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Joshua Knobe

So exciting to see an interview with Bryony Pierce! I am really grateful for all the work she has done in experimental philosophy, and it's wonderful to have a chance to learn not only about her philosophical views but also about the inspiring story of her background.

I was especially delighted to see this discussion of issues at the intersection of experimental philosophy and feminist philosophy. This is an area with enormous potential, and it's also been one in which there have been a number of important recent findings. As Bryony helpfully notes, some early studies suggested that there might be differences between the philosophical intuitions of men vs. women in particular cases. However, subsequent studies have consistently found that there are actually no gender differences in intuitions in those cases. See these two papers:


A similar point applies to the issue about cultural differences in epistemological intuitions. Early studies found differences between cultures in certain cases, but subsequent work has consistently found no differences even when looking at those exact cases. For example:


I think I speak for all experimental philosophers when I say that we would love to foster further connections with work in feminist philosophy, and it would be especially exciting to have feminist perspectives on the specific findings coming out of recent experimental studies -- which in this case indicate that people's intuitions on these cases *do not* differ by gender or culture.

Thanks once again to Bryony and Shelley! This was an absolutely fascinating interview, both on a philosophical level and on a personal one, and I really look forward to hearing other people's thoughts on it.

Bryony Pierce

Thanks, Josh, especially for providing those links to more recent work on whether there are differences in intuitions related to gender or culture. In focusing on addressing some specific points made by feminists, I didn't get round to discussing what further work had actually been done, so this is very useful.

Joshua Knobe

Thanks Bryony! I definitely didn't mean to be criticizing your answer or anything like that. I just thought it might be helpful to pass along this further information in case it proved helpful to other people working in this area. In any case, I hope that other folks will pick up on other aspects of this fascinating interview, and I look forward to reading more about anything they might have to say.


Very cool interview! I haven't been doing much experimental work recently, but I'm getting back into it with a colleague in psych here at GU. I think that there's an enormous amount of interesting work to be done in thinking about how people understand disability, as well as understanding the kinds of ableist biases and exclusionary practices that lie at the heart of much of our thinking about human universals, human variation, and the cultural shaping of human cognition. One thing that came up a couple of times in the interview is a fairly common assumption that disabilities are deficiencies that should be corrected. It would be interesting, I think, to see how stable that kind of intuition is, and whether it can be nudged around with psychological interventions. I'm not sure exactly what the right kind of experiment would be, but I'm sure that there are cool things to think about...So thanks Bryony for getting me thinking about this!

Edouard Machery

Awesome interview, Bryony! I agree that experimental philosophy is gender imbalanced, but I too have found the criticisms you discuss underwhelming.

(A small addition to Joshua's remark: Large data sets suggest that there may well be some gender differences for some cases:



Another interesting interview - thanks Bryony and Shelley!

Bryony Pierce

Josh – yes, that was very helpful, thank you.

Thanks for your comments, Bryce. On the topic of assumptions about disabilities, it worries me that assumptions are often made about what people ought to value, and then these values guide the process of providing whatever treatment or support is available. Even if those offering options are trained to ensure that each decision is based on individuals’ needs and preferences, these will inevitably reflect social pressures, so people may value painful or risky interventions to conceal or eliminate differences that would be no obstacle, were it not for others’ prejudices or were society not set up the way it is. I’ll be very interested to hear about any ideas for experiments.

Hello Edouard, and thank you. A point about gender imbalance I made recently in correspondence, following an event at which I was the only female speaker, is that what is more important than attaining a certain proportion of women or people from minority groups that merely corresponds to some other proportion, in some wider social setting, is whether others within a community treat those who are in some sense under-represented with respect and make them feel welcome and accepted. Maybe looking at numbers isn’t the best way to approach this.

I did wonder about the apparent lack of evidence in follow-up studies and whether statistically significant results might be obtained with larger samples, but am not up-to-date on the literature in this area. There are clearly individual differences in intuitions, at least (I know some of mine are non-standard), even if these don’t correlate with clear-cut distinctions in terms of sex or cultural background, so it would be good to continue to look for some kind of pattern.

Jesse Prinz

Thanks, Shelley for conducting another wonderful interview. And, Bryony, what a pleasure! Much to think about here, but more than anything, I wanted to say how much I valued seeing your magnificent photographs, and learning about ways you have dealt wit disability, both personally and in promoting accessibility.

