Our books

Become a Fan

« Great recent ethics papers? | Main | Two Interesting Papers »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Marcus Arvan

Moti: I find the move baffling. If anything is true, it's true that philosophy relies on intuitions. Those who deny this seem to me to be using a straw man definition of "intuition.". They say that intuitions are completely unreflective judgments -- which of course philosophy *doesn't* rely on. When we make intuitive judgments about Gettier cases, etc. we *reflect* carefully on an entire host of related issues (such as what beliefs are, what justification is, etc.). So we don't rely on "bare" intuition. But whoever thought we did!? The relevant point is that philosophy is clearly based on "what we would say" about various cases. This is clearly true -- and it does raise the obvious and difficult question of how confident we should be in the procedure in light of peer and cross-cultural disagreement.

Brad Cokelet

I do not see why the view expressed in the post (to which you linked) is bizarre. Discussions of intuition and methodology are naturally liable to founder on different assumptions or confusions about what "intuition" refers to. It is a term of art in these discussions. Perhaps the people you mention are assuming/stipulating that "intuition" refers to something that experimental philosophers could sensibly claim to be better placed to investigate than people working in the armchair, and then arguing that intuitions of that sort have not played a large evidential role in philosophy?

More generally, I think that for your points to gain purchase against these new wave defenders of normal philosophy, you need to help us understand how they are using 'intuition'.

Brad Cokelet

Marcus, Like you I find all the wrangling over the definition of 'intuition' tiresome, but I doubt you have stated your own view correctly. You said that, "philosophy is clearly based on "what we would say" about various cases," but I doubt this is right. It might be based on what we would *judge* to be true in various cases or about various cases, but that is a quite different matter.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Brad: you're right -- I should have written "judge" rather than "what we would say." I was just using a common phrase. But the basic point stands, no? Philosophy necessarily depends on judgments about the truth-value of premises. And the point then is that whatever one wants to call those judgments ("intuitions" or whatever), the kinds of judgments that issue into philosophical argument seem to face serious problems, viz. peer and cross-cultural disagreement.

Wouldn't it be better to do away with all the wrangling of the term "intuition" and just say: Look, there's this problem. Philosophy is about arguments. But arguments are based on premises, which we have to judge the truth-values of. But when we judge the truth-values of premises, we face several systematic problems: (A) Philosophers -- i.e. epistemic peers -- often (I'd say usually!) disagree quite wildly about which premises are true, and (B) There seem to be serious cultural, gender, etc. disparities, neither of which (C) traditional philosophical methods (i.e. armchair reflection) seem to address very well.

As I see the debate (and I'm admittedly an outsider to it), (A) certain traditionalists want to deny that the above issues (i.e. rampant disagreement over premises, gender and cultural disparities, etc.) are serious issues -- that we should just "keep on keepin' on" with our usual philosophical methods (i.e. armchair premise-evaluating); whereas (B) a number of experimentalists are essentially saying, "No, we can't just keep on keepin' on -- not if we want to be epistemically respectable. The fact that there is rampant and often protracted disagreement over the truth-value of premises, the apparent facts of gender and cultural disagreement, etc., raise serious doubts about the epistemic value of many philosophical arguments.

This is the crux of the debate, no?

Brad Cokelet

I am an outsider to these debates too, but I personally don't see good philosophers simply grounding their arguments in single contentious judgments about cases.

In fact many philosophers note that and when judgments are contentious, and then try to explore the nature and grounds for the differences in judgment In meta-ethics, for example, there is a growing literature on whether ordinary moral discourse or thought carries some implicit commitment to "objectivity". People are trying to make clear the nature of these commitments and whether they spell trouble for, say, expressivists. Sure these debates started with people like Mackie making opaque claims, but then the debate has progressed by people probing things more carefully.

Another case would be Setiya's Reasons without Rationalism. One admirable thing about the book is that he aims to attack the guise of the good view of intention and action with more than an appeal to alleged counterexample cases, and he does this just because he knows judgments about those cases is contentious.

