The Knobe Effect

Melody Dye in Child's Play:

ScreenHunter_01 Oct. 16 09.47 What is experimental philosophy and is it new? How does the language we speak both encode and subsequently shape our moral understanding? How can manipulating someone’s linguistic expectations change their reasoning? And what can we learn about all these questions by productively plumbing the archives of everyday speech?

For those who are not familiar, Joshua Knobe is an up-and-coming ‘experimental philosopher’ at Yale, and is well-known for his experimental work looking at how we interpret a person’s actions depending on linguistic context. The idea underpinning his approach is that we can better understand philosophical concepts if we look at how people use and respond to them in practice. Many of these experiments focus on intentionality : i.e., in what contexts do we say that a person acted intentionally, and in what contexts unintentionally? Based on these findings, Josh wants to claim that he has discovered something ‘deep’ about the nature of theory of mind, intentional action, and moral judgment. But has he? I’d argue that he’s discovered something about how we use certain words and what we take them to mean. Is that deep? Perhaps! Read on — and you tell me.

More here.