Experimental Philosophy

Experimental philosophy, called x-phi for short, is a new philosophical movement that supplements the traditional tools of analytic philosophy with the scientific methods of cognitive science. So experimental philosophers also go out and run systematic experiments aimed at understanding how people ordinarily think about the issues at the foundation of philosophical discussions.

Experimental Philosophy Resources and Wiki

This wiki is a way to gather all the research that is going on in experimental philosophy in a single accessible place. It is divided into section based on the area of research and organized chronologically.

If you want to learn about Experimental Philosophy, you can read more here, here and here

Papers on Causation


Jonathan Livengood & Edouard Machery (2007). The Folk Probably Don’t Think What You Think They Think: Experiments on Causation by Absence. Midwest Studies in Philosophy 31 (1):107-127.  


Joshua Knobe & Ben Fraser (2008). Causal Judgment and Moral Judgment: Two Experiments. In Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (ed.), Moral Psychology. MIT Press.

It has long been known that people’s causal judgments can have an impact on their moral judgments. To take a simple example, if people conclude that a behavior caused the death of ten innocent children, they will therefore be inclined to regard the behavior itself as morally wrong. So far, none of this should come as any surprise. But recent experimental work points to the existence of a second, and more surprising, aspect of the relationship between causal judgment and moral…


Seth Chin-Parker and Alexandra Bradner. (2009). Background shifts affect explanatory style: how a pragmatic theory of explanation accounts for background effects in the generation of explanations. Cognitive Processing Craig Roxborough and Jill Cumby. (2009). Folk Psychological Concepts: Causation. Philosophical Psychology. Vol: 22 No. 2.

Our aim in this paper is to investigate the nature of this alternative explanation and to begin to determine what role it has to play in the folk concept of causation. By sketching the progression of Knobe’s research and by providing an analysis of this work in light of Driver’s suggestion, we motivate the need for the study we present. While our results are consistent with the claim that causal judgments are influenced by moral judgments, they also reveal a level of complexity in how the folk use the concept causation which is more easily accounted for by Driver’s view.

Not Yet Published

Christopher Hitchcock and Joshua Knobe.(forthcoming). Cause and Norm. Journal of Philosophy. Joshua Knobe (forthcoming). Folk Judgments of Causation. Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science.

When scientists are trying to uncover the causes of a given outcome, they often make use of statistical information. Thus, if scientists wanted to know whether there was a causal relationship between attending philosophy lectures and learning philosophy, they might randomly assign students to either attend or not attend certain lectures and then check to see whether those who attended the lectures ended up learning more philosophy than those who did not.

Laurie Paul (forthcoming) New Roles for Experimental Work in Metaphysics. Review of Philosophy and Psychology.

Recent work in philosophy could benefit from paying greater attention to empirical results from cognitive science involving judgments about the nature of our ordinary experience. This paper describes the way that experimental and theoretical results about the nature of ordinary judgments could-and should-inform certain sorts of enquiries in contemporary philosophy, using metaphysics as an exemplar, and hence defines a new way for experimental philosophy and cognitive science to contribute to traditional philosophical debates. See Figure 2 and Figure 3.

Papers on Consciousness


Joshua Knobe & Jesse J. Prinz (2008). Intuitions About Consciousness: Experimental Studies. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 7 (1):67-83.

When people are trying to determine whether an entity is capable of having certain kinds of mental states, they can proceed either by thinking about the entity from a *functional* standpoint or by thinking about the entity from a *physical* standpoint. We conducted a series of studies to determine how each of these standpoints impact people’s mental state ascriptions. The results point to a striking asymmetry. It appears that ascriptions of states involving phenomenal consciousness are sensitive to physical factors in…


Bryce Huebner (2009). Commonsense concepts of phenomenal consciousness: Does anyone care about functional zombies? Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences. 9 (1): 133-155.

It would be a mistake to deny commonsense intuitions a role in developing a theory of consciousness. However, philosophers have traditionally failed to probe commonsense in a way that allows these commonsense intuitions to make a robust contribution to a theory of consciousness. In this paper, I report the results of two experiments on purportedly phenomenal states and I argue that many disputes over the philosophical notion of ‘phenomenal consciousness’ are misguided-they fail to capture the interesting connection between commonsense ascriptions of pain and emotion. With this data in hand, I argue that our capacity to distinguish between ‘mere things’ and ‘subjects of moral concern’ rests, to a significant extent, on the sorts of mental states that we take a system to have.

Justin Sytsma and Edouard Machery (2009). How to study Folk Intuitions about Phenomenal Consciousness. Philosophical Psychology, 22(1): 21-35.

The assumption that the concept of phenomenal consciousness is pretheoretical is often found in the philosophical debates on consciousness. Unfortunately, this assumption has not received the kind of empirical attention that it deserves. We suspect that this is in part due to difficulties that arise in attempting to test folk intuitions about consciousness. In this article we elucidate and defend a key methodological principle for this work. We draw this principle out by considering recent experimental work on the topic by…

Justin Sytsma (2009). Phenomenological Obviousness and the New Science of Consciousness. Philosophy of Science, 76(5): 958-969.

Is phenomenal consciousness a problem for the brain sciences? A growing body of researchers not only hold that it is, but that its very existence is a deep mystery. Perhaps not surprisingly, that this problematic phenomenon exists is generally taken for granted. It is asserted that phenomenal consciousness is just phenomenologically obvious. In contrast, I hold that there is no such phenomenon and, thus, that it does not pose a problem for the brain sciences. For this denial to be plausible…


Adam Arico. (2010). Folk Psychology, Consciousness, & Context Effects Review of Philosophy and Psychology.

Traditionally, the philosophical study of Folk Psychology has focused on how ordinary people (those without academic training in fields like Psychology, Cognitive Science, Philosophy of Mind, etc.) go about attributing mental states like beliefs and desires. Philosophers call such states intentional states. Recently, a body of work has emerged in the growing field of Experimental Philosophy that focuses on folk attributions of certain states not previously discussed in the Folk Psychological literature; namely the discussion is concerned with figuring out how (and whether) ordinary people go about attributing mental states of qualitative experience, or what philosophers might call phenomenal consciousness. The discussion has centered, largely, on two questions: Do the folk distinguish, in some sense, between states of phenomenal consciousness and nonphenomenal states (like intentional states)? And if they do distinguish between the two kinds of states, do the folk discriminate between different kinds of entities in their attributions of phenomenal states? This paper hopes to contribute to that discussion by discerning two primary hypotheses presently competing in the existing experimental philosophy literature, by presenting some experimental data that weigh on those hypotheses, and by offering a cognitive model of the processes underlying attributions of mental states.

Bryce Huebner, Michael Bruno and Hagop Sarkissian. (2010). What Does the Nation of China Think About Phenomenal States? Review of Philosophy and Psychology

Critics of functionalism about the mind often rely on the intuition that collectivities cannot be conscious in motivating their positions. In this paper, we consider the merits of appealing to the intuition that there is nothing that it’s like to be a collectivity. We demonstrate that collective mentality is not an affront to commonsense, and we report evidence that demonstrates that the intuition that there is nothing that it’s like to be a collectivity is, to some extent, culturally specific rather than universally held. This being the case, we argue that mere appeal to the intuitive implausibility of collective consciousness does not offer any genuine insight into the nature of mentality in general, nor the nature of consciousness in particular.

Not Yet Published

Felipe De Brigard (forthcoming) Attention, Consciousness, and Commonsense. Journal of Consciousness Studies. Justin Sytsma and Edouard Machery (forthcoming). Two Conceptions of Subjective Experience. Philosophical Studies.

Do philosophers and ordinary people conceive of subjective experience in the same way? In this article, we argue that they do not and that the philosophical concept of phenomenal consciousness does not coincide with the folk conception. We first offer experimental support for the hypothesis that philosophers and ordinary people conceive of subjective experience in markedly different ways. We then explore experimentally the folk conception, proposing that for the folk, subjective experience is closely linked to valence. We conclude by considering the implications of our findings for a central issue in the philosophy of mind, the hard problem of consciousness.

Justin Sytsma (forthcoming). Dennett’s Theory of the Folk Theory of Consciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies.

It is not uncommon to find assumptions being made about folk psychology in the discussions of phenomenal consciousness in philosophy of mind. In this article I consider one example, focusing on what Dan Dennett says about the “folk theory of consciousness.” I show that he holds that the folk believe that qualities like colors that we are acquainted with in ordinary perception are phenomenal qualities. Nonetheless, the shape of the folk theory is an empirical matter and in the absence of empirical investigation there is ample room for doubt…

Justin Sytsma (forthcoming). Folk Psychology and Phenomenal Consciousness. Philosophy Compass.

In studying folk psychology, cognitive and developmental psychologists have mainly focused on how people conceive of non-experiential states such as beliefs and desires. As a result, we know very little about how non-philosophers (or the folk) understand the mental states that philosophers typically classify as being phenomenally conscious. In particular, it is not known whether the folk even tend to classify mental states in terms of their being or not being phenomenally conscious in the first place. Things have changed dramatically in the last few years, however, with a flurry of ground-breaking research by psychologists and experimental philosophers…

Papers on Cross-Cultural Differences in



Jonathan Weinberg, Shaun Nichols and Stephen Stich. (2001). Normativity and Epistemic Intuitions. Philosophical Topics, 29, 429-460.

In this paper we propose to argue for two claims. The first is that a sizeable group of epistemological projects – a group which includes much of what has been done in epistemology in the analytic tradition – would be seriously undermined if one or more of a cluster of empirical hypotheses about epistemic intuitions turns out to be true. The basis for this claim will be set out in Section 2. The second claim is that, while the jury is…


Edouard Machery, Ron Mallon, Shaun Nichols, and Stephen Stich. (2004). Semantics, Cross-Cultural Style. Cognition, 92, B1-B12.

Theories of reference have been central to analytic philosophy, and two views, the descriptivist view of reference and the causal-historical view of reference, have dominated the field. In this research tradition, theories of reference are assessed by consulting one’s intuitions about the reference of terms in hypothetical situations. However, recent work in cultural psychology (e.g., Nisbett et al. 2001) has shown systematic cognitive differences between East Asians and Westerners, and some work indicates that this extends to intuitions about philosophical cases…


Edouard Machery, Christopher Olivola and Molly De Blanc. (2009). Linguistic and metalinguistic intuitions in the philosophy of language. Analysis, 69, 689-694. Ron Mallon, Eduoard Machery, Shaun Nichols and Stephen Stich. (2009). Against Arguments From Reference. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 79, 332-356.

It is common in various quarters of philosophy to derive philosophically significant conclusions from theories of reference. In this paper, we argue that philosophers should give up on such ‘arguments from reference.’ Intuitions play a central role in establishing theories of reference, and recent cross-cultural work suggests that intuitions about reference vary across cultures and between individuals within a culture (Machery et al. 2004). We argue that accommodating this variation within a theory of reference undermines arguments from reference.

Not Yet Published

Bryce Huebner, Mike Bruno, and Hagop Sarkissian. (forthcoming). What does the nation of China think of phenomenal states? European Journal of Philosophy. Justin Sytsma and Jonathan Livengood (forthcoming). A New Perspective Concerning Experiments on Semantic Intuitions Australasian Journal of Philosophy

In two fascinating articles, Machery, Mallon, Nichols, and Stich [2004, forthcoming] use experimental methods to raise a specter of doubt about reliance on intuitions in developing theories of reference which are then deployed in philosophical arguments outside the philosophy of language. Machery et al. ran a cross-cultural survey asking Western and East Asian participants about a famous case from the philosophical literature on reference (Kripke’s G?del example). They interpret their results as indicating that there is significant variation in participants’ intuitions about semantic reference for that case. We argue that this interpretation is mistaken…

Barry Lam, Are Cantonese Speakers Really Descriptivists? Revisiting Cross-Cultural Semantics.

In an article in Cognition, Machery, Mallon, Nichols, and Stich [Machery et al., 2004] present data which purports to show that “East Asian” native Cantonese speakers tend to have descriptivist intuitions about the referents of proper names, while “Western” native English speakers tend to have causal-historical intuitions about proper names. Machery et al take this finding to support the view that some intuitions, the universality of which they claim is central to philosophical theories, vary according to cultural background…

Papers on Epistemology


Jonathan M. Weinberg, Shaun Nichols, and Stephen Stich, (2001). Normativity and Epistemic Intuitions Philosophical Topics, 29: 429-460.  


Shaun Nichols, Stephen Stich and Jonathan M. Weinberg, (2003). Metaskepticism: Meditations in Ethno-Epistemology In S. Luper (ed.), The Skeptics (Ashgate), pp. 227-247.

