Famous Violinists, Intuitions, and Experimental Philosophy

Over at the Experimental Philosophy blog, Jeanine Weekes Schroer and Alexandra Bradner have just posted the results of (what they believe is) the first experimental philosophy study on Thomson’s famous violinist case. They would love some feedback from feminist philosophers. In their study they use care ethics and set out to see if it makes a difference to one’s intuitions about the morality of disconnecting if the sick, needy person connected to you is either a) a famous violinist you don’t know or b)a half sibling. They also alternate the scenarios between the first and third person. You can read their post here and find out their results. What do you think of experimental philosophy as a resource for feminist work in ethics?

3 thoughts on “Famous Violinists, Intuitions, and Experimental Philosophy

  1. The average person’s intuition in Victorian England was that women were the weaker sex. That didn’t make them right. I don’t see how pretending to be a scientist makes one a better philosopher.

  2. I think that the significance is that JJT, in this particular example, uses an appeal to intuition to make her argument, but if it is not the case that all, or even most, people have that intuition, then does that affect the quality of the argument? I think that this is additionally interesting given the discussions that have been going on about tacit sexism/racism/classism in philosophy as it is enforced through the use of intuitions that “everyone” is supposed to share. If you feel excluded as a result of not sharing in an intuition that seems obvious to everyone else, then is that a problem with the quality of your thinking?

    If it’s not the case that most people feel that they have no moral obligation to the famous violinist, and that most people feel they would have more of a moral obligation to a related person than a non-related person, then I think that should gain some traction in the evaluation of this particular argument. The pumps don’t work if you don’t agree with the inuitition. The argument itself might still be valid analytically, but that is separate from its evaluation in terms of soundness if you cannot endorse an intuition that serves as an integral premise.

    So *that* many people had the intuition that women are the weaker sex in Victorian England does not make them right; that many people have the intuition that we have more of a moral obligation to closely related people than to strangers does not make *them* right either. But if you found an argument that a behaviour is morally acceptable by starting with a premise that it is so since most people find a related behaviour to be unacceptable, then it is an entirely worthwhile objection to point out that emprically, most people do not find that behaviour to be unacceptable. The argument may be salvageable but not via intuition pump.

  3. Carl’s point can be extended. The average philosopher’s intuition from the past was probably also that women were the weaker sex. Examples of philosophers making outrageous sexist and racist claims are legendary. But this doesn’t make it right. What follows from this? That philosophers today shouldn’t use intuitions? I doubt it. Similarly, the fact that the average person’s intuitions in the past has been wrong does not show that such intuitions are irrelevant for philosophical theorizing today. In fact, the fallibility, malleability and possible bias in intuitions requires that we develop a more scientific approach to collecting and analyzing intuitions. This is where experimental philosophy comes in.

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