What is Experimental Philosophy? The Video!

In this short video, Eugene Mirman gives an answer to this question that takes you through one of the best-known “experiments” in the newly developing field of experimental philosophy–one developed by Josh Knobe, whom you can see at Bloggingheads.TV at length in conversation with John Horgan about experimental philosophy back in February.

[Sorry, no captions for this video but there is a transcript below the cut. Despite all the developments on captioning at the “front end” via Youtube, we still haven’t found a systematic way to caption that we can afford, time or money-wise, at the “back end”. But we’re still working on it. …]

Manypetunias asked way back when–How is experimental philosophy different from social psychology?–a question you might have after watching this video. Short answer: mostly because the sorts of intuitions that it probes, at least in cases like these, are those that feature in classic philosophical issues (in this case, moral responsibility). X-phi-ers, despite burning the armchair of traditional philosophical analysis, typically are still interested in the questions as their more sedentary predecessors. They just don’t want to sit down!

h/t to Experimental Philosophy, and also congratulations on a vid that will promote interest in the question: What is x-phil?.

Transcript:

Narrator: Experimental philosophy is a new form of philosophy that involves actually doing experiments on how people think and feel. Let’s look at two cases. For one simple example, consider the following scenario. The Vice President of a company comes to the President of the company with a proposal for a new program.

VP: We’re thinking about starting a new program. It will maximize profits, and it will also help the environment.

P: Look, I know that this program will harm the environment, but I don’t care at all about that. All I care about is maximizing the profits. So, let’s start the program.

Narrator: The plan is put into effect and sure enough the environment is harmed. Now ask yourself, did the corporate President harm the environment intentionally?

Now that you’ve thought up an answer to this question, try thinking of a second variation. In this we keep everything exactly the same. The only thing we change is the word “harm” to “help”. I wonder what happens…

VP: We’re thinking about starting a new program. It will maximize profits, and it will also help the environment.

P: Look, I know that this program will help the environment, but I don’t care at all about that. All I care about is maximizing the profits. So, let’s start the program.

Narrator: The plan is put into effect and sure enough the environment is helped. Now in this new version ask yourself, did the corporate executive help the environment intentionally?

Strangely enough, most people say that the act of harming is intentional, while the act of helping is unintentional. But it seems like the only difference is in the moral character of what the executive did. How could this moral difference possibly be changing people’s views on whether the act was intentional or unintentional?

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One thought on “What is Experimental Philosophy? The Video!

  1. Pingback: Weekly Wisdom Roundup #8 | Simoleon Sense

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