Throughout the twentieth century, an enormous amount of intellectual fuel was spent debating the merits of a class of skeptical arguments which purport to show that knowledge of the external world is not possible. These arguments, whose origins can be traced back to Descartes, played an important role in the work of some of the leading philosophers of the twentieth century, including Russell, Moore and Wittgenstein, and they continue to engage the interest of contemporary philosophers (for example Cohen 1999; DeRose 1995; Hill 1996; Klein 1981; Lewis 1996; McGinn 1993; Nozick 1981; Schiffer 1996; Unger 1975; Williams 1991). Typically, these arguments make use of one or more premises which the philosophers proposing them take to be intuitively obvious. Beyond an appeal to intuition, little or no defence is offered, and in many cases it is hard to see what else could be said in support of these premises…


Jonathan Weinberg, (2006). What’s Epistemology For? The Case for Neopragmatism in Normative Epistemology. In Epistemological Futures, ed. S. Hetherington, (Oxford University Press) pp. 26-47.

How ought we to go about forming and revising our beliefs, arguing and debating our reasons, and investigating our world? If those questions constitute normative epistemology, then I am interested here in normative metaepistemology: the investigation into how we ought to go about forming and revising our beliefs about how we ought to go about forming and revising our beliefs — how we ought to argue about how we ought to argue. Such investigations have become urgent of late, for the…


Joshua Alexander and Jonathan M. Weinberg, (2007). Analytic Epistemology and Experimental Philosophy. Philosophy Compass, 2: 56-80.

It has been standard philosophical practice in analytic philosophy to employ intuitions generated in response to thought-experiments as evidence in the evaluation of philosophical claims. In part as a response to this practice, an exciting new movement-experimental philosophy-has recently emerged. This movement is unified behind both a common methodology and a common aim: the application of methods of experimental psychology to the study of the nature of intuitions. In this paper, we will introduce two different views concerning the relationship that holds between experimental philosophy and the future of standard philosophical practice (what we call, the proper foundation view and the restrictionist view), discuss some of the more interesting and important results obtained by proponents of both views, and examine the pressure these results put on analytic philosophers to reform standard philosophical practice. We will also defend experimental philosophy from some recent objections, suggest future directions for work in experimental philosophy, and suggest what future lines of epistemological response might be available to those wishing to defend analytic epistemology from the challenges posed by experimental philosophy.

Jonathan M. Weinberg, (2007). How to Challenge Intuitions Empirically Without Risking Skepticism. Midwest Studies in Philosophy’, 31: 318-343.

Using empirical evidence to attack intuitions can be epistemically dangerous, because various of the complaints that one might raise against them (e.g., that they are fallible; that we possess no non-circular defense of their reliability) can be raised just as easily against perception itself. But the opponents of intuition wish to challenge intuitions without at the same time challenging the rest of our epistemic apparatus. How might this be done? Let us use the term “hopefulness” to refer to the extent to which we possess a good capacity for the detection and correction of the errors of any fallible source of evidence. I argue that we should not trust putative sources of evidence that are substantially lacking in hopefulness (even if they are basically reliable), and that we are indeed already operating under such a norm in our ordinary and scientific practices. I argue further that the philosophical practice of the appeal to intuitions is, in these terms, badly hopeless…


Adam Feltz, (2008). Problems with the Appeal to Intuition in Epistemology. Philosophical Explorations, 11: 131-141.

George Bealer argues that intuitions are not only reliable indicators of truth, they are necessary to the philosophical endeavor. Specifically, he thinks that intuitions are essential sources of evidence for epistemic justification. I argue that Bealer’s defense of intuitions either (1) is insufficient to show that actual human beings are in a position to use intuitions for epistemic justification, or (2) begs the question. The growing empirical data about our intuitions support the view that humans are not creatures appropriately positioned to use intuitions for epistemic justification in the way Bealer suggests. Without the appropriate empirical evidence that humans are beings so positioned, his view begs the question against those who think that intuitions are not reliable guides to truth.


Michael Bishop, (2009). Reflections on Cognitive and Epistemic Diversity: Does a Stich in Time Save Quine? in D. Murphy & M. Bishop (eds), Stephen Stich and His Critics (Blackwell).

In “Epistemology Naturalized”, Quine famously suggests that epistemology, properly understood, “simply falls into place as a chapter of psychology and hence of natural science” (1969, 82). Since the appearance of Quine’s seminal article, virtually every epistemologist, including the later Quine (1986, 664), has repudiated the idea that a normative discipline like epistemology could be reduced to a purely descriptive discipline like psychology. Working epistemologists no longer take Quine’s vision in “Epistemology Naturalized” seriously. In this paper, I will explain why I think this is a mistake. In the 1980s and early 1990s, Stephen Stich published a number of works that criticized analytic epistemology and defended a pragmatic view of cognitive assessment (1985, 1988, 1990, 1993). In the past five years, Stich, Jonathan Weinberg and Shaun Nichols (henceforth, WNS) have put forward a number of empirically-based arguments criticizing epistemology in the analytic tradition (Weinberg, Nichols and Stich 2001; Nichols, Stich and Weinberg 2003). My thesis is that the most powerful features of Stich’s epistemological views vindicate Quine’s now moribund naturalism. I expect this thesis to be met with incredulity – not least from Stich, who has explicitly argued that the reductionist view standardly attributed to Quine is a non-starter (1993, 3-5).

Bengson, J., Moffett, M., & Wright, J.C. (2009). “The Folk on Knowing How.” Philosophical Studies, 142(3): 387-401.

It has been claimed that the attempt to analyze know-how in terms of propositional knowledge over-intellectualizes the mind. Exploiting the methods of so-called “experimental philosophy”, we show that the charge of over-intellectualization is baseless. Contra neo-Ryleans, who analyze know-how in terms of ability, the concretecase judgments of ordinary folk are most consistent with the view that there exists a set of correct necessary and sufficient conditions for know-how that does not invoke ability, but rather a certain sort of propositional knowledge. To the extent that one’s considered judgments agree with those of the folk (or to the extent that one is unwilling to contravene widespread judgments), this constitutes a strong prima facie case against neo-Ryleanism.


Joshua May, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Jay G. Hull, and Aaron Zimmerman, (2010). Practical Interests, Relevant Alternatives, and Knowledge Attributions: An Empirical Study. Review of Philosophy and Psychology

In defending his interest-relative account of knowledge in Knowledge and Practical Interests (2005), Jason Stanley relies heavily on intuitions about several bank cases. We experimentally test the empirical claims that Stanley seems to make concerning our common-sense intuitions about these bank cases. Additionally, we test the empirical claims that Jonathan Schaffer seems to make in his critique of Stanley. We argue that our data impugn what both Stanley and Schaffer claim our intuitions about such cases are. To account for these results, one must develop a better conception of the connection between a subject’s interests and her body of knowledge than those offered by Stanley and Schaffer.

Not Yet Published

James Beebe and Wesley Buckwalter, (forthcoming) The Epistemic Side-Effect Effect Mind & Language.

Knobe (2003a, 2003b, 2004b) and others have demonstrated the surprising fact that the valence of a side-effect action can affect intuitions about whether that action was performed intentionally. Here we report the results of an experiment that extends these findings by testing for an analogous effect regarding knowledge attributions. Our results suggest that subjects are less likely to find that an agent knows an action will bring about a side-effect when the effect is good than when it is bad. It is further argued that these findings, while preliminary, have important implications for recent debates within epistemology about the relationship between knowledge and action.

Wesley Buckwalter, (forthcoming) Knowledge Isn’t Closed on Saturdays Review of Philosophy and Psychology (formerly European Review of Philosophy), special issue on Psychology and Experimental Philosophy.

Recent theories of epistemic contextualism have challenged traditional invariantist positions in epistemology by claiming that the truth conditions of knowledge attributions fluctuate between conversational contexts. Contextualists often garner support for this view by appealing to folk intuitions regarding the knowledge practices of normal agents in everyday speech. Proposed is a set of experiments designed to test for the descriptive conditions upon which these types of contextualist defenses rely. In the cases tested, experiments indicate that the contextualist pattern of knowledge attribution does not obtain among ordinary speakers. These results, while preliminary, inspire prima facie skepticism for the contextualist hypothesis regarding knowledge claims, as well as challenge certain predictions made by recent theories of subject-sensitive invariantism. It is further argued that these findings raise methodological questions concerning the practice of parlaying an assumption of intuitions, with respect to ordinary language practices, into philosophical conclusions regarding knowledge.

Adam Feltz and Chris Zarpentine, (forthcoming). Do You Know More When It Matters Less? Philosophical Psychology.

According to intellectualism, what a person knows is solely a function of the evidential (or epistemic) features of the person’s situation. Anti-intellectualism is the view that what a person knows is more than simply a function of the evidential (or epistemic) features of the person’s situation. Jason Stanley (2005) argues that, in addition to “traditional factors,” our ordinary practice of knowledge ascription is sensitive to the practical facts of a subject’s situation. In this paper, we investigate this question empirically. Our results indicate that Stanley’s predictions about ordinary knowledge ascriptions are false. If we are right, then arguments for anti-intellectualism which rely on ordinary knowledge ascriptions fail. Our aim in this paper is to argue that the case for anti- intellectualism cannot depend on our ordinary practices of knowledge ascription.

Ram Neta and Mark Phelan, Evidence that Stakes Don’t Matter for Evidence (under review).

Some philosophers have recently defended anti-intellectualism with respect to knowledge, justification, or evidence. In this paper, we assess anti-intellectualism about evidence. Proponents of anti-intellectualism generally regard their view as not at all obvious, but nonetheless strongly supported by appeal to our intuitive judgments about whether particular epistemic properties are instantiated in hypothetical cases. Anti-intellectualism is thus taken by its proponents to be a surprising truth. We show that intuitive judgments about whether particular epistemic properties are instantiated in hypothetical cases do not even come close to displaying the pattern that the anti-intellectualist about evidence thinks they display: In fact, those data tell strongly against such anti-intellectualism. Nonetheless, we show, peoples’ intuitive judgments about the general issue of whether or not non-epistemic factors make an epistemic difference are often in line with anti-intellectualism about evidence…

Jonathan Schaffer and Joshua Knobe, (forthcoming) Contrastivism Surveyed. Nous

Our aim is to defend a form of contextualism in the face of this new threat. We acknowledge that some of the specific claims made by earlier contextualists might be undermined by recent experimental results, but we suggest that a different form of contextualism-based on the idea that conversational context provides the relevant contrast-can answer this empirical challenge. We then report a new series of experimental studies that provide empirical support for a contrastive view of knowledge.

Stacey Swain, Joshua Alexander, and Jonathan M. Weinberg, (forthcoming). The Instability of Philosophical Intuitions: Running Hot and Cold on Truetemp. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.

A growing body of empirical literature challenges philosophers’ reliance on intuitions as evidence based on the fact that intuitions vary according to factors such as cultural and educational background, and socio-economic status. Our research extends this challenge, investigating Lehrer’s appeal to the Truetemp Case as evidence against reliabilism. We found that intuitions in response to this case vary according to whether, and which, other thought experiments are considered first. Our results show that compared to subjects who receive the Truetemp Case first, subjects first presented with a clear case of knowledge are less willing to attribute knowledge in the Truetemp Case, and subjects first presented with a clear case of non-knowledge are more willing to attribute knowledge in the Truetemp Case. We contend that this instability undermines the supposed evidential status of these intuitions, such that philosophers who deal in intuitions can no longer rest comfortably in their armchairs.

Papers on Experimental Philosophy and Metaphilosophy  


Gopnik, Alison, and Eric Schwitzgebel (1998) Whose Concepts Are They, Anyway? The Role of Philosophical Intuition in Empirical Psychology in M.R. DePaul and W. Ramsey (eds.), Rethinking Intuition (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield).

This chapter examines several ways in which philosophical attention to intuition can contribute to empirical scientific psychology. The authors then discuss one prevalent misuse of intuition. An unspoken assumption of much argumentation in the philosophy of mind has been that to articulate our folk psychological intuitions, our ordinary concepts of belief, truth, meaning, and so forth, is itself sufficient to give a theoretical account of what belief, truth, meaning, and so forth, actually are. It is believed that this assumption rests on an inadequate understanding of the nature of intuition and its appropriate applications, and that it results in errors. Three notable examples of this sort of misuse of intuition in philosophy are briefly discussed. Finally, the authors provide developmental evidence for the mutability and fallibility of everyday intuitions about the mind, evidence that undermines arguments, that depend on taking such intuitions as a final authority for substantive claims about what the mind is like.


Joshua Knobe. (2004). What Is Experimental Philosophy. The Philosophers’ Magazine 28.

Since the earliest days of analytic philosophy, it has been a common practice to appeal to intuitions about particular cases. Typically, the philosopher presents a hypothetical situation and then makes a claim of the form: ‘In this case, we would surely say….’ This claim about people’s intuitions then forms a part of an argument for some more general theory about the nature of our concepts or our use of language. One puzzling aspect of this practice is that it so rarely…

Shaun Nichols. (2004) Folk Concepts and Intuitions: From Philosophy to Cognitive Science Trends in Cognitive Science  


Joshua Knobe & Arudra Burra (2006). Experimental Philosophy and Folk Concepts: Methodological Considerations. Journal of Cognition and Culture 6 (1-2):331-342.

