Philosophical Methodology

The question that motivates my interest in philosophical methodology is: when dealing with the enduring and fundamental questions of philosophy, what makes an argument compelling?  Indeed, the diversity of answers to these enduring questions owes itself, in part, to the diversity of methods used to ascertain them.  In contemporary philosophy, the focus falls on the practice of using thought experiments, and our responses to them (commonly called "intuitions") as evidence for and against philosophical theses.  The use of intuitions in philosophical arguments has been widely (though non-controversially) taken as the standard methodology of contemporary analytic philosophy, and the aim of experimental philosophy is to apply better empirical methods for figuring out what is actually intuitive.  My own work focuses on the role that intuition does, or does not, play in philosophical methodology.  I argue for an interpretation of these arguments which emphasizes the rhetorical force of appeals to intuition, rather than their evidential force, while also making space for the contributions of experimental philosophers.

Gimbel, Steven and Jeffrey Maynes. (2011) "Ordinary Language and the Unordinary Philosophy of Peter Achinstein," The Philosophy of Science Matters:  The Philosophy of Peter Achinstein , ed. Gregory Morgan, Oxford University Press.

 

Research Interests

Philosophical Methodology: how do we justify philosophical claims?

The question that motivates my interest in philosophical methodology is: when dealing with the enduring and fundamental questions of philosophy, what makes an argument compelling?  Indeed, the diversity of answers to these enduring questions owes itself, in part, to the diversity of methods used to ascertain them.  In contemporary philosophy, the focus falls on the practice of using thought experiments, and our responses to them (commonly called "intuitions") as evidence for and against philosophical theses.  The use of intuitions in philosophical arguments has been widely (though non-controversially) taken as the standard methodology of contemporary analytic philosophy, and the aim of experimental philosophy is to apply better empirical methods for figuring out what is actually intuitive.  My own work focuses on the role that intuition does, or does not, play in philosophical methodology.  I argue for an interpretation of these arguments which emphasizes the rhetorical force of appeals to intuition, rather than their evidential force, while also making space for the contributions of experimental philosophers.

The interpretation of linguistic theory: what do you know when you know language?

My interests in philosophical methodology intersect with my interests in the philosophy of linguistics.  In a series of papers, I have explored the role that intuitions play in generative linguistics, as well as in the philosophy of language.  In particular, I explore the way in which different theoretical contexts produce different interpretations of the philosophical significance of intuition.

In addition to these questions, I am also interested in the interpretation of generative linguistics, and what it means to ascribe linguistic competence to an individual.  Understanding what it is to know a language intersects with understanding how the mind works, and the interpretation of cognitive theories more generally.  For example, if language is partly constituted by unconscious rules, how does this relate to our linguistic behavior on one hand, and our neurobiology on the other?  What does it mean to say that I have unconscious knowledge of these rules in the first place?

Metacognition and critical reasoning: how can we become better reasoners in light of cognitive bias?

The ability to think critically is crucial in a democratic society.  If you cannot think critically, then others will do your thinking for you, leading you with rhetorical tricks and insufficient evidence.  Given the importance of this skill, how do we actually teach it?  Traditional approaches focus on the tools of formal and informal logic.  This approach, however, is insufficient; it does not address the psychology of human reasoning, and in particular, the cognitive biases that obstruct good reasoning.  In my work on critical thinking pedagogy, I argue for the importance of developing metacognitive sophistication in our students, so that they can deploy debiasing strategies in the right contexts.  In this way, our critical thinking education can be responsive to the challenges posed by the cognitive biases.