On Quantitative Data, or How to Confound a Philosopher

“Suppose, now, that we wished so to organize our moral discourse that we did not accept the must implies ought principle…
In that case we would have both
and either
where “P” represents permission and is connected to obligatoriness by the rule
Op ≡ ~P~p” (Wilson, 1984, p. 54).

Until this lab, this was my idea of analysis. Coming out of high school with policy debate under my belt and a philosophy major in my sights, I had no idea that I would be manipulating numbers.  The closest I had gotten (or ever planned to get) to quantitative data was dealing in passing with “utility,” which even most steadfast utilitarians will readily admit is only quantifiable in principle.

When I found the website, I was excited. “Working in the SNaPP Lab is a great way to get experience conducting research to prepare you to conduct your own project. If you are interested in political behavior—and specifically in the role of innate dispositions, social networks, or social media to influence political behavior—you should consider getting involved in the lab” (“Projects,” 2014, Fostering Research Opportunities for Undergraduates section, para. 3). Innate dispositions! Social networks! Political behavior! RESEARCH EXPERIENCE!!! It was everything I wanted to explore academically that wasn’t strictly philosophy. It couldn’t have been better.

Somehow, though, I missed just how quantitative it all was. I missed every mention of R, every mention of data, every mention of statistical analysis. Honestly, I don’t know what I thought the lab did; I was just sort of blindly excited about it. Had I read deeper, and had I realized the data focus, I may have been too scared to apply.

For maybe the first time in my life, I’m glad I didn’t read very deeply. Missing out on this would have been a horrible mistake.

While statistical analysis isn’t exactly my passion now, I find myself engaging with scholarship I never would have before. Quantitative linguistics papers about word distribution in childhood input, papers about quantitative analysis of incidence of cosmological properties in possible string-theory worlds… The list goes on. This experience has opened me up to a whole new type of scholarship, across disciplines, which prior to participation in this lab, I was not capable of appreciating.


While the year in SNaPP Lab wasn’t at all what I was expecting (due to my failure to read), I am glad it turned out the way it did, and I’m glad to have the year of experience. It’s been a great one.



Projects (2014). Retrieved 4 May 2014 from http://snapp-lab.wm.edu/projects.html

Wilson, F. (1984). Hume’s cognitive stoicism. Hume Studies10, 52-68. Retrieved from http://www.humesociety.org/hs/issues/10th-ann/wilson/wilson-10th-ann.pdf