The Science of Philosophy

Question: Is philosophy merging with science? 

Alfred Mele: Yeah I think so. It’s definitely a growing trend. There’s always been a connection between philosophy and science. In fact, in the beginning, there was not distinction. So, Aristotle was a philosopher, he was also a biologist, he was also an economist, and in a way he was also a physicist. So, yeah. But it coming closer together again. And I think the reason for this is that scientists are studying things of great interest to philosophers. Like the scientific study of free will. That really got going not until the 1980’s when these Libet experiments that I talked about started up. There’s been a lot of good social/psychological work on things like weakness of will and self-deception for, well, more than decades. And I’ve been interested in that stuff since I was young. It is growing I think, yeah, because there’s more scientific work done now on these philosophical topics. I don’t know what else, it might be that people are thinking, well traditional philosophical methodologies have been around for a long time and it has gotten us to a certain place, and that’s good, but we can get even further, faster by bringing more onboard. You know, scientific results. 

I actually do a lot of work with scientists. In fact, I think I can mention this now. I’m about to receive a $4.8 million grant to start a free will project at Florida State University, where I am. And the granting agency is the John Templeton Foundation. Now, most of the money will go out in grants to scientists and others who make proposals on free will; $2.8 million is going to go out to the science of free will. What I’d like to see happen is that we have teams of neuroscientists, social psychologists, and philosophers working together to design free will studies and then write up the papers, analyze the results, and so on. So, for me, this is a really exciting time at the intersection of science and philosophy. 

And this thing called experimental philosophy which didn’t really exist until ten years ago, has really taken off. I was up here in New York City last Monday to be in a session on experimental philosophy. There was a big audience and lots of excitement. So, in ten years it’s gone from nothing to something pretty exciting. 

Recorded on January 5, 2010
Interviewed\r\n by Austin Allen

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