Experimental philosophy is a comparatively new field of research, and it is only natural that many of the key methodological questions have not even been asked, much less answered. In responding to the comments of our critics, we therefore find ourselves brushing up against difficult questions about the aims and techniques of our whole enterprise. We will do our best to address these issues here, but the field is progressing at a rapid clip, and we suspect that it will be…

Adam Morton (2006). But Are They Right? The Prospects for Empirical Conceptology. Journal of Cognition and Culture 6.

This is exciting stuff. Philosophers have long explored the structure of human concepts from the inside, by manipulating their skills as users of those concepts. And since Quine most reasonable philosophers have accepted that the structure is a contingent matter – we or not too different creatures could have thought differently – which in principle can be…


Kwame Anthony Appiah, (2007). Experimental Philosophy, Presidential Address, Eastern Division APA (December).

Some three score years ago, the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess found himself dissatisfied with “what are called ‘theories of truth’ in philosophical literature.” “The discussion has already lasted some 2500 years,” he wrote. “The number of participants amounts to a thousand, and the number of articles and books devoted to the discussion is much greater.” In this great ocean of words, he went on, the philosophers had often made bold statements about what “the man in the street” or “Das Volk”…

Joshua Knobe (2007). Experimental Philosophy. Philosophy Compass 2 (1):81-92.

Claims about people’s intuitions have long played an important role in philosophical debates. The new field of experimental philosophy seeks to subject such claims to rigorous tests using the traditional methods of cognitive science – systematic experimentation and statistical analysis. Work in experimental philosophy thus far has investigated people’s intuitions in philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, epistemology, and ethics. Although it is now generally agreed that experimental philosophers have made surprising discoveries about people’s intuitions in each of these areas…

Joshua Knobe (2007). Experimental Philosophy and Philosophical Significance. Philosophical Explorations. 10 (2):119 – 121.

Kauppinen argues that experimental philosophy cannot help us to address questions about the semantics of our concepts and that it therefore has little to contribute to the discipline of philosophy. This argument raises fascinating questions in the philosophy of language, but it is simply a red herring in the present context. Most researchers in experimental philosophy were not trying to resolve semantic questions in the first place. Their aim was rather to address a more traditional sort of question, the sort…

Thomas Nadelhoffer and Eddy Nahmias, (2007). The Past and Future of Experimental Philosophy Philosophical Explorations Volume 10, Issue 2, 2007, Pages 123 – 149.

Experimental philosophy is the name for a recent movement whose participants use the methods of experimental psychology to probe the way people think about philosophical issues and then examine how the results of such studies bear on traditional philosophical debates. Given both the breadth of the research being carried out by experimental philosophers and the controversial nature of some of their central methodological assumptions, it is of no surprise that their work has recently come under attack. In this paper we respond to some criticisms of experimental philosophy that have recently been put forward by Antti Kauppinen. Unlike the critics of experimental philosophy, we do not think the fledgling movement either will or should fall before it has even had a chance to rise up to explain what it is, what it seeks to do (and not to do), and exactly how it plans to do it. Filling in some of the salient details is the main goal of the present paper.


Thomas A. Nadelhoffer & Eddy Nahmias, (2008). Polling as Pedagogy. Teaching Philosophy 31: 39-59.

First, we briefly familiarize the reader with the nascent field of “experimental philosophy,” in which philosophers use empirical methods, rather than armchair speculation, to ascertain laypersons’ intuitions about philosophical issues. Second, we discuss how the surveys used by experimental philosophers can serve as valuable pedagogical tools for teaching philosophy-independently of whether one believes surveying laypersons is an illuminating approach to doing philosophy. Giving students surveys that contain questions and thought experiments from philosophical debates gets them to actively engage with the material and paves the way for more fruitful and impassioned classroom discussion. We offer some suggestions for how to use surveys in the classroom and provide an appendix that contains some examples of scenarios teachers could use in their courses.

Paul E. Griffiths & Karola Stotz, (2008). Experimental Philosophy of Science. Philosophy Compass 3 (3):507-521.

Experimental philosophy of science gathers empirical data on how key scientific concepts are understood by particular scientific communities. In this paper we briefly describe two recent studies in experimental philosophy of biology, one investigating the concept of the gene, the other the concept of innateness. The use of experimental methods reveals facts about these concepts that would not be accessible using the traditional method of intuitions about possible cases. It also contributes to the study of conceptual change in science, which…


Joshua Alexander, Ronald Mallon and Jonathan M. Weinberg. (2009). Accentuate the Negative. Review of Philosophy and Psychology.

Our interest in this paper is to drive a wedge of contention between two different programs that fall under the umbrella of “experimental philosophy”. In particular, we argue that experimental philosophy’s “negative program” presents almost as significant a challenge to its “positive program” as it does to more traditional analytic philosophy.

Simon Cullen (2010) Survey-Driven Romanticism Review of Philosophy and Psychology

Despite well-established results in survey methodology, many experimental philosophers have not asked whether and in what way conclusions about folk intuitions follow from people’s responses to their surveys. Rather, they appear to have proceeded on the assumption that intuitions can be simply read off from survey responses. Survey research, however, is fraught with difficulties. I review some of the relevant literature-particularly focusing on the conversational pragmatic aspects of survey research-and consider its application to common experimental philosophy surveys. I argue for two claims. First, that experimental philosophers’ survey methodology leaves the facts about folk intuitions massively underdetermined; and second, that what has been regarded as evidence for the instability of philosophical intuitions is, at least in some cases, better accounted for in terms of subjects’ reactions to subtle pragmatic cues contained in the surveys.

Not Yet Published

Justin Sytsma, (forthcoming). The Proper Province of Philosophy: Conceptual Analysis and Empirical Investigation. Review of Philosophy and Psychology.

The practice of conceptual analysis has undergone a revival in recent years. Although the extent of its role in philosophy is controversial, many now accept that conceptual analysis has at least some role to play. Granting this, I consider the relevance of empirical investigation to conceptual analysis. I do so by contrasting an extreme position (anti-empirical conceptual analysis) with a more moderate position (non-empirical conceptual analysis). I argue that anti-empirical conceptual analysis is not a viable position because it has no means for resolving conceptual disputes that arise between seemingly competent speakers of the language. This is illustrated by considering one such dispute that has been pressed by a prominent advocate of anti-empirical conceptual analysis…

Jonathan Livengood, Justin Sytsma, Adam Feltz, Richard Scheines, and Edouard Machery (forthcoming). Philosophical Temperament. Philosophical Psychology.

Many philosophers have worried about what philosophy is. Often they have looked for answers by considering what it is that philosophers do. Given the diversity of topics and methods found in philosophy, however, we propose a different approach. In this article we consider the philosophical temperament, asking an alternative question: What are philosophers like? Our answer is that one important aspect of the philosophical temperament is that philosophers are especially reflective: They are less likely than their peers to embrace what seems obvious without questioning it. This claim is supported by a study of more than 4,000 philosophers and non-philosophers…

Papers on Folk Morality


Joshua Knobe (2005). Ordinary Ethical Reasoning and the Ideal of ‘Being Yourself’. Philosophical Psychology 18 (3):327 – 340.

The psychological study of ethical reasoning tends to concentrate on a few specific issues, with the bulk of the research going to the study of people’s attitudes toward moral rules or the welfare of others. But people’s ethical reasoning is also shaped by a wide range of other concerns. Here I focus on the importance that people attach to the ideal of being yourself. It is shown that certain experimental results – results that seemed anomalous and inexplicable to researchers who…


Fiery Cushman, Joshua Knobe & Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, (2008). Moral Appraisals Affect Doing/Allowing Judgments. Cognition 108 (2):353-380.

An extensive body of research suggests that the distinction between doing and allowing plays a critical role in shaping moral appraisals. Here, we report evidence from a pair of experiments suggesting that the converse is also true: moral appraisals affect doing/allowing judgments. Specifically, morally bad behavior is more likely to be construed as actively ‘doing’ than as passively ‘allowing ‘. This finding adds to a growing list of folk concepts influenced by moral appraisal, including causation and intentional action. We therefore suggest…

Thomas Nadelhoffer & Adam Feltz (2008). The Actor-Observer Bias and Moral Intuitions: Adding Fuel to Sinnott-Armstrong’s Fire. Neuroethics 1 (2).

In a series of recent papers, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong has used findings in social psychology to put pressure on the claim that our moral beliefs can be non-inferentially justified. More specifically, he has suggested that insofar as our moral intuitions are subject to what psychologists call framing effects, this poses a real problem for moral intuitionism. In this paper, we are going to try to add more fuel to the empirical fire that Sinnott-Armstrong has placed under the feet of the intuitionist…


Steve Guglielmo, Andrew Monroe and Bertram Malle (2009) At the Heart of Morality Lies Folk Psychology Inquiry, 52 (5): 449-466.

Moral judgments about an agent’s behavior are enmeshed with inferences about the agent’s mind. Folk psychology-the system that enables such inferences- therefore lies at the heart of moral judgment. We examine three related folk-psychological concepts that together shape people’s judgments of blame: intentionality, choice, and free will. We discuss people’s understanding and use of these concepts, address recent findings that challenge the autonomous role of these concepts in moral judgment, and conclude that choice is the fundamental concept of the three, defining the core of folk psychology in moral judgment.

Jonathan Phillips & Joshua Knobe, (2009). Moral Judgments and Intuitions About Freedom. Psychological Inquiry. 20(1): 30-36.

Discussing voluntary and involuntary action, Aristotle suggests that certain actions may be neither completely voluntary nor completely involuntary, but instead have an intermediate character. He illustrates this point by considering the action of throwing goods overboard to ensure the safety of a ship and its crew during a life-threatening storm. We take up Aristotle’s original example but pursue the answer in a slightly different way, asking instead if whether or not the action is considered voluntarily depends on the moral status of the action of throwing something overboard.

Verena Utikal and Urs Fischbacher (2009). Blame the Rich – Praise the Poor. Research Paper Series Thurgau Institute of Economics and Department of Economics at the University of Konstanz. 46.

Do people blame or praise others for producing negative or positive externalities? The experimental philosopher Knobe conducted a questionnaire study that revealed that people blame others for foreseen negative externalities but do not praise them for foreseen positive ones. We find that the major determinant of the Knobe effect is the relative distribution of economic power among the agents. We confirm the Knobe effect only in situations where the producer of the externality holds the higher economic status and the positive externalities are small. Switching economic power makes the Knobe effect vanish. The Knobe effect is even reversed in settings with large positive externalities. Our results are in line with theoretical predictions by Levine.

Not Yet Published

Edouard Machery (forthcoming). The Bleak Implications of Moral Psychology. Neuroethics.

In Experiments in Ethics, Kwame Anthony Appiah examines the threats and promises that moral psychology (viz. the empirical study of our moral judgments and behaviors) carries for moral philosophy. Experiments in Ethics is a tour-de-force. Written in an elegant and engaging manner, it synthesizes a large amount of empirical knowledge about morality without sacrificing the acumen of the argumentation. Moral philosophers and moral psychologists sometimes suggest that the development of the empirical study of morality threatens the philosophical study of moral…

Alfred Mele (forthcoming). Weakness of Will and Akrasia. Philosophical Studies.

Richard Holton has developed a view of the nature of weak-willed actions, and I have done the same for akratic actions. How well does this view of mine fare in the sphere of weakness of will? Considerably better than Holton’s view. That is a thesis of this article. The article’s aim is to clarify the nature of weak-willed actions. Holton reports that he is “trying to give an account of our ordinary notion of weakness of will” (1999, p. 262). One way to get evidence about ordinary notions is to conduct survey studies with ordinary people. I conducted four such studies on weakness of will.

Papers on Folk Psychology and Moral Judgments


Joshua Knobe & Gabriel Mendlow (2004). The Good, the Bad and the Blameworthy: Understanding the Role of Evaluative Reasoning in Folk Psychology. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology. 24:252-258.

People ordinarily make sense of their own behavior and that of others by invoking concepts like belief, desire, and intention. Philosophers refer to this network of concepts and related principles as ‘folk psychology.’ The prevailing view of folk psychology among philosophers of mind and psychologists is that it is a proto-scientific theory whose function is to explain and predict behavior.


Joshua Knobe, (2005). Theory of Mind and Moral Cognition: Exploring the Connections. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 9:357-359.

An extremely brief (3 page) review of recent work on the ways in which people’s moral judgments can influence their use of folk-psychological concepts.


Joshua Knobe, (2007). Folk Psychology: Science and Morals. In Daniel Hutto & Matthew Ratcliffe (eds.), Folk Psychology Reassessed. Springer Press.

