APA 2014-3: Intuitions in philosophy, pro and con

trusting_your_intuitionby Massimo Pigliucci

My series of reports from the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association meetings continues with an installation on the role of intuitions in philosophy, a topic that has seen much controversy recently. The chair of the session was Joshua Schechter (Brown University), and the two speakers were Herman Cappelen (University of St Andrews, Scotland), arguing that — if we look carefully — philosophers don’t actually use intuitions, or at the least not in the way alleged by critics, and John Bengson (University of Wisconsin-Madison), who argued instead that philosophers do use intuitions, and defended the practice. I will summarize the two talks in sequence, with the usual interspersed comments. I must say upfront, however, that I very much agree with Cappelen’s take, and in fact I do cite some of his work in a book currently under review by Chicago Press, on the concept of progress in philosophy, hopefully out by early 2016.

Cappelen wrote an entire book on this topic, aptly entitled Philosophy Without Intuitions [1]. He maintains that a close examination of what philosophers actually do reveals that by and large they do not rely on intuitions as data to test philosophical hypotheses or conjectures, which, incidentally, calls into question the whole initial impetus for the experimental philosophy (XPhi) program [2]. Cappelen noted that, interestingly, it isn’t just critics of philosophy, or supporters of XPhi who make that mistaken claim, so do too, on the other side, so-called philosophical rationalists, except that they think this is a good thing (I assume that the second speaker, Bengson, belongs to the latter category).

Cappelen proposed that any criticism of philosophical intuitions ought to provide a good working definition of intuitions and how they are (allegedly) deployed by philosophers, as well as empirical evidence that philosophers actually do use intuitions in said manner. Little has been done on the first count, and next to nothing on the second one, not even by XPhi practitioners, who are usually more interested in showing how laypeople’s intuitions differ from those of professional philosophers (and which I find just as interesting as showing that laypeople’s intuitions about quantum mechanics or natural selection differ from those of professional physicists or biologists).

Philosophy Without Intuitions, then, explores philosophers’ actual use of the vocabulary of intuition, empirically finding that they by and large do not in fact use intuitions as data to test their hypotheses. The book also investigates the practice of thought experiments and how they work, since this is the area of philosophical inquiry that most often is brought up in the context of the use or misuse of intuitions. Cappelen observed that this is a messy and difficult type of exploration, as the literature is very large, spanning a broad range of philosophical topics, stretching for literally more than 2000 years. Again, however, he found very little support for the alleged use of intuitions-as-data in philosophy.

David Chalmers (he of the p-zombies [3]) has countered that there are many judgments in philosophy that are justifiable and yet not broadly inferential in nature — those would be the  “intuitions” in question. Paul Boghossian has also been a critic of Cappelen, claiming that almost everyone accepts, for instance the famous twin-earth judgment arguing for semantic externalism [4], and yet that it is not inferential, it is “intuitive.”

But Cappelen thinks that it is unwarranted to label something “intuitive” just because it is not broadly inferential. Another possibility, for instance, is that sometimes people think they are justified (by reason, not intuition) in arriving at a judgment (say, about p-zombies), but they are really not. However, in the case of the twin-earth thought experiment proposed by Hilary Putnam, Cappelen maintains that there is in fact a broadly inferential (again, as opposed to intuitive) justification of the conclusion of the thought experiment, which explains why most philosophers consider Putnam’s judgment correct.

At this point Cappelen introduced his concept of Socratic knowledge [5]: this is implicit knowledge that people recognize as correct when presented with it. For instance, all people in the conference room had a vast knowledge base about reference, because they use it constantly. And yet, most of them would not be able to articulate it on the spot, certainly not in any sophisticated manner. The same is true for agency, belief attribution, knowledge attribution, and so on — just in virtue of being agents with beliefs, knowledge, etc.

Now, making tacit knowledge explicit and generalizing about it can be surprisingly hard. But the idea is that lots of cases like the twin-earth thought experiment involve the deployment of people’s tacit knowledge, which means that they are (justifiable or not) inferences, contra Chalmers.

Cappelen proposed — correctly I think — that the idea of Socratic knowledge so described is not even in the neighborhood of the kind of things that either philosophers or psychologists call intuitive, contra to what is maintained by some XPhi-ers. And of course these judgments are also not un-empirical, as tacit knowledge often involves quite a bit of empirical input. Intuitions (in the philosophical sense) are also not “spontaneous,” coming about without reflection on the part of the agent (as it is, in fact, the case for intuitions in the psychological sense).

Back to Boghossian’s objection about twin-earth, which is representative of a lot of contemporary thought experiments in philosophy. That too, according to Cappelen, is a case of deployment of Socratic knowledge. He thinks the reason so many people seem to agree on the central judgment for Putnam’s twin-earth judgment (whatever one takes that to be) is not merely sociological (i.e., Putnam was a highly influential philosopher, people wanted jobs in analytic departments, etc.), but based on the fact that the thought experiment prompts people to reflect on their Socratic knowledge of reference, a reflection that (usually) prompts agreement with Putnam’s conclusions.

But aren’t cases like twin-earth and p-zombies not so “far out,” i.e., artificial, that they cannot possibly be cases of Socratic knowledge? Don’t they require a (highly controversial) epistemology of counterfactuals [6] in order to be judged? Cappelen rejects that need, which would in turn require some type of appropriate modal logic, and thinks that the category of “far out” is simply not at all helpful. All there is are cases that are difficult to judge, some of which are “far out” and some are actually not; moreover, one can easily construe very ordinary hypotheticals about which it is also difficult to render a judgment, for instance because they present us with reasonable, and yet conflicting, epistemic or ethical judgments (in other words, far-outness doesn’t track the difficulty of such cases).

As I said at the beginning, I found Cappelen’s presentation thoroughly persuasive, and having read some of his work I am actually convinced that the case of philosophical intuitions has been vastly overstated, ironically both by supporters and detractors of the practice.

Nonetheless, let us briefly take a look at Bengson’s talk in turn. According to him, intuition may play a role in philosophical understanding, an idea perhaps first pursued by Aristotle. Specifically, intuition may play a role as “sense maker,” one that cannot be fully accounted for by reason. (No need to read anything mystical in this, by the way. In psychology, for instance, intuitions are the result of sub-conscious  processing of information, and as such they are not necessarily, or entirely, open to scrutiny by reason.)

Intuition for Bengson results in a non sensory, conscious state of mind in which “it strikes one that p,” e.g., it strikes me that killing an innocent is wrong, or that identity is transitive. People sometimes speak of these cases as “just seeing that.”

This, of course, does not mean that one cannot argue against the validity of such states. Nonetheless, it strikes me that both examples are far from optimal: one may perhaps begin with the sort of strong pull described by Bengson, but if challenged one would have to explain oneself, which immediately moves us away from the alleged intuition as determinative of the judgment, and closer to Cappelen’s idea of Socratic knowledge.

Bengson suggested that understanding is a mental state in which someone grasps something. “The house burned down because of faulty wiring,” for instance, or “the second Newtonian law is F=ma.” It is the actual grasp (epistemic), not just the sense of grasping (psychological), that counts as understanding, since one could have the impression of understanding, but it may turn out that that impression was incorrect.

Understanding is — according to Bengson — more demanding than knowledge, since knowledge can be achieved by simple rote memorization. I may know that quantum mechanics tells us about virtual particles coming in and out of existence, for instance, but I don’t necessarily understand how that is possible. Understanding, then has a kind of intelligence and robustness that simple knowledge lacks. (Here clearly the author was not using the Platonic meaning of knowledge as justified true belief.)

The question then, is what are the sources of one’s understanding, again from an epistemic, not a psychological, perspective. The idea is that intuition may be one such source, although of course a story is still needed as to how, exactly, intuition may lead to understanding, as obviously understanding can come in a variety of ways, including acquisition of new knowledge, memory recall of previous knowledge, or even direct physical manipulation of things (e.g., understanding how to use a hammer by, in fact, using it).

