you’ll find the following bit relevant to your concerns. It’s a follow-up of sorts to my reply to Stephen above. And it’s certainly relevant to a discussion of the original post.

    There’s another interview at 3:AM Magazine that connects with the original post. Professor Gila Sher is interviewed by Richard Marshall. (Again, the interview is advertised at Leiter Reports.) Here’s the link: http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/the-place-of-philosophy/

    I won’t comment extensively on Sher’s interview. (More generally, I have no intention of making a habit of reporting at CD, or anywhere else, on metaphilosophical stuff that baffles me. I’m really doing this out of sheer horror at the shallow, hazardous stuff that’s dumped on kids in philosophy these days and just because I don’t see the antidote receiving a fraction of the attention the “cool” stuff gets.) To me, the interview is a mixed bag of likeable and detestable views. Unfortunately, it’s the detestable part that connects with my post.

    Before giving you the relevant quotation from the interview, I’ll just note, in passing, that some of Sher’s claims about foundationalism seem terribly ill-informed. So much so that I can’t see how the set of views she puts forward in the interview will ultimately yield something coherent or very exciting. The anti-foundationalist bits reminded me of a talk I recently attended, where the words “Descartes” and “foundationalism” were the objects of derision. The gist of the speaker’s message was that foundationalism is something oppressive and intellectually bankrupt. But it helps the message when the speaker, as in this case, is under the illusion that s/he knows what she is talking about – or, in any case, puts on a show of confidence while ridiculing such “backward” things as foundationalism. I was listening to the anti-foundationalist sloganeering in the talk and thinking to myself: “This person wouldn’t survive a ten-minute discussion with people like Richard Fumerton, Richard Foley, Ernest Sosa, Laurence BonJour.” The same thought assaulted me as I read about Sher’s anti-foundationalist ideology. (And, for the record, if it matters, I can’t call myself a “foundationalist”.)

    But it’s her brief comment on naturalism that reinforced my fears about what passes for “coolness” at officially cool places like 3:AM Magazine. I should quote from it at some length.

    “(I should point out […] that thinking about naturalism is still a work-in-progress for me, so I won’t say much about it beyond what I said in my Quine paper.) Naturalism is quite popular today among English speaking philosophers, and there is a large variety of strands whose relations are not always clear. So, to avoid misinterpreting people, I will speak schematically and limit myself to two quite radically different strands.
    One strand of naturalism, which I support, says that traditional philosophers are not justified in requiring philosophical theories to be apriori. In constructing philosophical theories we should be free to help ourselves to any available type of knowledge, including empirical knowledge, if and when we deem it fruitful for answering the philosophical questions we are investigating. A different type of naturalism, and one that I oppose, says that philosophers should limit themselves to empirical inquiry or to inquiry that serves the needs of the natural and social sciences. I like naturalism inasmuch as it frees us from a rigid philosophical methodology focused on the traditional dogma of apriority; I dislike it inasmuch [as] it replaces one shackle by another and inasmuch as it tells us that there are no worthwhile philosophical questions that are distinct from those of the natural and social sciences.”

    If somebody speaks of the oppressive “traditional dogma of apriority” at a such a level of superficiality, making so much complex stuff ride on metaphors of liberation, open-mindedness and pluralism, the “uncool” among us who hadn’t yet quite noticed that there is a “traditional dogma of apriority” will hardly find a basis on which to engage the would-be messenger of open-mindedness on anything vaguely resembling intelligent dialog.

    Well, I hate to break the news to you, Professor Sher, but, whatever our flaws, we’re doing a whole lot better than that in epistemology.

  28. I can’t help but notice that the experiments I’ve looked at for Experimental Philosophy look a lot like experiments performed for Experimental Psychology. I think that traditionally, Philosophical experiments in Epistemology are nearly always thought experiments, whereas the x-phi vignettes have a more tangible empirical construction.

    I don’t think it can be disputed that thought experiments have played an important role in Philosophy of Mind – Philosophy of Artificial Intelligence, despite AI being classified under Cognitive Science which I tend to associate more with Psychology.

    The beginning of AI dates around 1935 with Turing’s paper. Before then, there was scant philosophical reasoning. Early efforts were comprised of the Computational Theory of Mind (CTM), the basis of Computationalism, and Fodor’s Language of Thought (LOT). The assumptions of strong AI were challenged by thought experiments, especially Block’s, and Searle’s Chinese Room Argument (CRA), virulently disputed for more than 30 years. Without getting into which side has the most cogent arguments, I think there are significant epistemological implications. Computational Learning Theory is also called computational epistemology.

    Many thought experiments do not elaborate into further empirical tests. But I think AI builds a solid case for experimental philosophy, unless x-phi is narrowly defined. Attempts to build AI, which in retrospect certainly seem to be experiments, greatly informed the near demise of Computationalism and Connectionism as theories of mind, generating new perspectives. I believe this area (AI) serves as a counterexample to a blanket criticism of experimental philosophy, and that the armchair is always sufficient.