I was delighted to hear your thoughts on ex-phi too, and about ways in which the community has been welcoming and methodologically open-minded, while also noting that that there are issues and bias that must be addressed. Chiming in with the others on the Buckwalter and Stich project, I want to also mention a paper forthcoming by my former student, Geoff Holtzman, in Hypatia. He re-analyzes the earlier data and finds that the intuitions of female philosophy students actually align more with faculty's intuitions than their male peers'. This suggests that the high attrition rates are more likely due to other forms of discrimination and harassment. Despite these decisive objections to Buckwalter and Stich, I do think their initial project made a contribution by bringing the issue of gender ratios into empirical focus. One shortcoming of this research is that much of it has been conducted by men, and men may lack insight into the phenomenology of discrimination, so their hypothesis space is limited. Another problem is that the focus on women vs. men tends to overshadow other subpopulations who may experience other forms of discrimination--ethnicity, religion, class, disability to name a few. Not to mention the issue of intersectionality: we are all members of multiple categories, and sometimes the combined effect of two or more is different than the impact of each individually. With you, Bryony, i think empirical methods can help explore some of these differences, and is, thus, an important tool in addressing discrimination within the field. I was also pleased to see you mention qualitative methods. A superb student in my lab, Amanda Huminski, is doing some work exploring ways in which the preference for quantitative research (including most of ex-phi) may reflect biases.

Thanks again for sharing so much of your story, Bryony, and for your leadership in promoting methodological diversity in the UK and beyond. And, Shelley, thanks for sharing so many voices with all of us, and for fostering such an effective mix of philosophy, personal insight, and activism.

Bryony Pierce

Hello Jesse,

Thanks for your response, and I'm very glad you enjoyed the photographs. I agree that the Stich and Buckwalter paper is valuable, like many experimental philosophy papers, in getting people to start thinking about a particular question or set of questions. I also like your point about people being members of multiple categories. I imagine it may take a huge amount of work to make progress on why women are under-represented in philosophy/experimental philosophy, and maybe gathering qualitative data from women who have taken courses and found them unappealing, or from women (and men) who would never consider studying philosophy, would be a more fruitful avenue than examining quantitative differences in responses to surveys. The quantitative data has a role to play, too, but I think many complex questions benefit from initial exploratory work that is qualitative. I look forward to hearing more about Amanda's work on biases.


Thanks to everyone for the terrific comments thus far.

I'm glad that Jesse has drawn attention to the fact that the findings of analyses in x-phi that don't take account of intersectionality and the synergistic effects of multiple oppressions are likely to be as skewed as the findings of other forms of analysis in philosophy that don't take intersectionality and multiple axes into account. The Buckwalter and Stich article is one example. The responses to their article that also use a (narrow) focus on gender alone replicate the problems that such a constricted space of inquiry generates.

I'm also glad that Bryce raised the issue of how biased assumptions about disability can shape the work in x-phi that takes disability as its subject matter.

I really hope that practitioners of x-phi will begin to develop studies and experiments that follow from a critical approach to disability, that is, an approach that recognizes the political character of disability, rather than naturalizes it. It seems to me that the close proximity between x-phi and philosophy of mind, cognitive science, experimental psychology, etc. leads to experiments and studies in x-phi, cognitive science and cognate fields, and so on that rely on, and are motivated by, assumptions according to which disability is a personal disadvantage or lack, a functional deficit, or defect. I hope that practitioners of x-phi, philosophers of mind, philosophers of cognitive science, and so on will (begin to) read and take seriously the work of philosophers of disability and disability theorists. (Are Jesse, Bryce, and Shen-Yi Liao exceptions?) The experiment that Bryony suggested on the aesthetic judgments of disabled people seems promising.

On that note, I want to say that I would love to read some ideas about experiments that could be done to test for biases and other mechanisms of power relations with respect to disability. I know that Bryce and his colleague are going to start work on a project. Jesse and I have had some very preliminary discussions about an experiment that I would run (with his assistance) to test a claim that disability theorists, activists, and philosophers of disability routinely make. That is, the claim is commonly made that many of the prejudices and biases that disabled people confront are grounded in deep-seated fears that nondisabled people harbour (and other disabled people too have) about their own mortality, vulnerability, etc. I am skeptical about this claim. For one thing, I think that these sorts of claims (there isn't really only one of them, more like a cluster of them) naturalize social biases, representing them as innate, primordial, or something like that. If the fear of disabled people is innate or elemental, why should people be too concerned to change it or held responsible for it? I'm happy to say more about my skepticism or to be challenged on it.

