Category Archives: Posts

Workshop: Experimental Philosophy and Philosophical Methodology

University of Warwick, 4-5 October 2016

Speakers
Guy Kahane (Oxford), Ethical theory, commonsense morality, and empirical moral psychology: the case of utilitarian judgment
Antti Kauppinen (Tampere), Varieties of philosophical expertise
Edouard Machery (Pittsburgh), On second thought: a refutation of the reflection defense
Jennifer Nado (Lingnan), Conceptual engineering via experimental philosophy
Johnnie Pedersen (Warwick), Ethics as an empirical science
Regina Rini (NYU), Experiments and two conceptions of philosophy
Tom Sorell (Warwick), Scientism and other problems in experimental philosophy
Stephen Stich (Rutgers), Question: Can the empirical study of moral disagreement resolve the moral realism debate? Answer: No

The full programme is available at https://bit.ly/XMethod.

Location
Seminar Room on the first floor of the Institute of Advanced Studies, Millburn House, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7HS (directions available here)

Registration
Registration is now closed.

Childcare support
We hope to provide some financial support to those who would like to attend, but require childcare. If you are interested, please email J.Pedersen@warwick.ac.uk.

Accessibility information
There are parking spaces for blue badge holders near the front entrance to Millburn House.
The elevator can be accessed through the entrance to the Writer’s Room on the ground floor. If you would like to use it, please contact J.Pedersen@warwick.ac.uk beforehand.
An accessible toilet is located on the first floor of Millburn House.

Sponsors
We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Aristotelian Society, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and the Mind Association.
Sponsors

Workshop: Early Modern Experimental Philosophy, Metaphysics, and Religion

University of Warwick, 10-11 May 2016

Speakers
Keith Allen (York), Cavendish on Colour and Experimental Philosophy
Peter Anstey (Sydney), Experimental Philosophy and Corpuscular Philosophy
Philippe Hamou (Paris-Ouest Nanterre), John Locke and the Experimental Philosophy of the Human Mind
Dana Jalobeanu (Bucharest), Francis Bacon’s ‘Perceptive’ Instruments
Dmitri Levitin (Oxford), Metaphysics, Natural Philosophy, and the Soul: Rethinking Kenelm Digby’s Philosophical Project
Elliot Rossiter (Concordia), From Natural Philosophy to Natural Religion: Teleology and the Theologia Rationalis
Tom Sorell (Warwick), Experience in Hobbes’ Science of Politics
Alberto Vanzo (Warwick), Experimental Philosophy and Religion in Seventeenth-Century Italy
Koen Vermeir (Paris-Diderot), Magnetic Theology
Catherine Wilson (York), What was Behind the Rejection of Hypotheses in Newtonian Science?

The programme is available at here.

Location
Seminar Room on the first floor of the Institute of Advanced Studies, Millburn House, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7HS (directions available here)

Registration
Registration is now closed.

Accessibility information
There are parking spaces for blue badge holders near the front entrance to Millburn House.
The elevator can be accessed through the entrance to the Writer’s Room on the ground floor.
An accessible toilet is located on the first floor of Millburn House.
Personal assistants may attend free of charge. Please provide details when registering.

Childcare support
We hope to provide some financial support to those who would like to attend, but require childcare. If you are interested, please email Alberto Vanzo.

Sponsors
We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Aristotelian Society, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and the British Society for the History of Science.
Sponsors

Experimental Philosophy and Early Moden Ethics: Turnbull and Fordyce

Alberto Vanzo writes

Experimental philosophy is often portrayed as an exciting or controversial new development in philosophy. Yet, some have claimed that the practice of experimental philosophy is traditional and that it ‘began to flourish’ in the early modern period. Is it true that the practices and methods of current-day experimental philosophy are traditional philosophical practices?

To shed light on this question, I will focus on George Turnbull, David Fordyce and (in my next post) David Hume. As Juan Gomez has shown (e.g. here and here), these authors stressed that their ethics derives from ‘plain uncontroverted Experiments’ and ‘reasoning from experiment’. Do Turnbull and Fordyce ethics adopt the practices and methods of current-day experimental philosophers?