Toward the end of his talk, Bengson gave the example of someone who has to count the total number of fruits (say, a mix of apples and oranges) in a basket, and initially thinks that the order of the counting is important (e.g., first apples, then oranges). But she then immediately sees (intuits) that, in fact, the order is irrelevant, that the addition will yield the same result regardless. Bengson also gave a couple of examples from metaphysics, but since those are inherently controversial, and to say that “we have the intuition that” in metaphysics comes perilously close to begging the question, I will skip them.

Again, although Bengson’s presentation was interesting, I did not find his arguments compelling. Take his example of the counting of apples and oranges: is this really an instance of intuition? Why is it not rather the outcome of a quick reflection on the nature of addition, perhaps drawing on the subject’s Socratic knowledge of what addition is and how it works?

_____

Massimo Pigliucci is a biologist and philosopher at the City University of New York. His main interests are in the philosophy of science and pseudoscience. He is the editor-in-chief of Scientia Salon, and his latest book (co-edited with Maarten Boudry) is Philosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering the Demarcation Problem (Chicago Press).

[1] Philosophy without Intuitions, by H. Cappelen, Oxford University Press, 2014.

[2] Experimental philosophy is not an elephant, by M. Pigliucci, Rationally Speaking, 15 March 2013.

[3] The zombification of philosophy (of mind), by M. Pigliucci, Rationally Speaking, 29 July 2008.

[4] Twin Earth thought experiment, Wiki entry.

[5] The term is obviously inspired by one of the Platonic dialogues, the Meno, in which Socrates poses a mathematical puzzle to a slave, showing that the slave knew the answer even though he had not actually studied mathematics and was not aware of his knowledge. Of course Plato interpreted this as the result of recollections from previous existences, while Cappelen thinks Socratic knowledge is a type of implicit knowledge acquired through practice.

[6] The logic of conditionals, by Horacio Arlo-Costa, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2007.

57 thoughts on “APA 2014-3: Intuitions in philosophy, pro and con

  1. I think there is a difference between the way we find our ideas and the way we present and justify them. For example, a mathematical proof is a step by step logical argument, but you don’t find it that way. The thought process by which the proof is found is not the same as the series of proof steps you can see in the finished proof. If you just apply rules of inference systematically, you will run into a combinatorial explosion and never find the proof. However, by analyzing existing proofs, you can find patterns and by applying such patterns, you can find new proofs. The strategies you develop this way cannot be justified except by their success. In the finished mathematical paper, you see no trace of them, all you see is the proof. In computer programming, it is the same. The thought processes that lead to a solution can be quite crazy and strange, and you go through a lot of errors. Once you have the solution, you ask yourself why you never found it before. There is a programmers saying: “as soon as you do it correctly, it just works”. The finished solution then just looks elegant and logical and you can easily understand it, but that is not the way you find that algorithm. These are creative processes in which you start with a corpus of knowledge that is actually too small to rationally construct the solution, so you have to try out things, use unjustifyable strategies and run into blind alleys on the way. Only afterwards, you may be able to “construct” the solution. So the knowledge of how to get there emerges together with the solution. The cognitive apparatus is extended while you find a solution of some problem.
    There is no complete formal theory of cognitive processes. The mathematician Kurt Ammon once defined creativity as the ability to compute non-turing-computable functions. The rational arguments that you see afterwards are the restults of such processes, not the way we get there. Since we don’t have algorithms (or complete formal theories) for such tasks, we have to extend our theories or algorithms. In doing so, there is always the possibility of error and therefore, there is always the need for critical reflection, discussion and revision. That is the activity known as philosophy. Philosophy grows out of incompletenes, out of the fact that not everything is turing-computable. If intuition was not necessary, there would be no philosophy. We would just calculate everything by a pre-existing algorithm. But in many activities in logic, mathematics, programming and many other areas (including the sciences), incompleteness (or non-turing-computability) appears. The human mind is self-programming, self-extending or creative (in the sense defined above) just to be able to cope with this complexity. As a result, formal descriptions of cognition and hence of human culture are always incomplete (and descriptions of humans and their culture as a result cannot be incorporated into “science” in the narrower sense).
    If you just look at the publications of philosophers, you will get a wrong impression about the role of intuition because they will only be published once the intuitive processes that lead to them have been eliminated and have been replaced by (more or les) solid arguments, just like in math papers, you will see the finished proof, not the process that enabled the author to find it. But if we could watch the thought processes, we would find that they are a lot less “rational” or “logical”. Those thinking processes that can be done in a systematic way can be transfered to computers. What remains to be done for philosophers is exactly the hard part where this is not (yet) possible.

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  2. Some idle thoughts.

    I find that discussions of intuition are not very useful in a general philosophical context if they fail to recognize that direct realisation and insight are not intuitions but something more like Kant’s ‘non-intuitive immediate knowledge’. This would relate to Aristotle’s point that true knowledge is identical with its object. This identity would not be intuition but knowledge. Yet it is often incorrectly called ‘intuition’ by those who believe such direct knowledge is impossible, and this confuses the issues.

    Intuition is not knowledge so cannot replace logic or experience. Intuition might often point us in the right direction and we’d be foolish to ignore it, but I’d say that a philosopher would be foolish to trust intuition over logic and experience, and may have even stopped being a philosopher.

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  3. I would suggest that intuition plays a part in all reasoning processes, including maths and science. In maths and science intuition typically plays a part in the earlier stages of reasoning.

    I would suggest that intuition is a little like analogy in that its usefulness is tied completely to the recognition of its limitations. Explaining how virtual particles can pop into and out of existence with the analogy of a fist coming into and out of existence is a good start but has to be abandoned almost straight away.

    Similarly intuitions are often a good starting point, but it is important to understand that they can be completely wrong and misleading. I would suggest that this approach is just as important in philosophy as it is in maths or science.

    On the other hand, I wonder if it is any more than intuition behind the almost universal acceptance by mathematicians that the Riemann Hypothesis is true (no matter how many numbers are tested).

    So maybe I am just using my intuition about the role of intuition.

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  4. Interesting piece.

    I’d argue that behind the issue of the philosophical use of the word “intuition,” and whether philosophers use philosophical intuition that much, is the broader question of the definition of that word.

    While I believe I would disagree with a fair amount of commenter Orwell and his take on philosophy, in a case like this, I would probably agree more than disagree. The modern philosophical use of the word, versus more common use that’s not just everyday street language, but also, that of science, both natural sciences and at least psychology, maybe needs some cleaning up.

    My definition is similar to what Robin is getting at with his virtual particles idea. It’s information and/or ideas, whether individual bits of data, or some conjoined idea of reasoning, that pops out of subconsciousness or unconsciousness into consciousness. Kekule’s famous dream about a snake biting its tale, then the next day getting the “Aha” that this might describe the structure of benzene, comes immediately to mind.

    Per Robin, of course, yes, intuitions are often incorrect. But, they’re sometimes correct, and at times when not incorrect, they may still be stimulations to new lines of thought.

    I recognize this is more a psychological than a philosophical definition, albeit that it’s also one, or similar to one, that would be comfortably used in the natural sciences as well. That said, maybe that itself is an issue.

    Cappelen seems right if he’s confined to the philosophical use of the term. Otherwise, not so much.

    Cappelen seems to have put the cart before the horse. Why would anybody use intuitions, even on the philosophical definition of the word, as data for tests?

    Rather, wouldn’t one check an intuition by consciously derived data? This would certainly be true in the sciences. Of course, there, an intuition can be tested just like a conscious hypothesis.

    As for thought experiments, most of them, in both the sciences and philosophy, are consciously crafted. They may get a start from some intuition, but that intuition is almost never the final thought experiment.

    Bengson, at the start of Massimo’s description, seems to be moving toward a different definition, one that would be more accommodating to scientific and psychological understandings. Then he spoils it all with his particular thought experiment.

