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Experimental philosophy and Folk-psychology

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on April 6, 2008 at 9:39:29 pm

Experimental philosophy and Folk-psychology



Experimental Philosophy is a process of philosophical deliberation based on experimental results. Experiments in folk-psychology are set up to produce results about how people interpret the actions of fellow human beings. The nature of the experiments is to present subjects with specific scenarios in which a human being is performing an action, and the interpretations and responses of the subjects are taken as the results of the experiment. Philosophers then examine the results of such experiments and hypothesize as to what the results tell us about the way we interpret each other.

Experimental philosophy is done as an alternative to deriving theory out of mere intuitions. With experimental philosophy, philosophers develop their theories around the results produced by an experiment.



In the field of folk-psychology, experimental philosophy serves as an additional tool along with neuro-physiology and evolutionary biology to help us better understand the function, structure, and content of folk-psychology in human beings.An example of the application of experimental philosophy in folk-psychology is the debate whether moral considerations play a role in folk-psychology. Experiments around this debate involve presenting subjects with specific cases about a person’s actions, and then collecting the subjects’ interpretations of the case as results. The results are later examined by philosophers who give reasons as to how the results show whether moral considerations play a role in folk-psychology or not.


An example of a folk-psychological experiment is as follows. Subjects are asked to interpret and explain the intentions of a man who reaches for a cigarette. The responses the subjects give for this case are taken as the results of the experiment. A possible response might be, “The man is reaching for a cigarette to throw it in the garbage.”


The ways in which people interpret others differ, and theories in experimental philosophy of folk-psychology are given merit based on their persuasiveness and plausibility.






  • Knobe, J. (2007). Folk Psychology: Science and Morals. In D. Hutto & M. Ratcliffe (Eds.), Folk Psychology Re-Assessed (pp. 157-173). Dordrecht: Springer.


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