The Camden Philosophical Society will be holding its fifth annual Philosophy at the Edge conference July 23 in Camden on one of the hottest new topics in the field — Experimental Philosophy — and will be featuring some of the stars of the new movement, while also questioning whether this is the best way of tackling all the age-old issues that constitute philosophy.

Science has been made enormous progress over the last 300 years, while philosophy is still mulling the same questions about the nature of human existence and knowledge, free will and ethical behavior that preoccupied Socrates 2,500 years ago. The conference Experimental Philosophy — Out of the Arm Chair and into the Lab, will explore whether the method that allowed science to make so many breakthroughs could help us definitively solve some philosophical issues.

The insiders view of experimental philosophy will come from speakers Joshua Knobe, a young Yale professor who is one of the founders of the branch of experimental philosophy that aims to connect philosophical inquiry with scientific studies about how people actually think and feel, and Thalia Wheatley, a Dartmouth professor who applies her work in neuroscience and psychology to philosophical issues. Colby professor Daniel Cohen will be looking at the issue from outside the experimental movement, questioning whether it makes sense “to shoehorn all the cognitive gains that philosophy can contribute into the … molds of scientific knowledge.”

The conference will be at St. Thomas Episcopal Church hall in central Camden and will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Camden Philosophical Society is a six-year-old group that, besides sponsoring this annual conference, meets year-round as a discussion and reading group and sponsors occasional evening lectures in the Camden Public Library, which is a joint sponsor of the conference.

Professor Knobe’s talk, “In Search of the True Self,” will examine one of the most cherished ideals of our time: being true to yourself. Some philosophers say this ideal tells people to live according to their beliefs about what is right and wrong. Others suggest that it tells people to obey their desires and emotions. Knobe will present the results of a series of studies designed to investigate the nature of this ideal and to get at the role it plays in people’s ordinary thinking. A professor of philosophy and cognitive science at Yale, he has had his work featured recently in the New York Times, and also on the BBC and in Scientific American.

“Compelling is not enough: Why the feeling of will is not proof of having it,” is the provocative title Professor Wheatley has chosen for her talk. The sensation we have of being a willful agent is compelling and is often used as evidence for having free will. However, research suggests that the feeling of will can be manipulated and even divorced from action entirely. Wheatley will discuss the implications of this work and the role of experimental philosophy in addressing questions of will. The primary focus of Wheatley’s work has been on how we perceive our own mind and those of others. She earned her BA from the University of Texas at Austin and her PhD from the University of Virginia.

Noting how people “speak with reverence of the Scientific Method,” while the idea of philosophical progress has become “a punch line,” Professor Cohen suggests that “in our better moments we know better” than to think scientific research can answer all the fundamental philosophical questions. Rather, with these questions people resort to argumentation, the court of final philosophical appeal. Argumentation guarantees neither knowledge nor truth, but it is the Philosophical Method, Cohen will suggest in his talk entitled “There is Method in the Madness of Philosophy — But Experimentation Isn’t It.” A graduate as well as a professor and former chair of the Department of Philosophy at Colby College, Cohen has taught in universities on three continents and lectured on five — but always returns to Maine.

Each speaker will talk for about 50 minutes, followed by 25 minutes of open discussion, with more questions and discussion accompanying an hour-long panel in the afternoon that will bring all three speakers together. A contribution of $20 is requested to help cover costs, and people are asked to register in advance by emailing Parking is available at the Wood Street lot next to St. Thomas church. For more information see the website