Philosophers on Philosophy
Experimental Philosophy As An Elephant
Mark Phelan dismisses common misconceptions of Experimental Philosophy.
Experimental philosophy is a recent movement that attempts to use experimental methods to cast light on philosophical problems. The difficulty in saying anything more detailed about the movement is that it is large and still developing. But the failure to offer a more complete specification has often left the movement’s observers to characterize it as something less than it is. If experimental philosophy is a growing elephant, then observers of it have resembled the proverbial blind men, feeling aspects of the elephant, then describing what they’ve felt in a variety of incommensurate ways – as a rope when feeling the tail, a tree trunk when feeling a leg, etc – each false idea formed from an incomplete perception. Here I’ll try to offer more insight into the nature of experimental philosophy by introducing four common characterizations of the movement, and describing ways in which practitioners of experimental philosophy have superseded each characterization.