The Frontal Cortex


From the new experimental philosophy reader, edited by Joshua Knobe and Shaun Nichols:

It used to be commonplace that the discipline of philosophy was deeply concerned with questions about the human condition. Philosophers thought about human beings and how their minds worked. They took an interest in reason and passion, culture and innate ideas, the origins of people’s moral and religious beliefs. On this traditional conception, it wasn’t particularly important to keep philosophy clearly distinct from psychology, history, or political science. Philosophers were concerned, in a very general way, with questions about how everything fit together.

The new movement of experimental philosophy seeks a return to this traditional vision. Like philosophers of centuries past, we are concerned with questions about how human beings actually happen to be. We recognize that such an inquiry will involve us in the study of phenomena that are messy, contingent and highly variable across times and places, but we do not see how that fact is supposed to make the inquiry any less genuinely philosophical. On the contrary, we think that many of the deepest questions of philosophy can only be properly addressed by immersing oneself in the messy, contingent, highly variable truths about how human beings really are.

But there is also an important respect in which experimental philosophers depart from this earlier tradition. Unlike the philosophers of centuries past, we think that a critical method for figuring out how human beings think is to go out and actually run systematic empirical studies. Hence, experimental philosophers proceed by conducting experimental investigations of the psychological processes underlying people’s intuitions about central philosophical issues…

Somewhere, David Hume and William James are smiling.


  1. #1 Anibal
    July 10, 2008

    I was desperate loking for it while in London and i have not found it(even at Blackwells 23-25 Broad Street!)

  2. #2 Anibal
    July 10, 2008

    I meant to say 50 Broad Street (perhaps the best bookshop in the world) but seeing the date i notice why.
    This is what happen when you know something in advance that is good, and you forget the launching dates.

  3. #3 Brian
    July 10, 2008

    This is great news.

    One place they could do research like this is that there is (likely) an unusually high concentration of Asperger’s syndrome among analytic philosophers, and thus that AI, consciousness studies and epistemology will find their discipline as a whole tends towards aspergian ways of conceiving these fields. One important thing to find out will be “What is the difference in views around AI, consciousness, and Epistemology, between persons with and without asperger’s syndrome, and what can those differences tell us about our brains and those fields.”

  4. #4 Mike
    July 14, 2008

    OLD NEWS! We’ve been doing this for a long long time. Taking theories on culture, society, relationships, individual and collective identity, and the human condition and then applying those theories in a real setting. Testing them in the field. We’re called Anthropologists.

  5. #5 Anibal
    July 14, 2008

    Yeah! thatīs true, old, very old news. Before you, thousands years before you and even anthropology as a name was coined by Plato, Empedocles, Anaximander,Thales,Leucippus, Heraclitus,and many more presocratic philsophers,Socrates, Plato, Aristotle…Hume, Comte, Helvetius, James… were “taking theories on culture, society relationships, indivdual and collective identity and the human condition and then applying those theories in a real setting. Testing them in the real setting” … but you kow what, they were called “Philosophers”.

    Iīm bored of saying this but philosophy is the mother of all sciences.

  6. #6 bruce buxton
    July 15, 2008

    Sounds to me like tired positivism trying on new clothes for tenure!

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