Author Archives: Joshua Knobe

Oxford Studies in Experimental Philosophy

Oxford Studies in Experimental Philosophy has a new Call for Abstracts, and the deadline is in less than a month, on Dec. 15.

To submit, all you need to do is prepare a brief (1,000 word) abstract. The editors then invite full papers based on these abstracts, and those who receive an invitation will be asked to write a full paper by August 15th.

Just in the past year or so, a number of political philosophers have begun conducting experimental studies (e.g., Freiman & Nichols 2011Hassoun forthcoming), and it will be exciting to see how research in this area continues to develop!

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Distributive Justice in the Abstract and Concrete

In talking with people about questions of distributive justice, one often encounters a peculiar sort of conflict or tension. It’s not just that different people hold different views on the question. Rather, each individual person seems somehow to be pulled in a number of different directions.

In an exciting new paper in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Christopher Freiman and Shaun Nichols report an experimental study that helps to shed light on this sort of conflict. Subjects were randomly assigned either to receive an ‘abstract’ question or a ‘concrete’ question.

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Experimental Philosophy of Freedom

Consider the following case:

Tanya lives in a small, newly created country in Eastern Europe. Perhaps the most important issue in the region is the treatment of a disenfranchised minority that lives throughout the country. Tanya truly dislikes the minority and wants to further damage them if she can. While public opinion concerning the minority varies greatly, the government has taken the side of the minority. Consequently, a ban has been placed on any action or public speech that is intended to hurt the disenfranchised minority. In other words, the government has made laws against hurting the minority, but Tanya wishes she could hurt them.

Now ask yourself: ‘To what extent do these laws diminish Tanya’s freedom?’

Once you have thought of an answer to this question, consider a case that is exactly the same except that Tanya wants to help the disenfranchised minority:

Tanya lives in a small, newly created country in Eastern Europe. Perhaps the most important issue in the region is the treatment of a disenfranchised minority that lives throughout the country. Tanya truly cares about the minority and really wants to help them if she can. While public opinion concerning the minority varies greatly, the government has sided against the minority. Consequently, a ban has been placed on any action or public speech that is intended to help the disenfranchised minority. In other words, the government has made laws against helping the minority, but Tanya wishes she could help them.

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