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The Reliability of Armchair Intuitions



Armchair philosophers have questioned the significance of recent work in experimental philosophy by pointing out that experiments have been conducted on laypeople and undergraduate students. To challenge a practice that relies on expert intuitions, so the armchair objection goes, one needs to demonstrate that expert intuitions rather than those of ordinary people are sensitive to contingent facts such as cultural, linguistic, socio-economic, or educational background. This article does exactly that. Based on two empirical studies on populations of 573 and 203 trained philosophers, respectively, it demonstrates that expert intuitions vary dramatically according to at least one contingent factor, namely, the linguistic background of the expert: philosophers make different intuitive judgments if their native language is English rather than Dutch, German, or Swedish. These findings cast doubt on the common armchair assumption that philosophical theories based on armchair intuitions are valid beyond the linguistic background against which they were developed.