This is the mathematical equation for reconciling philosophical methods that Dave Chalmers put up at the end of his excellent talk that closed the ‘Experimental Philosophy Meets Conceptual Analysis’ conference here at ANU.
Dave’s talk raised some interesting questions about what exactly experimental philosophy is and what exactly conceptual analysis is. ‘A-phi’ refers to ‘a priori philosophy’, which Dave suggested better captures the traditional projects of analytic philosophy better than ‘conceptual analysis’ does. After all, it does seem as though many ‘experimental philosophers’ are engaged in conceptual analysis of a sort, so using these as dividing lines might be a bit misleading.
A distinction was also drawn between ‘experimental philosophy’ and ’empirical philosophy’; my work on moral disagreement was cited as an example of the latter, since I didn’t actually do any of the experiments myself. The kind of work done by Joshua Knobe and Shaun Nichols, on the other hand, falls squarely into the former category.
Finally, ‘negative’ experimental philosophy was distinguished from ‘positive’ experimental philosophy; the former, Dave claimed, seeks to raise doubt about the philosophical status of intuition by finding disagreement in those intuitions, while the latter attempts to detect interesting and informative patterns in intuitions. I’m a bit skeptical of the stability of this distinction. My work on disagreement initially seems to fall into the former category, but I think it can also be argued that cross-cultural variation in moral beliefs is, in its own way, an ‘interesting and informative pattern’. So it seems that it’s possible to read one paper in both of those ways.
The overall message of the conference was extremely positive; the point made by lots of speakers (including myself) was that experimental, empirical, and a priori philosophy are all part of the same project, and that these methods can usefully complement one another. Thus while aspects of a question may require empirical or experimental philosophy- as in the case of moral disagreement, for example- other aspects of these questions may require more straightforwardly a priori inquiry — such as the question of whether expressivism is a conceptually coherent view.
Slides of Dave Chalmers’ talk should be available on his website soon, although they were not at the time of this writing. Those of you with access to GoBleen will be able to see the slides from my talk, ‘Moral Disagreement: Empirical and Conceptual Issues.’ In the meantime, feel free to use this space to discuss: what is at issue between experimental philosophers and their a priorist counterparts? Can’t we all just get along?