It is widely agreed that folk psychology plays an important role in people’s moral judgments. For a simple example, take the process by which we determine whether or not an agent is morally blameworthy. Although the judgment here is ultimately a moral one, it seems that one needs to use a fair amount of folk psychology along the way. Thus, one might determine that an agent broke the vase intentionally and therefore conclude that she is blameworthy for breaking it.

Joshua Knobe, (2007). Reason Explanation in Folk Psychology. Midwest Studies in Philosophy 31 (1):90-106.

Consider the following explanation: (1) George took his umbrella because it was just about to rain. This is an explanation of a quite distinctive sort. It is profoundly different from the sort of explanation we might use to explain, say, the movements of a bouncing ball or the gradual rise of the tide on a beach. Unlike these other types of explanations, it explains an agent’s behavior by describing the agent’s own _reasons_ for performing that behavior. Explanations that work in…


Chad Gonnerman, (2008). Reading Conflicted Minds: An Empirical Follow-up to Knobe and Roedder, Philosophical Psychology, 21: 1-13.

Recently Joshua Knobe and Erica Roedder found that folk attributions of valuing tend to vary according to the perceived moral goodness of the object of value. This is an interesting finding, but it remains unclear what, precisely, it means. Knobe and Roedder argue that it indicates that the concept MORAL GOODNESS is a feature of the concept VALUING. In this article, I present a study of folk attributions of desires and moral beliefs that undermines this conclusion. I then propose the…


Marc Egeth & Robert Kurzban, (2009). Representing Metarepresentations: Is there Theory of Mind-specific cognition? Consciousness and Cognition 18(1), 244-254.

What cognitive mechanisms do people use to represent other people’s mental states? Do children who have difficulty processing other people’s higher-level mental states such as beliefs also have difficulty processing higher-level non-mental representations such as meta-photographs? See the preprint here or find the final version in print or on the journal website.

Papers on Intentional Action


Joshua Knobe & Bertram Malle (1997). The Folk Concept of Intentionality. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 33:101-121.

When perceiving, explaining, or criticizing human behavior, people distinguish between intentional and unintentional actions. To do so, they rely on a shared folk concept of intentionality. In contrast to past speculative models, this article provides an empirically-based model of this concept. Study 1 demonstrates that people agree substantially in their judgments of intentionality, suggesting a shared underlying concept. Study 2 reveals that when asked to directly define the term intentional, people mention four components of intentionality: desire, belief, intention, and awareness…


Joshua Knobe (2003). Intentional Action and Side Effects in Ordinary Language. Analysis 63 (3):190-194.

There has been a long-standing dispute in the philosophical literature about the conditions under which a behavior counts as ‘intentional.’ Much of the debate turns on questions about the use of certain words and phrases in ordinary language. The present paper investigates these questions empirically, using experimental techniques to investigate people’s use of the relevant words and phrases.

Alfred Mele, (2003). Intentional Action: Controversies, Data, and Core Hypotheses. Philosophical Psychology. 16, 325-340.  


Fred Adams and Annie Steadman, (2004). Intentional Action in Ordinary Language: Core Concept or Pragmatic Understanding? Analysis, 64, 173-181. Fred Adams and Annie Steadman. (2004). Intentional Action and Moral Considerations: Still Pragmatic. Analysis, 64, 268-276. Joshua Knobe (2004). Intention, Intentional Action and Moral Considerations. Analysis 64 (2):181-187. Bertram Malle, (2004). The Moral Dimension of Intentionality Judgments. Technical Reports of the Institute of Cognitive and Decision Sciences, No. 04-2, Eugene, Oregon. Roblin R. Meeks (2004). Unintentionally Biasing the Data: Reply to Knobe. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology 24:220-223.

Knobe (2003) wants to help adjudicate the philosophical debate concerning whether and under what conditions we normally judge that some side effect x was brought about intentionally. His proposal for doing so is perhaps an obvious one-simply elicit the intuitions of “The Folk” directly on the matter and record the results. His findings were a bit less obvious, however. When Knobe presented New York parkgoers with scenarios including either good or bad side effects, they tended to judge that the bad…

Thomas Nadelhoffer. (2004). Blame, Badness, and Intentional Action: A Reply to Knobe and Mendlow. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 24, 259-269. Thomas Nadelhoffer. (2004). On Praise, Side Effects, and Folk Ascriptions of Intentionality. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 24, 196-213. Steven Sverdlik. (2004). Intentionality and Moral Judgments in Commonsense Thought about Action. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology,24, 224-236. Jason Turner. (2004). Folk Intuitions, Asymmetry, and Intentional Side Effects. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 24, 214-219.  


Hugh J. McCann (2005). Intentional Action and Intending: Recent Empirical Studies. Philosophical Psychology 18 (6): 737-748.

Recent empirical work calls into question the so-called Simple View that an agent who A’s intentionally intends to A. In experimental studies, ordinary speakers frequently assent to claims that, in certain cases, agents who knowingly behave wrongly intentionally bring about the harm they do; yet the speakers tend to deny that it was the intention of those agents to cause the harm. This paper reports two additional studies that at first appear to support the original ones, but argues that in…

Thomas Nadelhoffer (2005). Skill, Luck, Control, and Intentional Action. Philosophical Psychology. 18 (3): 341-352.

On the surface, it seems intuitively plausible that if an agent luckily manages to perform a desired action (e.g., rolling a six with a fair die or winning the lottery), the performance of which is not the result of any relevant skill on her part, we should not say that she performed the action intentionally. This intuition suggests that our concept of intentional action is sensitive to considerations of skill, luck, and causal control. Indeed, some philosophers have claimed that in order for an action to be performed intentionally it must be performed with a relevant amount of skill or control-i.e., an intentional action cannot simply be the result of luck. On this view, skill and control are necessary conditions of our everyday concept of intentional action. In this essay, I discuss empirical evidence that challenges this claim. After briefly setting the stage, I examine Al Mele and Paul Moser’s thorough analysis of intentional action-paying particular attention to some of the interesting scenarios they offer in support of their position. Next, I discuss the results of some simple psychological experiments that show that people’s judgments concerning whether actions are intentional can often be affected by the moral features of these actions-features that may trump considerations of skill, luck, and control. Finally, I conclude that if this is correct, philosophers who claim that skill and control are necessary conditions of the folk concept of intentional action appear to be mistaken.


Fred Adams (2006). Intentions Confer Intentionality Upon Actions: A Reply to Knobe and Burra. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 6, 132-146.

Is intentionally doing A linked to the intention to do A? Knobe and Burra believe that the link between the English words ‘intention’ and ‘intentional’ may mislead philosophers and cognitive scientists to falsely believe that intentionally doing an action A requires one to have the intention to do A. Knobe and Burra believe that data from other language…

Gilbert Harman, (2006). Intending, Intention, Intent, Intentional Action, and Acting Intentionally: Comments on Knobe and Burra. Journal of Cognition and Culture 6, 269-75.

There has been considerable controversy about whether this last entailment always holds. Ordinary subjects may judge that (4) and (5) are appropriate in cases in which none of (1)-(3) are-cases in which Jack’s breaking the base is a foreseen but undesired consequence of Jack’s intentionally doing something else. It is currently debated what the best explanation of such ordinary reactions might be. It is also debated what to make of the fact that ordinary judgments using the adjective intentional or the…

Joshua Knobe (2006). The Concept of Intentional Action: A Case Study in the Uses of Folk Psychology. Philosophical Studies 130 (2):203-231.

It is widely believed that the primary function of folk psychology lies in the prediction, explanation and control of behavior. A question arises, however, as to whether folk psychology has also been shaped in fundamental ways by the various other roles it plays in people’s lives. Here I approach that question by considering one particular aspect of folk psychology – the distinction between intentional and unintentional behaviors. The aim is to determine whether this distinction is best understood as a tool…

Joshua Knobe (2006). The Folk Concepts of Intention and Intentional Action: A Cross-Cultural Study. Journal of Cognition and Culture 6 (1-2):113-132.

Recent studies point to a surprising divergence between people’s use of the concept of _intention_ and their use of the concept of _acting intentionally_. It seems that people’s application of the concept of intention is determined by their beliefs about the agent’s psychological states whereas their use of the concept of acting intentionally is determined at least in part by their beliefs about the moral status of the behavior itself (i.e., by their beliefs about whether the behavior is morally good…

Edouard Machery (2006). The Folk Concept of Intentional Action: Philosophical and Experimental Issues. Mind & Language 23 (2):165-189. Bertram Malle. (2006). Intentionality, Morality, and their Relationship in Human Judgment. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 6, 87-113. Thomas Nadelhoffer. (2006). Bad acts, blameworthy agents, and intentional actions: Some problems for juror impartiality. Philosophical Explorations 9 (2):203 – 219.

In this paper, I first review some of the recent empirical work on the biasing effect that moral considerations have on folk ascriptions of intentional action. Then, I use Mark Alicke’s affective model of blame attribution to explain this biasing effect. Finally, I discuss the relevance of this research – both philosophical and psychological – to the problem of the partiality of jury deliberation. After all, if the immorality of an action does affect folk ascriptions of intentionality, and all serious…

Thomas Nadelhoffer (2006). Desire, Foresight, Intentions, and Intentional Actions: Probing Folk Intuitions. Journal of Cognition and Culture.

A number of philosophers working under the rubric of “experimental philosophy” have recently begun focusing on analyzing the concepts of ordinary language and investigating the intuitions of laypersons in an empirically informed way.1 In a series of papers these philosophers-who often work in collaboration with psychologists-have presented the results of empirical studies aimed at proving folk intuitions in areas as diverse as ethics, epistemology, free will, and the philosophy of action. In this paper, I contribute to this research program by…

Thomas Nadelhoffer. (2006). On Trying to Save the Simple View. Mind & Language 21:5, 565-586.

According to the analysis of intentional action that Michael Bratman has dubbed the ‘Simple View'(SV) (1984: 377), intending to x is necessary for intentionally x-ing (e.g., Adams 1986; McCann 1986; 1991). Despite the plausibility of this view, there is gathering empirical evidence that it does not settle with our ordinary usage of the concept of intentional action (Knobe 2003a; 2003b; 2004). More specifically, it appears that in cases involving moral considerations, people are much more likely to judge that the action (or side effect) in question was performed or brought about intentionally than they are to judge that the agent intended to do it. This suggests that at least as far as the ordinary concept of intentional action is concerned, an agent need not intend to x in order to x intentionally. If this is correct, then SV fails as an analysis of the folk concept of intentional action.

Liane Young, Fiery Cushman, Ralph Adolphs, Daniel Tranel, Marc Hauser. (2006). Does emotion mediate the effect of an action’s moral status on its intentional status? Neuropsychological evidence. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 6, 291-304.  


Adam Feltz (2007). The Knobe Effect: A Brief Overview. The Journal of Mind and Behavior, 28, 265-277.

Joshua Knobe (2003a) has discovered that the perceived goodness or badness of side effects of actions influences people’s ascriptions of intentionality to those side effects. I present the paradigmatic cases that elicit what has been called the Knobe effect and offer some explanations of the Knobe effect. I put these explanations into two broad groups. One explains the Knobe effect by referring to our concept of intentional action. The other explains the Knobe effect without referring to our concept of intentional…

Adam Feltz and Edward Cokely. (2007). An Anomaly in Intentional Action Ascription: More Evidence of Folk Diversity. Proceedings of the Cognitive Science Society. Shaun Nichols & Joseph Ulatowski (2007). Intuitions and Individual Differences: The Knobe Effect Revisited. Mind & Language 22 (4):346-365.

Recent work by Joshua Knobe indicates that people’s intuition about whether an action was intentional depends on whether the outcome is good or bad. This paper argues that part of the explanation for this effect is that there are stable individual differences in how ‘intentional’ is interpreted. That is, in Knobe’s cases, different people interpret the term in different ways. This interpretive diversity of ‘intentional’ opens up a new avenue to help explain Knobe’s results. Furthermore, the paper argues that the…

Eric Wiland. (2007). Intentional Action and ‘In Order To.’ Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology. 27, 113-118.  


Frank Hindriks (2008). Intentional Action and the Praise-Blame Asymmetry. Philosophical Quarterly, 58 (233): 630-641. Adam Feltz and Edward Cokely (2008). The fragmented folk: More evidence of stable individual differences in moral judgments and folk intuitions. In BC Love, K. McRae & VM Sloutsky (Eds.), Proceedings of the 30th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 1771-1776).

In a series of five experiments, we demonstrate that moral judgments and folk intuitions are often predictably fragmented. Drawing on the domains of ethics and action theory, we illustrate ways in which judgment tends to be associated with stable individual differences such as personality traits and reflective cognitive styles. We argue that these individual differences pose several unique challenges as well as provide opportunities for further theoretical development in the emerging field of experimental philosophy. Implications are briefly discussed.

