107: Experimental Philosophy by Knobe and Nichols

by Gerard

DDC_107

107.2: Knobe, Joshua and Shaun Nichols, eds. Experimental Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. 239 pp. ISBN 978-0-19-532325-2.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 100: Philosophy and Psychology
  • 107: Education, research, and related topics of philosophy
  • 107.2: Miscellaneous research topics of philosophy

Experimental philosophy is defined as a field of inquiry that uses data gathered through surveys to inform research on philosophical questions. The philosophy we all know and love has traditionally been done behind closed doors: one person puzzling through the questions of the universe and existence. Experimental philosophy uses traditional thought experiments to understand the intents, motivations, consciousness, and origins of certain concepts, but then tries to see if the analysis done by the thinker matches that of the population being studied. In this way, it more closely resembles psychology or sociology. In Experimental Philosophy, Joshua Knobe and Shaun Nichols bring together eleven different philosophical experiments to show how we can better understand ourselves by asking more people important questions.

Since philosophy goes after the big ideas, the surveys given to study participants try to do the same. Many of the studies offer people vignettes about a particular set of circumstances, motivations, and outcomes and records the reactions to and thoughts about them. These reactions and thoughts can be gathered from people of differing backgrounds, ethnicities, incomes, and religions to find out how different philosophical upbringings affect a person’s understanding of the world. The experiments in this book range from simple and straightforward to those that are bogged down in intricate statistical analysis of the findings (which, to be frank, I did not understand).  But it’s the questions that are asked that are the most important. Does knowing the motivation behind a murder change your assessment of it, and how? Do you have to know a thing exists to believe in it? What moral processes go into jury deliberations? These are truly interesting questions, and I’m glad to have thought about them, if only for a short time. A thick but insightful book.

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