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Experimental philosophy: new trend in philisophical research

Author  :  PAN YUEFEI     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2018-04-10

Scholars say traditional research methods of experimental philosophy, such as those drawn from cognitive neuroscience, now face upgrading and reform.

In 2001, an article headlined “Normativity and Epistemic Intuitions” published by Jonathan M. Weinberg, Shaun Nichols, and Stephen Stich marked the birth of experimental philosophy.

Wu Tong, a professor from the Institute of Science, Technology and Society at Tsinghua University, suggests that the emerging experimental philosophy movement can be divided into two key aspects: the philosophy of experimental verification and the philosophy of scientific experiments. The former is a method of studying philosophy with experimental means; the latter is a form of philosophical reflection and research on experiments. 

Experimental philosophy requires philosophers to get up from their “armchairs” and conduct experiments. Wang Huaping, a professor from the School of Philosophy and Social Development at Shandong University, said this assertion is in contrast to the traditional speculative image of philosophy and is a subversion of the methodology of philosophy. Mainstream speculative philosophy uses a method of conceptual analysis and relies heavily on intuition. However, the reliability of intuition is a matter of inspection. Experimental philosophy has gained insight into this point, hitting the Achilles’ heel of traditional philosophy and winning a place for itself.

Experimental philosophy is valuable because it adds to a new tool to the philosopher’s toolbox, said Zhang Xueyi, a professor from the School of Humanities at Southeast University. Experimental philosophy uses research methods of social sciences and cognitive neurosciences to explore philosophical concepts or theories. It can bring positive meaning to traditional philosophy in certain fields, and it also expands new space for philosophical research. 

The study of experimental philosophy requires the comprehensive use of multidisciplinary theories and methods such as philosophy, psychology and cognitive neuroscience.

Cao Jianbo, a professor from the School of Humanities at Xiamen University, said that experimental philosophy adopts research methods of social sciences and cognitive sciences to study philosophical issues and combines experimental data with philosophical thinking to provide a new way of thinking for the development of philosophical methodology. The emergence of experimental philosophy marks a new turn in philosophy. 

Wu said experimental philosophy also faces some urgent issues, such as whether all philosophical thinking can be verified using these methods. Is experimental philosophy a science or philosophy? Is experimental philosophy just a matter of verification of disputable philosophical points of view? Are independent laboratories necessary for experimental philosophical studies?

Like many new things, experimental philosophy faces many challenges in its growth. 

Wang said experimental philosophy faces a question of legitimacy, that is, how can experiments based on philosophical research be possible? This issue involves not only the relationship between science and philosophy but also the methodology of experimental philosophy. In addition, experimental philosophy, especially at its early stage of development, usually uses social investigations to conduct research. This is like questioning the intuition of philosophers with the intuition of the public. In this regard, traditional philosophy seems to be able to attack the shields of experimental philosophical with the spears of experimental philosophy.

Cao summed up the four questions that most parties ask about experimental philosophy: Can experiments and philosophy be compatible? Is a questionnaire suitable for studying philosophical issues? Is public intuition superior to expert intuition? Does the experimental method exclude analytical methods? Therefore, in his opinion, it is necessary to find ways to improve the experimental skills of experimental philosophy researhers, and strengthen cooperation between philosophers and experimenters, as well as improve the vadility and reliability of philosophical experiments. 

Wang said that at present, comparative research on Eastern and Western cultures is more likely to yield results in experimental philosophy studies. Experimental philosophy can help explore the cognitive differences of people in different cultures.

Wu said that experimental philosophy should strengthen its alliance with other disciplines, such as cognitive science and neuroscience. Researchers must improve their knowledge of both philosophy and science, while understanding the role and limitations of instruments and laboratories. 

 

(Edited and translated by SUI JINGJING) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Editor: Yu Hui

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