Alessandro Lanteri, Chiara Chelini, and Salvatore Rizzello (2008). An Experimental Investigation of Emotions and Reasoning in the Trolley Problem. Journal of Business Ethics, 83 (4): 789-804.

Elaborating on the notions that humans possess different modalities of decision-making and that these are often influenced by moral considerations, we conducted an experimental investigation of the Trolley Problem. We presented the participants with two standard scenarios (‘lever’ and ‘stranger’) either in the usual or in reversed order. We observe that responses to the lever scenario, which result from (moral) reasoning, are affected by our manipulation; whereas responses to the stranger scenario, triggered by moral emotions, are unaffected. Furthermore, when asked to express general moral opinions on the themes of the Trolley Problem, about half of the participants reveal some inconsistency with the responses they had previously given.

Edouard Machery. (2008). Understanding the Folk Concept of Intentional Action: Philosophical and Experimental Issues. Mind & Language 23: 165-189.

Recent experimental findings by Knobe and others (Knobe, 2003a; Nadelhoffer, 2006b; Nichols and Ulatowski, forthcoming) have been at the center of a controversy about the nature of the folk concept of intentional action. I argue that the significance of these findings has been overstated. My discussion is two-pronged. First, I contend that barring a consensual theory of conceptual competence, the significance of these experimental findings for the nature of the concept of intentional action cannot be determined. Unfortunately, the lack of progress in the philosophy of concepts casts doubt on whether such a consensual theory will be found. Second, I propose a new, deflationary interpretation of these experimental findings, ‘the trade-off hypothesis,’ and I present several new experimental findings that support this interpretation.

Ron Mallon (2008). Knobe Versus Machery: Testing the Trade-Off Hypothesis. Mind & Language 23 (2):247-255.

Recent work by Joshua Knobe has established that people are far more likely to describe bad but foreseen side effects as intentionally performed than good but foreseen side effects (this is sometimes called the ‘Knobe effect’ or the ‘side-effect effect.’ Edouard Machery has proposed a novel explanation for this asymmetry: it results from construing the bad side effect as a cost that must be incurred to receive a benefit. In this paper, I argue that Machery’s ‘trade-off hypothesis’ is wrong…

Jennifer Nado (2008). Effects of Moral Cognition on Judgments of Intentionality. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 59: 709-731.

Several recent articles on the concept of intentional action center on experimental findings suggesting that intentionality ascription can be affected by moral factors. I argue that the explanation for these phenomena lies in the workings of a tacit moral judgment mechanism, capable under certain circumstances of altering normal intentionality ascriptions. This view contrasts with that of Knobe ([2006]), who argues that the findings show that the concept of intentional action invokes evaluative notions. I discuss and reject possible objections to the moral mechanism view, and offer arguments supporting the model over Knobe’s account on grounds of simplicity and plausibility.

Mark Phelan and Hagop Sarkissian. (2008). The folk strike back: Or, why you didn’t do it intentionally, though it was bad and you knew it. Philosophical Studies, 138(2): 291-298.

Recent and puzzling experimental results suggest that people’s judgments as to whether or not an action was performed intentionally are sensitive to moral considerations. In this paper, we outline these results and evaluate two accounts which purport to explain them. We then describe a recent experiment that allegedly vindicates one of these accounts and present our own findings to show that it fails to do so. Finally, we present additional data suggesting no such vindication could be in the offing and…

Julius Sch?like (2008). Alltagspsychologie, Absichtlichkeit und Werturteil: Zu einigen Befunden der experimentellen Philosophie. Facta Philosophica. 10.

Joshua Knobe und andere haben empirische Belege for folgende rotselhafte Asymmetrie vorgelegt: Nebenfolgen, die lediglich in Kauf genommen werden, werden im Alltag als unabsichtlich bezeichnet, wenn sie positiv sind, jedoch als absichtlich, wenn sie negativ sind. Ich versuche zu zeigen, dass dieser Asymmetrie ein symmetrisches Prinzip zugrunde liegt, das auf die kausalen Rollen abhebt, die bestimmte Eigenschaften von Akteuren for das Auftreten von Ereignissen spielen. Relevant sind hierbei Kausalrelationen, mit denen gewisse Spiegelverh oltnisse” einhergehen: im Ereignis spiegelt” sich die Akteurseigenschaft evaluativ und propositional.

Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Ron Mallon, Tom McCoy and Jay G. Hull. (2008). Intention, Temporal Order, and Moral Judgment. Mind and Language. 23 (1): 90 – 106.

The traditional philosophical doctrine of double effect claims that agents’ intentions affect whether acts are morally wrong. Our behavioral study reveals that agents’ intentions affect whether acts are judged morally wrong but not whether acts are classified as killings, whereas the temporal order of good and bad effects affects whether acts are classified as killings but not whether acts are judged morally wrong. These findings suggest that the moral judgments are not based on the classifications. Our results also undermine recent claims that prior moral judgments determine whether agents are seen as causing effects intentionally rather than as side effects.


Edward Cokely and Adam Feltz. (2009). Individual Differences, Judgment Biases, and Theory-of-Mind: Deconstructing the Intentional Action Side Effect Asymmetry. Journal of Research in Personality, 43, 18-24.

When the side effect of an action involves moral considerations (e.g. when a chairman’s pursuit of pro?ts harms the environment) it tends to in?uence theory-of-mind judgments. On average, bad side effects are judged intentional whereas good side effects are judged unintentional. In a series of two experiments, we examined the largely uninvestigated roles of individual differences in this judgment asymmetry. Experiment 1 indicated that extraversion accounted for variations in intentionality judgments, controlling for a range of other general individual differences (e.g. working memory, self-control). Experiment 2 indicated that extraversion’s in?uence was partially mediated by more speci?c variations in intentional action concepts. A priming manipulation also provided causal evidence of judgment instability and bias. Results suggest that the intentional action judgment asymmetry is multiply determined, reflecting the interplay of individual differences and judgment biases. Implications and the roles of individual differences in judgment and decision-making research are discussed.

Yoel Inbar, David Pizarro, Joshua Knobe & Paul Bloom. (2009). Disgust Sensitivity Predicts Intuitive Disapproval of Gays. Emotion 9: 435- 439.

Two studies demonstrate that a dispositional proneness to disgust (“disgust sensitivity”) is associated with intuitive disapproval of gay people. Study 1 was based on previous research showing that people are more likely to describe a behavior as intentional when they see it as morally wrong (see Knobe, 2006, for a review). As predicted, the more disgust sensitive participants were, the more likely they were to describe an agent whose behavior had the side effect of causing gay men to kiss in public as having intentionally encouraged gay men to kiss publicly- even though most participants did not explicitly think it wrong to encourage gay men to kiss in public. No such effect occurred when subjects were asked about heterosexual kissing. Study 2 used the Implicit Association Test (IAT; Nosek, Banaji, & Greenwald, 2006) as a dependent measure. The more disgust sensitive participants were, the more they showed unfavorable automatic associations with gay people as opposed to heterosexuals.

Alessandro Lanteri (2009). Elusive Lay Judgments of Intentionality and Moral Worth. Philosophical Quarterly. Sandra Pellizzoni, Vittorio Girotto and Luca Surian. (2009). Beliefs and Moral Valence Affect Intentionality Attributions: the Case of Side Effects. Review of Philosophy and Psychology.

Do moral appraisals shape judgments of intentionality? A traditional view is that individuals first evaluate whether an action has been carried out intentionally. Then they use this evaluation as input for their moral judgments. Recent studies, however, have shown that individuals’ moral appraisals can also influence their intentionality attributions. They attribute intentionality to the negative side effect of a given action, but not to the positive side effect of the same action. In three experiments, we show that this asymmetry is a robust effect that critically depends on the agent’s beliefs. The asymmetry is reduced when agents are described as not knowing that their action can bring about side effects, and is eliminated when they are deemed to hold a false belief about the consequences of their actions. These results suggest that both evaluative and epistemic considerations are used in intentionality attribution.

Sandra Pellizzoni, Michael Siegal and Luca Surian. (2009). Foreknowledge, caring and the side-effect effect in young children. Developmental Psychology, 45: 289-295.

Children and adults often judge that the side effects of the actions of an uncaring story agent have been intentional if the effects are harmful but not if these are beneficial, creating an asymmetrical “side-effect” effect. The authors report 3 experiments involving 4- and 5-year-olds (N ?? 188) designed to clarify the role of foreknowledge and caring in judgments of intentionality. Many children showed the side-effect effect even if agents were explicitly described as lacking foreknowledge of the outcome. Similarly, when agents were described as possessing foreknowledge but their caring state was unspecified, children more often judged that the negative, compared with the positive, effects of agents’ actions were brought about intentionally. Regardless of foreknowledge, children infrequently judged positive outcomes as intentional when agent caring was unspecified, and they gave few attributions of intentionality when agents were described as having a false belief about the outcome. These results testify to the robustness of the side-effect effect and highlight the extent to which children’s intentionality judgments are asymmetrical. The findings suggest developmental continuity in the link between reasoning about morality and intentionality.

Mark Phelan and Hagop Sarkissian. (2009). Is the Trade-off Hypothesis worth trading for? Mind & Language 28(2): 164-80.

Abstract: Recently, the experimental philosopher Joshua Knobe has shown that the folk are more inclined to describe side effects as intentional actions when they bring about bad results. Edouard Machery has offered an intriguing new explanation of Knobe’s work-the ‘trade-off hypothesis’-which denies that moral considerations explain folk applications of the concept of intentional action. We critique Machery’s hypothesis and offer empirical evidence against it. We also evaluate the current state of the debate concerning the concept of intentionality, and argue that…

Chandra Sripada. (2009). The ‘Deep Self’ Model and asymmetries in folk judgments about intentionality and responsibility. Philosophical Studies.

Recent studies by experimental philosophers demonstrate puzzling asymmetries in people’s judgments about intentional action, leading many philosophers to propose that normative factors are inappropriately influencing intentionality judgments. In this paper, I present and defend the Deep Self Model of judgments about intentional action that provides a quite different explanation for these judgment asymmetries. The Deep Self Model is based on the idea that people make an intuitive distinction between two parts of an agent’s psychology, an Acting Self that contains the desires, means-end beliefs, and intentions that are the immediate causal source of an agent’s actions, and a Deep Self, which contains an agent’s stable and central psychological attitudes, including the agent’s values, principles, life goals, and other more fundamental attitudes. The Deep Self Model proposes that when people are asked to make judgments about whether an agent brought about an outcome intentionally, in addition to standard criteria proposed in traditional models, people also assess an additional ‘Concordance Criterion’: Does the outcome concord with the psychological attitudes of the agent’s Deep Self? I show that the Deep Self Model can explain a very complex pattern of judgment asymmetries documented in the experimental philosophy literature, and does so in a way that has significant advantages over competing models.

Andy Wible. (2009). Knobe, Side Effects, and the Morally Good Business. Journal of Business Ethics. 85, 173-178.

This paper focuses on Joshua Knobe’s experiments which show that people attribute blame and intentionality to the chairman of a company that knowingly causes harmful side effects, but do not attribute praise and intentionality to the chairman of a company that knowingly causes helpful side effects. Knobe’s explanation of this data is that people determine intentionality based on the moral consideration of whether the side effect is good or bad. This observation and explanation has come to be known as the “Knobe Effect.” One implication from the Knobe Effect is that it seems profit-driven businesses can only intentionally cause harmful and never good side effects. This paper examines the Knobe Effect, and argues for a way that business persons can understand it and avoid its implications. The argument has three parts. The first point is that business persons who care only about profits are blameworthy and rightly should not get credit for good side effects. Second, when a morally praiseworthy person who cares about values other than profits causes side effects, her actions are intentional and praiseworthy. Therefore, profit-driven business persons can be praised for intentionally producing good side effects if they consider other moral values as moral agents should. Finally, morally praiseworthy business persons need only to be Minimally Good Samaritans and not totally altruistic. When a business person strives for profits, adheres to other morally important values, and produces morally good side effects, then we should say that she intentionally caused those effects and is praiseworthy.

Jennifer Cole Wright & John Bengson (2009). Asymmetries in Judgments of Responsibility and Intentional Action. Mind & Language 24 (1):24-50.

Abstract: Recent experimental research on the ‘Knobe effect’ suggests, somewhat surprisingly, that there is a bi-directional relation between attributions of intentional action and evaluative considerations. We defend a novel account of this phenomenon that exploits two factors: (i) an intuitive asymmetry in judgments of responsibility (e.g. praise/blame) and (ii) the fact that intentionality commonly connects the evaluative status of actions to the responsibility of actors. We present the results of several new studies that provide empirical evidence in support of this…


Paulo Sousa and Colin Holbrook. (2010). Folk Concepts of Intentional Action in the Contexts of Amoral and Immoral Luck. Review of Philosophy and Psychology.

