Experimental philosophy and the history of philosophy

Tom Sorell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Contemporary experimental philosophers sometimes use versions of an argument from the history of philosophy to defend the claim that what they do is philosophy. Although experimental philosophers conduct surveys and carry out what appear to be experiments in psychology, making them methodologically different from most analytic philosophers working today, techniques like theirs were not out of the ordinary in the philosophy of the past, early modern philosophy in particular. Or so some of them (Knobe, Nichols, Systma and Livengood) argue. This paper disputes the argument, citing important differences between early modern philosopher-scientists – Descartes, Hobbes and Boyle – and their supposed modern counterparts. Although there is some continuity between early modern philosopher-scientists and the contemporary experimentalists, it is mostly a continuity of interest in empirically informed philosophy, not a distinctively experimental philosophy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)829-849
Number of pages21
JournalBritish Journal for the History of Philosophy
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Descartes
  • empirically informed philosophy
  • Experimental philosophy
  • Hobbes
  • naturalistic philosophy

Cite this