Two practices are especially relevant to this question:

  • Experimental philosophers object to the practice of developing philosophical arguments on the basis of intuitions, without assessing how widely those intuitions are shared and whether they are influenced by factors such as ethnic background, gender, or philosophical training. Accordingly, experimental philosophers engage in systematic investigations of people’s intuitions.
  • More broadly, experimental philosophy can be characterised as the practice of systematically relying on empirical evidence in attempting to answer philosophical questions.

There are two reasons to think that Turnbull’s and Fordyce’s ethics is not an early instance of experimental philosophy.

1. The buck-passing strategy

Much of Turnbull’s and Fordyce’s ethics depends on their account of people’s feelings and behaviour. For instance, Fordyce outlines the passions that people experience at various stages of their lives: infants’ affection for their parents, children’s ‘Love of Action, of Imitation’, and so on. In support of his portrayal of human passions, Fordyce writes:

Whether this historic Draught of Man be just or not, is a Matter, not so much of Reasoning, as common Sense and common Experience. Therefore let every one consult his Experience of what he feels within, and his Knowledge of what is transacted abroad, in the … World in which he lives; and by that Experience, and that Knowledge, let the Picture be acknowledged Just, or pronounced the Contrary.

Here and elsewhere, instead of detailing their observations, Turnbull and Fordyce appeal to a generic ‘common experience’ and pass the buck to their readers, inviting them to consult their own experience. This may be construed as a merely rhetorical move, or as an appeal to their readers’ intuitions. Either way, it is a far cry from experimental philosophers’ systematic provision of actual, specific experiences in support of their claims.

2. Thought Experiments

Turnbull and Fordyce often rely on intuitions elicited by thought experiments. They invite their readers to imagine a scenario and ponder a question, to elicit a judgement that is used as evidence for a philosophical claim. For instance, Turnbull asks his readers to imagine that someone paid them to have a sentiment of approbation for an instance of ‘villany’ or ‘treachery’. Would this bribery be successful? Turnbull expects his readers to answer that it wouldn’t, because they cannot bring themselves to have sentiments of approbation for such actions.

This is the procedure that armchair philosophers adopt when they appeal to intuitions in support of their claims. Like armchair philosophers, Turnbull and Fordyce take it for granted that, by reflecting on given cases, readers will elicit the very same judgements that their own reflection has elicited. They assume that people’s moral intuitions are uniform. They never suggest that an empirical inquiry might be necessary to confirm this assumption. In fact, Turnbull and Fordyce display little interest for cross-cultural moral divergences.

In sum, Turnbull’s and Fordyce’s appeals to a generic common experience and their armchair reliance on intuitions make them unlikely predecessors of current-day experimental philosophers. In my next post I will turn to Hume. Which other early modern moral philosophers should I focus on to establish if experimental philosophy is a traditional philosophical practice? I would appreciate your suggestions in the comments here, or via email.

(This post was also published on the Early Modern Experimental Philosophy Blog.)

New Research Fellow

We are glad to announce that Johnnie Pedersen has joined the XPHI project as a research fellow, based at the Department of Philosophy at Warwick. Johnnie defended his dissertation, ‘A Defense of Evidentialism about Moral Intuitions’, at UC Davis in 2014. Within the proejct, he will be working primarily on current-day empirical ethics (questions 7-9), as well as organising a workshop and collaborating to the project’s outreach activities.

Welcome!

“Experimental philosophy and empirical ethics” (XPHI) has two aims: improving our understanding of early modern experimental philosophy and assessing the viability the methodological outlook underpinning early modern and recent attempts to build an empirical science of ethics.

XPHI is based at the universities of Warwick and Sydney. It is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Please take a look around. We welcome feedback, comments, suggestions, and criticisms. If you would like to know more about the project, please get in touch.