    So, especially for experimental philosophy, which is, if you will, “philosophy on the street,” I think it would behoove philosophers to adjust their language on this issue.

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  5. Cappelen’s approach strikes me as a “moving the goalposts” strategy. I have often claimed that philosophers rely too heavily on intuition. I’m not impressed by a counterargument that depends on redefining what I call intuition as “Socratic knowledge” and restricting the meaning of “intuition”, apparently, to baseless beliefs.

    Let me be more concrete. When I say that philosophers rely too heavily on intuition, I mainly mean that they rely too heavily on mental imagery. For example most people, including most philosophers, when they think about Free Will, understand it in terms of a “ghost in the machine” image: they visualize the brain as a machine, and “consciousness” as the agent that operates it. Actions can only be freely willed if they are generated by “consciousness” rather than by the machine. This image is typically used without any examination of its validity. Anything that is an intrinsic part of the image strikes people as intuitively obvious; anything that is incompatible with the image strikes people as intuitively false. Thus to most people it is intuitively obvious that Benjamin Libet’s findings disprove the existence of Free Will; the truth is simply that it is impossible to interpret them in terms of the “ghost in the machine” image.

    It seems to me that the argument I am giving here is compatible with Bengson’s concept of intuition, and that it is incompatible with Cappelen’s because he has redefined intuition in an unintuitive way.

    I’m particular averse to Cappelen’s approach (as portrayed here) because it would force me, instead of saying that people have wrong intuitions, which is relatively easy to understand, to say that people have wrong Socratic knowledge, which requires a lengthy explanation before I can even get started.

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  6. At the end of the day, what would be the measure of correctness of any piece of knowledge, whether the result of inference, direct observation, etc, other than intuition? I take this to be a basic point, belonging to a cluster of points, regarding the relationship of ordinary, common belief to beliefs that are the products of theoretically induced inquiries of every type and kind, a subject about which Stanley Rosen wrote what I think is the authoritative essay: “The Metaphysics of Ordinary Experience.”

    Click to access Rosen.pdf

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  7. It would seem much of the nitty gritty of philosophy is rationalizing intuition. So the question is not just what is intuition, but what is rationalization as well.
    Both are based on one’s prior knowledge. Intuition is not random, but a cumulative effect of one’s personal store of knowledge, as applied to a particular context. Rationalization is trying to derive, dare I say, an irrefutable link between the cause and the effect.
    So we have two hemispheres of the brain, the left, linear, rational side and the right, emotional, intuitive side. Now the usual physical term for this is either non-linear, or in computer terms, a parallel processor. I think the more apt description is scalar. As in thermostat, or pressure gauge. When we naturally react or assume some conclusion or understanding, it is a consequence of all the varied information in our minds, as well as all the practice and trial and error incorporated in that knowledge. So, no, we don’t have to go back and construct a complete analysis to arrive at that point. It is more like a fuse lighting up, or a pot boiling, or the crack in previous assumptions breaking. Which is why emotions and intuition are so intimately connected.
    So, yes, often intuition can be wrong, but that then raises the question of whether rationality, or in its more derisive term, rationalization, is always correct, or more importantly, effective. What comes to mind is the story of Alexander the Great and the Gordian Knot. Yes, there is some way through the maze, if the original person tying it just used one rope, yet it is not necessarily the best solution to the particular problem at hand.
    So what we have is that mental duality and both sides play off the other. Given our linear concept of time is based on that individual perception of change as a linear sequence of events, based on the physical navigation process and from which we derive the narrative mental effect, this linear side is a counting device and clock. Since both our individual mortality is a function of navigational continuity and civilization arises from the narrative story telling language by which we communicate with one another, it is assumed this direct causality is more fundamental than non-linear effects, yet nature is not so direct. Every action results in an equal reaction, but while the action, to be defined as such, is linear, the reaction is often non-linear and there is no way to linearly organize nature, as so much is happening at once.
    One of the points I keep raising is that time is not so much that linear narrative, from past events to future ones, but the processes by which these events come into being and dissolve, ie, go from future to past and only what is manifest physically exists, which makes it an effect of action, similar to temperature. Thus time is to temperature, what frequency is to amplitude. It is just that while cumulative amplitude is temperature, cumulative frequency is noise, so we have to isolate out a particular action, be it cycles of a cesium atom, or rotations of the planet, and compare them to other such actions and find which is most regular, to measure time. Yet all those actions are occurring at once and the faster ones simply burn quicker and so recede into the past faster. The tortoise is still plodding along, long after the hare has died.
    Better cut off here.

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  8. The “tacit knowledge” idea seems like a dodge to me too.

    When people find fault with Avicenna’s Flying Man, P-Zombies, Twin Earth, the Chinese Room, Monochromatic Mary, etc. they are usually saying that the philosopher is deploying a metaphysical intuition that either isn’t warranted or assumes what the philosopher is attempting to show.

    What is the “broadly inferential justification” for the Flying Man? I don’t think there is one. I think there’s an intuition that cognition is not dependent on sensory input.

    As you said, “making tacit knowledge explicit and generalizing about it can be surprisingly hard”. It’s also pretty much the core of philosophy. In all of the thought experiments above, the philosopher has failed to make details of how they conceptualize things explicit. They are, seemingly, “blind” to how their conceptualization is affecting their construction of the thought experiment.

    I’d also argue that “tacit knowledge” is not inferential, but is rather largely “inductive”, in the non-conscious neural learning sense.

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  9. nannus,

    “I think there is a difference between the way we find our ideas and the way we present and justify them”

    Indeed, but I think that is more pertinent to the use of “intuition” in psychology (about which there is a large extant literature) than to the kind of Socratic knowledge refer to in the essay.

    “If intuition was not necessary, there would be no philosophy. We would just calculate everything by a pre-existing algorithm”

    Or any other form of human knowledge, as you point out. But, again, the issue here is not whether intuition-Psych can be the source of philosophical ideas, it obviously can. The problem is rather whether intuition-Philo (to discriminate btw the two using different labels) is or should be used as “data” to test philosophical theories.

    Peter,

    “direct realisation and insight are not intuitions but something more like Kant’s ‘non-intuitive immediate knowledge’”

    That may not be very different from the Socratic knowledge referred to in the main post.

    “Intuition is not knowledge so cannot replace logic or experience”

    Right, but I think you are now slipping from intuition-Philo to intuition-Psych, to keep using the terminology I introduced above.

    Robin,

    “I would suggest that intuition plays a part in all reasoning processes, including maths and science”

    Yes, but that’s intuition-Psych.

    Socratic,

    “the broader question of the definition of that word”

    Right, especially, again, the distinction between intuition-Psych and intuition-Philo.

    “It’s information and/or ideas, whether individual bits of data, or some conjoined idea of reasoning, that pops out of subconsciousness or unconsciousness into consciousness. Kekule’s famous dream about a snake biting its tale”

    That is squarely within the realm of intuition-psych, and it begins to be well understood in cognitive science (I wrote about it in Answers for Aristotle). But what Cappelen was talking about, Socratic knowledge, is different, and is what I’m calling intuition-philo. I believe his definition and articulation of the concept are compelling.

    “Cappelen seems right if he’s confined to the philosophical use of the term. Otherwise, not so much”

    But he clearly was, as that’s the only usage that is pertinent to the discussion at hand. It is unfortunate that people use the word “intuition” in these two very distinct terms, but that’s how philosophers themselves (and their XPhi critics) have used it, so…

    “Why would anybody use intuitions, even on the philosophical definition of the word, as data for tests?”

    Why not? Don’t you “test” other people’s suggestions about your already existing body of pertinent knowledge?

    “Rather, wouldn’t one check an intuition by consciously derived data? This would certainly be true in the sciences”

    See how difficult it is? You are now slipping again into intuition-Psych.

    “I think it would behoove philosophers to adjust their language on this issue.”

