Intuition as a methodological device in Philosophy

‘Intuition’ seems to be a word which (many) Philosophers are fond of. ‘Intuition’ seems to be at the heart of Philosophical methodology. Intuitive appeal is often is an important aspect of a Philosophical theory. To suspect that a particular Philosophical position is unintuitive or counter intuitive is to put a burden on the part of the defender of that position to provide an explanation. The idea seems to be that if the Position defended is indeed intuitive, the further explanation provided on demand will show us the intuitive appeal of the position. The idea is that we will be pulled by the intuitive appeal of the position and will accept that the position at issue is plausible. Intuitive appeal is not sufficient for a position to be defended but is, it seems to me, often necessary. We all very well know that there examples and thought experiments in Philosophy which provides conflicting intuitions. As you focus on some feature of the example or thought experiment you seem to tend think towards one direction and as you focus on some other features you tend to think towards the opposite direction. And also, we get pulled towards one direction sometimes and towards the opposite direction some other times. Sometimes we might experience a gestalt switching of intuitions as well.

Edmund Gettier

Edmund Gettier

Intuition appears to be a complex phenomenon and an elusive term as it is hinted above. To complicate the issue further, it seems that there are difficulties with intuitions that we often taken for granted in Philosophy classes. Experimental researches on Gettier Cases suggest that people from different cultural background have different intuitions about the Gettier cases (see the paper Normativity and Epistemic Intuitions in this connection). According to some, gender as well affects one’s philosophical intuition (Click HERE to see a paper which argues in this line. And click HERE to see another paper related to the argument at issue). Gettier cases are thought experiments which are thought to have provided a very clear intuition about whether one possesses knowledge or not in certain situations. Suppose some students in the epistemology class is getting a different intuition from the instructor (instructor is holding the standardly expected intuition). They get this intuition despite of them understanding all the details of the examples/thought experiments provided well. The intuition they get is deviant from what is standardly taken as the right intuition (the intuition which the instructor expects). What do we do? How do you convince these students that it is intuitive that this case is an instance of knowledge/non-knowledge? Or is it required to convince them? If it turns out that standard intuitions are arbitrary, what repercussion it will it have con methodology of Philosophy? Is it the case that so far we were excluding people who do not hold the standard intuition as ‘not good for Philosophy’?
I was thinking about ‘intuition’ after listening to a discussion on this topic which appeared in Philosophy TV. The thrust of the discussion is a follows:

“Empirical evidence collected by Stich and Buckwalter suggests that “standard” intuitions about philosophical thought experiments (e.g. Gettier cases) are more common among men than women. Stich and Gendler examine the merits of this evidence. They consider what might explain gendered differences in intuitions, and whether such differences can help to explain why women are underrepresented in professional philosophy. They also discuss alternative explanations for the gender gap, including the effects of sexism and the shortage of female professors and graduate students to serve as role models for female undergraduates. Finally, they ask why a gender gap has been a larger problem in philosophy than other fields.”

Click HERE to listen the discussion on gender and Philosophical intuition.

7 comments on “Intuition as a methodological device in Philosophy

  1. Really interesting, especially for me (a woman interested in philosophy.) Do you happen the alternative to having ‘standard philosophical intuitions’? For instance, did women tend to have non-standard intuitions, or no intuitions at all? (I do not mean to insult women, but I consider this a valid potential possibility and was honestly wondering!)
    I also think it would be really interesting to look into the philosophical intuitions of children, but it would probably be hard to pull off!

    • Hi Olivia,
      Let me talk about the last thing you mentioned first. I think it would be a great idea to see what are the intuitions childen have on various issues. I beleive that children should be introduced to Philosophy. If Philosophy is in some sense originate from wonder (as it is often claimed about science), who else wonder more about various things than childen do? It might be a good idea to check the intutions of people who are not trained in Philospohy as well. Often the training in Philosphy steal the ordinary intuitions we had prior to the training.
      There are peopel who thinks that often women have intutions that are different from the so called “standard”/usually expected intuition. Please listen the video and the links provided in this post.
      I do not know much about experimental Philosophy. But from whatever I heard I am not very much with them though I understand that there are aspects where they can make significant contributions. Thanks for the comment.

  2. ***to remember the alternative**

    • Thanks for the comment. I am not sure (unlike I thought before) that the experimental philosophy approach is an alternative to the usual way of doing Philosophy. As I see it, at best it might be complementary to the usual excercise of philosophy.

  3. The papers you link are only abstracts. I take it in the fake barn cases younger people thought it could still be knowledge even though fake barns existed in the area as long *as the person was looking at an actual barn.* That is I assume people weren’t still thinking someone knew there was a barn there when they were in fact looking at a fake barn.

    “Let me talk about the last thing you mentioned first. I think it would be a great idea to see what are the intuitions childen have on various issues.”

    Ok I have a 2 girls about 14 months apart. Although I like philosophy I don’t force it down their throat – honestly. Yet even before they were in kindergarten they would often ask “In real life?” after i said something they questioned. This was their way of asking me if it what I said was “true.” And they would not just ask this after some fanciful tale i would tell. They would ask this about routine things as well. Being a philosophy fan I got a kick out of the fact that they seemed to intuitively grasped the notion that something is true when it corresponds to reality.

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