Philosophers are burning their armchairs and heading for the lab as part of a new movement called, appropriately enough, "experimental philosophy." Commentator Tania Lombrozo wonders why this small subfield of philosophy has captured the popular...
To illustrate, consider one of the most celebrated findings from experimental philosophy: the "side-effect effect" or Knobe effect, named after experimental philosophy icon , who first documented the phenomenon. In his , Knobe (a philosopher) conducted a psychology experiment in which he presented participants with the following vignette:
The vice-president of a company went to the chairman of the board and said, 'We are thinking of starting a new program. It will help us increase profits, but it will also harm the environment.'
The chairman of the board answered, 'I don't care at all about harming the environment. I just want to make as much profit as I can. Let's start the new program.'
They started the new program. Sure enough, the environment was harmed.
The key question was this: did the chairman harm the environment intentionally? Eighty-two percent of participants responded 'yes.'
In a different version of the vignette, a different group of participants read the same text, but with "harm" replaced with "help." So the proposed program had the side effect of helping the environment, but the chairman said that he "didn't care at all" about helping the environment and went ahead with the plan for greater profit. Now participants were asked whether the chairman helped the environment intentionally, and only 23 percent responded "yes." (If that went by a little fast, check out this reenactment of the two cases.)