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Joshua Knobe

Program in Cognitive Science &
Department of Philosophy

I am an experimental philosopher, appointed in both the Program in Cognitive Science and the Department of Philosophy. Most of my work involves using the kinds of experimental methods associated with cognitive science to address the kinds of questions associated with philosophy.

A lot of my recent research has been concerned with the impact of people’s moral judgments on their intuitions about questions that might initially appear to be entirely independent of morality (questions about intention, causation, etc.). It has often been suggested that people’s basic approach to thinking about such questions is best understood as being something like a scientific theory. My co-authors and I have offered a somewhat different view, according to which people’s ordinary way of understanding the world is actually infused through and through with moral considerations.

For an overview of this research program as a whole, the best place to look is probably the paper Person as Scientist, Person as Moralist. (Or, if you are looking for something quicker and more entertaining, you could try this funny video.)


A few topics I’ve discussed in recent work:

Intentional Action: I have suggested that people’s intuitions about intentional action can actually be affected by their moral judgments. See the very brief paper in which I first reported these experiments or my latest attempt to offer a theoretical account of the phenomenon.

Free Will: See our early experimental paper on intuitions about free will and determinism or a more recent theoretical paper that reviews recent work on these issues.

The True Self: I have argued that people have a tendency to think that, deep down, your true self is calling you to choose a life that is morally good. See our original paper arguing for that claim, or a more theoretically ambitious paper that explores the ways in which it might explain four puzzles in moral psychology.

Consciousness: I have suggested that people’s intuitions about whether a particular entity is conscious depend in an essential way on whether the entity has the right sort of body. See a paper defending this hypothesis or a very brief review of the subsequent work on this question.

Causation: I am particularly interested in the ways in which people’s causal intuitions can be shaped by norms. See a theoretical paper exploring this issue or a brief experimental paper that deals more specifically with the distinction between ‘doing’ and ‘allowing.’

Experimental Philosophy: If you are interested in reading more about experimental philosophy, you can try taking a look at our recent edited volume, with papers by a number of leading experimental philosophers. The introductory ‘Experimental Philosophy Manifesto‘ offers our perspective on how to think about the role of experimentation in philosophical research. (For other perspectives on experimental philosophy, check out the New York Times article or the Experimental Philosophy Page.)

Other: I also have papers on intuitions about moral relativism and knowledge, papers on how people’s moral judgments impact their intuitions about all sorts of things (freedom, happiness, valuing, action trees), and some linguistics papers on epistemic modals and deontic modals.


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