March 02, 2006

The X-Philes

Jon Lackman pens a piece for Slate on the "new" experimentalist movement in philosophy, x-phi. It is an interesting piece that is simultaneously very encouraging and depressing about the state of philosophy and the social sciences:
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threatening to make a favorite method of traditional philosophers—asking yourself what everyone thinks—seem hopelessly outdated.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?

...Even if philosophers manage to put forth new theories based on answers that are replicated all over the globe, philosophy will never regain its old degree of certainty. What makes x-phi revolutionary, and horrifying to some, is that once philosophy opens up to the methods, and the irreducible uncertainties, of empirical science, its tenets can no longer be articles of faith. Philosophy is no longer something you believe in. It's something you test, and expect to change tomorrow.

-Art Caplan

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