EXTRA (Experimental Philosophy and the Method of Cases: Theoretical Foundations, Responses, and Alternatives) is an Emmy Noether Independent Junior Research Group at Ruhr University Bochum’s Institute for Philosophy II, directed by Jun.-Prof. Dr. Joachim Horvath, and funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG).
The method of cases is widely regarded as one of the oldest and most central philosophical methods, with clear instances already recognizable in Plato’s early dialogues. Although there is no uncontroversial characterization of this method, the basic idea can be put as follows: intuitive verdicts about particular cases, typically in the form of thought experiments, often play a decisive role in supporting or undermining philosophical theories, depending on how well those theories accommodate the intuitive verdicts in question. Especially in 20th century analytic philosophy, the method of cases has enjoyed a significant upsurge, most notably in areas like epistemology, ethics, metaphysics, or the philosophy of mind. Despite its venerable age and centrality in philosophy, the method of cases has attracted severe criticism in recent decades, up to the point where some philosophers even doubt that it can be sustained at all. One philosophical movement that was pivotal for this turn of the tide is experimental philosophy, which started its life in the early 2000s by testing intuitive verdicts about famous philosophical cases in psychological experiments. This experimental work gave rise to surprising findings that suggest that intuitions about cases vary with philosophically irrelevant factors, such as order of presentation or cultural background. Since these findings are difficult to reconcile with the trustworthiness of intuitive verdicts about cases, some experimental philosophers have argued that the method of cases should be restricted or even abandoned. As a result of these developments, the method of cases has slipped into a substantial metaphilosophical crisis, not least because its theoretical foundations have turned out to be problematically unclear. One key motivation for the proposed project is thus to provide a unified account of the theoretical foundations of the method of cases. Such an account will also be useful for advancing the unresolved debate about how to respond to the experimentalist challenge to the method of cases, which is another key motivation for the project. A special focus will be on the experimental investigation of central metaphilosophical assumptions in this debate, such as the assumption of intuitive expertise in philosophy (a part of the project that builds on a successful and ongoing interdisciplinary research cooperation). Finally, it also seems vital to develop methodological alternatives to the method of cases, given that it is an open question whether this method can be defended as it stands. The search for viable alternatives to the method of cases is thus another key motivation for the proposed project. The project will therefore be organized around four core themes: (1) the Theoretical Foundations of the method of cases, (2) the most promising Responses to the experimentalist challenge, (3) the Experimental Metaphilosophy of the method of cases, and (4) Alternatives to this method.