Experimental Philosophy

Ruwen Ogien’s book — Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants –lays out a number of approaches to philosophy. Much of the text involves descriptions of classic problems put to normal people which are often challenging by their nature. The most famous probably being trolley problems. These investigate what people think about action and inaction in moral choice. Do you take action you know will kill one person but save more?

I wasn’t aware of just how many of these types of problems there are knocking around. It seems you can illustrate any number of major decisions in the world with one of these little vignettes. Many are very interesting by themselves and it is fun to realize how creative people can be. Experimental Philosophy clearly has a lot going on and can help illustrate people’s moral intuitions. Obviously there is room to discuss how useful these are. (Our moral intuitions aren’t necessarily how people ‘should’ think). Ogien offers a list of intuitions and suggests that experiments show that “… people do not have the intuitions that philosophers attribute to them” (Ogien, 2015, page 155).

There is clearly a cross over between decision making and experimental philosophy and Ogien gives his views on emotions. Suggesting that “The emotions would not necessarily be causes of error. They could be sources of knowledge.” (Ogien, 2015, page 153).

A lot of what he suggests has been found is that people can change quite a lot with relatively minor things, e.g., how momentarily happy they are. Indeed, the sort of thing that might be caused by the smell of a warm croissant. This, for him (and me) casts doubt on a lot of discussions of character. “…we must indeed acknowledge that the ‘scientific” or unscientific” attribution of a “character” or of a “personality” depends upon dubious inferences. It resembles the expression of prejudices more than a factual observation”. (Ogien, 2015, page 125).

I’m going to see if I can use some of these vignettes in a study.

Read: Ruwen Ogien (20115) Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants: An Introduction to Ethics (Columbia University press)