This paper concerns a recently discovered, puzzling asymmetry in judgments of whether an action is intentional or not (Knobe, Philosophical Psychology 16:309-324, 2003a; Analysis 63:190-193, b). We report new data replicating the asymmetry in the context of scenarios wherein an agent achieves an amoral or immoral goal due to luck. Participants’ justifications of their judgments of the intentionality of the agent’s action indicate that two distinct folk concepts of intentional action played a role in their judgments. When viewed from this perspective, the puzzle disappears, although the asymmetry remains.

Not Yet Published

Mark Alicke. (forthcoming). Blaming Badly. Journal of Cognition and Culture. Richard Holton. (forthcoming). Norms and the Knobe Effect. Analysis Joshua Knobe & Dean Pettit, The Pervasive Impact of Moral Judgment.

Shows that the very same asymmetries that arise for intentionally also arise from deciding, desiring, in favor of, opposed to, and advocating. It seems that the phenomenon is not due to anything about the concept of intentional action in particular. Rather, the effects observed for the concept of intentional action should be regarded as just one manifestation of the pervasive impact of moral judgment.

Alessandro Lanteri. (forthcoming). Judgements of Intentionality and Moral Worth: Experimental Challenges to Hindriks. Philosophical Quarterly.

Joshua Knobe found that people are more likely to describe an action as intentional if it has had a bad outcome than a good outcome, and to blame a bad outcome than to praise a good one. These asymmetries raised numerous questions about lay moral judgement. Frank Hindriks recently proposed that one acts intentionally if one fails to comply with a normative reason against performing the action, that moral praise requires appropriate motivation, whereas moral blame does not, and that these asymmetries are normal features of a theory of intentional action, not anomalies. I present two empirical studies revealing asymmetries in lay judgements of intentionality and moral blameworthiness; these cannot be explained by Hindriks’ theory of intentional action.

Thomas Nadelhoffer. Fringe Benefits, Side Effects, and Indifference: A Reply to Feltz.

In a previous paper, I suggested that if an agent is a morally praiseworthy person and one of the consequences of the action she knowingly brings about is morally positive, then this consequence isn’t really a side effect for the agent. Adam Feltz has recently developed a case that purportedly puts pressure on my account of side effects. In the present paper, I am going to argue that Feltz’s purported counter-example fails to undermine my view even if it happens to…

Bence Nanay. (forthcoming). Morality or Modality? What Does the Attribution of Intentionality Depend On? Canadian Journal of Philosophy.

It has been argued that the attribution of intentional actions is sensitive to our moral judgment. I suggest an alternative, where the attribution of intentional actions depends on modal (and not moral) considerations. We judge a foreseen side-effect of an agent’s intentionally performed action to be intentional if the following modal claim is true: if she had not ignored considerations about the foreseen side-effect, her action might have been different (other things being equal). I go through the most important examples of the asymmetry in the attribution of intentionality and point out that the modal account can cover all the problematic cases, whereas the moral account can’t.

Angel Pinillos, Nick Smith, Shyam Nair, Peter Marchetto & Cecilea Mun. (forthcoming). Philosophy’s New Challenge: Experiments and Intentional Action. Mind & Language.

Experimental philosophers have gathered impressive evidence for the surprising conclusion that philosophers’ intuitions are out of step with those of the folk. As a result, many argue that philosophers’ intuitions are unreliable. Focusing on the Knobe Effect, a leading finding of experimental philosophy, we defend traditional philosophy against this conclusion. Our key premise relies on experiments we conducted which indicate that judgments of the folk elicited under higher quality cognitive or epistemic conditions are more likely to resemble those of the philosopher. We end by showing how our experimental findings can help us better understand the Knobe Effect.

Lawrence Solan. (forthcoming). Where Does Blaming Come From? Brooklyn Law Review.

(To download the paper, follow the link and then click on one of the images at the bottom of the page.)

Annie Steadman and Fred Adams. Folk Concepts, Surveys and Intentional Action. Proceedings of the international conference “Intentionality, deliberation and autonomy – the action theoretic basis of practical philosophy” Sienna, Italy. Kevin Uttich and Tania Lombrozo. (In Press). Norms inform mental state ascriptions: a rational explanation for the side-effect effect. Cognition.

Theory of mind, the capacity to understand and ascribe mental states, has traditionally been conceptualized as analogous to a scientific theory. However, recent work in philosophy and psychology has documented a “side-effect effect” suggesting that moral evaluations influence mental state ascriptions, and in particular whether a behavior is described as having been performed ‘intentionally.’ This evidence challenges the idea that theory of mind is analogous to scientific psychology in serving the function of predicting and explaining, rather than evaluating, behavior. In three experiments, we demonstrate that moral evaluations do inform ascriptions of intentional action, but that this relationship arises because behavior that conforms to norms (moral or otherwise) is less informative about underlying mental states than is behavior that violates norms. This analysis preserves the traditional understanding of theory of mind as a tool for predicting and explaining behavior, but also suggests the importance of normative considerations in social cognition.

Ryan Wasserman Intentional Action and the Unintentional Fallacy Unpublished Manuscript. Western Washington University.

Anscombe begins her book Intention by drawing a distinction between intentions and intentional actions, noting that “we may be tempted to think that only actions done with intentions ought to be called intentional.” This is an early statement of what Michael Bratman calls “the Simple View”: The Simple View (SV): S -ed intentionally only if S intended to. Anscombe and Bratman both reject SV, but many philosophers have thought that it holds the key to understanding intentional action. Much of the recent work in action theory can be organized around a set of objections facing SV and other intention- based accounts of intentional action.5 My aim is to present the three most popular objections to SV and to argue that all three objections commit a common fallacy. I will then draw some more general conclusions about the connection between intentional action and moral responsibility.

Papers on Free Will, Moral

Responsibility, and Determinism  


Eddy Nahmias, Stephen Morris, Thomas Nadelhoffer, and Jason Turner (2004). The Phenomenology of Free Will. Journal of Consciousness Studies 11(7-8): 162-179. Reprinted in Trusting the Subject, Vol. 2., ed. by A. Jack and A. Roepstorff (Imprint Academic, 2004), 162-179.

Philosophers often suggest that their theories of free will are supported by our phenomenology. Just as their theories conflict, their descriptions of the phenomenology of free will often conflict as well. We suggest that this should motivate an effort to study the phenomenology of free will in a more systematic way that goes beyond merely the introspective reports of the philosophers themselves. After presenting three disputes about the phenomenology of free will, we survey the (limited) psychological research on the experiences relevant to the philosophical debates and then describe some pilot studies of our own with the aim of encouraging further research. The data seem to support compatibilist descriptions of the phenomenology more than libertarian descriptions. We conclude that the burden is on libertarians to find empirical support for their more demanding metaphysical theories with their more controversial phenomenological claims.

Shaun Nichols (2004) Folk Psychology of Free Will: Fits and Starts Mind & Language, 19, 473-502.

According to agent-causal accounts of free will, agents have the capacity to cause actions, and for a given action, an agent could have done otherwise. This paper uses existing results and presents experimental evidence to argue that young children deploy a notion of agent-causation. If young children do have such a notion, however, it remains quite unclear how they acquire it. Several possible acquisition stories are canvassed, including the possibility that the notion of agent-causation develops from a prior notion of obligation. Finally, the paper sets out how this work might illuminate the philosophical problem of free will.


Robert Kane (2005). The Psychology of Free Will Commentary Presented at the 31st Annual Meeting of The Society of Philosophy and Psychology.

The following commentary is on three papers presented at this symposium:Jonathan Schooler, Kathleen Vohs and Azim Shariff (Psychology, University of British Columbia) “The ‘Easy’ and ‘Hard’ Problems of Free Will”; Jordan Peterson (Psychology, University of Toronto) and Azim Shariff (British Columbia) “Free Will is for the Future, not the Past or Present”; Shaun Nichols (Philosophy, University of Utah) and Joshua Knobe (Philosophy, Princeton) “Moral Responsibility and Determinism: The Cognitive Science of Folk Intuitions.”

Eddy Nahmias, Stephen Morris, Thomas Nadelhoffer, & Jason Turner (2005). Surveying Freedom: Folk Intuitions about Free Will and Moral Responsibility. Philosophical Psychology 18(5): 561-584.

Philosophers working in the nascent field of ‘experimental philosophy’ have begun using methods borrowed from psychology to collect data about folk intuitions concerning debates ranging from action theory to ethics to epistemology. In this paper we present the results of our attempts to apply this approach to the free will debate, in which philosophers on opposing sides claim that their view best accounts for and accords with folk intuitions. After discussing the motivation for such research, we describe our methodology of surveying people’s prephilosophical judgments about the freedom and responsibility of agents in deterministic scenarios. In two studies, we found that a majority of participants judged that such agents act of their own free will and are morally responsible for their actions. We then discuss the philosophical implications of our results as well as various difficulties inherent in such research.


Eddy Nahmias (2006). Folk Fears about Freedom and Responsibility: Determinism vs. Reductionism. Journal of Cognition and Culture 6(1-2): 215-237. Shaun Nichols (2006). Folk Intuitions on Free Will. Journal of Cognition and Culture 6.

This paper relies on experimental methods to explore the psychological underpinnings of folk intuitions about free will and responsibility. In different conditions, people give conflicting responses about agency and responsibility. In some contexts, people treat agency as indeterminist; in other contexts, they treat agency as determinist. Furthermore, in some contexts people treat responsibility as incompatible with determinism, and in other contexts people treat responsibility as compatible with determinism. The paper considers possible accounts of the psychological mechanisms that underlie these conflicting responses.

Shaun Nichols (2006). Free will and the folk: Response to commentators. 6. Jason Turner and Eddy Nahmias (2006). Are the Folk Agent Causationists? Mind & Language 21(5): 597-609.

Experimental examination of how the folk conceptualize certainly loaded notions can provide information useful for philosophical theorizing. In this paper, we explore issues raised in Shaun Nichols’ (2004) studies involving people’s conception of free will, focusing on his claim that this conception ?ts best with the philosophical theory of agent-causation. We argue that his data do not support this conclusion, highlighting along the way certain considerations that ought to be taken into account when probing the folk conception of free will.

Eddy Nahmias, Stephen Morris, Thomas Nadelhoffer & Jason Turner (2006). Is Incompatibilism Intuitive?Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 73(1): 28-53. Reprinted in Experimental Philosophy, ed. by S. Nichols and J. Knobe (Oxford University Press, 2008).

Incompatibilists believe free will is impossible if determinism is true, and they often claim that this view is supported by ordinary intuitions. We challenge the claim that incompatibilism is intuitive to most laypersons and discuss the significance of this challenge to the free will debate. After explaining why incompatibilists should want their view to accord with pretheoretical intuitions, we suggest that determining whether incompatibilism is in fact intuitive calls for empirical testing. We then present the results of our studies, which put significant pressure on the claim that incompatibilism is intuitive. Finally, we consider and respond to several potential objections to our approach.

Adina Roskies (2006). Neuroscientific challenges to free will and responsibility. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 10:419-423.

Recent developments in neuroscience raise the worry that understanding how brains cause behavior will undermine our views about free will and, consequently, about moral responsibility. The potential ethical consequences of such a result are sweeping. I provide three reasons to think that these worries seemingly inspired by neuroscience are misplaced. First, problems for common-sense notions of freedom exist independently of neuroscientific advances. Second, neuroscience is not in a position to undermine our intuitive notions. Third, recent empirical studies suggest that even if people do misconstrue neuroscientific results as relevant to our notion of freedom, our judgments of moral responsibility will remain largely unaffected. These considerations suggest that neuroethical concerns about challenges to our conception of freedom are misguided.

Manuel Vargas (2006). Philosophy and the Folk: On Some Implications of Experimental Work for Philosophical Debates on Free Will. The Journal of Cognition and Culture 6: 1 & 2, pp. 249-264. Robert Woolfolk, John Doris, and John Darley. (2006). Attribution and Alternate Possibilities: Identification and Situational Constraint as Factors in Moral Cognition. Cognition.  


Thomas Nadelhoffer and Adam Feltz (2007). Folk Intuitions, Slippery Slopes, and Necessary Fictions: An Essay on Saul Smilansky’s Free Will Illusionism. Midwest Studies in Philosophy, XXXI.

A number of philosophers have recently become increasingly interested in the potential usefulness of ?ctitious and illusory beliefs. As a result, a wide variety of ?ctionalisms and illusionisms have sprung up in areas ranging anywhere from mathematics and modality to morality.1 In this paper, we focus on the view that Saul Smilansky has dubbed “free will illusionism”-for example, the purportedly descriptive claim that the majority of people have illusory beliefs concerning the existence of libertarian free will, coupled with the normative claim that because dispelling these illusions would produce negative personal and societal consequences, those of us who are unfortunate enough to know the dangerous and gloomy truth about the nonexistence of libertarian free will should simply keep quiet in the name of the common good.

