In comments to a recent post, Ken Aizawa raised the following question:
How is the development of a counterexample [to a philosophical theory] different than the
development of a falsifiable/falsified prediction of a scientific theory?
I think this is a fascinating question that gets at the heart of contemporaty philosophical methodology, and I’d be curious to see what other people think.
It seems to me that there are three main kinds of philosophical enterprise:
1. Some philosophers attempt to analyze or explicate “ordinary” language and concepts (e.g., “folk psychology”). For the most part, the resulting philosophical accounts should respect “ordinary intuitions” about cases. That is, examples that intuitively go against the theory count against it. Perhaps this is analogous to the way empirical evidence may disconfirm scientific theories. Of course, there are many questions to be asked about the nature and stability of the intuitions in questions, but hopefully they can be answered. And of course, such theories may tell us little about how things in fact are; they tell us something about how we ordinarily think about things, but it remains to be seen whether we think correctly about them.
2. Other philosophers attempt to analyze or explicate scientific language and concepts (e.g., the notion of space, or gene, or mechanism, used within certain sciences). In such cases, presumably it is still possible to find counterexamples to the philosophical theories, but the source of relevant counterexamples is different. In this case, the source of counterexamples may be found in certain legitimate scientific assumptions and practices that are not properly accounted for by the philosophical theory in question.
3. Yet other philosophers attempt to engage in theory construction more or less analogous to, or continuous with, scientific theorizing (e.g., Fodor on the modularity of mind). In such cases, I think it’s pointless to argue that the theory is counterintuitive on the basis of “ordinary intuitions”. For the only evidence that can truly disconfirm such theories is empirical evidence.
Ken’s question arose in response to a post on philosophical theories of consciousness. Which of the above kinds of enterprise are philosophers of consciousness engaged in? What kind of enterprise should they be engaged in? Depending on the answer to this question, we get a different answer to the question of which evidence truly counts against the theories.