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Thinking Off Your Feet

Thinking Off Your Feet

How Empirical Psychology Vindicates Armchair Philosophy

Michael Strevens

ISBN 9780674986527

Publication date: 01/07/2019

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Many philosophers believe they can gain knowledge about the world from the comfort of their armchairs, simply by reflecting on the nature of things. But how can the mind arrive at substantive knowledge of the world without seeking its input? Michael Strevens proposes an original defense of the armchair pursuit of philosophical knowledge, focusing on “the method of cases,” in which judgments about category membership—Does this count as causation? Does that count as the right action to take?—are used to test philosophical hypotheses about such matters as causality, moral responsibility, and beauty.

Strevens argues that the method of cases is capable of producing reliable, substantial knowledge. His strategy is to compare concepts of philosophical things to concepts of natural kinds, such as water. Philosophical concepts, like natural kind concepts, do not contain the answers to philosophers’ questions; armchair philosophy therefore cannot be conceptual analysis. But just as natural kind concepts provide a viable starting point for exploring the nature of the material world, so philosophical concepts are capable of launching and sustaining fruitful inquiry into philosophical matters, using the method of cases. Agonizing about unusual “edge cases,” Strevens shows, can play a leading role in such discoveries.

Thinking Off Your Feet seeks to reshape current debates about the nature of philosophical thinking and the methodological implications of experimental philosophy, to make significant contributions to the cognitive science of concepts, and to restore philosophy to its traditional position as an essential part of the human quest for knowledge.


  • Thinking Off Your Feet is an outstanding book that will make a splash. It proposes an original defense of philosophical analysis and of its main tool, the method of cases. It is an impressive defense of armchair philosophy, as it is by and large currently practiced, and is also an important contribution to the cognitive science of concepts. Philosophers as well as psychologists will benefit tremendously from reading this book.

    —Edouard Machery, University of Pittsburgh


  • Michael Strevens is Professor of Philosophy at New York University. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2017.

Book Details

  • 360 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press

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