In Slate, Jon Lackman on the “experimental philosophy” movement.
Marx and Engels once remarked that “philosophy stands in the same relation to the study of the actual world as masturbation to sexual love.” Just about everyone else who’s written about philosophy has also criticized its lofty remove, except, of course, philosophers. And now the challenge is being mounted from within. Next month, the American Philosophical Association will convene a panel to confront its critics in the new movement known as “experimental philosophy,” or “x-phi.” Its practitioners are threatening to make a favorite method of traditional philosophers—asking yourself what everyone thinks—seem hopelessly outdated.
Philosophers have ignored the real world because it’s messy, full of happenstance details and meaningless coincidences; philosophy, they argue, has achieved its successes by focusing on deducing universal truths from basic principles. X-phi, on the other hand, argues that philosophers need to ask people what and how they think. Traditional philosophy relies on certain intuitions, presented as “common sense,” that are presumed to be shared by everyone. But are they?