Eyes as windows to minds: Psycholinguistics for experimental philosophy

In Eugen Fischer & Mark Curtis (eds.), Methodological Advances in Experimental Philosophy. London: Bloomsbury Press. pp. 43-100 (2019)
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Abstract

Psycholinguistic methods hold great promise for experimental philosophy. Many philosophical thought experiments and arguments proceed from verbal descriptions of possible cases. Many relevant intuitions and conclusions are driven by spontaneous inferences about what else must also be true in the cases described. Such inferences are continually made in language comprehension and production. This chapter explains how methods from psycholinguistics can be employed to study such routine automatic inferences, with a view to assessing intuitions and reconstructing arguments. We demonstrate how plausibility ratings, pupillometry, and reading time measurements can be used to examine hypotheses about automatic inferences in speech and text comprehension. Two experiments on inferences from polysemous (perception-)verbs provide evidence of a potentially consequential ‘salience bias’. Findings help assess intuitions about unusual cases and analyse a philosophical paradox (‘argument from hallucination’). The paper thus illustrates how we can adapt psycholinguistic methods for philosophical purposes and demonstrates the methods’ philosophical usefulness.

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