Oxford University Press, 2016

"J.D. Trout proposes a fascinating, controversial, brilliant explanation for why modern science took off in the seventeenth century and never looked back. The Scientific Revolution was due, in his telling, not to the discovery of an amazing new methodological rule or form of social organization but rather to simple good luck: it was a matter of the right people probing the right ideas in the right way. Essential reading for historians and philosophers of science and highly recommended to anyone interested in the rise of modern science."

-- Michael Strevens, New York University 

Explaining the world around us, and the life within it, is one of the most uniquely human drives, and the most celebrated activity of science. Good explanations provide accurate causal accounts of the things we wonder at, but explanation's earthly origins haven't grounded it: we have used it to account for the grandest and most wondrous mysteries in the natural world.Explanations give us a sense of understanding, but an explanation that feels right doesn't mean it is true. For every true explanation, there is a false one that feels just as good. A good theory's explanations, though, have a much easier path to truth. This push for good explanations elevated science from medieval alchemy to electro-chemistry, or a pre-inertial physics to the forces underlying nanoparticles. And though the attempt to explain has existed as long as we have been able to wonder, a science timeline from pre-history to the present will reveal a steep curve of theoretical discovery that explodes around 1600, primarily in the West.

Viking/Penguin, 2009

Praise for The Empathy Gap

"The Empathy Gap is an important and engaging book, and Trout's ideas are eye-opening and fascinating. Trout explains a large set of new ideas about human rationality, emotion, and well-being, and connects them to pressing social and political issues. This is an invaluable enrichment of public discourse, which could lead to new ways of framing our current dilemmas and to new solutions to them."

-- Steven Pinker, author of The Better Angels of Our Nature and The Stuff of Thought

"Trout identifies the issues facing citizens who worry about others' exploiting their natural imperfections as decision makers, but also worry about relying on paternalistic institutions to protect them. Recognizing that those institutions are similarly flawed, Trout calls for information sharing, public deliberation, and empirical evaluation of interventions."

-- Baruch Fischhoff, Howard Heinz University Professor, Social and Decision Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University, and past president of the Society for Judgment and Decision Making

"J.D. Trout's The Empathy Gap provides insightful answers to explain how good people can look the other way and do so little to respond to massive problems affecting other human beings. He uses the latest findings in behavioral decision research, with his practical understanding of philosophy, to outline a better world. We would all be better off if the new administration in Washington read and understood the messages that are outlined in this. In fact, Trout's The Empathy Gap  explains so much of what has gone wrong for the last eight years. This work has the power to transform how we think about and act on challenges to improve society."

-- Max H. Bazerman, Straus Professor, Harvard Business School, coauthor of The Negotiation Genius

“In a neuroscience-inflected heir to Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, Trout makes two assumptions: Humans want to reduce each other's suffering, and this is the primary goal of our societies. Why, then, are we so bad at it? Trout examines the unconscious habits that make us see helping others as a zero-sum game, and advocates governance that circumvents our unreliable gut decisions. While some will see that kind of governance as the ultimate "nanny-statism," the argument provokes thought on how much suffering we are willing to accept."

-- Named a "SEED PICK" for the February 2009 issue of Seed Magazine

“The Empathy Gap is a brilliant, empathic argument that policy makers must take the limits of human decision-making abilities into account in formulating public policies. Using the most up-to-date research on the psychology of decision making as his weapon, Trout argues that it would be the height of irresponsibility for politicians to make policies on the assumption that people are perfectly rational choosers. The book offers a cogent, compassionate general approach to policy making, as well as many specific and smart suggestions about the issues that face us today."

-- Barry Schwartz, Dorwin Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action, Swarthmore College, and author of The Paradox of Choice

Contemporary Materialism

Edited by Paul Moser and J.D. Trout

Oxford University Press, 2005

"This is a brilliant and useful essay integrating theoretical philosophy and empirical psychology to the benefit of both disciplines. The essay is a paradigm example of how a philosophical perspective can bring order and new insights into scientific practice."

