, Volume 83, Issue 3, pp 477–500 | Cite as

Who is Afraid of Commitment? On the Relation of Scientific Evidence and Conceptual Theory

  • Steffen SteinertEmail author
  • Joachim Lipski
Original Research


Can scientific evidence prompt us to revise philosophical theories or folk theoretical accounts of phenomena of the mind? We will argue that it can—but only under the condition that they make a so-called ‘ontological commitment’ to something that is actually subject to empirical inquiry. In other words, scientific evidence pertaining to neuroanatomical structure or causal processes only has a refuting effect if philosophical theories and folk notions subscribe to either account. We will illustrate the importance of ‘ontological commitment’ with the ‘neuroanatomical approach’ to amusement as proposed in a recent paper by Palencik (Dialogue 46(3):419–434, 2007). We will show that the scientific evidence presented in said neuroanatomical approach has no bearing on the conceptual issues, in that the philosophical theories and folk distinction that are criticized do not subscribe to any account of the underlying neuroanatomical structure or causal processes. Our suggestions in this paper are not limited to philosophical accounts of humor but apply to the relationship of philosophy, common sense and science in general.



We would like to thank the audience of the 13th Annual Graduate Student Philosophy Conference at the Newschool for Social Research, New York (April 2014) and the participants of the 2016 colloquium at the Research Center for Neurophilosophy and Ethics of Neuroscience at LMU for their helpful comments and suggestions on earlier versions of the paper. We would also like to extend our gratitude to two anonymous referees for their valuable feedback.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate School of Systemic Neurosciences, Research Center for Neurophilosophy and Ethics of NeurosciencesLudwig-Maximilians-Universität MünchenMunichGermany

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