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« On the seemingly ever-increasing pace of philosophy | Main | The Cocoon and "A New Theory of Free Will" discussed at Spacetime Mind »

04/06/2014

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Clayton

Hi Marcus,

Enjoyed your post. I'm not here to defend intuition mongering, exactly, but I do want to defend the view that this might still be the best of all possible worlds...

I think it's important to distinguish intuitions from beliefs (and distinguish beliefs from claims about which hypotheses you're sufficiently confident of for the purposes of a survey). Speaking just for myself, I think there are some views that meet the following conditions:

(i) I have intuitions that directly support the view and I believe it (e.g., externalism of various kinds).
(ii) I have no intuitions that directly support the view and I believe it (e.g., physicalism).
(iii) I have intuitions that seem to disconfirm the view but I believe it (e.g., non-consequentialism).

I'd be worried if this was all conducted by citing intuitions and not trying to work things out into wide-reflective equilibrium, but that hasn't been my experience. I admit, however, that there have been plenty of frustrating experiences involving proper intuition mongering, esp. from referees who treat some intuitions as axiomatic, but that has little to do with the survey data.

The geographical data doesn't actually worry me that much. It seems that lots of it can be explained by things like differences in the kind of work that you're exposed to, the kinds of interlocutors you have to deal with, etc. I'd be more worried if there was a kind of dogmatism that accompanied this, but the absence/presence of this dogmatic attitude and adherence to intuition or belief seems somewhat different than the data pointed to here.

(Small thing: I think the issue about names being rigid designators has to be distinguished from the stuff about Millianism and Fregeanism. (You don't have to be a Millian to believe that names are rigid designators. Fregeans can say this, too.) And, it's not clear that the data cited shows that the non-Millians lack the intuitions when presented with the relevant cases, only that somehow they haven't been persuaded to abandon Fregeanism.)

Marcus Arvan

Hi Clayton: Thanks for your comment, and for setting me straight on the Millianism/Fregean point. I agree with pretty much everything you say, but have one thought. You mention the importance of "wide reflective equilibrium" but also note that a lot of the differences here can likely be explains by the kind of work, interlocutors, etc., one is exposed to. But now aren't these two things in tension? If we want to achieve wide-reflective equilibrium, and there are serious differences geographically, doesn't this suggest that perhaps people in different places might not be engaging in wide *enough* equilibrium (i.e. staying too much within their own geographical circles)? I was discussing this issue with my conversant at the Bioethics bowl (see my other post), and he noted that he suggested different traditions (consequentialists, deontologists, virtue theorists, etc.) just aren't talking to one another, but rather mostly talk within their own circles. Anecdotally, at least, it seems to me that this happens geographically as well, and is something we might want to guard against. Then again, maybe not! Maybe different groups splintering off and doing their own things isn't bad. I think it's just interesting to note the statistical phenomena, and reflect on what they might indicate.

Brad Cokelet

Hi Marcus,

This reminds me of a snarky Bernard Williams story, mentioned in his Economist obituary:

"And discussing central-state materialism (a version of the idea that the mind is identical to the brain), he gleefully quoted an unnamed wit as saying that Australia was not just the place where this theory was invented, but also the only place where it is true."

Marcus Arvan

Brad: that's an awesome quip by Williams - love it! :)

Jaded

Philosophy is faddish, like much else. And fads often differ from place to place. Fashions Change, move. It's natural

Jaded

Part of what graduate work in philosophy does is to socialize you to have values, attitudes and, yes , intuitions. E. G, you are a failure if you don't get an academic job. Proper names lack descriptive content. It's groupthink that keeps the profession going. Nothing to be Alarmed at.

Ambrose

I agree with Jaded, I think. The sad fact is that professional philosophy is for the most part the activity of some small group of people building vast complicated structures on "intuitions" that are not widely shared even by most reflective intelligent people. The game goes on for a decade or so -- now the epicycles might be shorter because of technology -- and then someone makes a name for himself by pointing out that the underlying intuition is actually not so intuitive. (That's all Kripke really did, though with great ingenuity.) I do think there's an alternative though. One might take a Socratic approach, and question the intuitions that philosophers right now tend to accept. They are questionable on the basis of deeper intuitions that most reflective intelligent people really would accept. But that's not likely to happen because it ruins the game (and destroys the illusion of progress). Another reason it won't happen is that if we take a truly Socratic approach we might find ourselves in disagreement with powerful people, like Socrates did. Still, it's nice to remember that you can always do real philosophy in your head or in the company of one or two trusted friends.

Marcus Arvan

Jaded and Ambrose: Thanks for your comments. I think it *is* something to be alarmed at, and that there are better alternatives -- namely:

(1) Stop accepting (and publishing) intuition-mongering arguments (those that assume the truth of a disputed intuition), and instead

(2) Insist that philosophical arguments take seriously, and work with, the *plurality* of intuitions (in roughly the sort of way I suggested with the proper-names case).

I think the second approach would transform the way philosophy is done, and for the better. Consider, as just one example, mind-body dualism in the philosophy of mind. Instead of insisting that zombies are possible (or impossible) -- viz. intuition-mongering -- we should simply try to make sense of the fact that many people do *not* think physicalism can make sense of phenomenal experience (and then see whether physicalism can make sense of their unease). This is, among other things, why I think the debate about "phenomenal concepts" has been worthwhile. It has involved phsyicalists taking non-physicalists worries about subjective experience seriously, instead of just trying to deny them. Moreover, insofar as problems have cropped up again and again with phenomenal concepts, this suggests -- in a non-intuition-mongering way -- that physicalists still have trouble accounting for worries many of us have about subjective experience.

See the difference? We can still do philosophy without intuition-*mongering*. We can do philosophy well -- and more productively -- by taking seriously *all* sides' intuitions...rather than insisting merely that "our intuitions" are correct (which is what far too much of contemporary analytic philosophy has involved).

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