Thursday, July 07, 2011

Experimental Philosophy: Old and New

An Exhibition at the de Beer Gallery, University of Otago
Combining classics from the past and cutting-edge works of the present day, this exhibition brings together books on philosophy, science, literature and medicine. Together they illustrate the theme of Experimental Philosophy as it was understood and practised 350 years ago and as it is understood today.
In the seventeenth century an exciting new approach to the study of nature emerged and flourished in Europe. Its promoters called it Experimental Philosophy and it boasted some of the greatest minds of the age, including Isaac Newton, John Locke and Robert Boyle. Experimental Philosophy was set against Speculative Philosophy and the distinction between Experimental and Speculative Philosophy provided the primary terms of reference by which natural philosophy was understood in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Eventually, however, the distinction between Experimental and Speculative philosophy was eclipsed by a distinction deriving from the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant and his followers, namely the distinction between rationalism and empiricism. From the late 19th century it is this post-Kantian distinction that has come to dominate the way we view early modern philosophy. The old Experimental Philosophy has all but disappeared from view.
In recent years, however, a new form of Experimental Philosophy has emerged amongst analytic philosophers. The ‘new’ experimental philosophers claim that for too long philosophers have sat in their armchairs and have reasoned from intuitions and untested assumptions about such things as the nature of belief, the nature of human character, and human motivation. It’s time for philosophers to get out of their armchairs, join the experimental scientists and engage in ‘experimental philosophy’.
Notable items on display include a second edition of Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1713), Francis Bacon’s Of the Advancement Learning (1640), poet Abraham Cowley’s ‘A Proposition for the Advancement of Experimental Philosophy’ (1668), and an exciting new discovery concerning the philosopher David Hume.

Experimental Philosophy: Old and New will run from 1 July 2011 to 23 September 2011, and is mounted to coincide with the Australasian Association of Philosophy Conference, 3–8 July 2011 at the University of Otago.  
Venue: de Beer Gallery, Special Collections, 1st floor, Central University Library
Hours: 8.30 to 5.00 Monday to Friday
For further enquiries, please contact Prof. Peter Anstey, Philosophy Department, University of Otago ( or Dr Donald Kerr, Special Collections Librarian, University of Otago Library (

1 comment:

Alberto Vanzo said...

The online version of the exhibition is now available here: