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(Philosophical) Disagreements are not Rational

8 Post author: gwern 02 June 2011 12:10AM

This is a combination news-announcement and begging for someone with academic subscriptions to maybe jailbreak a PDF for us.

"Persistent bias in expert judgments about free will and moral responsibility: A test of the expertise defense" (emphasis added):

"Many philosophers appeal to intuitions to support some philosophical views. However, there is reason to be concerned about this practice as scientific evidence has documented systematic bias in philosophically relevant intuitions as a function of seemingly irrelevant features (e.g., personality). One popular defense used to insulate philosophers from these concerns holds that philosophical expertise eliminates the influence of these extraneous factors. Here, we test this assumption. We present data suggesting that verifiable philosophical expertise in the free will debate—as measured by a reliable and validated test of expert knowledge—does not eliminate the influence of one important extraneous feature (i.e., the heritable personality trait extraversion) on judgments concerning freedom and moral responsibility. These results suggest that, in at least some important cases, the expertise defense fails. Implications for the practice of philosophy, experimental philosophy, and applied ethics are discussed."

Linked from http://experimentalphilosophy.typepad.com/experimental_philosophy/2011/06/failure-of-the-expertise-defense-persistent-bias-in-expert-intuitions-.html which elaborates:

"For example, our research suggests that heritable personality traits predict bias in some fundamental philosophically relevant intuitions (Feltz & Cokely 2008, 2009; Cokely & Feltz, 2009; Feltz, Perez, & Harris, in press; Feltz, Harris, & Perez, 2010). In response to these findings, “philosophical expertise” has been used to shield some parts of standard philosophical practice from the worries presented by experimental philosophers (e.g., Ludwig, 2007; Kauppinen 2007; Horvarth, 2010; Sosa, 2010; Williamson, 2007, 2011). One important part of the “Expertise Defense” is that philosophers are assumed to be relevantly different from the folk (e.g., as a result of their years of training) and consequently philosophers' intuitions shouldn’t display the same (or similar) biases.

But more recently, there have been serious concerns raised by experimental philosophers about the Expertise Defense. Some have used indirect strategies suggesting that philosophical expertise is unlike expertise in areas known to result in the relevant differences (e.g., in chess) (Weinberg, Gonnerman, Buckner, & Alexander, 2010 see related discussion here). Others have opted for direct strategies showing that for many important everyday behaviors (e.g., voting, returning library books, showing common courtesy) philosophers often display the same (or similar) biases as the folk (Schwitzgebel 2009; Schwitzgebel & Rust, 2010, 2009; Schwitzgebel & Cushman, in press). In a new paper (Schulz, Cokely, & Feltz, in press), we also adopt the direct strategy and present the first evidence that personality predicts persistent bias in verifiable expert intuitions about free will and moral responsibility. These results suggest that, in at least some important fundamental philosophical debates, the Expertise Defense fails"

Comments (6)

Comment author: Will_Sawin 02 June 2011 01:57:13AM 2 points [-]

It's not clear why this reflects poorly on philosophers.

Like, I'm sure you could find the same thing with controversial scientific questions. Maybe not to the same magnitude.

Suppose you didn't find it. "Well, yes, we disagree about a number of seemingly-simple topics, but these disagreements aren't correlated to our personality, so we really have everything figured out, it's just that .... uh .... um "

Comment author: torekp 04 June 2011 03:10:41AM 1 point [-]

Right. The thread title is at best an overstatement of the experimental finding. Some significant group of philosophers is influenced by extroversion/introversion. The rest might not be.

Comment author: jhuffman 02 June 2011 03:51:33PM 4 points [-]

The problem is in philosophy they attempt to use intuitions as evidence. If their "philosophically informed intuitions" are still vulnerable to biases and errors then arguments based on those intuitions are (even more) suspect. I doubt most LW readers found the intuition evidence argument compelling to begin with.

Comment author: Will_Sawin 02 June 2011 04:39:18PM 0 points [-]

Although we do use intuitions as evidence, just as evidence about something else. For instance, evidence about what algorithms our minds use.

Comment author: outlier 02 June 2011 09:09:19AM 2 points [-]

I suspect it's the same for scientists for controversial topics. But discussing controversial topics is not science. Coming up with a way to verify a claim is. In general personality must be correlated with opinion (or at least that's my intuition :)).

Comment author: satt 02 June 2011 01:06:17AM 8 points [-]

This is a combination news-announcement and begging for someone with academic subscriptions to maybe jailbreak a PDF for us.

Googling the paper's title took me to this list of publications which offers this download link for the paper.