Congratulations to our own Professor Cristina Bicchieri on the recently launched Behavioral Ethics Lab (BeLab) at The University of Pennsylvania. Here is a description of the exciting project:
BeLab is part of the Philosophy, Politics and Economics Program and reflects its multidisciplinary spirit. We study moral behavior in all its complexity, so that our research crosses the boundaries of several disciplines. Our group includes psychologists, behavioral economists, game theorists, biologists, and moral and political philosophers. At BeLab we do laboratory experiments, but we also go to the field, and we theorize about what we find empirically, using analytical models as well as simulations.
I look forward to seeing the findings from their lab!
Has anyone done any experimental work that is relevant to how people think about agreement and disagreement?
A colleague is interested in whether there is a single folk concept of agreement and disagreement, whether people recognise distinct varieties of disagreement, etc. The interest concerns disagreement and agreement generally, not just moral disagreement.
Suggestions and comments gratefully received.
Synthese has just published the special issue edited by Stephan Hartmann, Chiara Lisciandra, and myself on "Formal epistemology meets experimental philosophy." It's accessible there.
In this issue, we bring together the two most active and innovative areas of philosophy in the last decade: formal epistemology and experimental philosophy. The articles we have edited show how much there is to gain by bringing the two approaches together.
From our editorial: "In the past few years, there has been an increasing tendency in the application of formal and experimental methods to tackle philosophical issues. We very much approve of this trend, which we view as part and parcel of the recent renewal of “scientific philosophy”: In our mind, the aim of a scientifically oriented philosophy is to adopt formal and experimental methods to address philosophical questions."
Most of you are familar with the side-effect effect (a.k.a., the Knobe Effect), which is the asymmetric attributions of intentionality (among other things) to agents based on the side-effect of their actions. Joshua Knobe originally discovered the affect by presenting people with a vignette in which a corporate chairman initiates a new program to increase profits which also harms or helps the environment. While the side-effect effect has been studied and expanded in a number of subsequent articles, I have long been surprised that there was almost no work done on the effect in relation to business ethics. Knobe's original vignette (and many subsequent versions) was set in a business context, and one side effect was morally permissible while the other was not.
In a new article in the Journal of Business Ethics, Paul Stey, Mark Alfano, and I examine the implications ofthe side-effect effect for business ethics, but with a twists. We wanted to know what role attributions of virtue and vice played as well. As it turns out, while attributions of the virtue of compassion and the vice of callousness don't exhibit the side-effect effect, they do mediate people's willingness to cease doing business with a company, even if it cost more.
So a few years ago I had a post here (Are People Actually Moral Objectivists?) reporting some data we had collected about folk views concerning the status of morality. Much discussion ensued. That research project eventually yielded a co-authored paper in Mind & Language.
More recently (and more awesomely) the intrepid experimental filmmaker Ben Coonley put together a fantastic, short film based on that paper, starring Amanda Palmer!
Folk Moral Relativism in 3-D (grab those red/blue 3-D glasses if you have them!)
You may already have seen Ben Coonley's previous short films on the Knobe effect, as well as a multi-part, interactive film on happiness, both inspired by experimental philosophy research, each of which has thousands of views. This one makes three in this series (so far). Not only are they great illustrations of the experiments, but they help get folk outside the academia to think about these philosophical issues!
Have a look!
The recent post by Moti Mizrahi brings up an important question. Much of the existing research in experimental philosophy has been concerned with the intuitions of ordinary folks, but a critic could respond to this work by saying: 'We were never really interested in people's ordinary intuitions in the first place. Our real interest was in the intuitions of trained experts -- people who have spent years thinking deeply about philosophical questions -- and the intuitions of trained experts might turn out to be radically different from those of ordinary folks.'
This is certainly a legitimate and interesting objection. We might be able to get some insight into it by looking to very general considerations (about, say, the nature of expertise or the nature of philosophical intuition), but of course, the most direct way of going after an issue like this one is to look at experimental studies that actually examine the philosophical intuitions of professional philosophers.
So I was thinking that it might be helpful to try to put together a list of the studies that have looked at philosophers' intuitions and to summarize their principal findings. I'll start out with a few here, but my hope is that people will chip in by putting some further ones into the comments section, so that we can eventually get a pretty complete list. (Please feel free to include studies that have not yet been published.)
With that as a prelude, here are a few studies on the intuitions of philosophers:
The expertise defense is an attempt to defend the use of intuitive judgments elicited by hypothetical cases as evidence in philosophical argumentation. Critics of experimental philosophy who appeal to the expertise defense argue that only the intuitive judgments of experts, i.e., professional philosophers, should count as evidence in philosophical arguments.
In “Are Philosophers Expert Intuiters?” (2010), Jonathan Weinberg, Chad Gonnerman, Cameron Buckner and Joshua Alexander argue that one cannot simply use the “expertise card” without the right kind of empirical evidence to back it up. Proponents of the expertise defense have to show that philosophers really do have some kind of philosophical intuitive expertise, especially in light of what the extant scientific literature says about expertise.
Now, I think that a paper of mine on arguments from expert opinion can contribute to this debate in the following way. Those who appeal to the expertise defense are effectively saying that an intuitive judgment J in response to hypothetical case C is more likely to be true when made by a professional philosopher than by a non-philosopher. More generally, J is more likely to be true when made by an expert than by a non-expert. In my paper, however, I argue that this is not the case. Studies on the accuracy of expert opinions show that, on average, expert opinions are only slightly more accurate than chance. As one researcher put it, the experts he studied did no better than “a dart-throwing chimpanzee.”
If this is correct, then, even if philosophers are expert intuiters, it would still not follow that their expert judgments are significantly more likely to be true than the judgments of non-experts. And if that’s the case, then there is no reason to give the intuitive judgments of professional philosophers more weight in philosophical arguments than to the intuitive judgments of non-philosophers.
I’m curious to know what readers make of this additional challenge to proponents of the expertise defense.
We would like to invite you to an online experiment on knowledge, which is a follow-up experiment to one that we conducted in June 2012. Everyone who participated in the earlier experiment is welcome to take part in the present experiment as well. In the experiment, you will be asked to judge about several scenarios whether the agent in the scenario knows a certain fact. You can enter the experiment via the following link:
We especially encourage the participation of people with some expertise in philosophy and/or epistemology. At the end of the study, every participant can register for a price draw to win a copy of Joshua Alexander’s recent book “Experimental Philosophy: An Introduction”.If you have any further questions regarding this experiment, please feel free to contact Joachim Horvath, Department of Philosophy, University of Cologne (email@example.com) or Alex Wiegmann, Department of Psychology, University of Goettingen (firstname.lastname@example.org).