    Indeed.

    Bill,

    “Cappelen’s approach strikes me as a “moving the goalposts” strategy.”

    Not at all, it is actually a very helpful clarification to distinguish the two very different senses of the word “intuition” that I have highlighted in this thread. It is the persistent confusion between the two, including by some philosophers and XPhi-ers that creates the problem to begin with.

    “I mainly mean that they rely too heavily on mental imagery. For example most people, including most philosophers, when they think about Free Will, understand it in terms of a “ghost in the machine” image”

    I actually don’t see this over-reliance on mental imagery (except in the case of thought experiments, but those are common in science as well), and certainly not in the case of free will, not when discussed within professional circles, where nobody understands it as a ghost in the machine kind of thing.

    “This image is typically used without any examination of its validity.”

    I seriously doubt it. Can you point me to an actual technical paper that does that?

    “to most people it is intuitively obvious that Benjamin Libet’s findings disprove the existence of Free Will”

    To Sam Harris, perhaps (sorry, couldn’t help it, I don’t have free will; sorry, couldn’t help that either!), but the Libet’s experiments have been discussed thoroughly and without recurse to any imagery in the primary literature.

    “I’m particular averse to Cappelen’s approach (as portrayed here) because it would force me, instead of saying that people have wrong intuitions, which is relatively easy to understand, to say that people have wrong Socratic knowledge”

    Again, you can still say both, as long as you keep in mind that the first usage refers to intuition-Psych and the second to intuition-Philo.

    brodix,

    “It would seem much of the nitty gritty of philosophy is rationalizing intuition.”

    If you mean “rationalizing” in the common negative sense of the term, I wholly disagree.

    Asher,

    “When people find fault with Avicenna’s Flying Man, P-Zombies, Twin Earth, the Chinese Room, Monochromatic Mary, etc. they are usually saying that the philosopher is deploying a metaphysical intuition that either isn’t warranted or assumes what the philosopher is attempting to show.”

    But Cappelen makes pretty clear (if not in my summary, certainly in his talk and book) that that is simply not the case.

    “In all of the thought experiments above, the philosopher has failed to make details of how they conceptualize things explicit.”

    That would be surprising, given the huge technical literature on each of those thought experiments. I assure you that they have been unpacked, criticized, repacked and re-criticized a good number of times. There is nothing inexplicit left, as far as I can tell.

    “I’d also argue that “tacit knowledge” is not inferential, but is rather largely “inductive””

    Inductions are a subset of inferences.

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  10. Thanks nannus, that’s a beautiful piece of writing. I will be interested to see how Massimo parses it vis-a-vis the very specifically dichotomized dispute he’s reviewed.

    I’m suffering the inherent vagueness of the word intuition, which can be taken in two ways that seem as inseparable as the rabbit-duck illusion

    1. Intuition — a belief that may be false, — a yet-to-be confirmed hunch. I have a feeling but I may be wrong

    2. – a true knowledge that cannot be explained, whose acquisition is unknown. I don’t know how I know this but I (we) do.

    Seems one is trying to put any possible adjective onto knowledge (Socratic, inductive, empirical, a priori, immediate, sub/unconscious … anything to disallow ‘intuitive’. Because Intuition – always implies the presence of something disputable, hidden, an unknown or unknowable cause, or knowledge of future, or of the missing object.

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  11. Massimo,
    I think I did go into that distinction. Not entirely in the negative sense, as in derogatory, but in the sense of not always successfully extracting the connection being assumed.
    Basically rationalization is a mix of intuition and causality, in that it does attempt/assume to extract the inference from the intuition.

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  12. There is nothing inexplicit left, as far as I can tell.

    So tell me what Avicenna said about his conceptualization of sensory input. Show me where Searle shows what inferences his conception of symbolic manipulation carries over into his conception of cognition. Remember, we’re not talking about the commentary on these thought experiments. We’re talking about whether Avicenna and Searle are using intuitions or not.

    Inductions are a subset of inferences.

    Which would mean that there’s no meaningful difference between “tacit knowledge” and intuition. Even our wild guesses and gut feelings are based on this kind of induction.

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  13. Philosophy without intuition is like air without oxygen. Sure, one can consider it. But it’s devoid of life sustaining content.

    What is intuition? Does the fish crawling in the mud, searching for food, go according to intuition? Or is the fish making inferences? In Latin, “intuitionem” means to look at, to consider. “Inferre” means to carry over.

    People love to consider their faculty of reasoning is beyond that of animals. It makes them feel special. That’s definitely a form of speciesm. When a trout and a moray eel, or a grouper, establish a cooperative strategy for fishing (the grouper and trout are fast, the eel sneaks in cavities were prey tries to flee) do they intuit, or infer?
    https://patriceayme.wordpress.com/2014/07/27/diving-into-truth/

    When Socrates killed in combat four men, and desperately fought a rear guard action to (successfully) save a friend, after an Athenian defeat, was he using Socratic knowledge, or a type of behavior a lion does intuitively understand? Socrates was obviously vitally important thinking, but not of the sort one puts in writing.

    Philosophy is not exact science. Exact science uses bits of strictly defined logos, supported by incontrovertible facts. The philosophical method, instead, is all about guessing.

    Guessing is crucial for science. No guessing, no science. All science starts with using judiciously the philosophical method. Guessing can rest on just one fact. Exact science rests on statistics, giving rise to incontrovertible theories about what the facts are, instead.

    An example is the changed mindset in Greece after a giant meteorite landed in the north of country, more than 2,400 years ago. It was visited for centuries, and it made many Greeks realize that heavens was full of rocks (so the Moon is a rock, and thus the Earth another big rocky ball, etc.)

    Inference is a point by point diagram. Quantum Physics shows us that this is not how the world works: the Quantum embraces the totality, and then determines the solution, establishing thus the point by point carrying on. This is exactly how electrons are carried around the chlorophyll molecule.

    Nannus pointed out that this is how mathematicians establish mathematics. Indeed. Research mathematicians even endow terms in equation with personalities, using expression like “this guy”, “those guys”, etc… They play with their expressions exactly as my five year old daughter plays with her dolls: she pretends (as she puts it), and they pretend, just the same (I am a research mathematician, by the way, and talked in the best departments). Guessing the behavior of mathematical terms as if they were little guys with feelings is how mathematicians do it (trust many of them not to tell you that, it would look undignified).

    When philosophy is fully deductive and thoroughly proven, it’s called science. When science is in the process of being guessed, it’s a philosophical debate.

    It took 135 years to verify French mathematician Adhémar’s theory of the glaciations from the variations of Earth orbit (published 1842). What was it before that? Just inference, or intuition? I say both.

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  14. Massimo,

    “It would seem much of the nitty gritty of philosophy is rationalizing intuition. So the question is not just what is intuition, but what is rationalization as well.”

    “If you mean “rationalizing” in the common negative sense of the term, I wholly disagree.”

    I didn’t mean to offend, as I didn’t see this as controversial. Socrates tried to get Athenians to analyze their intuitive assumptions and the results were rationalizations. Now having analyzed these concepts to the nth degree, over the course of thousands of years, the discipline of Philosophy hasn’t totally resolved the issue. Which does lead to my main point, that possibly we need to examine the basis of the concept of rationality, that linear sequential logic that is a consequence of how we interact with reality and how it might have built in explanatory limitations. We are like a funnel, into which this sea of activity is poured and out comes that stream of consciousness, that is life.

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  15. It might not ever be possible that silicon computers might be able to think the way humans do! If one of the tenets of embodied cognition indeed holds, a body’s physical composition governs and limits the type and content of the cognitive processes the body is capable of — so we (or a computer, or whatever!) can’t think just anything; we can only think what our hardware and our software is capable of letting us think, so to speak.

