In Defence of Armchair Expertise

Theoria 85 (5):350-382 (2019)
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In domains like stock brokerage, clinical psychiatry, and long‐term political forecasting, experts generally fail to outperform novices. Empirical researchers agree on why this is: experts must receive direct or environmental learning feedback during training to develop reliable expertise, and these domains are deficient in this type of feedback. A growing number of philosophers resource this consensus view to argue that, given the absence of direct or environmental philosophical feedback, we should not give the philosophical intuitions or theories of expert philosophers greater credence than those of novice philosophers. This article has three objectives. The first is to explore several overlooked issues concerning the strategy of generalizing from empirical studies of non‐philosophical expertise to the epistemic status of philosophical expertise. The second is to explain why empirical research into a causal relationship between direct learning feedback and enhanced expert performance does not provide good grounds for abandoning a default optimism about the epistemic superiority of expert philosophical theories. The third is to sketch a positive characterization of learning feedback that addresses developmental concerns made salient by the empirical literature on expert performance for specifically theory‐driven or “armchair” domains like philosophy.
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