Experimental Philosophy & Pedagogy

[audio: http://teachingproject.blogs.wm.edu/files/2010/03/timpe_experimental_philosophy.mp3]

Hallway Conversations

As part of the University Teaching Project, the Charles Center provides grants to departments to bring faculty from other universities to W&M discuss their teaching in a way that is grounded in the pedagogical issues of the particular discipline.

Professor Kevin Timpe, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Northwest Nazarene University, presented the first of these programs. During his talk he discussed “Experimental Philosophy” and its usefulness in the classroom.

We join Professor Timpe and W&M faculty member Gene Roche as they discuss the general ideas behind Experimental Philosophy and how it translates in the undergraduate classroom.

Highlights of the Podcast

What is “Experimental Philosophy”?

“Experimental Philosophy” uses research methods to explore philosophical questions. For instance, much of experimental philosophy explores the boundaries of philosophically important concepts – concepts like responsibility, morality, and knowledge – by conducting survey experiments on ordinary people’s intuitions. Experimental philosophers also try to uncover the psychological processes that underlie everyday judgments about such philosophically charged notions. This kind of research is provocative in part because many philosophers regard the discipline as largely an a priori or “armchair” endeavor, one that is defined precisely by its contrast with empirical work. So while experimental philosophy addresses specific, empirical components of philosophical questions, it simultaneously raises much more general questions about proper philosophical methodology.

How might the principles of Experimental Philosophy be of use to teachers across disciplines?

The survey work that some Experimental Philosophers conduct translates well to the classroom. Surveying your class can help students see changes in their thinking over time and depending the way you craft your activity, can allow for interesting twists in discussions. For example, what happens if you give a written description of a situation to your students, but you describe it one way to part of the class, and another to the rest? How do your students react when they find out the discrepancy and what can they learn from this?


Thomas Nadelhoffer and Eddie Nahmias, “Polling as Pedagogy” in Teaching Philosophy , March 2008.

In Socrates’ Wake (A blog about teaching philosophy)

Experimental Philosophy may be the only disciplinary focus with its own anthem on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tt5Kxv8eCTA

Running Time: 25:36

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