    If Lakoff, for example, is right that a lot of human thought is inherently metaphorical and that that sort of thinking proceeds directly proceeds from the organization of our brains, I think it fundamentally undermines everything from the possibility and/or desirability of “objectivity” to the current mythology of rational thinking that undergirds most scientific inquiry. It’s easy to poo-poo something like “up is good” as mumbojumbo instead of a pretty fundamental fact of human existence, but that very well may end up to be truthier than the law of non-contradiction.

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  16. Looking at some of the content of the sites of Herman Cappelen and John Bengson [1,2], I wonder if different thinking about intuition comes from a philosopher of language vs. a philosopher of mind approach.

    I haven’t read enough of the above material to know about that, but I do know about attempts to code intuition, creativity, etc. into computers by AI scientists [3,4,5]. (I have my own intuition about how this might work out.)

    On “creativity as the ability to compute non-turing-computable functions”: Now that could be quite an ability (godlike?) for a brain (human or robot) to have. Hypercomputing! [6]

    [1] http://hermancappelen.net
    [2] http://sites.google.com/site/johnbengson
    [3] http://roa.rutgers.edu/content/article/files/1235_smolensky_1.pdf (“Subsymbolic Computation Theory for the Human Intuitive Processor”)
    [4] http://books.google.com/books?id=iRfpaePQNZoC (“Computing with Instinct”)
    [5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computational_creativity
    [6] http://enc.tfode.com/Turing%27s_Thesis#Philosophical_implications

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  17. astro,

    “I’m suffering the inherent vagueness of the word intuition, which can be taken in two ways that seem as inseparable as the rabbit-duck illusion”

    There are indeed different meanings at play, but I think that the distinction I introduced above btw intuition-Psych and intuition-Philo is helpful, and particularly aligns with Cappelen’s distinction btw intuitions as commonly understood and what he calls Socratic knowledge.

    Asher,

    “So tell me what Avicenna said about his conceptualization of sensory input. Show me where Searle shows what inferences his conception of symbolic manipulation carries over into his conception of cognition. Remember, we’re not talking about the commentary on these thought experiments. We’re talking about whether Avicenna and Searle are using intuitions or not.”

    I don’t know enough about Avicenna, but in the case of Searle we are precisely talking about the (huge) commentary and counter-commentary. That’s how his original thought experiment, appealing to people’s Socratic knowledge, to use Cappelen’s terminology (or intuition-Philo, to use mine) have been unpacked and analyzed. That’s hw philosophy works.

    “Which would mean that there’s no meaningful difference between “tacit knowledge” and intuition. Even our wild guesses and gut feelings are based on this kind of induction.”

    No, induction in philosophy is an explicit, conscious type of reasoning. Nothing to do with gut feelings and intuition-Psych.

    Patrice,

    “What is intuition?”

    No need to reinvent the wheel. I have already given pretty clear definitions of the two ways in which the term is pertinent to this discussion. Going back to the Latin root of the word and asking whether fish have intuitions is not helpful.

    “Inference is a point by point diagram”

    I’m not sure what that means.

    “When philosophy is fully deductive and thoroughly proven, it’s called science”

    Not really. Science is mostly, though not entirely, inductive.

    brodix,

    “possibly we need to examine the basis of the concept of rationality”

    There is a large literature on that as well, both in philosophy and in psychology (and in economics, for that matter).

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  18. Hi Massimo,

    Thanks for this summary — definitely very helpful and informative. There is just one part where I would want to suggest an amendment to what you say here.

    As you note, Cappelen has argued that the ordinary practice of analytic philosophy does not actually involve appeals to intuitions. This is an interesting and provocative thesis, which may well turn out to be correct, but it is completely mistaken to suggest that it somehow invalidates the entire project of experimental philosophy. On the contrary, it only points to a problem for the very small part of experimental philosophy that aims at attacking appeals to intuition in analytic philosophy. However, that sort of work turns out to account for only around 1% of the experimental philosophy written over the past five years (http://philosophycommons.typepad.com/xphi/2014/07/what-experimental-philosophers-actually-do-a-quantitative-study.html).

    What most experimental philosophers actually do is try to understand the underlying cognitive processes that give rise to people’s intuitions. You might think that this sort of work has little philosophical value, and I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the matter, but either way, I assume that we would agree about what the relevant issue is in evaluating it. Clearly, it doesn’t matter at all for this project whether the ordinary practice of analytic philosophy involves appeals to intuitions. All that matters is whether information about the cognitive processes underlying these intuitions actually does make a valuable contribution to philosophy.

    Does that sound right to you?

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  19. but in the case of Searle we are precisely talking about the (huge) commentary and counter-commentary.

    I was talking about whether Searle used intuitions. He engaged in a lot of commentary on the Chinese Room, but I don’t know of anywhere where he makes what he’s tacitly importing into his analogy explicit. Every time we use an analogy, we are tacitly importing our not-fully-examined concept of the source of the analogy (this is where Dennett’s “turning the knobs” comes from). I understand rooms and reference books, and so when I use a room full of books as an analogy, I can reason from the way a room full of books acts. That’s conscious reasoning. But making the analogy in the first place means that I’m saying, “any way in which a room full of books differs from a mind (any way in which this analogy is not “apt”) is not relevant to this argument”. Which is great if you’ve examined and made clear all the ways in which your concept of a room has influenced your concept of a mind. I’d say Searle has not, and I’d say that this is the action of intuition.

    But I’ll read Cappelen on it.

    No, induction in philosophy is an explicit, conscious type of reasoning.

    Okay, but tacit knowledge doesn’t involve conscious, “Philosophical induction”.

    My point is that conscious inference is not happening in the case of “tacit knowledge”. And if it’s some kind of “unconscious” inference, then it is specifically not “Philosophical” induction — it is psychological, neural-network-induction-style induction.

    I won’t belabor this any further. But that’s where Cappelen (as you report him) is unconvincing. What he’s saying about Socratic knowledge with respect to reference sounds pretty much like, say, a child’s knowledge of grammar, which definitely happens via a non-Philosophical, psychological, low-level kind of induction.

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  20. Massimo,
    “There is a large literature on that as well, both in philosophy and in psychology (and in economics, for that matter).”
    Lol. Which goes to show that rationality is not as inherently objective as is assumed.

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  21. brodix,

    “Which goes to show that rationality is not as inherently objective as is assumed”

    I’m not sure what you mean. That there are different views of rationality? Sure. Is that surprising? Does that imply that rationality is not “objective”? I don’t know what that would mean.

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  22. Joshua,

    I wish Cappelen chimed in, but to be fair I’m pretty sure he said that his take on intuitions in philosophy presents a problem for the way the XPhi program was initially conceived, i.e., with an emphasis on “testing” philosophical intuitions. You yourself have written that this is true, I think, but that the XPhi program has since expanded and has largely shifted focus.

    As to what the relationship is between that focus and philosophy, I’m not sure. If you agree with Cappelen that philosophers don’t use intuitions in the sense of cognitive science as data to test their hypotheses, then I’m not sure what’s the relevance (to philosophy) of studying the cognitive bases of intuition, nor why this would qualify as a philosophical project. It is an interesting project in its own regard, but it concerns philosophy just as much as it concerns science or everyday thinking, and it seems to me squarely something that cognitive scientists, not philosophers, are qualified to do.

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  23. The term is indeed vague and has several possible interpretations. What I have in mind is more your 1. In his dissertation, K. Ammon describes a system that develops a simple theorem proover from analysing a proof. It constructs a rule to produce proof steps that sucessfully produces the given proof. This rule is not sophisticated and it is quite special. However, it then successfully produced proofs for a number of additional theorems. This is a simple model of how learning by experience works. One could call such a piece of heuristic knowledge intuition. You arrive at it from experience and it carries you a few steps further in another case. It is special and there is no deep theory to justify it. The process by which the proof is found is totally different from the string of inferences the proof itself contains.

