Stephan Hartmann & co in Tilburg are organizing yet another exciting conference, Formal Epistemology Meets Experimental Philosophy (September 2011). Last year I thoroughly enjoyed the Future of Philosophy of Science conference and the Descartes Lectures event with Ian Hacking, which were both awesome (except for the poor gender balance in the keynote speakers' lineup, but for once this is not what I want to talk about!). The CFP for the upcoming conference has been widely circulated in several blogs (It's only a theory, Choice and Inference), so it is not exactly lacking publicity, but it points in the direction of interesting new developments, so I would like to say a few words on it here.
To my mind, traditional, mainstream analytic epistemology is in desperate need of becoming empirically-informed (I'm not the only one saying this, I'm in the good company of Bishop and Trout, for example). It claims to be primarily about knowledge, which is, at least to some extent, a mental/psychological phenomenon (although it is of course also a social phenomenon, and it is a good thing that recent discussions on the epistemology of testimony, for example, are going in that direction). However, mainstream epistemology typically pays little attention to empirical and experimental results from psychology, cognitive science etc., that is, empirical data on psychological phenomena. Just to illustrate, a high-profile upcoming conference on the epistemology of inference at Brown has an excellent lineup of speakers, but judging from their previous work, it doesn't look like much attention will be paid to empirical findings (if only Gil Harman was among the speakers!). But inference is a mental/psychological operation, so it would be interesting to also take into account the findings of e.g. the psychology of reasoning tradition when discussing the epistemology of inference. I find it very puzzling that this is not usually done.
Of course, there has been quite a lot of work on epistemological questions within the realm of experimental philosophy, but frankly I will like it even better when, besides investigating people's conception of 'knowledge', for example, more attention is paid to empirical findings on the cognitive processes involved. (In this sense, I think philosophy of mind is in a much better shape, working much more closely with cognitive science and psychology.)
The formal epistemology tradition has so far developed mostly independently from mainstream epistemology (some people talk about 'qualitative epistemology' vs. 'quantitative epistemology') although there have been recent attempts to bring the two traditions together. Stephan Hartmann, while primarily being a formal epistemologist (and a philosopher of science), is one of these open-minded people who would like to integrate several different approaches and methodologies, and this upcoming conference on formal epistemology and experimental philosophy shows again his committment to the integrative attitude. (Just to illustrate: last year he gave a talk at the colloquium of my research group in Amsterdam, discussing Linda the Bank Teller and a Bayesian solution to the conjunction fallacy). As I said, it will make me even happier when the empirical sciences of the mind are also systematically taken into account in epistemology (mainstream, formal or otherwise), but this conference bringing together formal epistemology and experimental philosophy is an interesting and positive new development.