Saving the armchair by experiment: what works in economics doesn’t work in philosophy

Boudewijn de Bruin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Financial incentives, learning (feedback and repetition), group consultation, and increased experimental control are among the experimental techniques economists have successfully used to deflect the behavioral challenge posed by research conducted by such scholars as Tversky and Kahneman. These techniques save the economic armchair to the extent that they align laypeople judgments with economic theory by increasing cognitive effort and reflection in experimental subjects. It is natural to hypothesize that a similar strategy might work to address the experimental or restrictionist challenge to armchair philosophy. To test this hypothesis, a randomized controlled experiment was carried out (for incentives and learning), as well as two lab experiments (for group consultation, and for experimental control). Three types of knowledge attribution tasks were used (Gettier cases, false belief cases, and cases in which there is knowledge on the consensus/orthodox understanding). No support for the hypothesis was found. The paper describes the close similarities between the economist’s response to the behavioral challenge, and the expertise defense against the experimental challenge, and presents the experiments, results, and an array of robustness checks. The upshot is that these results make the experimental challenge all the more forceful.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPhilosophical Studies
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Keywords

  • Experimental control
  • Experimental philosophy
  • Expertise defense
  • Gettier
  • Group consultation
  • Incentives
  • Knowledge and belief
  • Learning
  • Randomized controlled trial (RCT)

Cite this