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  24. Hi Massimo,

    I’m with those who think that Socratic knowledge is basically the same thing as intuition. Calling it knowledge is problematic, because knowledge is assumed to be justified and true. (Incidentally I take issue with your claim that Bengson was not using knowledge in the Platonic sense — understanding is indeed more robust than justified true beliefs).

    Socratic “knowledge” is not always particularly well justified and frequently only true in familiar domains. To call it knowledge is to elevate unduly what I feel is more appropriately left as “intuition”.

    I imagine you would accuse me of conflating intuition-Psych with intuition-Philo, but I don’t think you have really articulated the distinction particularly clearly, and I am left a little confused as to what the distinction is supposed to be.

    I also want to point out that I agree with Aravis that all reason must be grounded in intuition at some level, so it is not a particular problem that philosophy depends on intuition. It must. But the intuitions on which philosophical arguments often rely are of the kind which are likely to be mistaken in unfamiliar contexts (e.g. the intuition underlying The Chinese Room that a system of rules cannot be the seat of consciousness), whereas those underlying mathematics and science (e.g. the principle of non-contradiction, the intuition that induction is reliable) are (I feel) more robust.

    That’s not to say that such arguments should not be made, but it should be understood that the intuitions on which they are founded ought to be made explicit and taken with a grain of salt.

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  25. I don’t think it is a matter of the material. I think silicon-based systems can do the same kind of processes neuronal systems can. The reason that AI has not been very successful, I think, is that they have not properly understood the problem. They are trying to find THE structure of cognition. They are starting with the presupposition that such a fixed structure exists. However, I think this is not the case. Information that we take up from the environment and that is new in the sense that it cannot be derived from the information we have already, can then influence the way additional information is processed. This means that the “laws of thinking” that govern our thinking processes can be extended by new information not derivable from them (and not derivable from or depending on the material basis of the system, be it silicon or cells). As a consequence, there are no fixed laws of cognition and there is no fixed knowledg-representation-language. Every formal theory of cognition (and, as a result, human culture) is incomplete. So the challenge is to build a system that cannot be described (or understood) completely in terms of a finite formal theory because it can break out of the scope of any such theory. This will time and again involve cognitive processes that can only be justified in hindsight and can thus be called “intuitive”.

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  26. I am not convinced that it makes sense to distinguish intuition-Psych from intuition-Philo.

    “He maintains that a close examination of what philosophers actually do reveals that by and large they do not rely on intuitions as data to test philosophical hypotheses or conjectures, which, incidentally, calls into question the whole initial impetus for the experimental philosophy (XPhi) program”. How did he do that? Did he look at finished papers and the lines of argumentation found therein or did he actually study how philosophers think (by interview, by asking them to think loudly or whatever)? If you look at the finished papers, you will not find any intuition, everything will be rationalized, just lie a math proof in a math paper. If, by whatever method of study, you examinewhat philosophers actually do, you will definitely enter psychology and I would expect that the thinking processes are much more complex and less “rational” than the finished results, just like in math, programming or other activities.

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  27. Dear Massimo:
    Patrice: “When philosophy is fully deductive and thoroughly proven, it’s called science”

    Massimo: “Not really. Science is mostly, though not entirely, inductive.”

    So science is “inductive” and… And what? By calling science “inductive” some people want to make some point (that science is driven by evidence and probability, not certainty).

    But this is how science is made, gathering all the elements, before cooking. When a science is well done, when it is established, it works exactly like mathematics: from a set of axioms, propositional calculus (in the technical sense) allows to deduce the rest of said science. Established science is always deductive, like engineering.

    Biology is at the inductive stage, plate tectonics, and stellar physics at the deductive stage. Meaning: the main axioms of biology are still not all known (be it only because the Quantum needs to be integrated in biology, and it’s not).

    Whereas the main axioms of stellar physics incorporate the Quantum, and no big surprises are in the wings. In the case of Plate Tectonics, although the driving mechanism is a mystery, the fact of the activity cannot be contested, and the problem is how, from the general idea of plates and their different types, we can figure the consequences, trajectories and exact mechanisms of the collisions.

    It does not help when philosophers do not intuit enough mathematics.

    The definition of the integers (no less!) is centered around what is called in mathematics “mathematical induction”. Yet, according to philosophical semantics, “mathematical induction”, is deductive and not inductive. Oops.

    Mathematical induction: if P(1) and [P(n) implies P(n + 1)] then P(n) for all n.

    In present philosophical semantics, the same proposition may be used as a deductive or an inductive argument, depending on the intentions of the person promoting it.

    Scientist and mathematicians tend to think philosophy has little added value. They will persist in this attitude as long as philosophers come up with fanciful psychological notions contradicting mathematical and scientific practice (as I say, the case of biology, a field in full revolution, is different). It’s not just erroneous, it creates false debates about useless labelling.

    Massimo:” “Inference is a point by point diagram”. I’m not sure what that means.”

    Cauchy data sets for Ordinary Differential Equations are sets of points. For PDEs, they involve functions on hypersurfaces. However, Quantum Physics infer from the totality of the implicate (Hilbert) space order. It’s essentially a form of teleological logic. People follow years of studies in mathematical physics to understand the preceding statements.

    Mathematicians establish their semantics with great precision and ban psychology from it (instead of reveling in it as with the pseudo distinction inductive/deductive).

    For me, intuition has to do with imagining how things could work: a logos is built, filling up holes where no evidence is felt to exist. Once that intuitive theory has been built, it can be submitted to experimental check. Deduction, induction, experimentation, modification, axiomatization, deduction, and so on: this is how science (= knowing for sure) is figured out.

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  28. Given that the problems people tend to have with intuitions are epistemic, it’s unclear to me what knowing their etiology is. Stipulate that one possesses the most comprehensive psychological account of their genealogy that one could have — the question of the role that they play in justification would still remain.

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  29. Massimo,
    My feeling is that intuition does, or perhaps even ought to, play a role in philosophy, but my reason could find no place for it.

    I’m not trying to be glib. The problem is that we want to validate intuition, but that philosophy involves explanatory strategies that dis-empower it. And yet one of the issues that philosophy has, at least sometimes, sought to explain is intuition, and frequently quite charitably. So I think that’s why I get the sense of ‘push-pull’ in the discussion.

    My understanding of ‘Socratic knowledge’ here, and correct me if I’m wrong, is that this is knowledge we picked up along the way, perhaps without thinking much about it at the time, that then links with new experience to come to the fore of consciousness. That is, someone may have said to me ‘dogs have chromatic acuity significantly less than humans,’ and I said, ‘oh, really,’ not paying much attention (or, more likely I glanced at such a sentence in a book or article), and then months later, someone wants to argue that many mammals share stereoscopic vision, and I say, ‘but I feel there are important differences between the species.’ And eventually the question of these differences leads me to research on color-vision in dogs – looking for knowledge that is already rattling around in my head. But once I have my research done, then of course I discover that I did learn this before, so I recognize my initial ‘feeling’ as the impulse of a memory trying to achieve conscious articulation. But the articulation itself no longer has any place for reference to this.*

    This is a banal and simplistic instance, of course. But if it’s in the right direction, it might help to elucidate the difference between intuition-Psych and intuition-Philo, at least for me.

    That said, I think that nannus and Neil Rickert present persuasive arguments, that the two intuitions are rather difficult to separate. If my reading of intuition-Philo is correct, then let me suggest that what we commonly call intuition (intuition-Psych) is really acquired through training in experience. That is, intuition-Psych is itself unconscious accumulation of knowledge and experience, that gets triggered in a new experience, but arises as feeling rather than articulation, and is rarely examined closely or explained. Indeed, it functions to trigger an action or further emotional response, rather than explanation. (Like, ‘I have a bad feeling about this place, let’s get out of here!’

    So the differences may be matters of degree, within differing contexts, i.e., those requiring rational articulation and explanation, and those that require action or emotive feed-back.

    Well, this gets into theory of intuition itself, which may be beyond the scope of the discussion.
    ——
    * I first wrote this hypothetical as ‘colorblindness in dogs,’ then felt the impulse to research leading to a correction of terms. The modified sentence comes from Answers.com, and further help was provided by articles on vision at Wikipedia.

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  30. Hi Massimo,

    This clarification is really helpful. Just as you say, some early work in experimental philosophy was aimed at attacking philosophical appeals to intuition, and this type of work would obviously be refuted if one were able to show that philosophers do not appeal to intuitions. (Philosophers could not be mistakenly appealing to intuitions if they are not appealing to intuitions at all.) My only point was that the vast majority of work in experimental philosophy is not engaged in this sort of project but is instead trying to do something more positive.

    For example, in my own work, I have argued that the empirical study of intuitions is relevant to questions about folk psychology, about language, and about free will. In this work, I am not trying to attack anyone else’s methods. I am simply trying to make a positive philosophical contribution to work on these issues.

    The two of us might disagree about whether this sort of research actually does have any philosophical value, but even if we disagree about that, I was thinking that we could probably agree that it doesn’t matter for the assessment of this research whether existing philosophical work involves appeals to intuitions. For example, I claim that certain empirical facts about people’s intuitions can help us make progress on the free will debate. Suppose that someone now decided to engage in a comprehensive literature review to determine whether existing philosophical work on free will appealed to people’s intuitions. What I was trying to suggest is that the outcome of that sort of inquiry wouldn’t matter at all for the question at hand. What matters for this question is not whether philosophers have appealed to intuitions in the existing literature but only whether empirical work on intuitions really can help to make progress on these questions.

    Even if you disagree with me about the larger methodological question, do you agree about this one point?

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  31. Massimo,

    Joshua may of course correct me if I’m wrong, but in the paper he links at the bottom of the blog post, his point seems to be precisely that the best way to understand the vast majority of work done under the x-phi label is simply as cognitive science. And at the end of the paper he says that the real metaphilosophical question is what the philosophical relevance of such a cogsci research program is. So it could be that potential disagreements here hinge on broader issues about the relationship between cognitive science and philosophy.

    Aravis,

    There are very good reasons for thinking that the causal etiology of a belief is quite relevant to its justification, even if the causal etiology is not exhaustive. Gettier cases are one of them. One of the major responses to Gettier, and the one arguably most common among naturalists, is a causal theory of knowledge which concerns itself with reliable causal processes of belief generation rather than just logical/”conceptual” relations among propositions. See any of the following; Alvin Goldman’s work like “A Causal Theory of Knowing,” “Discrimination and Perceptual Knowledge,” “What is Justified Belief?” and his book Epistemology and Cognition, Gilbert Harman’s book Thought, Brian Skyrms’ paper “The Explication of X Knows that P,” or Fred Dretske’s book Seeing and Knowing. These are just some influential examples.

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  32. ej and others,

    let me try one more stab at clarifying the distinction btw intuition-Psych and intuition-Philo (or Socratic knowledge), though I highly recommend “Philosophy Without Intuition” for anyone seriously interested in the matter.

    Take two contrasting examples that, I think, draw out the difference clearly. One example has already been mentioned in the main essay: consider having to add the total number of fruits of two types in a basket, apples and oranges. You intuitively-Philo know that it makes no difference if you count the apples or the oranges first, or even if you mix them up. This isn’t a gut feeling, or some kind of subconscious knowledge: you know it by virtue of what you know about the concept of addition. But, crucially, before encountering the specific issue, you had not actually articulated it to yourself. This is Socratic knowledge in the sense in which Cappelen uses the term.

    Contrast this with your gut feeling (intuition-Psych) that a given move at chess will be the right one at this particular moment of the game. The more you have played chess in the past, the more likely your gut feeling will be right (although, of course, there is no guarantee).

    Notice the differences: in the first case you know, instantly and with psychological certainty, that it makes no difference how you count the fruits. In the second case you develop a subconscious urge to play a particular move, but you are not at all sure it will actually succeed.

    Of course, both intuition-Philo and intuition-Psych are then subject to the usual unpacking, rational criticism, testing, revision, and so forth. But they are different, and I think it is too bad that they get confused so easily.

    Also notice that *of course* philosophers use both types of intuitions, but that when philosophers themselves refer to their “intuition” they more likely than not mean the first, not the second, version.

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  33. Massimo,
    I laughed at the idea of Economic Man as a rational actor, versus the state of the world economy and environment, as evidence of my point.
    We have two sides of the brain and the left, linear side is the rational function. It is the observation of one act leading to another. If I say, “If I miss work, I’ll get fired.” It would be a rational statement, because there is a logical, causal connection. As such all it really is making one particular connection that creates narrative continuity, but really has no larger significance. Yet the basis of civilization is historical narrative. That of drawing these sequences of continuities for the larger population. Think how much religions and nations are founded on and bind their members through the selected historical narrative and how this becomes a canon, with its high points, low points, conflicts between good and bad, heros, villains, etc. Then, as they say, the winners write the history books. Yet it could also be the other way around, that those who write the history books are the winners. Obviously the Romans are one of history’s winners and have left much in the way of written history, but consider the Jews, versus say the Canaanites. It’s not as though they won alot of military victories, but they managed to sustain a core narrative, likely due to a conceptual device, monotheism, which is very conducive to social unity, though not of complexity, as the more extreme versions exemplify.
    Now we have this cosmology which models the entire universe as a single timeline from birth to death, with no feedback loops intrinsic to it. That just goes to show how foundational that narrative sequence, as logical basis, is to our intuitive view of reality.
    Though, as I keep trying to point out, it is quite obviously an effect, not foundational. It is not the point of the present moving along some grand narrative vector from beginning to end. There is this changing configuration of what is, that turns events from potential, to actual, to residual. Tomorrow becomes yesterday. So what is most physically “real” is not so much the particular points of reference we remember, but the physical process of their coalescing and dispersing. Not the quanta, but its dynamic emergence and dissolution. What we refer to as “the present.”
    While for individual beings, what is most vitally and mortally important, is sustaining that narrative/navigational continuity and not be like the Canaanites, or the chicken and be incidentals to other’s narrative vector. Thus making if from yesterday to tomorrow.
    Which then goes to the other side of the brain, the right, emotional, intuitive side and how that makes those conceptual leaps that tie together a bigger picture than any sequence of direct connections could build. Each person has different intuitional tendencies, just as they often have different rational conclusions, because both are based on cumulative knowledge.
    For instance, I could say, “If I don’t make it to work, Santa isn’t coming this year.” Or I could say, “If I don’t make it to work, pine is a type of evergreen tree.” It would be safe to say, that your intuitive sense will find more rational continuity in the first sentence, than the second, without having to know every relationship between its parts. Which is to say that both sides of the brain feed off each other and help us to make sense of the world, both from the detail oriented sequencing and the more wholisitic intuitive side.
    So to repeat my point, in case it got lost, rationality, as causal sequence, is a necessary function of constructing our store of knowledge, but it is not infallible and needs to be kept in context with a broader, intuitive sense of how all these multitudes of relations fit together and are constantly changing and creating new connections.

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  34. Hi Aravis and Christian,

    The view that you two seem to be converging on here strikes me as exactly right. The question about the relevance of experimental philosophy is precisely the question about the relevance of work in cognitive science on the etiology of our beliefs. Of course, there are large and very open issues about precisely what this relevance is or even whether there is any relevance at all; the point is just that this is exactly the right place to be looking if you are interested in these questions.

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  35. Neither of these strikes me as the sort of intuition that is really philosophically interesting. What seems philosophically interesting — and important — is the sort of intuition whereby one knows basic axioms, believes one is having various sensory experience, etc. — i.e. propositions for which there are no — and can be no — proofs or evidence of any kind.

    These are interesting, because they speak directly to the questions of the foundations of human knowledge, the limits of human reason, and all sorts of other good stuff.

