In a forthcoming paper, “Is Knowledge Justified True Belief?“, I had occasion to cite James Beebe and Wesley Buckwalter’s admirable forthcoming paper, “The Epistemic Side-Effect Effect,” which reports interesting experimental results about epistemic judgments, related to those reported by Joshua Knobe on intentional action and side effects. There’s a somewhat surprising story behind this, which some people here might find interesting, so I thought I’d share it.
The paper is on the Gettier problem. One thing I do is to present a new argument for the conclusion that Gettier subjects do in fact know. (I don’t ultimately accept this, but the argument is interesting nonetheless.) In making my argument I present cases involving “bad” counterparts of original Gettier subjects. For instance, “Bad Henry” isn’t just gazing at a roadside barn, but out to destroy a barn. He aims his bazooka and fires with deadly accuracy. I say, it’s plausible that Bad Henry knows that he is about to destroy a barn. But to do that, he must know that it is a barn. And if Bad Henry knows that it’s a barn, then so does Good Henry (the protagonist of the original Ginet/Goldman case). So this gives us some reason to mistrust the intuition that Good Henry doesn’t know.
Maybe you buy that; maybe you don’t. But this brings me to my story. One referee for my paper singled out the claim “it’s plausible that Bad Henry knows that he is about to destroy a barn.” It just didn’t seem like that to her or him. The referee then suggested that I run an x-phi experiment to test whether the intuition was widely shared!
This has never happened to me before. Has it happened to others? Will it become a trend? That is, will it become more common for referees to prompt armchair philosophers to run experimental studies to bolster intuitions not shared by referees? Would this be a good development?
I know that the x-phi phenomenon has caused some consternation in some philosophers, but I’m not one of them. I continue to find the results fascinating and I’m happy to see people advancing their research program and enjoying successful academic careers. But at the same time, I don’t think that, in order to get work published, philosophers employing armchair methods should be expected or required to conform to this methodological innovation.
In the present case, I was fortunate that relevant experimental work had been done, and that I happened to become aware of it in time for this R&R. Maybe it was just an isolated incident, and maybe it would have been accepted even if I hadn’t been able to cite that work; but then again, maybe not. Who knows? One thing I do know, though, is that I’m not all that enthusiastic about being handed a clipboard when I’m working hard in the bottomless pit of the armchair.