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The History, Theory and Practice of Experimental Philosophy

The main subject of this course is the direct experimental method in philosophy. The course begins by looking at the history of the experimental method, not only in the classic Empiricist philosophers, such as Locke, but also as it used by those, like Descartes, who are usually described as Rationalists, and how the method was importantly challenged by Kant, especially by his transcendental method. It then examines developments in the 19th and 20th centuries, especially the ways philosophy came to be split from psychology and the experimental approach. Some discussion is also given to the difference between the direct experimental approach in philosophy and the recent form of experimental philosophy, sometimes abbreviated as X-Phi, whose approach is sociological rather than psychological.

From history, the course then moves to the central element of experience and experiment, where the focus is on a number of do-able experiments, one of which Bertrand Russell called this ‘famous argument’, namely the three containers of water experiment, most fully developed by Berkeley in his Three Dialogues of 1713. Another area of experimentation is on taste and smell, more specifically the tastes of coffee. However, more important are the experiments concerning mental images and the connections that can be drawn from these concerning the experimental method and mental types.

Probably the main guiding principle of the course is that philosophy can still be done in the fruitful way of the great philosopher-psychologists, from Descartes to William James, namely in the arm-chair, but not primarily through conceptual or linguistic analysis, but in the experimental or experiential way, which, it is argued, issues in the recognition that different people have different basic yet opposed types of experience, from which different typologies can and should be developed. Where this comes out most clearly in a theoretical way is in the history of philosophy, most importantly in the division between monists, like Spinoza, and dualists like Descartes, but also in the key sensory division between those who were visual types, like Berkeley, and those who were tactual, like Russell. Less important but still instructive is the typology of sour and bitter tasting and tasters, which draws on actual hands-on coffee tastings in the later part of the course, which those attending the course are invited to participate in.

More information about the content of this course can be found in a workbook on the subject, written by the lecturer, entitled ‘A Manual of Experimental Philosophy’, which is available from Books Upstairs, in D’Olier St, or from the lecturer.


Prof. David Berman

How to apply

Register in advance (prior to September 2016) by post, to the Executive Officer, Department of Philosophy, Arts Building, Trinity College, Dublin 2 enclosing a cheque/draft/ postal money order made payable to Trinity College no. 1 account. Your receipt will be your ticket for the series. Registration might also be possible on the morning of the first lecture. But note that the number of places is limited to 25.


The cost for the ten lectures is €90. Concession rate (€60) is available to students, unemployed persons and those in receipt of a social welfare pension.

Date, time and place

There will be ten lectures beginning on Saturday, 24 September 2016, 10:00 am - 11:15, in the Philosophy seminar room, 5012, Arts Building, Trinity College, Dublin 2.

Further information

Prof. David Berman, Philosophy Department, Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin, Dublin 2, T: 01 896 1126, E: or Ms. Una Campbell, Philosophy Dept, Trinity College Dublin, T: 01 896 1529,