Many of you will be familiar with the Moral Sense Test, which has produced some valuable data on ordinary people’s intuitions about trolley cases and related dilemmas. Eric Schwitzgebel, a philosopher of mind (who does fascinating work on the unreliability of first person judgments) and Fiery Cushman, from Marc Hauser’s lab at Harvard, have now designed a version of the test especially for philosophers. They want to be able to compare the responses of people with graduate degrees in philosophy to those of the folk. I encourage everyone to take the test; it shouldn’t take more than fifteen minutes.

Chapter One is essentially a ground clearing exercise. Appiah’s aim is to argue that experimental philosophy is not the innovative and threatening enterprise that it might seem: instead, it is a return to philosophy’s roots. Philosophy has traditionally been closely informed by scientific work, and the best philosophers have often engaged in science themselves. It is the era of conceptual analysis divorced from mere empirical engagement that is the aberration, not the turn to the empirical.

The purpose of this chapter is to show that concerns focused on the agent can supplement concerns focused on victims in bolstering the conclusion that agents ought not to infringe negative rights, even when the consequences of doing so are clearly better than the consequences of not infringing negative rights. That is, agent-focused considerations can bolster the case against consequentialism.

The chapter focuses on examples originally due to Bernard Williams; Williams himself advanced them to a similar end. The first is the well-known case of Jim and the Indians: