The Role of Intuitions in Philosophical Methodology

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  • The Role of Intuitions in Philosophical Methodology.
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Search my Subject Specializations: Select Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. I think, then, that whatever the general causal relation between intuitions and beliefs, philosophers tacitly use intuitions as evidence when they form beliefs on their basis or on the basis of a common source, at least when they are aware of this connection.

Since this happens quite often, Centrality is true.

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So the fact that philosophers believe intuitive claims is best explained by an account that implies Centrality. Examination of more complicated cases of the interplay of intuition and philosophical belief will provide further support for Centrality.

Although philosophers tend to believe propositions that they find intuitive, this natural disposition can be defeated. One might go further and claim that such cases show that philosophers do not in general rely on intuitions at all. In fact, however, when we scrutinize these cases more closely, we find that they in general support my thesis, rather than disconfirm it. In short, this supports the claim that philosophers rely on intuitions as evidence because they would seek to explain intuitions away only if they thought non-veridical intuitions needed explaining.

Debates about knowledge provide some of the most salient examples of intuition-based philosophy. As Weatherson : p. With so many intuitions being bandied about in support of so many different theories, opponents of a theory often feel obliged to offer an explanation of the intuitions adherents of that theory invoke in support of it, one that does not presuppose the truth of the theory. Consider, for example, the following pair of cases Turri : p.

Herman Cappelen

A layover would be annoying. Say, do you happen to know whether this is a direct flight to Detroit? High Flight: Stewart is in the Atlanta airport, waiting to board his flight. I need a direct flight to Detroit, or the kidney will spoil. Do you know whether this is a direct flight to Detroit? Different explanations differ on why truth and appropriateness come apart. On one view see, e. On another view see, e.

These explanations are error theories for the intuition that Stewart knows in the first but not the second case. Such error theories are common in philosophy. First, Grice : ch.

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Notes on a Global Philosophical Method (1. Intuitions and the Need for a Global Synthesis)

Grice suggests that this intuition was based on confusing the propriety of asserting P with the truth of P. Second, after arguing that desires do not provide us with reasons to act, Parfit offers ten! For example, he notes that we often desire ends we have independent reasons to bring about, and that we have reasons to do what we enjoy, and often desire to do what we enjoy. I think the most natural way to describe what is going on in these cases is as follows.

Suppose we have two philosophers, Deon and Connie. Deon takes his intuition-state E to support theory T. For example, consider the footbridge variant of the trolley thought experiments, where a trolley is hurtling down a track and about to run over and kill five people Thomson You are standing on a footbridge overlooking the track with a very heavy man in front of you; if you push him off, the trolley will be stopped by his body, killing him but saving the five others.

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Here we can let E be the intuition that it is wrong to push the man. Deon proposes that E supports T because T is the simplest explanation of E: Deon has the intuition that it is wrong to push the man because it is wrong to push the man. This way of describing these cases presupposes that philosophers rely on intuitions as evidence. Notice, moreover, that the error theorist in this kind of example is not offering an explanation of the content of an intuition.


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  6. The most natural explanation of why philosophers propose error theories, then, is that philosophers use intuitions as evidence. In the next section I will consider three alternative explanations of error theorizing that do not presuppose Centrality, and argue that they all fail. The first alternative explanation is that error theories threaten philosophical beliefs directly.

    While considering experimentalist critiques of intuition-based philosophy, Ichikawa b argues that although experimentalists are wrong to think that philosophers use intuitions as evidence, there is an experimentalist argument that does not rely on this assumption. According to this argument, experimental philosophical data call into question what our evidence is : Empirical data about human reliability can provide undercutting defeaters for judgments of any kind.

    Call this the defeater critique. The defeater critique sees traditional armchair methods as insufficiently self-reflective; armchair philosophers proceed without enough regard for their abilities to discern relevant facts. Although this is a plausible description of what Parfit is doing in this particular passage, it is not promising as a general description of the dialectical force of either the experimentalist critique or error theories.

    Consider the experimentalist critique first. Empirical data showing that people are frequently unreliable about a subject matter are only relevant to me if I am forming my beliefs in the same way or on the same basis as those who were studied. Return now to error theories. Suppose that I believe that pushing the fat man in front of the trolley is wrong not because I find that proposition intuitive but because it follows from a more general theory of mine — say, the Doctrine of Double Effect. Thus, if I raise the fat man case as a counterexample to consequentialism, and Connie responds with her error theory, she is presupposing that I am basing my belief on an intuition that it is wrong to push the fat man.