Eddy Nahmias, D. Justin Coates and Trevor Kvaran (2007). Free Will, Moral Responsibility, and Mechanism: Experiments on Folk Intuitions. Midwest Studies in Philosophy 31: 214-242. Dana Nelkin. (2007). Do We Have a Coherent Set of Intuitions About Moral Responsibility? Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 31, 243-259.

Shaun Nichols and Joshua Knobe. (2007). Moral Responsibility and Determinism: The Cognitive Science of Folk Intuitions. No?s 41 (4):663-685.

An empirical study of people’s intuitions about freedom of the will. We show that people tend to have compatiblist intuitions when they think about the problem in a more concrete, emotional way but that they tend to have incompatiblist intuitions when they think about the problem in a more abstract, cognitive way.


Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (2008). Abstract + Concretre = Paradox in: Experimental Philosophy edited by Shaun Nichols and Joshua Knobe. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp.209-230.  


Adam Feltz and Edward Cokely (2009). Do Judgments about Freedom and Responsibility Depend on Who You Are?: Personality Differences in Intuitions about Compatibilism and Incompatibilism. Consciousness and Cognition, 18, 342- 350.

In a series of five experiments, we demonstrate that moral judgments and folk intuitions are often predictably fragmented. Drawing on the domains of ethics and action theory, we illustrate ways in which judgment tends to be associated with stable individual differences such as personality traits and reflective cognitive styles. We argue that these individual differences pose several unique challenges as well as provide opportunities for further theoretical development in the emerging field of experimental philosophy. Implications are briefly discussed.

Adam Feltz, Edward T. Cokely & Thomas Nadelhoffer (2009). Natural Compatibilism Versus Natural Incompatibilism: Back to the Drawing Board. Mind & Language 24 (1):1-23.

In the free will literature, some compatibilists and some incompatibilists claim that their views best capture ordinary intuitions concerning free will and moral responsibility. One goal of researchers working in the field of experimental philosophy has been to probe ordinary intuitions in a controlled and systematic way to help resolve these kinds of intuitional stalemates. We contribute to this debate by presenting new data about folk intuitions concerning freedom and responsibility that correct for some of the shortcomings of previous studies…

Felipe De Brigard, Eric Mandelbaum and David Ripley (2009). Responsibility and the Brain Sciences. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice.

Some theorists think that the more we get to know about the neural underpinnings of our behaviors, the less likely we will be to hold people responsible for their actions. This intuition has driven some to suspect that as neuroscience gains insight into the neurological causes of our actions, people will cease to view others as morally responsible for their actions, thus creating a troubling quandary for our legal system. This paper provides empirical evidence against such intuitions. Particularly, our studies of folk intuitions suggest that (1) when the causes of an action are described in neurological terms, they are not found to be any more exculpatory than when described in psychological terms, and (2) agents are not held fully responsible even for actions that are fully neurologically caused.

Thomas Nadelhoffer, Trevor Kvaran & Eddy Nahmias (2009). Temperment and Intuition: A Commentary on Feltz and Cokely. Consciousness and Cognition 18: 342-350.

In this paper, we examine Adam Feltz and Edward Cokely’s recent claim that ”the personality trait extraversion predicts people’s intuitions about the relationship of determinism to free will and moral responsibility”. We will ?rst present some criticisms of their work before brie?y examining the results of a recent study of our own. We argue that while Feltz and Cokely have their ?nger on the pulse of an interesting and important issue, they have not established a robust and stable connection between extraversion and compatibilist-friendly intuitions.

Paulo Sousa (2009) A Cognitive Approach to Moral Responsibility: The Case of a Failed Attempt to Kill Journal of Cognition and Culture. 9: 171 – 194.

Many theoretical claims about the folk concept of moral responsibility coming from the current literature are indeterminate because researchers do not clearly specify the folk concept of moral responsibility in question. The article pursues a cognitive approach to folk concepts that pays special attention to this indeterminacy problem. After addressing the problem, the article provides evidence on folk attributions of moral responsibility in the case of a failed attempt to kill that goes against a speci?c claim coming from the current literature – that the dimension of causation is part of the structure of the folk concept of moral responsibility.


Andrew E. Monroe and Bertram F. Malle. (2010). From Uncaused Will to Conscious Choice: The Need to Study, Not Speculate About People’s Folk Concept of Free Will Review of Philosophy and Psychology.

People’s concept of free will is often assumed to be incompatible with the deterministic, scientific model of the universe. Indeed, many scholars treat the folk concept of free will as assuming a special form of nondeterministic causation, possibly the notion of uncaused causes. However, little work to date has directly probed individuals’ beliefs about what it means to have free will. The present studies sought to reconstruct this folk concept of free will by asking people to define the concept (Study 1) and by confronting them with a neuroscientific claim that free will is an illusion (Study 2), which invited them to either reconcile or contrast free will with determinism. The results suggest that the core of people’s concept of free will is a choice that fulfills one’s desires and is free from internal or external constraints. No evidence was found for metaphysical assumptions about dualism or indeterminism.

Tamler Sommers (2010) Experimental Philosophy and Free Will Philosophy Compass. 5(2): 199 -212.

This paper develops a sympathetic critique of recent experimental work on free will and moral responsibility. Section 1 offers a brief defense of the relevance of experimental philosophy to the free will debate. Section 2 reviews a series of articles in the experimental literature that probe intuitions about the ”compatibility question”-whether we can be free and morally responsible if determinism is true. Section 3 argues that these studies have produced valuable insights on the factors that in?uence our judgments on the compatibility question, but that their general approach suffers from signi?cant practical and philosophical dif?culties. Section 4 reviews experimental work addressing other aspects of the free will ? moral responsibility debate, and section 5 concludes with a discussion of avenues for further research.

Not Yet Published

David Faraci and David Shoemaker (forthcoming). Insanity, Deep Selves, and Moral Responsibility: The Case of JoJo European Review of Philosophy.

Susan Wolf objects to the Real Self View (RSV) of moral responsibility that it is insufficient, that even if one’s actions are expressions of one’s deepest or “real” self, one might still not be morally responsible for one’s actions. As a counterexample to the RSV, Wolf offers the case of JoJo, the son of a dictator, who endorses his father’s (evil) values, but who is insane and is thus not responsible for his actions. Wolf’s data for this conclusion derives from what she takes to be our “pretheoretic intuitions” about JoJo. As it turns out, though, experimental data on actual pretheoretic intuitions does not seem to support Wolf’s claim. In this paper, we present such data and argue that, at least with respect to this particular objection, the RSV can survive Wolf’s attack intact.

Joshua Knobe & John Doris (forthcoming). Strawsonian Variations: Folk Morality and the Search for a Unified Theory. In John Doris & Et Al (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Moral Psychology.

Much of the agenda for contemporary philosophical work on moral responsibility was set by Strawson’s (1962) essay ‘Freedom and Resentment.’ In that essay, Strawson suggests that we focus not so much on metaphysical speculation as on understanding the actual practice of moral responsibility judgment. The hope is that we will be able to resolve the apparent paradoxes surrounding moral responsibility if we can just get a better sense of how this practice works and what role it serves in people’s lives…

Eddy Nahmias and Dylan Murray (forthcoming). Experimental Philosophy on Free Will: An Error Theory for Incompatibilist Intuitions. In New Waves in Philosophy of Action, ed. by J. Aguilar, A. Buckareff, and K. Frankish (Palgrave-Macmillan).

We discuss recent work in experimental philosophy on free will and moral responsibility and then present a new study. Our results suggest an error theory for incompatibilist intuitions. Most laypersons who take determinism to preclude free will and moral responsibility apparently do so because they mistakenly interpret determinism to involve fatalism or “bypassing” of agents’ relevant mental states. People who do not misunderstand determinism in this way tend to see it as compatible with free will and responsibility. We discuss why these results pose a challenge to incompatibilists.

Shaun Nichols (forthcoming). After incompatibilism: A naturalistic defense of the reactive attitudes. Philosophical Perspectives. Adina L. Roskies and Shaun Nichols (forthcoming). Bringing moral responsibility down to earth. Journal of Philosophy. Hagop Sarkissian, Amita Chatterjee, Felipe De Brigard, Joshua Knobe, Shaun Nichols, Smita Sirker (forthcoming). Is belief in free will a cultural universal? Mind & Language

Recent experimental research has revealed surprising patterns in people’s intuitions about free will and moral responsibility. One limitation of this research, however, is that it has been conducted exclusively on people from Western cultures. The present paper extends previous research by presenting a cross-cultural study examining intuitions about free will in subjects from the United States, Hong Kong, India and Colombia. The results revealed a striking degree of cross-cultural convergence. In all four cultural groups, the majority of participants said that…

Miscellaneous Papers

Ethical Behavior


Alessandro Lanteri (2008). (Why) Do Selfish People Self-Select in Economics? Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics. 1 (1): 1-23.

Several lab experiments helped establish the belief that economists are more selfish than non-economists. Since differences in behaviour between experiment participants who are students of economics and those who are not may be observed among junior students, it is nowadays widely believed that the origin of the greater selfishness is not the training they undergo, but self-selection. In other words, selfish people voluntarily enrol in economics. Yet, I argue that such explanation is unsatisfactory for several reasons. I also suggest alternative explanations for the observed differences, which have been so far unduly disregarded.


Eric Schwitzgebel and Joshua Rust. (2009). Do Ethicists and Political Philosophers Vote More Often Than Other Professors? Review of Philosophy and Psychology.

If philosophical moral reflection improves moral behavior, one might expect ethics professors to behave morally better than socially similar non-ethicists. Under the assumption that forms of political engagement such as voting have moral worth, we looked at the rate at which a sample of professional ethicists-and political philosophers as a subgroup of ethicists-voted in eight years’ worth of elections. We compared ethicists’ and political philosophers’ voting rates with the voting rates of three other groups: philosophers not specializing in ethics, political scientists, and a comparison group of professors specializing in neither philosophy nor political science. All groups voted at about the same rate, except for the political scientists, who voted about 10-15% more often. On the face of it, this finding conflicts with the expectation that ethicists will behave more responsibly than non-ethicists.

Not Yet Published

Eric Schwitzgebel and Joshua Rust (2010) Do Ethicists and Political Philosophers Vote More Often Than Other Professors? Review of Philosophy and Psychology

If philosophical moral reflection improves moral behavior, one might expect professional ethicists to behave morally better than socially similar non-ethicists. Under the assumption that forms of political engagement such as voting have moral worth, we looked at the rate at which a sample of professional ethicists – and political philosophers as a subgroup of ethicists – voted in eight years’ worth of elections. We compared ethicists’ and political philosophers’ voting rates with the voting rates of three other groups: philosophers not specializing in ethics, political scientists, and a comparison group of professors specializing in neither philosophy nor political science. All groups voted at about the same rate, except for the political scientists, who voted about 10-15% more often.

Eric Schwitzgebel (forthcoming). Do Ethicists Steal More Books? Philosophical Psychology.

If explicit reasoning about morality is morally useful, as Kohlberg and many ethicists have suggested, then one might expect ethics professors to behave particularly well. However, professional ethicists’ behavior has never been systematically studied. The present research examines the rates at which ethics books are missing from leading academic libraries, compared to other philosophy books. Study 1 found that contemporary (post-1959) ethics books were actually 25% more likely to be missing than non-ethics books. When the list was reduced to the relatively obscure books most likely to be borrowed exclusively by professional ethicists, ethics books were almost 50% more likely to be missing. Study 2 found that classic (pre-1900) ethics books were more than twice as likely to be missing as other classic philosophy books.

Eric Schwitzgebel and Joshua Rust (forthcoming) The Moral Behavior of Ethicists: Peer Opinion Mind.

If philosophical moral reflection tends to improve moral behaviour, one might expect that professional ethicists will, on average, behave morally better than non-ethicists. One potential source of insight into the moral behaviour of ethicists is philosophers’ opinions about ethicists’ behaviour. At the 2007 Pacific Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association, we used chocolate to entice 277 passers by to complete anonymous questionnaires without their knowing the topic of those questionnaires in advance. Version I of the questionnaire asked respondents to compare, in general, the moral behaviour of ethicists to that of philosophers not specializing in ethics and to non-academics of similar social background. Version II asked respondents similar questions about the moral behaviour of the ethics specialist in their department whose name comes next in alphabetical order after their own. Both versions asked control questions about specialists in metaphysics and epistemology. The majority of respondents expressed the view that ethicists do not, on average, behave better than non-ethicists. While ethicists tended to avoid saying that ethicists behave worse than non-ethicists, non-ethicists expressed that pessimistic view about as often as they expressed the view that ethicists behave better.

Experimental Philosophy of Science


Paul Griffiths, Edouard Machery and Stefan Linquist. (2009). The Vernacular Concept of Innateness. Mind & Language, 24, 605-630.

