Armchair philosophy out, experimental philosophy in?

Nietzsche

By CHRISTOPER SHEA

“If anything can be pursued in an armchair, philosophy can,” the esteemed Oxford philosopher Timothy Williamson told the Aristotelian Society, of London, a few years ago. That may sound like an innocuous truism: No one pictures Bertrand Russell doing his philosophical cogitation anywhere but in a club chair, or perhaps in bed, postcoitally (given his adventurousness in that arena). But, in fact, Williamson’s remarks are fighting words these days, thanks to the rise of a cohort of philosophers who believe that the armchair arguments of philosophers need to be probed and tested through surveys of ordinary people and laboratory experiments using human subjects. If philosophers want to demonstrate that their arguments comport with how the mind really works, say the proponents of experimental philosophy, they need to get off their duffs.

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