    If the Chinese Room Argument is before your time, here is a perspicacious Phd. thesis,

    https://lirias.kuleuven.be/bitstream/1979/939/5/ Rodrigo González (300 pages)
    THE CHINESE ROOM REVISITED Artificial Intelligence and the Nature of Mind

    “Note that the difference between Searle’s viewpoint and the external observer’s perspective is fundamental in that it is not possible to grasp the consequences and implications of the thought experiment without this contrast.”

  29. Hi Claudio,

    I guess I’m not the common answerer to your posts, being a Swedish civil engineer, an amateur philosopher… maybe one of the “ordinary people” descibed above. Obviously, being an amateur experimental philosopher is somewhat impossible to be, the armchair is what we got, apart from books, internet, philosophical clubs and such. And the world of X-phi is only for the insiders, I guess…

    I do not get all that much time for philosophy, but I just read Kants Prolegomena some time ago, and even Immanuel was veery impressed with the success of the Naturwissenschaft. With empirism. And so it seem to have been going on, Metaphysics has become a bad word, when you read like “philosophy from 1900 to now”-collections.

    And of course. Hippokrates came up with the “body fluids” and “doctors” let blood on patients for centuries, killing patients en masse. Quite handy when people invented microscopes, performed ordered studies and so. Things got better for the sick guys.

    But where do things start? Those old greeks was very well on the case really, knowing fabously much about things, more or less by thinking. Doing x-phi, obviously there has been a lot of armchair (do you guy actually have armchairs all over the place in the universities?) sitting before you decide on what to x on.

    Just to get this straight for an outsider: The empirists, the X-phi’s, is it the RESULTS from the armchairs those guys are criticising, when they talk about armchair philosophy?

    But to answer the question from an outsider. No, it would be strange if people devoted to collect empirical data to sort out something philosophical were automatically ignorant of things like intuition and so. Even religious experiences, magic and whatever. I guess they take it as an input?

    Last, reading the last paragraph of Jonathan Weinberg’s post above, are there any good introductions, books, sites or whatever, to Experimental Philosophy that can be recommended? This got me interested…

  30. “I guess I’m not the common answerer to your posts, being a Swedish civil engineer, an amateur philosopher… maybe one of the “ordinary people” descibed above. […] Just to get this straight for an outsider: The empirists, the X-phi’s, is it the RESULTS from the armchairs those guys are criticising, when they talk about armchair philosophy?”

    Hi, Anders,

    To my mind, Certain Doubts would be a very strange place, and one that I wouldn’t want to be part of, if replies/queries like yours weren’t welcome here. But I’m sure they are.

    As regards sources for an introduction to so-called “experimental philosophy”, I should think that you’ve come to the right thread. Three high-profile x-phi’ers have posted here: Joshua Knobe, Jennifer Nagel, and Jonathan Weinberg. They can do a better job than I can in recommending sources for an introduction to their views. You’ll also easily find books by x-phi’ers and about x-phi on the market. It’s big business already. Grants have been given, tenured jobs have been secured, publications are booming, students are excited. But critics are in short supply, I’m afraid, and that worries me, because I think there is much here that lends itself to intellectual suspicion.

    But, to answer the question highlighted above, no, x-phi’ers don’t just frown at some of the results from armchair philosophy. If objecting to some of those results were all there is to x-phi, x-phi’ers should be expected to tell us why their objecting cannot be anticipated by the armchair philosopher. My posts in this thread have given those high-profile x-phi’ers ample opportunity to go into detail about how x-phi results alter (should alter) our understanding of fundamental problems in epistemology. I’ve given them a short list of those problems and asked them how the armchair epistemologist goes wrong in her epistemological theorizing by making mistakes that cannot be exposed in the armchair itself. But they seem to think that the details cannot be given here. I got an earful about my ignorance of their books and papers – but not even a paragraph showing us how we’ve been wrong-headed in our handling of, say, skeptical arguments. Would I learn that philosophical skepticism is a set of pseudo-problems, or problems that have been mishandled by all in the armchair, if I read their books and papers? Not even that much was said in their replies. What was said, or implied, in their comments is that philosophers have made false claims about what is intuitive to most or all of us (the folk). But I’m waiting for the mistakes that could not have been anticipated in the armchair (by better philosophers). (Working hypothesis: They won’t find those mistakes unless they move the focus away from the traditional epistemological problems. So, maybe they are trying, perhaps unwittingly, to realize Quine’s ideal of a retreat from traditional epistemology while trying to avoid exposure as latter-day Quine’s.)