Finally, think of utilitarian responses to the idea that we should ignore "deontic constraints" or convict the innocent to appease a mob. No one, outside of a student in into to ethics, would think that the case for or against utilitairianism is conclusively settled by judgments about these cases. I suppose you might argue these arguments should be given NO weight, but that seems like a much stronger position and I am not seeing the argument for it yet.

These are just two examples of many.

Brad Cokelet

err...three examples of many

Moti Mizrahi

Thanks for your comments, Brad and Marcus.

I agree with Marcus that the term ‘intuition’ is of no significance. Whatever you want to call that thing that philosophers appeal to when they make judgments in response to hypothetical cases, that’s the thing that plays an evidential role in philosophy.

Brad, please note that this latter claim is consistent with there being a few exceptions; that is, with there being philosophical arguments that do not rely on judgments elicited by hypothetical cases. As Marcus pointed out, no one would claim that all philosophical arguments are just appeals to intuition. But it is hard to deny that *some* philosophical arguments are. The argument I mention in the post, namely, Searle’s Chinese Room argument is one example. But there are many more: Jackson’s knowledge argument, Chalmers’ zombie argument, Thomson’s violinist, Nozick’s experience machine. The list goes on and on.

Brad Cokelet

Ok, I will just grant that and say this: even if that is true, it does not show we need to rethink philosophic methodology or that is is silly to go on working from the armchair alone. It just shows that we should be wary of taking arguments like the ones you mention to be conclusive arguments for our views. But maybe you are ok with this modest position?

Brad Cokelet

It is also worth noticing that the examples you mention do not function as discussion stoppers in the philosophic discourse. Perhaps the authors intend them that way, but in the larger interpersonal dialectic these examples have given rise to large literatures and discussions of the underlying issues. So I say go ahead and introduce these and pose them as discussion stoppers - there is nothing better than that to get a real rich conversation started by those who reject your view, which you take to be established by reflection on the case.

Moti Mizrahi

Thanks, Brad.

You are right, of course, that I haven’t said anything about why we should rethink the armchair methodology. My post was prompted by attempts to deny that intuitions actually *do* play an evidential role. Whether intuitions *should* play an evidential role is another question. I would argue (and I have argued) that appeals to intuition are bad arguments (not simply inconclusive arguments). Why? Because making judgments in response to hypothetical cases is not a reliable belief forming process. Why? Because this method yields incompatible verdicts in response to the same cases.

Marcus Arvan

Brad: I think it does mean that we need to "give up the armchair", at least to a certain extent. Here's why. A lot of philosophical disagreements result from protracted disagreement over premises. I have in mind here, among other things, disagreements over (A) moral motivation (internal or external?), (B) debates over phenomenal concepts in philosophy of mind, (C) descriptivism vs Millianism in Phil language, (D) disagreements between libertarians and liberal-egalitarians in political philosophy, on down the line. The perennially disappointing thing about philosophy is that we rarely, if ever, resolve these disagreements (some of which we have been discussing for thousands of years). The problem with armchair theorizing -- at least as I see it -- is that when we disagree over premises, we have few resources at our disposal to argue in favor of one theory rather than another (hence the common saying, "One person's modus ponens is another's modus tollens"). This is terribly disappointing and, I think, rather embarrassing. It's what leads many of our students to think that philosophy is a matter of opinion! After all, what do they see? They see people over here who find physicalist premises attractive and people over there who find dualist ones attractive; people over here who find moral motivational internalism attractive and people over there who find moral motivational externalism attractive; and so on. It all just looks so *arbitrary*! What we really want to know is: when each side's premises seem "obvious" or "intuitive" to *them*, but there are many different sides, all of whom find their own premises attractive, are there really any reasons to think that one dide's premises are epistemically any better than the others?

The way I see it, traditional philosophical methods (I.e. armchair theorizing) have proven themselves spectacularly unable to address this fundamental and vital issue -- for how could they? Given that armchair theorizing appeals to *judgments* about premises, one can hardly expect such a method to clear up such matters -- for it's te very truth of the premises that we disagree about in the armchair! Hence thousands of years of disagreement over basic philosophical questions.

