Over at New APPS, Catarina Dutilh Novaes has an interesting post about a project she is working on with her graduate students. The project is about the origins of analytic philosophy in general and the history of the use of intuitions as evidence in philosophy in particular.
One question Catarina and her students are trying to answer is the following: "when and how did the term ‘intuitions’ begin to be used in the philosophical literature in its current sense(s)?"
In comments, Catarina reports a suggestion "that philosophers adopted the intuitions-terminology under the influence of Chomsky and other linguists." In line with Catarina’s report, Daniel Garber writes in the comments section:
My own suspicion is that intuitions entered analytic philosophy in the late 1950s or early 1960s from Chomsky's transformational grammar program. There the idea is that intuitions about grammaticality are the data, and we build theories to capture and systematize those intuitions. It is a short distance from there to what philosophers now do with intuition. But this is just a guess. One would have to poke about and see if the dates are right, and the influences seem plausible. But it seems significant that Rawls refers to this idea in Chomsky in A THEORY OF JUSTICE, a book that was in progress in the 1960s.
In this post, I would like to suggest that intuition-talk is much older than we might think. Since I don’t have graduate students (but I do have a lot of undergraduates this semester :), I will merely suggest that, and present some preliminary evidence to that effect. (One more paper to write.)
Using this Google Books tool, we can find out how far back intuition-talk goes.
We can see that intuition-talk goes back to the eighteenth century. We can also zoom in on search results to see how the terms are used. Here are three examples:
- Truth is an amiable and delightful object to the eye of the mind, but is not easily apprehended by the bulk of mankind; especially if it be remote from common observation, or abstracted from sensible experience. It requires strict attention as well as an acute perception to take it up in its pure and intellectual appearance, and the memory must be tenacious to retain it long in that simple form (Fordyce 1768, p. 329).
- Upon the validity of this intellectual intuition (a direct application of Descartes’ appeal to the authority of consciousness), the very axioms of Spinoza’s system must wholly rest (Morell 1847 p. 184).
- The more clearly we see any thing to be moral, the more sensibly we feel ourselves under a moral obligation to perform it. This being a matter of common intuition, and universal experience, all that is necessary to convince us of its truth, is to bring it directly before our minds (Alexander 1852 p. 49).