“What’s Wrong with Experimental Philosophy”

Some readers may be interested in this critique of recent work in experimental philosophy: Simon Cullen, “Survey-Driven Romanticism: What’s Wrong with Experimental Philosophy”: pdf link. A lot of the work that is discussed involves epistemology. There was also an interesting discussion of the paper, that Cullen took part in, about three months ago at the Experimental Philosophy blog here.

I now see that Brian Weatherson linked to these over at Thoughts, Arguments, and Rants a while ago, but I missed it, and thought others who might be interested may have missed it, too. Thanks to Jennifer Nagel, who sent Cullen’s paper to me. (I then did a little googling, and found Brian’s earlier link to it.) Jennifer sent me the paper because, in e-mail correspondance, I had told her about one of my chief complaints about the experimental philosophers work in epistemology: What’s up with them asking their survey takers whether subjects “really know, or only believe” the proposition in question? The function of that “really” is unclear, and muddies the waters, I think. Why wouldn’t the options just be “knows” and “doesn’t know”? That would seem a lot cleaner, and would avoid a lot of needless worries in interpreting the results, it seems to me. That’s one of the issues Cullen discusses. (It turns out, according to Cullen’s own studies, that the results are quite substantially different when the cleaner question is asked: see pp. 19-20.) But that’s just my own pet peeve. There are a lot of issues discussed, and I haven’t studied it at all carefully.


“What’s Wrong with Experimental Philosophy” — 1 Comment

  1. This is an interesting paper, and doubtless a help to X-phi. But isn’t ‘What’s wrong with experimental philosophy’ a bit sensational? Cullen has pointed out a 50 buck crime, not a felony rap, and it is a common 50 buck crime in new research programs. The problems he identifies can be corrected with new experiments, which may lead to different conclusions than the Stich et. al. results, but that is precisely what one would expect.

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