The proposal that the concept of innateness expresses a ‘folk biological’ theory of the ‘inner natures’ of organisms was tested by examining the response of biologically naive participants to a series of realistic scenarios concerning the development of birdsong. Our results explain the intuitive appeal of many of the existing philosophical analyses of the innateness concept. They simultaneously explain why all such analyses are subject to compelling counterexamples. We argue that this explanation undermines the appeal of these analyses, whether understood as analyses of the vernacular concept or as explications of that concept for the purposes of science.

Not Yet Published

Karola Stotz, Experimental Philosophy of Biology: Notes From the Field.

I use a recent ‘experimental philosophy’ study of the concept of the gene conducted by myself and collaborators to discuss the broader epistemological framework within which that research was conducted, and to reflect on the relationship between science, history and philosophy of science, and society.


Geoffrey Goodwin & John Darley (2010) The Perceived Objectivity of Ethical Beliefs: Psychological Findings and Implications for Public Policy Review of Philosophy and Psychology

Ethical disputes arise over differences in the content of the ethical beliefs people hold on either side of an issue. One person may believe that it is wrong to have an abortion for financial reasons, whereas another may believe it to be permissible. But, the magnitude and difficulty of such disputes may also depend on other properties of the ethical beliefs in question-in particular, how objective they are perceived to be. As a psychological property of moral belief, objectivity is relatively unexplored, and we argue that it merits more attention. We review recent psychological evidence which demonstrates that individuals differ in the extent to which they perceive ethical beliefs to be objective, that some ethical beliefs are perceived to be more objective than others, and that both these sources of variance are somewhat systematic. This evidence also shows that differences in perceptions of objectivity underpin quite different psychological reactions to ethical disagreement. Apart from reviewing this evidence, our aim in this paper is to draw attention to unanswered psychological questions about moral objectivity, and to discuss the relevance of moral objectivity to two issues of public policy.


Joshua Glasgow (2008) On the Methodology of the Race Debate: Conceptual Analysis and Racial Discourse, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, vol. 76, 333-358.

The traditional debate about whether race should be eliminated from public discourse is often conducted in significant part by examining whether race is real. Whether race is real, in turn, often comes down to whether racial discourse purports to refer to social or natural kinds, which means that analysis of racial concepts is crucial to the question of racial eliminativism. The dominate theory of conceptual analysis in the race debate is that racial concepts should be analyzed according to how those terms have been used by historical experts. It is argued here that this dominant theory is misguided, and that we should therefore analyze racial concepts according to how they are used in contemporary, folk discourse. In addition, and in contrast to the main rival to the dominant theory, I argue that we should analyze folk racial discourse not from the armchair, but instead through empirical research.

Joshua Glasgow, Julie Shulman, & Enrique Covarrubias (2009) The Ordinary Conception of Race in the United States and Its Relation to Racial Attitudes: A New Approach, Journal of Cognition and Culture, vol. 9, 15-38.

Many hold that ordinary race-thinking in the USA is committed to the ‘one-drop rule’, that race is ordinarily represented in terms of essences, and that race is ordinarily represented as a biological (phenotype- and/or ancestry-based, non-social) kind. This study investigated the extent to which ordinary race-thinking subscribes to these commitments. It also investigated the relationship between different conceptions of race and racial attitudes. Participants included 449 USA adults who completed an Internet survey. Unlike previous research, conceptions of race were assessed using concrete vignettes. Results indicate widespread rejection of the one-drop rule, as well as the use of a complex combination of ancestral, phenotypic, and social (and, therefore, non-essentialist) criteria for racial classification. No relationship was found between racial attitudes and essentialism, the one-drop rule, or social race-thinking; however, ancestry-based and phenotype-based classification criteria were associated with racial attitudes. These results suggest a complicated relationship between conceptions of race and racial attitudes.

Reasoning Under Uncertainty


Niki Pfeifer, Gernot D. Kleiter (2005). Coherence and nonmonotonicity in human reasoning. Synthese, 146(1-2), 93-109.

Nonmonotonic reasoning is often claimed to mimic human common sense reasoning. Only a few studies, though, have investigated this claim empirically. We report four experiments which investigate three rules of SYSTEMP, namely the AND, the LEFT LOGICAL EQUIVALENCE, and the OR rule. The actual inferences of the subjects are compared with the coherent normative upper and lower probability bounds derived from a non-infinitesimal probability semantics of SYSTEM P. We found a relatively good agreement of human reasoning and principles of nonmonotonic reasoning. Contrary to the results reported in the ‘heuristics and biases’ tradition, the subjects committed relatively few upper bound violations (conjunction fallacies).


Niki Pfeifer, Gernot D. Kleiter (2007). Human reasoning with imprecise probabilities: Modus ponens and Denying the antecedent. In Proceedings of the 5th International Symposium on Imprecise Probability: Theories and Applications (pp. 347-356). Prague, CZ.  


Niki Pfeifer, Gernot D. Kleiter (2009). Framing human inference by coherence based probability logic. Journal of Applied Logic, 7(2), 206-217.

We take coherence based probability logic as the basic reference theory to model human deductive reasoning. The conditional and probabilistic argument forms are explored. We give a brief overview of recent developments of combining logic and probability in psychology. A study on conditional inferences illustrates our approach. First steps towards a process model of conditional inferences conclude the paper.



Edward Cokely and Adam Feltz. (2009). Adaptive variation in judgment and philosophical intuition. Consciousness and Cognition, 18, 355-357.

Our theoretical understanding individual differences can be used as a tool to test and refine theory. Individual differences are useful because judgments, including philosophically relevant intuitions, are the predictable products of the fit between adaptive psychological mechanisms (e.g., heuristics, traits, skills, capacities) and task constraints. As an illustration of this method and its potential implications, our target article used a canonical, representative, and affectively charged judgment task to reveal a relationship between the heritable personality trait extraversion and compatabilist judgments. In the current comment we further clarify major theoretical implications of these data and outline potential opportunities and obstacles for this methodology. Discussion focuses on (1) the need for theoretically grounded a priori predictions; (2) the use of precise process level data and theory; (3) the possibility of convergent validity as personality is known to predict life experiences and outcomes; and (4) the fundamentally adaptive nature of cognition.


Matthew Weber & Daniel Osherson (2010) Similarity and Induction. Review of Philosophy and Psychology

We advance a theory of inductive reasoning based on similarity, and test it on arguments involving mammal categories. To measure similarity, we quanti?ed the overlap of neural activation in left Brodmann area 19 and the left ventral temporal cortex in response to pictures of diff erent categories; the choice of of these regions is motivated by previous literature. The theory was tested against probability judgments for 40 arguments generated from 9 mammal categories and a common predicate. The results are interpreted in the context of Hume’s thesis relating similarity to inductive inference.

Not Yet Published

Felipe De Brigard (forthcoming). If you like it, does it matter if it’s real? Philosophical Psychology.

By and large, people have accepted Nozick’s line as a good argument against psychological hedonism. What about his explanation? He suggested that people may be reluctant to plug in because they prefer to be in contact with reality, as though reality per se-or real experiences, if you want-have some value that virtual experiences don’t. Well, in order to figure out whether people prefer a real life over a virtual life, I conducted a study in which I asked participants to imagine that they were already in a virtual reality machine, in a sort of Matrix, and then I asked them whether they would be willing to unplug and go back to reality, or if they rather wanted to remain connected. The results were quite interesting: in general (although see the paper) people preferred to remain connected. In my paper, I suggest a psychological model derived from what behavioral economists call “the status quo bias” in order to account for these results.

Jonathan Cohen & Shaun Nichols. (in press) Colors, Color Relationalism, and The Deliverances of Introspection. Analysis. Christopher Freiman and Shaun Nichols. (forthcoming). Is Desert in the Details? Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. Jonathan Livengood, Justin Sytsma, Adam Feltz, Richard Scheines and Edouard Machery. (forthcoming). Philosophical Temperament. Philosophical Psychology.

Many philosophers have worried about what philosophy is. Often they have looked for answers by considering what it is that philosophers do. Given the diversity of topics and methods found in philosophy, however, we propose a different approach. In this article we consider the philosophical temperament, asking an alternative question: What are philosophers like? Our answer is that one important aspect of the philosophical temperament is that philosophers are especially reflective: They are less likely than their peers to embrace what seems obvious without questioning it. This claim is supported by a study of more than 4,000 philosophers and non-philosophers, the results of which indicate that even when we control for overall education level, philosophers tend to be significantly more reflective than their peers. We then illustrate this tendency by considering what we know about the philosophizing of a few prominent philosophers. Recognizing this aspect of the philosophical temperament, it is natural to wonder how philosophers came to be this way: Does philosophical training teach reflectivity or do more reflective people tend to gravitate to philosophy? We consider the limitations of our data with respect to this question and suggest that a longitudinal study be conducted.

Shaun Nichols and Michael Bruno (forthcoming). Intuitions about Personal Identity: An Empirical Study. Philosophical Psychology, Special Issue on Experimental Philosophy.

Williams (1970) argues that our intuitions about personal identity vary depending on how a given thought experiment is framed. Some frames lead us to think that persistence of self requires persistence of one’s psychological characteristics; other frames lead us to think that the self persists even after the loss of one’s distinctive psychological characteristics. The current paper takes an empirical approach to these issues. We find that framing does affect whether or not people judge that persistence of psychological characteristics is required for persistence of self. This difference is not explained by whether the case is framed in first or third person. By contrast, open-ended, abstract questions about what is required for survival tend to elicit responses that appeal to the importance of psychological characteristics. This emphasis on psychological characteristics is largely preserved even when participants are exposed to a concrete case that yields conflicting intuitions over whether memory must be preserved in order for a person is to persist. Insofar as our philosophical theory of personal identity should be based on our intuitions, the results provide some support for the view that psychological characteristics really are critical for persistence of self.

Critiques of Experimental Philosophy


Ernest Sosa. (2006). Experimental Philosophy and Philosophical Intuition. Philosophical Studies. 132:99-107.

The topic is experimental philosophy as a naturalistic movement, and its bearing on the value of intuitions in philosophy. This paper explores first how the movement might bear on philosophy more generally, and how it might amount to something novel and promising. Then it turns to one accomplishment repeatedly claimed for it already: namely, the discrediting of armchair intuitions as used in philosophy.


Antti Kauppinen. (2007). The Rise and Fall of Experimental Philosophy. Philosophical Explorations. 10: 95-118.

In disputes about conceptual analysis, each side typically appeals to pre-theoretical ‘intuitions’ about particular cases. Recently, many naturalistically oriented philosophers have suggested that these appeals should be understood as empirical hypotheses about what people would say when presented with descriptions of situations, and have consequently conducted surveys on non-specialists. I argue that this philosophical research programme, a key branch of what is known as ‘experimental philosophy’, rests on mistaken assumptions about the relation between people’s concepts and their linguistic behaviour…

Kirk Ludwig. (2007). The Epistemology of Thought Experiments: First vs. Third Person Approaches. Midwest Studies in Philosophy. 31:128-159.  


S. Matthew Liao. (2008). A Defense of Intuitions. Philosophical Studies 140 (2):247-262.

Radical experimentalists argue that we should give up using intuitions as evidence in philosophy. In this paper, I first argue that the studies presented by the radical experimentalists in fact suggest that some intuitions are reliable. I next consider and reject a different way of handling the radical experimentalists’ challenge, what I call the Argument from Robust Intuitions. I then propose a way of understanding why some intuitions can be unreliable and how intuitions can conflict, and I argue that on…


M.Deutsch. (2009). Experimental Philosophy and the Theory of Reference. Mind and Language 24 (4):445-466.

It is argued on a variety of grounds that recent results in ‘experimental philosophy of language’, which appear to show that there are significant cross-cultural differences in intuitions about the reference of proper names, do not pose a threat to a more traditional mode of philosophizing about reference. Some of these same grounds justify a complaint about experimental philosophy as a whole.

Not Yet Published

Simon Cullen. (forthcoming). Survey-Driven Romanticism. European Review of Philosophy, 9

Despite well-established results in survey methodology, many experimental philosophers have not asked whether and in what way conclusions about ‘folk intuitions’ follow from people’s responses to their surveys. Rather, they appear to have proceeded on the assumption that intuitions can be simply read off from survey responses. Survey research, however, is fraught with difficulties. I review some of the relevant literature-particularly focusing on the conversational pragmatic aspects of survey research-and consider its application to common experimental philosophy surveys. I argue for two claims. First, that experimental philosophers’ survey methodology leaves the facts about folk intuitions massively underdetermined; and second, that what has been regarded as evidence for the instability of philosophical intuitions is, at least in some cases, better accounted for in terms of subjects’ reactions to subtle pragmatic cues contained in the surveys. To this effect I present new evidence from year- long survey study.