I recently heard a science podcast in which Josh Knobe was interviewed about experimental philosophy. It seemed like a pretty cool field. Is experimental philosophy considered legitimate by the philosophy community or at least a decent number of philosophers? And would reading his book on Experimental Philosophy be a good way for a more science oriented person to learn more about philosophy in general?

  • Could you provide a link or a summary of what "experimental philosophy" is? (I could probably use Google, but I'm too lazy today. ;-) Nov 18, 2011 at 22:03
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    Experimental philosophy! :)
    – stoicfury
    Nov 18, 2011 at 23:27
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    I can say I only heard this term once when I was getting my degree in philosophy, and it was from other students talking about it, not a professor. From this I might infer that I don't think academia takes this idea very seriously yet. And I can see why: "experimental philosophy" doesn't seem to be anything new—in philosophy we have always simply referred to the information it relies on as a posteriori knowledge. Using experience and scientific evidence to support philosophical theories has been happening for a long, long time now...
    – stoicfury
    Nov 18, 2011 at 23:34
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    Isn't that...uh...science?
    – Mitch
    Nov 19, 2011 at 2:19
  • The only time I saw a person refer to themselves as an experimental philosopher was at a talk either at CogSci2010 or AAAI-CAS2010 (I could dig through my notes to find out). There the speaker held a position in a philosophy department and was using multi-agent simulations to try to answer questions about ethics and morality. Nov 21, 2011 at 21:15

2 Answers 2


This would take a bit more context to really appreciate which I'm not sure we'll be able to sufficiently offer here; a proper discussion might be article-length and would likely be somewhat inconclusive even then.

At any rate, while perhaps not an ultimate answer, Appiah's take on this is pretty interesting (my emphasis):

The best work in experimental philosophy would be valuable and suggestive even if it skipped the actual experiments... X-phi helps keep us honest and enforces a useful modesty about how much weight to give one’s personal hunches, even when they’re shared by the guy in the next office. But — this is my own empirical observation — although experiments can illuminate philosophical arguments, they don’t settle them.


If you mean to ask if there is a consensus on this, I do not know. It would be worth doing a survey! I would widen experimental philosophy to include all empirical data. It would be useful in philosophical questions crossing over with quantum physics, for example.

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