Monday, March 19, 2012

Philosophical and experimental investigation

The way I developed the idea of intention in my last blog is typically philosophical. I formed an intuitive idea of intention in my head and tried to apply it to a certain case: the case of a runner (me) trying to break a world record. Then I applied the idea of intention to another case: me trying to hit the bull’s-eye. Next I concluded that my original conception of intention couldn’t be right. Intention had a wider meaning on a sliding scale. The whole argumentation took place in my head. This is the way many people, including philosophers, think what philosophizing is: a kind of argumentation that is founded exclusively on intuition and conceptual reasoning. But is that true? Is that all that philosophy is? Is there no place for empirical investigation in philosophy?
In fact, my last blog undermines already the view that philosophy is merely conceptual analysis and intuition: There I referred to an article by Sousa and Holbrook, whose conclusion that intention is a multiple concept was founded on empirical investigation. Moreover, what do we mean when we say that we have the intuition that something is true? Does something like intuition exist? As I have once discussed in a blog (dated June 22, 2009) intuitions are not as universal as they are supposed to be. In an experiment Weinberg, Nichols & Stich have shown that epistemic intuitions are not as objective as they were thought to be; they differ according to culture and within a culture according to social group. Philosophical conclusions may be different when drawn by people with different backgrounds. Generally, the so-called “experimental philosophy” has shown that experimental investigations can give interesting and important philosophical insights (see for instance my blog dated Feb. 23, 2009). As a third example I want to mention the present debate on the free will, one of the leading topics in philosophy today. It is just the experimental research by Libet and others that have led to new insights and questions in philosophy about what we mean and what it is about when we talk about free will.
These are only a few cases that show how experimental investigation can be relevant for philosophy. It can be useful in conceptual analysis (the case of intention); it can present valuable insights to be interpreted philosophically (for example that people are blamed for the negative side effects of what they do but not praised for the positive side effects, discussed in my blogs dated Feb. 23, 2009 and later); it can undermine philosophical views (the Cartesian dualism of brain and mind); and so on. The particular field of investigation for philosophy is non-experimental and especially conceptual-analytical. Intuitive insights can also be helpful, indeed. However, this does not imply that there is no role here for experimentation.

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