Experimental Philosophy (X-Phi) is a relatively new 21st-century approach. The approach is less traditional and more in common with modern methods used by the social sciences. Traditionally, philosophers would spend their leisure gathering data and performing experiments. Philosophers for over two thousand years have been comfortable performing thought experiments as they reflect their way to conclusions. The practice of philosophy has been considered to develop an open mind and raise awareness of personal bias and subjectivity. This awareness of one’s own subjectivity inclines people with the ability to think objectively and consider the ontology of a substance. It is no surprise that with increased awareness and ability, and the rise of scientific efficiency, philosophers began to consider applying social science methods to the traditional practice of philosophy.
From Experimental Philosophy another branch developed known as Experimental Moral Philosophy (XM-Phi). Similar to X-Phi, XM-Phi gathers data using experimental methods and studies behaviors, intuition, and moral judgments by way of empiricism. This in no way reduces the practice of cognitive reasoning to derive moral conclusions, but it appears to have expanded how people arrive at moral decisions in depth as researching the neurological factor. Some philosophers have come to consider morality being completely intuitive, which became another system known as Ethical Intuitionism. It leads to the belief that perhaps all moral intuition is self-evident and without an objective or ontological factor.
Neuroscience has become an asset to X-Phi. It has become a means of answering questions about what the mind is, consciousness, and free will. Over three hundred years ago, Rene Descartes broke metaphysical ground with his mind and body problem and his philosophy of Cogito Ego Sum. Undoubtedly, many were influenced and debating whether people merely existed as an immaterial thinking being, and whether or not the mind can exist independently from the body. The philosophy has influenced and depicted in modern movies such as The Matrix and Robocop. Conceivably, it may no longer be a question whether the mind itself exists apart from the body. Neuroscience reveals that, “brain mechanisms explain learning, decision making, self-deception . . . the mind-body problem is not a single problem; it is the vast research program of cognitive neuroscience,” (Churchland).
Although the innovation of modern science adding veracity to one of histories greatest philosophical developments; it is not the first time a similar occurrence has been revealed. Over two thousand years ago, Thales of Miletus believed all mass floated on water and earthquakes were the result of rough ocean waves crashing against the earth. His theory may have seemed rational at the time, but later proved to be wrong with the invention of Seismology. In this instance, we see again in history how science has brought greater light to a grey area of philosophical thought.
The studies of Experimental Philosophy in relation to moral relativism and objectivism is interesting but perhaps needs to be further developed. The studies are thought-provoking for some who may be grounded in their objective reasoning. Experimental Philosopher Joshua Knobe claims that “studies seem to imply that the more openminded one is, the more possible one may become inclined to moral relativism. The more people have a capacity to truly engage with other perspectives, the more they seem to turn toward moral relativism,” But do the studies reveal the statistical conclusion to be objectively true? It seems perhaps there may be a logical argument against this theory. It may be true that a particular age bracket and particular personality traits favor moral relativism over moral objectivism, but the reasons why they may be more “openminded” are relative reasons within themselves.
Modern science has evolved into a credible system for determining the truth of a matter. Philosophy, in general, has been a system with the same objective before any sciences became what they currently are. Modern Philosophy like science has evolved through time and adopted scientific methods and become known as Experimental Philosophy. The system is not perfect, but neither is science. Nevertheless, history is revealing how philosophy and scientific data can bring clarity in a world so old, yet still diligently discovering itself.
Patricia Smith. “The Impact of Neuroscience on Philosophy.” Neuron 60.3 (2008): Churchland
409-11. ProQuest. Web. 21 June 2019.
Knobe, Joshua. Is Morality Relative Depends on Your Personality? Forum Relativism. 2011.