"why, if at all, such testing of expertise is more urgent in philosophy than in other disciplines."--Tomothy Williamson
The Wykeham Professor of Logic claims that "the project of Experimental Philosophy, as characterized by Alexander, does not withstand scrutiny." It is worth paying attention if only because this is clearly an attempt to delegitimize experimental philosophy as properly philosophical. (In the conclusion to the piece experimental philosophy is characterized as "polemical philosophy-hating philosophizing from which it has not been entirely free.") Do not object that Williamson is merely criticizing Alexander's formulation. Williamson also writes:
"What the Experimental Philosophy revolution is supposed to change — systematize, restrict, or abolish — is a philosophical method: the use of philosophical intuitions as evidence....The systematic deployment of elaborate hypothetical cases is indeed an eye-catching feature of much recent analytic work. But what Experimental Philosophers target is neither the systematicity nor the elaboration." (Quoted from here; HT Prophilosophy)
Williamson targets the methodological aspirationsof Experimental Philosophy an sich. Given that this approach is no more than a methodology it has no reason for existing. Williamson has three strategies: first, after he suggests (via an analogy with theoretical and empirical physics where the "trade-off between the two sorts of skill is not easily avoided"--this sentence comes after a blistering few pages in which Alexander is portrayed as simply not understanding what important philosophical debates are about) that experimental philosophers will lack certain conceptual skills. (Williamson is counting on us agreeing that without conceptual expertise philosophy is empty.) The second and third strategy are cleverly connected.
I quote Williamson:
If Experimental Philosophers want to put their activities on a proper scientific basis, they would do well to drop misleading terms like ‘philosophical intuition’, and face up to their failure to identify any distinctive philosophical method to be transformed or overturned by their revolution.
Second, Williamson suggests that the revolutionary "Experimental Philosophers" have created a false "ideology" in which "ancien régime" philosophers crucially rely on "philosophical intuition." Now, Williamson does not deny that "philosophical intuition" exists or once played a crucial role in some respects; he claims that it "belonged to the ideology of one faction of the ancien régime." In Williamson's hands, thus, analytic philosophy has already undergone a successful (and progressive) revolution. Williamson discretely leaves open what our ruling ideology is (and if it is based on a sound scientific basis).
Third, Williamson re-interprets the significance of experimental philosophy, as follows: "The methodological moral for philosophers to draw will concern ways of correcting for bias of the psychologically identified kind." But Williamson suggests that the relevant experts that will teach philosophers about corrected bias will be found (eventually) in "cognitive psychology,"--exit experimental philosophy. (Williamson: "For constructive purposes, however, it has outlived its utility.") Moreover, even if bias detection and elimination are of non-trivial significance for Williamson, it is clear he thinks it is peripheral to philosophy as such.
What to make of all of this? Let's leave aside the clear commitment to a Kuhnian conception of philosophy as a normal science with the possibility of revolutions shared by both sides in this debate. (I have railed against this here and here [recall Mohan's response].) The core underlying issue that runs through the review is what counts as philosophical expertise (recall the epigraph to this post). On this score (the otherwise very blunt) Williamson is remarkably reticent in this piece. (Yes, I know he wrote his own polemic, Philosophy of Philosophy.)
To put at least one of my cards on the table: in so far as philosophy is part of society it is always and everywhere an urgent philosophical matter to try to understand philosophical expertise. Of course, philosophy could make itself into a zombie by eliminating political philosophy, normative ethics, aesthetics (etc.). (It's been tried.) For, in our non-ideal world, it matters who has standing as a philosopher. (I do not mean just in prudential terms of who gets advanced in universities; who gets tax-funded research grants, etc.) Even in free societies, philosophical teachers and practitioners are held accountable for their sayings and their students' actions. Are we sophists or lovers of wisdom?
In his piece, Williamson acknowledges, that "The systematic deployment of elaborate hypothetical cases is indeed an eye-catching feature of much recent analytic work." Given that Williamson speaks as a Royalist anti-revolutionary on behalf of the recent status quo (and, thus, for all of us loyalist philosophers), we might think that being able to deploy, elaborate, and evaluate, clearly articulated and conceptually subtle hypothetical cases is what makes one an expert analytic philosopher with, say, Frances Kamm as paradigmatic example. The problem is that while this may be a distinctive philosophical skill (say supplemented by logical tools), albeit shared by some theoretical economists and theoretical physicists, it is an extremely slender methodology for constructive philosophy, if only because such examples are, well you know, hypothetical. (Not to mention the fact that thriving areas of philosophy (say, in philosophy of science) do not rely fundamentally on the method of hypothetical cases.) This is not to deny, of course, that hypothetical cases cannot play a useful role in philosophical explorations. But why should those of us raised in analytic philosophy embrace as its essential methodology one that gets us at best counterfactual possibility? Why is this a philosophy worth having?
To put another card on the table: almost a century ago the great, but now nearly forgotten Harold Henry Joachim held the Wykeham Chair of Logic while philosophy was undergoing a momentous series of shifts in sensibilities which he could not prevent. I suspect that our philosophical renewal will originate in fresh sensibilities. Perhaps hypothetical caes will lead us to these, but I am placing my bets elsewhere.