John Turri

I really enjoyed this awesome interview, Bryony and Shelley!

One of the papers linked above (http://philpapers.org/rec/ADLDMA) actually replicates some gender differences in knowledge attributions observed by Buckwalter and Stich. (The paper mischaracterized the replication as "not statistically significant" @ p = .003.) A few years ago, reviewing data from my own research on knowledge attributions (N = ~5000, ~40% female), I found a small, statistically significant gender difference in knowledge attributions whereby women were more likely than men to attribute knowledge. Overall, in light of the evidence to date, I think that (English-speaking U.S.) women are more likely than (English-speaking U.S.) men to attribute knowledge, but this effect is probably small and definitely poorly understood.

Also, another paper linked above (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/nous.12110/full) reports the most impressive cross-cultural difference in knowledge attributions observed in experimental philosophy to date (amidst some noteworthy cross-cultural similarities).

Wesley Buckwalter

Dear Bryony and Shelley,

Thank you for sharing such a wonderful interview about your experiences with experimental philosophy. It was very moving to read for me on a personal level. I just wanted to write in to say that I deeply regret that reading our paper made you feel uncomfortable. I definitely did not mean to suggest in it that sociological factors don’t contribute to different perspectives or preferences people might have about philosophy, philosophical cases, or methodology we choose to study it. Contrary to Schwartzman or Pohlhaus’ critiques, this work was an honest, albeit limited and clearly fallible attempt to begin to include more perspectives in the conversation.

I was also thinking that some recent evidence might support your idea when you write that “Why not think that women might, in some cases, be unimpressed by appeals to intuition and thus become critical of the methods and dismissive of the discipline more generally?” Two recent papers have indeed suggested that this precise thing could be a contributing factor in these matters:



All the best,

Wesley Buckwalter

Bryony Pierce

Thanks for your comments, Shelley. I agree that it would be interesting to look at the cluster of claims you mention, although I think that, whilst an exclusively naturalistic account would neglect many important factors, we shouldn’t presuppose that there is no innate bias. An approach that allows the possibility that such responses might also contribute to some aspects of prejudice needn’t be incompatible with raising concerns about prejudice, legitimately expecting change or holding people accountable.

Many thanks, John, for confirming that there is evidence in support of the original claim that there are statistically significant differences in intuitions, and for mentioning your own findings. I’m glad you enjoyed the interview.

Wesley, thanks for commenting, and please don’t worry at all about having made me feel uncomfortable – ‘uncomfortable’ probably wasn’t the best word to use; it was more of a niggle, and I really enjoyed reading the paper. I can tell from the acknowledgements that you and Steve went to a great deal of trouble to consult people on the way you presented your findings, and it was very clear that you acknowledged the role of sociological factors, and that your paper was speculative, addressing only one aspect of the debate, and calling for further work from a range of perspectives. I didn’t think any of Shwartzman or Pohlhaus’s objections to your paper were defensible. I was very interested to see the 2016 paper about why women leave philosophy, so thank you very much for adding those links.

Bryony Pierce

Thanks to Komarine, too, for expressing your appreciation. Glad you like the interview.

Joshua Knobe

I have really been getting a great deal out of this discussion, and I very much appreciate all of the comments that have appeared thus far.

It's funny, conversations about gender and philosophy these days are often so toxic, but this one has been exactly the opposite. People have disagreed on certain specific issues, but everyone has been making excellent points, and everyone has been very respectful of alternative views. I suspect we have Shelley and Bryony to thank here, for creating just the right atmosphere to start things off.

In any case, I really appreciate the comments from Edouard and John, and I think what they have to say here adds an important counterpoint to my original comment. As they rightly emphasize, the result coming out of existing work in experimental philosophy is definitely not that gender and culture never make any difference to people's philosophical intuitions. Rather, it might be better to say that the result is that there is a striking degree to which intuitions are robust across these variables. In other words, prior to there being any work in experimental philosophy, I would have guessed that there would be a certain amount of gender differences and cross-cultural differences in philosophical intuitions. What existing experimental research has shown is not that there are no differences at all but rather that there is much less difference than one would have expected prior to seeing these studies.

Further philosophical work could therefore explore the implications of either side of these findings. On one hand, it would be interesting to look at the philosophical implications of the general tendency whereby philosophical intuitions seem to be surprisingly robust across gender and culture. However, on the other hand, as Edouard and John point out, there are specific cases which gender and culture do have effects, and it would also be interesting to look at the philosophical implications of the differences observed in these cases.