    There comes Quine again! But it’s inevitable. He led the way to an escape from the armchair, didn’t he? To my amazement, his 1969 paper is regarded as a piece of deep metaphilosophy. And despite their protestations in this thread, it certainly looks like x-phi’ers have done exactly what Quine prescribed (to some extent anyway).

    Lastly, Anders, a word of caution about naturalism in epistemology (and maybe elsewhere in philosophy). Some philosophers have used the term “naturalism” to describe the view, most notably credited to Alvin Goldman, that a satisfactory explanation of epistemic concepts will analyze them in such a way that the analysans will not contain normative concepts (only descriptive ones). Richard Feldman, for an important instance, does that in his Stanford Encyclopedia entry on “naturalized epistemology”. To my mind, that’s a grave mistake. By that criterion, most of us (myself included) will turn out to be “naturalists”. That’s not the meaning of “naturalized epistemology” that concerns me here. The meaning of the term targeted by this thread is the one, however nuanced it may have become, that bears an interesting conceptual connection with the Quinean proposal. Here, we’re not interested in the view according to which the vast majority of armchair epistemologists may be called “naturalists”. (Note: This is not to ignore the very interesting, but highly provocative, view according to which there are irreducible normative facts, or, in any case, concepts. But a discussion of this matter is just not what I have proposed for this thread.)

  31. Oh well, I only noticed this thread now that it’s too late to contribute in a helpful way or to reply to some of Claudio’s unfair or uninformed interpretations of the brief things I say about x-phi in my interview. I would like to say that I spent the majority of my too-long interview at 3AM talking about the free will problem and not trying to defend the practice of x-phi or give detailed explanations of why I think it can contribute to various debates, including free will. For that, I suggest reading some of the articles where people do some of the metaphilosophical work, including my forthcoming paper with Dylan Murray which should appear on the PPR online first site pretty soon. I also want to point out that Richard Marshall likes to use the “cool” language to describe all the philosophers he interviews, x-phi or not!

  32. Hi, Eddy,

    Thanks for the reply.

    And, no: I think I speak for all who are interested in this thread when I say that it’s not too late for you to contribute to the discussion, definitely not. Despite the dizzying speed at which blog posts get old, I trust the ones who have followed the thread this far will be curious to know how, exactly, in your opinion, I’ve been unfair in my criticism of x-phi in general or in my handling of the excerpts from your 3:AM interview.

    You are the second x-phi’er in this thread to suggest that I’ve taken your brief remarks on x-phi — in an interview at a charming website that was recommended by Brian Leiter at the most popular philosophy blog on planet Earth — way too seriously. This is surprising, to put it mildly. Do I misrepresent your reply here?

    And you are the fourth x-phi’er in the thread to suggest (imply, presuppose, silently indicate, or flat-out assert) that the metaphilosophy driving x-phi is satisfactorily put forward elsewhere and cannot be given here. This is surprising to me. Somehow, Certain Doubts is deemed unsuitable for replies to the questions asked here. Very serious doubts have been raised in this thread about whether the metaphilosophy in x-phi holds water. Are you saying that they are all addressed in your forthcoming PPR paper?

    I’ll just remind our readers of this bit of unanswered challenge: I’d like to know what the criterion is for distinguishing appeals to intuition in philosophy from those that are made in logic and mathematics. (A little background on the connection with naturalization in epistemology: In the introduction to Epistemology and Cognition, Goldman writes: “While I endorse (a form of) psychologism in epistemology, I do not endorse it in logic.” I’ll be forever baffled by Goldman’s criterion and its justification (or lack thereof). But maybe x-phi’ers like you, who think that x-phi will help us separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to appeals to intuition, will help vindicate Goldman’s proposed methodological apartheid between philosophy, which supposedly lends itself to naturalization, and logic, which doesn’t.)

    As regards Richard Marshall and the language of “coolness”, I trust it is understood that I was simply emphasizing the good publicity you and x-phi get at 3:AM Magazine. Good publicity, I repeat. It wasn’t any cheap shot on Marshall. Why would it be? (I like to think that petty-mindedness is not one of my many flaws.) As I said, I’m all for cool, ceteris paribus. But I’m even more for philosophical substance over trendiness, and Marshall did let me down in that interview from a strictly philosophical point of view.

    (On a personal note, if I may; I hope it’s not inappropriate by some etiquette rule I ignore: Those who know me must know that I can only admire the philosophers mentioned here – from Quine to Nagel, from Kornblith to Weinberg, all of them – for the intellectual stimulation. I’m nothing if not grateful to these philosophers for the agenda they have helped set for us. But the bluntness in this thread comes from what I love above all else in philosophy: clarity. I’m afraid kids are being led away from it by unspoken, and perverse, etiquette rules, especially in the North-American community. Here’s a hypothetical instance of the kind of rule that worries me as a philosopher: “If somebody bluntly criticizes you for your views, you will be socially rewarded if you respond with (pregnant) silence.”)

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