In Response to: Philosophy tests

To the extent that your article on “experimental philosophy” is an accurate reflection of the field, the field is itself an unfortunate and inaccurate reflection of philosophy.

Your writer states: “Where traditional philosophers try to deduce what everyone else thinks by intuition, experimental philosophers ask everyone else what they think directly” by making observations through “everything from opinion surveys to MRI scans.” And philosophy professor Gilbert Harman is quoted as saying that before experimental philosophy, “philosophers would say, ‘This is intuitively the right answer.’ Then they’d try to develop a theory accounting for that intuition. If you did not share that intuition, you were out of luck.’ ” 

Now, this is just silly. Philosophers are not prescientific mind readers, and Professor Harman’s facile comment, while picking up on the fact that different philosophers may approach the same problem in very different ways, ignores the productive interaction that often inspires new insights (cf. Hume and Kant).

Philosophy is not science, and has not been for several centuries. Experimental philosophers, as described in the article, are not doing philosophy, they are doing experimental psychology. They can call it organic farming if they want, but it is still psychology.

Philosophy has a great deal to offer our modern world. It is an interpretive enterprise, much more akin to comparative literature than to science. It can provide us with deep insights regarding — and, importantly, a multiplicity of ways of appreciating — the world and our place in it. What a shame it would be to lose this to a ­misplaced sense of the priority of the scientific over the humanistic mode of investigation.

Brian Zack ’72