X-Phi within its Proper Bounds

Philosophical Psychology 1:1-26 (2024)
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Using two decades worth of experimental philosophy (aka x-phi), Edouard Machery argues in Philosophy within its Proper Bounds (OUP, 2017) that philosophers’ use of the “method of cases” is unreliable because it has a strong tendency to elicit different intuitive responses from non-philosophers. And because, as Machery argues, appealing to such cases is usually the only way for philosophers to acquire the kind of knowledge they seek, an extensive philosophical skepticism follows. I argue that Machery’s “Unreliability” argument fails because, once its premises are percisified, they are either self-defeating or without justification. This is a significant result because Machery’s arguments are the most widely cited and discussed x-phi arguments for philosophical skepticism and many hold that Machery provides the most empirically informed, convincing, and thus best case for this kind of skepticism. So, if my arguments are sound, then the best x-phi argument for philosophical skepticism fails. I further argue that this result provides strong reason to believe the more general conclusion that “negative” x-phi is likely doomed: x-phi likely can never support a substantive philosophical skepticism. Ultimately, I argue for the broad conclusion that all empirically minded arguments for philosophical skepticism are likely to fail for the same reasons that Machery’s does, i.e. they are (likely) self-defeating.

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Jonathan Dixon
Wake Forest University


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