Alternative experimental philosophy meets philosophy of medicine: where sociology has never been before

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingMeeting abstract (Book)Research


In the first part of this paper we will analyze the general idea of experimental philosophy. By broadening this concept it will become clear that EP may be useful for the philosophy of medicine. The second part concerns the distinction between a broadened -or alternative- EP and sociology. We will show that even by using a methodology from sociology, it still is not sociology, but rather philosophy. An example of ongoing research will clarify these statements. A study in two Belgian hospitals on medical diagnostics focuses on uncertainty, the use of evidence based medicine (EBM) and tacit knowledge. Ethnographic research is performed: which is a qualitative methodology originated from sociology. We will discuss some results of this study in order to demonstrate (1°) the avail of alternative EP, and (2°) the difference of alternative EP with respect to medical sociology.
1° Experimental philosophy (EP) tries to understand the intuitions of all kinds of people on philosophical subjects. Experimental philosophers use quantitative methodologies from the cognitive sciences instead of doing armchair philosophy. There has been a lot of justified and unjustified critique on this methodology. (e.g. Knobe and Nichols 2008) But one major critique on EP touches the core of philosophy. Kauppinen states that the intuitions are being "tested through the methods of non-participatory social science [...]. At best- survey results provide food for thought- but we are better nourished if instead of designing artificial setup we pay close attention to what is said in real life situations of language use, as conscientious philosophers have done at least since Socrates." (Kauppinen 2007)
We can solve this problem by using a qualitative methodology as this implies a non-artificial setup. We can call this alternative EP. Alternative EP -like EP itself- tries to understand the intuitions of people on philosophical subjects.
Some examples from the Belgian study will be given and it will be demonstrated that the use of an ethnographic methodology is more suitable for this research problems than a survey method which is commonly used in EP. Ethnographic research leads to high external validity. This gives new insights into the situation and intuitions. Besides this advantage we will discuss some other features of ethnography in order to show its benefits for philosophical research questions.
2° EP and alternative EP use methodologies from sociology. Whereas EP focuses on survey methods, alternative EP uses qualitative methodologies. These are both still philosophy because of the goal of the research. Sociology wants to get a better grip on society and its problems. Sociologists do this from their own framework and view on the world. And philosophers want to get a better grip on society by looking through their own philosophical glasses. These glasses color society and lead to specific philosophical problems such as the problem of demarcation and the problem of induction that states that induction cannot be justified by deduction.
To make this argumentation more concrete, we will demonstrate this with by describing some cases from the study: Although most physicians claim to perform EBM and sometimes ignore and other times acknowledge the use of tacit knowledge, they use tacit knowledge more than they admit. Tacit knowledge plays an important role in medical practice. This is in contrast to the intuitions of some people concerning EBM. (Goldenberg 2006) This use of tacit knowledge seems to help physicians and patients to get a better understanding of the situation. It is also a way of dealing with the amount of uncertainty in a clinical setting. As we will show- this idea has some implications for the demarcation problem; which is a philosophical issue.
In other words, the difference of this philosophical research in relation to medical sociology is that we start from a philosophical question such as what is EBM in the light of epistemology and then continue with a field study- preferably a qualitative study as a starting point in such complex issues like intuitions on EBM. These results of the field study are analyzed and discussed with philosophical literature on EBM, uncertainty and tacit knowledge. In medical sociology we start from a sociological problem such as medicalization in diagnostics (e.g. Jutel 2007), then we use a quantitative or qualitative methodology. We end by analyzing and discussing the results from sociological literature and by using sociological jargon. This kind of research does not give any answers to a specific philosophical problem such as the justification of philosophers their view on EBM or the demarcation problem.
Thus, both sociology and philosophy try to explain phenomena but they both do it with their own colored glasses. This makes us conclude that even if philosophers make use of sociological methodologies, it still is philosophy.
Goldenberg, M.J. On evidence and evidence-based medicine: Lessons from the philosophy of
science, Social Science and Medicine, 62, 2006, pp. 2621-2632.
Jutel, A. 2007. Sociology of Diagnosis: A Preliminary Review, In: Sociology of Diagnosis (Advances in Medical Sociology, Volume 12), ed. PJ McGann, David J. Hutson. Emerald Group Publishing Limited: 3-32.
Kauppinen, A. 2007. The Rise and Fall of Experimental Philosophy. Philosophical Explorations 10,no.2: 95-118.
Knobe, J., and Nichols, S. 2008. An Experimental Philosophy Manifesto. In: Experimental Philosophy, ed. J. Knobe and S. Nichols. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 3-16.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInternational Advanced Seminar in the Philosophy of Medicine- Université Paris 1 Sorbonne
Publication statusPublished - 2013
EventUnknown -
Duration: 1 Jan 2013 → …

Publication series

NameInternational Advanced Seminar in the Philosophy of Medicine- Université Paris 1 Sorbonne


Period1/01/13 → …


  • experimental philosophy
  • Philosophy of medicine
  • Philosophy of science
  • tacit knowledge


Dive into the research topics of 'Alternative experimental philosophy meets philosophy of medicine: where sociology has never been before'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this