Now turn to experimental methods and the issues I mentioned up above. Consider moral motivational internalism. Suppose neuroscience showed that motivational brain structures were totally disconnected from moral cognition. Well, wouldn't that *settle* the issue of whether moral motivation is internal or external to moral judgment (in which case we could finally move on to discuss other things)? Or suppose that neuroscience demonstrated that there *are* fundamentally perspectival concepts. Wouldn't that settle the issue of whether there are phenomenal concepts that can do the job physicalists want them to do? Etc. Here it looks like we finally have a potential way out of philosophy's perennial problem: its seeming inability to ever fully dispatch with problems and provide real answers. Armchair philosophizing can, it seems, never get outside itself and tell us *which* premises to accept when we disagree in the armchair. Only experimental methods seem capable of doing that. Hence, we should get out of (though not burn!) the armchair.

T. Parent

Great question Mozi.
Having read much of Cappelen's book, I came to believe he has a high standard for what it is to be "evidence." That's how he argues that philosophers ought not to treat intuitions as "evidence," even though philosophy obviously relies on intuitions in thought-experiments, etc.

I'm reminded of Lycan, who holds that intuitions are indispensable to philosophy, yet are nonetheless laughably unreliable.

Brad Cokelet

Moti: Have you read Cappelen's book? I would be interested to hear what his take would be on the cases you raise.

Marcus: This is interesting because I think our difference here might rest on a difference in how you think of philosophy. I think of philosophy as an attempt to form clear views about interesting topics, many of which are not addressed by other disciplines, and to refine one's views by engaging with others who have different views. I am happy if I go from not thinking about a topic to having reflective views informed by knowledge of the arguments; I do not hope for knock down proofs that opposing views are false. I am thus not depressed by the persistence of disagreement, and when my students worry it is "all a matter of opinion" I say that even if that is true, there are well informed, reflectively held opinions and that they can gain a lot by getting their own opinions into that category. I also often find that coming to appreciate this point involves a retreat from dogmatism and close-mindedness (relativism's close cousin).

On the experimental science case, I agree in principle that it is good to look at more empirical science, but I also think the upshot of this is often overblown (e.g. on the stuff about deontology and alleged "emotional part of the brain" MRI results). I should also mention that I am tempted to doubt experimental results of the sort you mention can settle any normative disputes.

T. Parent

Bah, I meant to write "Moti." Sorry!

Marcus Arvan

Hi Ted: I actually tend to vacillate quite a bit when it comes to my approach to philosophy! Oftentimes I find myself attracted to the perspective you mention -- that philosophy isn't (or shouldn't be) about knock-down proofs and such, but rather the development and deeper understanding of arguments, theories, etc. Part of what attracts me to this approach is indeed its openmindedness, and focus on *understanding* rather than "philosophical combat". On the flip-side, however, it can be hard (for me, at any rate) not to want philosophy to be more than just this -- and I guess I'm with many experimentalists who think empirical stuff can help philosophy make better progress (by giving us additional evidence to favor some premises over others). I'm also with you that I think the philosophical implications empirical findings tend to be totally overblown -- particularly the kinds of fMRI stuff that's been used to argue for utilitarianism (which I think draws bad inferences from the empirical evidence). Still, I guess I'm more sanguine on the prospect that empirical findings can help us. The key is to do the rights kinds of studies and interpret their implications correctly!

T. Parent

Hi Marcus, sounds perfectly reasonable. I didn't mean to oppose x-phi by the way (though like all philosophical schools, there are better and worse instances of it). After all, we have all witnessed debates that end with "that's an empirical question." So it's real progress if folks are starting to address those questions empirically! But right, I agree also that armchair reflection has its place. (I'm not sure how to investigate, e.g., phil of pure mathematics, except from the armchair.)

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Job-market reporting thread

Current Job-Market Discussion Thread

Philosophers in Industry Directory

Cocoon Job-Market Mentoring Program