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John Turri
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Sven Ove Hansson, prolific scholar and editor-in-chief of Theoria, published an opinion piece on the noun phrase "Experimental Philosophy" in the latest issue of Theoria (subscription required). He makes some provocative and, I think, pernicious claims. I'd like to list a few of them here and offer some brief commentary.... Continue reading
Posted Jan 14, 2014 at Experimental Philosophy
... skeptical arguments. A new paper of mine, "Skeptical Appeal: The Source-Content Bias" (forthcoming in Cognitive Science), uncovers a subtle mechanism that triggers knowledge-denial and contributes to the appeal of classic skeptical arguments. The mechanism is an interaction between two factors. First, people evaluate inferential belief more harshly than perceptual... Continue reading
Posted Dec 31, 2013 at Experimental Philosophy
I was recently doing a literature search on personal identity and came across a fascinating book by Kathleen Wilkes, Real People: Personal Identity without Thought Experiments (OUP, 1988). The book's first chapter is a sustained critique of thought experimentation in this area of metaphysics. I'm certain that her discussion will... Continue reading
Posted Dec 6, 2013 at Experimental Philosophy
I communcate with lots of academics regularly, as I'm sure most readers of this blog do. This is not surprising. But what I do find surprising is how frequently academics simply do not respond to, or even acknowledge, communications from... Continue reading
Posted Jul 12, 2013 at PEA Soup
I have funding to support two graduate students to work with me on SSHRC-funded projects: one on the norms of assertion and related issues in epistemology, the philosophy of language and value theory; the other an experimental philosophical approach to... Continue reading
Posted Nov 5, 2011 at PEA Soup
The contemporary debate over the constitutive norms of assertion, as well as related debates about the norms of belief and action, and the nature of epistemic value, deal with deep and important questions about the nature of normativity, especially constitutive... Continue reading
Posted Oct 10, 2010 at PEA Soup
Dear Concerned Professor, I presume you agree that these count as "big questions": A. What is knowledge? What do we know? How do we know it? What is understanding? What do we understand? B. What is goodness/rightness? What makes actions good/right? Which of our actions are good/right? C. What is virtue? Can it be taught? D. What is freedom? Is acting freely consistent with determinism? (What is determinism, by the way?) Are any of our actions ever free? Is moral responsibility consistent with acting un-freely? E. What is beauty? What makes objects beautiful? What things are beautiful? F. What is meaning? What makes words/thoughts meaningful? How does literal meaning relate to other forms of linguistic meaningfulness, such as suggestion and metaphor? Those seem like big, important, pardigmatic humanistic questions to me. English-speaking ("Anglo-American," "analytic," etc.) philosophers routinely address them. So we've got the content right. But that wasn't all or mainly what you were concerned about. Aside from content, there's also the practical goal of helping people live well. And here, as I understand it, you're worried that the way we address the questions prevents us from promoting that important practical goal. Perhaps we're too bogged down in technical details, or aren't properly motivated (helping people live well isn't *our* goal in answering the question), or are just plain old boring. Maybe we're too much like Dr. House: to hell with the patients, we're interested only in puzzles and problems! Two points in response. First, I think that, practically speaking, intelligently addressing the big questions almost invariably helps people live better lives -- and the more intelligently the better. So, in a sense, seriously addressing the right questions promotes the practical goal. Second, I know many philosophers who do care about promoting the practical goal, and explicitly say so. Roderick Chisholm is about as mainstream an analytic philosopher as you can get. Here's how he described the "faith" that informs and motivates his epistemology: "I am justified in believing that I can improve and correct my system of beliefs. Of those beliefs that are about matters of interest or concern to me, I can eliminate the ones that are unjustified and add others that are justified, and I can replace less justified beliefs about those topics by beliefs about them that are more justified." (_Theory of Knowledge_, 3rd edition, p. 5) That's why Chisholm did epistemology the way he did. In a sense, he thought of epistemology as careful, critical intellectual self-help in slow motion! And I'm sure that many philosophers working on, say, the relations between determinism, free will and moral responsibility see themselves as contributing to a more just society, at least in the long run. They want to help us live better lives. So we've got the motivation right. As for being too technical or boring or otherwise uninspirational, to some extent this cannot be avoided. These questions are difficult (otherwise they wouldn't have endured), which diminishes enthusiasm, which leads more readily to boredom. But living well involves hard work, at least for finite and fallible beings like us, so it'd be unfair to expect us philosophers to make it easy and fun. So, in sum, we're addressing the right questions for the right reasons, and promoting the basic humanistic goal in the process. So I think that earns us the right to feel, at the very least, puzzled and confused by the EH project. I don't know whether we're entitled to "whine" about it, or whether whining would promote a better outcome in any event.