Bryony Pierce

Thanks, Josh. It seems likely to me that those taking part in this discussion would be respectful of other views expressed here regardless of the atmosphere created, so you should take some credit, too.

Does anyone know of work looking at the under-representation of women in philosophy in terms of risk aversion, as a possible contributory factor among others? Women have been found to be more risk-averse when it comes to financial/career-related decisions (I had a quick look for evidence and found this: http://www.pnas.org/content/106/36/15268.full, which focuses on testosterone levels, so it would be good to find something that considers social factors, too). Pursuing a career in academic philosophy might be perceived by many students as quite a gamble. Competition is fierce and the majority of the jobs on offer tend to be in academia, whereas there are lots of ways in which maths or science, say, can be applied outside academia, arguably making investing time and resources into majoring/doing a higher degree in those subjects less risky a strategy.

John Turri

I agree with Josh that this has been a great space to discuss these issues in a refreshingly cooperative and positive way.

I also agree with Josh's take on the current state of research on the potential role that gender and culture play in philosophical judgments. The amount of robustness observed to date is definitely remarkable! Moving forward, I think there's more potential for discovering substantial cross-cultural differences, primarily because there's been comparatively less attention paid to culture than to gender thus far (which, in turn, is primarily because it's so challenging to conduct good cross-cultural research).

Bryony asked about risk-aversion potentially contributing to decisions to avoid philosophy. I think this is a plausible hypothesis, not just regarding women but also more generally for economically vulnerable people (to pick one social factor). I'm unaware of any work directly on this topic, though. One resource that could be helpful in launching a research project on the topic is the Society of Judgment and Decision Making's list of risk attitude measures (http://www.sjdm.org/dmidi/Risk_Attitude.html).

John Turri

Sorry, the link at the end of my previous comment is broken. Here it is fixed:


Bryony Pierce

Thanks, John. Having worked as a translator for many years, I'm particularly wary of how questions or scenarios are translated, if translation is necessary (and ideally comparisons wouldn't be restricted to users of one language), when conducting cross-cultural research. Someone I met at a conference had been investigating free will in Japan, for example, but explained that the questions used in his surveys, if literally translated back into English, were about whether a person had actually done something, not about whether they'd done so freely.

The risk attitude measures look very useful, thank you. There's an interesting blog post about the effects of past appointments on women's under-representation here: http://www.newappsblog.com/2016/05/women-in-philosophy-1930-1979-what-can-it-tell-us-about-diversity-today.html (Thanks to Eric Schwitzgebel for drawing my attention to this in a Facebook post.)

John Turri

I hadn't seen that post, Bryony, thanks!

Thomas Nadelhoffer


Great interview (which has led to an interesting and insightful comment thread). I briefly wanted to touch upon a worry you raise in your final comment with respect to translation and cross-cultural work. You mention some researchers who were doing work on free will beliefs in Japan and the problems they were having translating their materials into English in a way that didn't reveal that the materials were not commensurable. This is always a potential risk, but I don't think it's insurmountable. For instance, my wife and I have been working with a team in Brazil to collect data on free will beliefs in Brazil using a Portuguese version of the Free Will Inventory (Nadelhoffer et al. 2014). This took several steps. First, a team of native Portuguese speakers and a native English speaker translated the materials into Portuguese. Then, importantly, these materials had to be back translated into English to make sure there was a close fit. I suspect this two step process can help address some of the worries you raised--although there may surely be some cross cultural differences that can't be pasted over in this way.

That said, I agree it is important that more cross cultural work be done--which is best done as a team effort! If nothing else, more (or less) gender differences in intuitions may be found if we broaden the scope of our investigation. The most recent work by Stich and company seems to be the most promising in this regard given the sheer volume of data and the number of countries involved (nearly 30, if my memory serves me).

Bryony Pierce

Thanks for responding to this point, Thomas. Yes, the example I gave was a case where insufficient thought had probably been given to the the wording and/or to the implications for the findings. To go into a bit more detail, there is a worry that remains, for me, in some cases only, even if every effort is made to ensure correspondence. Some pairs of languages may not have the kind of mapping of concepts onto words or phrases that is needed for a given project (e.g. if there is no phrase in use that means 'free will' or there are different terms for 'knowledge', with different applications). Even fairly minor changes in wording can influence responses, e.g. intended/did intentionally. So it seems that it's only when very precise and unambiguous literal translations are possible that results should be taken as reliable indicators of cultural differences in intuitions about the same problem case.

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