URL to an article in Scientific American
While not strictly science fiction (what is strictly science fiction?) this
has some interesting ideas.
First couple of paragraphs
Some philosophers today are doing more than thinking deeply. They are also
conducting scientific experiments relating to the nature of free will and
of good and evil
By _Joshua Knobe_ (http://www.scientificamerican.com/author.cfm?id=1587)
| November 2, 2011
* 1 _2_ (http://www.scientificamerican.com/
* The classic image of the philosopher pictures an ethereal type who
is lost in thought and detached from the pedestrian concerns of everyday
* A new breed of thinker is now bringing to bear the cognitive
sciences to probe why people perceive the world in the particular way that they
* The tenets of experimental philosophy can elucidate whether free
will really exists and whether morality is just a relative construct.
* _Overview The Side Effect Effect: Test How Morality Affects Your
World View _
* _Overview Are You a Moral Relativist? Take This Test to Find Out _
Think of the discipline of philosophy, and a certain sort of image springs
to mind. Perhaps you visualize a person sitting comfortably in an armchair,
lost in thought, perusing a few old books. Maybe you imagine a field that
is scholarly, abstruse by nature and untethered to any grounding in real
science. At any rate, you probably do not think of people going out and
Yet oddly enough, a cadre of young philosophers have begun doing just that.
These “experimental philosophers” argue that inquiry into the most
profound questions of philosophy can be informed by actual investigations into
why people think and feel as they do. To make progress on these questions,
they use all the methods of contemporary cognitive science. They conduct
experiments, team up with psychologists and publish in journals that had
previously been reserved primarily for scientists. The result has been something
of a revolution. Although the movement began only a few years ago, it has
already spawned hundreds of papers, a steady stream of surprising results
and some very strong opinions on every side.
All of this might at first seem deeply peculiar—almost as though
philosophers have stopped doing real philosophy and started switching over to
something else entirely. Yet perhaps this approach isn’t actually quite as odd as
it might initially appear. In a typical research program, scientists work
with certain instruments (telescopes in astronomy, microscopes in biology,
and so on). Usually they don’t think much about the instruments themselves;
they simply use them to get at some independently existing reality. Still,
now and then researchers get puzzled or confused by the information coming
from their instruments. Maybe this information seems wildly implausible, or
goes against established bodies of theory, or is internally contradictory.
In such cases, it often proves helpful to turn away from the reality one
is primarily trying to study and to look in detail at the instruments
themselves. One might even find that the best way to resolve a question in
astronomy is to start engaging in a scientific study of telescopes.
Now, philosophers do not make much use of telescopes or microscopes. We
rely almost entirely on one particular instrument: the human mind, which
produces the ideas that drive our profession. Still, the same basic principle
applies. Typically we do not worry too much about the workings of our own
minds and simply use them to get at an independent reality. Sometimes this
approach fails, though. Sometimes our mind seems to pull us in two directions,
almost as if two different voices within us are giving opposite answers to
the same question. In situations like these, it can be helpful to explore
the mind itself and to look scientifically at the sources of our own and
others’ philosophical intuitions.
This is where experimental philosophy comes in. The key idea is that if we
can get a better understanding of the psychology behind philosophical
intuitions, we can have a better sense of which intuitions are worthy of our
trust and which we should dismiss as unreliable or misleading.
This work, we hope, will give us a better understanding of people’s beliefs
about the great philosophical issues. How is it that individuals come to
believe in free will? Do they see their own moral claims as objective
truths? The findings could ultimately have practical implications in
jurisprudence, ethics and other fields.
Free Will, Experimental-Style
Imagine witnessing a murder. As you look at the scene in front of you, it
may initially seem obvious that the murderer is morally responsible for
what he has done and absolutely deserving of punishment. Now suppose you pause
to think the matter over philosophically. The murderer’s action was
presumably caused by certain mental states he had, and these mental states were
probably caused by yet earlier events ... so that ultimately his act might
just be the final step in a chain that could be traced back to certain facts
about his genes and environment. Yet if that sequence shaped him, can he
ever really be morally responsible for the things he has done? Some
philosophers say yes, others say no, and the debate between these two positions has
gone back and forth endlessly. This is the age-old problem of free will."
(Just a pawn on the great chessboard of life)
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