Thought Experiments in Experimental Philosophy

In Mike Stuart, James Robert Brown & Yiftach J. H. Fehige (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Thought Experiments. New York: Routledge. pp. 385-405 (2016)
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Abstract
Much of the recent movement organized under the heading “Experimental Philosophy” has been concerned with the empirical study of responses to thought experiments drawn from the literature on philosophical analysis. I consider what bearing these studies have on the traditional projects in which thought experiments have been used in philosophy. This will help to answer the question what the relation is between Experimental Philosophy and philosophy, whether it is an “exciting new style of [philosophical] research”, “a new interdisciplinary field that uses methods normally associated with psychology to investigate questions normally associated with philosophy” (Knobe et al. 2012), or whether its relation to philosophy consists, as some have suggested, in no more than the word ‘philosophy’ appearing in its title, or whether the truth lies somewhere in between these two views. I first distinguishes different strands in Experimental Philosophy, negative and positive x-phi, and x-phi pursuing philosophy as opposed to x-phi as cognitive science. Next I review some ways in which Experimental Philosophy has been criticized. Finally, I consider what would have to be true for Experimental Philosophy to have one or another sort of relevance to philosophy, whether the assumptions required are true, how we could know it, and the ideal limits of the usefulness Experimental Philosophy to philosophy. I conclude x-phi cannot in principle be a replacement for traditional first person approaches because it yields the wrong kind of knowledge and that it can nonetheless be a practical aid in conducting philosophical thought experiments. n
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