Social psychology

There are quite a few philosophers who draw from empirical research these days:

1. Neuroscience/neuropsychology
2. Economics/game theory
3. Social psychology
(among others)

I think I’ve changed my mind about this a little over the past few months. I used to outright reject any insight from such disciplines (possible exception of nonempirical game theory); but I deem that there are some important provisos that should be fulfilled before considering them as having philosophical implications. And, oddly enough, these are non-philsophical considerations.

i. Are the variables sound?
ii. Are the variables sufficiently able to be mathematically constructed?
iii. Are the findings empirically repeatable?
iv. Has a pilot study been conducted to deem methodologies effective
v. Is the study ethical?

Let me consider the last point. Why should we care that a study is ethical? There are various reasons, and most of them perhaps you may not have considered. The obvious one is that, unethical studies cause harm to the research subject. Minor implications: reputation of the researcher, his group, their funding agency, their university/institution, and the discipline’s reputation as a whole comes to jeopardy. This means people will not trust researchers if they are unethical, and for good reason too if they were known to cause harm. Some of you might be more filppant and say something like okay so we may have done this research already, there is still import of the study, right?

Not necessarily. Unethical studies are difficult to repeat, one for ethical reasons, two, because often the variable are too different to repeat in exactly the same way. Studies that cannot, or will not be repeated are too difficult to verify, but they are, if you are innovative enough, able to falsify it (by testing the aspects of the operation design process). Unethical studies tend to stand in a singularity, very few studies would bear resemblance to them, so there is no context, and further, the researcher-subject relationship; due to the nature of oppressive and coercive relationships, are difficult to reconstruct. Further, studies like Milgram’s social psychology experiment are difficult to interpret given certain presuppositions that must be addressed: nature or nurture? What is the structure of explanation?



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