    Instead we must say that in many cases including all the examples above, besides Parfit they cast doubt on philosophical beliefs by casting doubt on the trustworthiness of intuitions, as in my above reconstruction of what goes on when philosophers offer and react to error theories. And if a philosopher does not take his intuitions to be evidence for his beliefs, it is unclear what relevance error theories of the above sort would have. Again, suppose Deon does not take E to be evidence for T. Second, consider the anti-Centrality explanations of the belief-intuition correspondence discussed in the previous section: that intuitions and beliefs have a common cause, or that intuitions cause beliefs, but that in neither case do philosophers use those intuitions as evidence.

    These will not enable us to explain error theories either. If we explain the correlation between beliefs and intuitions by giving some common-cause explanation, and hold that philosophers only use intuition contents T , 29 and not intuition states E , as evidence, even when they are consciously aware that they are in those states , then we are unable to explain why philosophers are moved by error theories. Similarly, error theories would have no bite if intuition-states were simply a precondition for or cause of philosophical beliefs without being evidence for them.

    Intuitions are Used as Evidence in Philosophy | Mind | Oxford Academic

    Suppose that I see a sparrow and believe that a sparrow is in front of me. Suppose that as a matter of human brain chemistry I can only believe that a sparrow is in front of me if I am in some brain state S, described in purely physical terms. However, I do not know this. You then challenge my belief that a sparrow is in front of me by showing me that the prior conditions of my brain and certain neurological laws make it highly likely that I am in S now whether or not there is a sparrow in front of me. Since I do not even know that I am in S, nor that S is a precondition for my belief, your remarks about S would leave me completely unmoved.

    In this example, S was a precondition for belief, but we can also make S a cause.

    2. The Epistemological Role of Intuitions

    We could suppose that S caused me to form my belief on the basis of sense experience in the usual way. As far as I can see, my reaction to your neurological evidence would be exactly the same. So, if intuitions were merely preconditions for or causes of philosophical belief that philosophers did not take to be evidence, it remains unclear why they would offer error theories and respond to them in the way they do.

    But if I believe that pushing the man off the footbridge is wrong because I know that I have an intuition that this is so, then I will be moved when a consequentialist observes that I am likely to have this intuition even given the assumption that pushing the man is the right thing to do. Lastly, consider Cappelen-style scepticism about the existence of intuitions. The discussion above should lead us to reject such scepticism. If there are no such mental states as intuitions on which philosophers rely in constructing theories and which are challenged by error theories, then it again becomes unclear why philosophers propose error theories or feel threatened by them.

    Then it seems that Cappelen would have to say that error theories about these judgments are simply error theories about the judgments. But, again, my pre-theoretic or snap judgment is only threatened by an error theory if it is formed on the basis of a fact that that error theory seeks to independently account for e. How might Cappelen respond? Instead of explaining how this practice is compatible with his thesis, he simply argues that philosophers have no obligation to engage in it.

    But whether or not this is right, it is a normative thesis. Cappelen needs an error theory of his own, to explain why philosophers engage in explaining away intuitions when there are no intuitions to explain away.


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    • Daniel Cohnitz & Sören Häggqvist, The role of intuitions in philosophical methodology - PhilPapers?
    • The Role of Intuitions in Philosophical Methodology by Serena Maria Nicoli (2016, Hardcover).
    • Intuitions in Philosophy: Overview and Taxonomy - Oxford Scholarship.

    Cappelen does suggest, in passing, that philosophers put forward error theories because they mistakenly endorse Centrality pp. This is not a promising explanation of error theories. Cappelen offers no reasons to think that philosophers offer theories because they have come to accept Centrality, and it is implausible when one considers the full range of cases discussed above.

    More generally, the above error theory about error theories faces a dilemma. Many error theories take place in the context of ordinary philosophical discussion, for example about our concept of knowledge. Metaphilosophy is often not salient. So if metaphilosophical views impact philosophy in this case, they must do so pretty generally. For instance, they will become more sceptical of their own views when their interlocutors offer error theories about their intuitions.

    And as soon as they do this, they are using intuitions as evidence , for reasons already rehearsed. And in that case Cappelen is no longer right that, as a matter of description, philosophers do not use intuitions as evidence. Error theories present a more complicated case of intuitional support than an intuition that P simply supporting a belief that P in all cases.

    I argued that the complexity they introduce — that philosophers are moved by considerations that suggest that the truth of their theory is not as good an explanation of the intuition as they thought — supports Centrality. As we will see in this section, other more complicated cases likewise support Centrality. In arguing against consequentialism, Ross : ch. The first counterexample involves choosing between fulfilling a promise to A and bringing about slightly more good to B, to whom one has made no promise. In each case Ross thinks it intuitively clear that we ought to choose the first option, contra consequentialism.

    Two features of this case should be familiar from philosophical argumentation. First, Ross offers several counterexamples, not just one.

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