-- Reid Hastie, Professor of Behavioral Science, University of Chicago

In this book, Michael Bishop and I call for Epistemology to take its rightful place alongside Ethics as a discipline that offers practical, real-world recommendations for living. To achieve this goal, we maintain that Epistemology should aim to uncover the normative principles that guide the prescriptions of (what we call) Ameliorative Psychology – those branches of psychology that show how people can improve their reasoning. These improvements are within reach, as demonstrated by the dramatic successes of linear predictive models, among other findings.

We argue that Strategic Reliabilism guides the prescriptions of Ameliorative Psychology. Strategic Reliabilism holds that epistemic excellence involves the efficient allocation of cognitive resources to robustly reliable reasoning strategies applied to significant problems. This theory is unique in Epistemology: it takes Ameliorative Psychology as its descriptive core; it is not a theory of knowledge or justification; and it takes significance and cost-benefit considerations to be ineliminable features of epistemic evaluation. Strategic Reliabilism moves Epistemology away from abstract theorizing about knowledge and toward a useful, empirically-informed guide to reasoning.

We demonstrate the practical power of our views by offering what we hope are fresh insights on a wide range of issues in Psychology and Philosophy. Epistemology and the Psychology of Human Judgment contains a novel critique of analytic epistemology and responses to standard arguments against naturalistic epistemology. And it forges an original cost-benefit framework for thinking practically about reasoning excellence, a framework we employ to suggest some simple strategies that can make people better reasoners.

From the back cover of Epistemology and the Psychology of Human Judgment:

"Bishop and Trout have written a wonderful book. Their goal is nothing less than a radical reorientation of contemporary epistemology. Rejecting the analytic enterprise of explicating our concepts of justification and knowledge, they instead seek a return to an epistemology which would provide rules for the direction of the mind. Empirically informed and philosophically sophisticated, this is a lively and challenging book."

-- Hilary Kornblith, Professor of Philosophy, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

"Professors Bishop and Trout consider normative and experimental evidence, as well as philosophical debate and many good examples, in making a compelling case that epistemology ought to concern itself with people's limited cognitive resources and reasoning strategies, as these are likely to impinge on problems of great social significance. This book should be read by anyone interested in the foibles and fallibility of human reasoning, and in how an empirically informed view of human knowledge and understanding may help yield not only good philosophy, but also improved policy, better thinking and greater well being."

-- Eldar Shafir, Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs, Princeton University

"One of the surprising critiques Bishop and Trout offer of analytic epistemology is that it is not normative enough. They argue that their thoroughly naturalistic approach to epistemology does significantly better on this score. All of this material is fresh, original and exciting. It might even be right! But right or wrong, I think it is a  safe bet that it will attract a great deal of attention, and that Bishop & Trout will be recognized as two of the most interesting and innovative people working in the area where philosophy of science, epistemology and empirical psychology come together."

-- Stephen Stich, Board of Governors Professor of Philosophy, Rutgers University


Oxford University Press, 1998

Named a 1998 Outstanding Academic Book by Choice

"A radical book, and essential reading for courses in philosophy of science, statistics, and research methods."

-- Choice

"This is an interesting, complex, and important book. Indeed, it may well be the most important book in the philosophy of the social sciences since Rosenberg's Sociobiology and the Preemption of Social Science (1980). In addition to developing an original and intriguing naturalistic account of psychology and the social sciences, Trout offers the reader a most nuanced analysis of various forms of scientific realism, as well as a well-developed version of naturalistic epistemology."

-- Teaching Philosophy

"There is much of value in Trout's book. The careful sorting out of often confused realist claims is welcome. His recognition that the social sciences sometimes have measurement and testing procedures akin to those of the natural sciences is also a welcome antidote to the long tradition of arguing about their scientific status without looking at what they actually do. Trout's claim that assessments of realism issues require carefully looking at specific theories seems to me particularly valuable... ."

-- The Philosophical Review

The Philosophy of Science

Edited by Richard Boyd, Philip Gasper, 

and J.D. Trout

(Routledge, 1995)

(MIT Press, 1991)

The Theory of Knowledge

by Paul Moser, Dwayne Mulder, and J.D. Trout

(Oxford University Press, 1998)