Saturday, April 10, 2010

Weinberg on Intuitions/Methodology at the APA

At the Pacific APA, there was a pretty interesting Symposium on the role of intuitions in philosophy. The three presenters were George Bealer (offering a defense of the use of intuitions), Jonathan Weinberg (offering a criticism of the use of intuitions), and Brian Talbot (offering a moderate, empirically-based defense of the use of some intuitions).

I've been wanting to write up a brief post on Weinberg's talk. The talk contained an argument along the following lines:
Two sorts of argument widely employed in philosophy are (a) Compact Deductive Arguments, and (b) Inference to the Best Explanation arguments (broadly construed). Weinberg then argued that (a) is amenable to traditional armchair methodology, while (b) requires revising philosophical methodology in the manner articulated/defended/preferred by experimental philosophers. Weinberg concluded that this makes experimental philosophy a necessary/appropriate/inevitable next stage of philosophy.

During the Q&A, I asked why the methodological revision called for by this situation was the adoption of empirical methods, rather than an increased reliance/use of Compact Deductive Arguments (and reduction in the use of IBE arguments). In reply, Weinberg i) acknowledged that his talk hadn't established the appropriateness of using IBE, and ii) indicated that he would be curious to know what philosophy would look like if my proposed methodological revision occurred.

I don't mean to be taking a stand on whether to abandon IBE arguments, adopt such-and-such experimental methods, or challenge Weinberg's position that using IBE arguments requires the adoption of such-and-such experimental methods. All I wanted to point out is that one could have substantively agreed with almost everything Weinberg sought to establish, and not have felt much pressure at all to abandon the armchair.


Jonathan said...

Hi Lewis! It was great meeting you at the APA, and thank you again for your excellent question. As is so often the case in philosophy, it's easier to get folks to agree on a conditional or a disjunction than to get them to agree about whether to MP/MT, or as to which disjuncts might be true or false. (This is a general feature of CoDAs, btw!) I'm pretty happy with the result, in this case -- I think that our inferential practices need at least as much metaphilosophical attention right now as our premise-securing practices, and someone trying to pursue the line you suggested would have to be putting out exactly that sort of attention. They'll want to take careful stock of just what the costs may be to staying in the armchair (i.e., in giving up IBE and similar sorts of arguments). But, hey, if the benefits are worth the costs, then that'd be the right decision to make.

Lewis Powell said...

Jonathan, it was great to meet you at the APA as well, and the symposium on intuitions was a really informative and interesting session.

This actually brings out one of the virtues of Compact Deductive Arguments that I don't remember you mentioning (though I may be wrong): the direction of inference is largely incidental (in the inter-subjective case, at least).