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  36. Well, on this issue I tend toward Aravis’ position, but I do see Christian’s point about Gettier cases, and I don’t think it should be easily dismissed. I will respond to Joshua later tonight or tomorrow.

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  37. The notion of “articulation to oneself” makes me wonder if there’s a potential point of convergence here in the wars over conceptual analysis. This just a vague proposal, but figuring out and articulating to ourselves what knowledge/inferences/claims we’re relying on without realizing it seems like it might be a good substitute activity for Canberra-style conceptual analysis, one that is not as reliant the controversial claims that concepts are the sorts of things that can be analyzed into Ramsey/Carnap sentences about ontological primitives and that this is a priori. It also avoids the irrelevancy charge; I always found it somewhat hard to see why, if we’re interested in how the world is, we should care quite as much about “folk theories” as someone like Frank Jackson seems to, but I find it very clear why we should care about making the implicit explicit in philosophical/scientific reasoning.

    Yet I think such an approach might also leave a much bigger role for thought experiments and conceptual clarification than some figures want. I take some inspiration here from Michael Devitt, who seems to appreciate the value of thought experiments while being against conceptual analysis and strongly against the notion of a priori knowledge.

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  38. Excellent article. Again, a very important topic.

    “… he [Cappelen] found very little support for the alleged use of intuitions-as-data in philosophy.”

    “Philosophical intuitions” (with Cappelen’s two points) is too big a subject to deal with in a short comment. Thus, I would like to make a new and precise definition.

    Intuition is not a sub-conscious understanding, not without inferential process, not Socratic knowledge, not spontaneous inspiration. Intuition is a human ‘faculty’ which is able to do two things.

    One, asking ‘right (not wrong)’ questions while no immediate ‘problems’ are there.

    Two, answering questions with right answers (not wrong ones) while no enough information or data (needed for solving the question) is in hand. The lesser the info, the higher the intuition.

    With this definition, the intuition of street walkers should be no different from any experts’. Of course, there should be the strength difference. As the experts have a lot more knowledge, he has a much stronger base for their intuition. I would like to show two street walker’s intuitions.

    One:
    Question: I am here, so I can ask questions. My parent got me here. But, tracing my root back, who is the ‘first’ root? Is that ‘first root” son of X? What is X? Without X, …?

    Answer: I am a street walker, knowing nothing about the fundamental physics and biology. But, they did not answer my question on X. Religions do give me answers on the X. Although their answers could be wrong, at least they tried to answer my question. By the way, they do provide some side dishes which make my life easier and happier, although there might not be any beef (the main dish).

    Two:
    Question: Quantum Uncertainty (QU) is now over 100 years old, and it reached great success in 1970s when the Standard Model was formulated. Yet, almost 50 years since, QU has failed dismally in ‘performance’, not a single QM theory has panned out (such as, SUSY, M-string theory and Multiverse). Furthermore, there are many unresolved issues: 1) superposition vs measurement, 2) total failure on quantum-gravity, etc. (Thousands top physicists in the world) x (50 years) = Y% of the total human intelligence. Is this Y% still too dumb? Or, we got the QU wrong somehow?

    Answer: We must be on a wrong track. As QU [delta P x delta S >= ħ] is an empirical fact, we must ‘read’ it wrong. In fact, {ħ = delta P x delta} actually forms a ‘viewing window’; that is, providing us info, not trying to sabotage us (see http://tienzengong.wordpress.com/2014/12/27/the-certainty-principle/ ).

    ‘Intuition’ is a human ‘faculty’ which allows us to get the right question and right answer while lacking the needed info (data) and knowledge. If philosophers do not use this great human faculty, it will be their misfortune.

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  39. Hi Massimo,

    I’m afraid your example fails to make the distinction clear to me. I think pretty much the same processes are going on in both cases, the only difference being between the degree of confidence that your intuition is correct. A child may not be so confident that addition gives the same result independent of order, but will discover this over time. This seems to me to be the same as increasing confidence in chess.

    I suppose one difference is that there is a clear exceptionless law regarding addition, where chess scenarios tend to be unique and without such rules. There may be heuristics, but it is not always the case that the best move is to capture an opponent’s queen. Like chess, philosophy doesn’t deal much with clear exceptionless laws much once we get beyond formal logic.

    Without a proof, or without being explicitly taught it, one arrives at an understanding of addition gradually through practice. I think this is the same process of induction responsible for what I understand you to mean by the term Socratic knowledge. This is not always reliable.

    As I said earlier, it seems to me that some intuitions are more robust than others. I am more confident that induction is reliable than I am in the intuitions which ground my more controversial beliefs (i.e. that computers could be made conscious with the right programming). Your intuition involving addition seems to me to be the kind of robust intuition often deployed in science and mathematics. Your intuition about the chess move seems to me to be more the sort of thing often deployed in philosophy. The difference is only one of degree as far as I can see.

    If your argument and mine were reduced to syllogisms, we would perhaps find in yours the premise that there is a fundamental difference between two kinds of intuitions, and we would perhaps find in mine the premise that there is really no difference between your two kinds. These premises are themselves perfect examples of the problematic fact that philosophical arguments often do rest on differing intuitions which are sometimes irreconcilable and often undecidable.

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  40. 1. What grounds your conclusion that the apple example and the chess example are two different sorts of cognitive processes? You seem to want to claim that understanding how cognitive processes work isn’t important to answering questions like this, and then you want to make a distinction between how two different cognitive processes work to answer it.

    2. Cappelen’s example of reference is much more similar to the chess example than the apple example.

    3. If the two examples are different in terms of what sort of thinking is taking place, then what makes one “philosophical” and one “psychological”? In other words, what grounds your conclusion that they’re not both psychological?

    I don’t think you’ve clarified anything here.

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  41. Joshua,

    “My only point was that the vast majority of work in experimental philosophy is not engaged in this sort of project but is instead trying to do something more positive.”

    I know, but you guys at this point are up against the stigma of the initial spin on the movement, and there is some work to be done to recover. I applaud your efforts in this regard.

    “I have argued that the empirical study of intuitions is relevant to questions about folk psychology, about language, and about free will.”

    Well, if by that you mean how free will is understood and used by laypeople, sure. As you know, I’m not at all convinced that that sort of research is relevant to professional discussions on free will, either philosophical or even neurobiological ones.

    “I claim that certain empirical facts about people’s intuitions can help us make progress on the free will debate.”

    We have talked about this before, and I don’t see how. Nor have I seen a convincing example of such progress.

    “What matters for this question is not whether philosophers have appealed to intuitions in the existing literature but only whether empirical work on intuitions really can help to make progress on these questions.”

    Sure, and the proof, as they say, is in the pudding…

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  42. Christian and Jknobe:

    Christian wrote:

    “There are very good reasons for thinking that the causal etiology of a belief is quite relevant to its justification, even if the causal etiology is not exhaustive. Gettier cases are one of them. One of the major responses to Gettier, and the one arguably most common among naturalists, is a causal theory of knowledge which concerns itself with reliable causal processes of belief generation rather than just logical/”conceptual” relations among propositions.”

    ———————-

    I am well aware of the literature on the Causal Theory of Knowledge and the ways in which it has been deployed in the Gettier cases. (Having taught philosophy for twenty years, now, I couldn’t possibly have avoided it.) Certainly, once one has made the philosophical decision to go the route of a Causal Theory, the empirical question of the etiology of belief becomes relevant. But it is not relevant to the choice of an epistemology in the first place, which is what I was speaking to, as the article is about intuitions, the most interesting question about which is their epistemic role, typically at the foundations of knowledge.

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  43. Hi Massimo,

    It looks like we very much agree about how to address these issues. The real question isn’t whether the existing literature in a priori philosophy makes appeals to intuition but rather whether experimental work can actually help to make philosophical progress. Moreover, the question isn’t so much about whether experimental work could be useful in principle as about whether it actually has contributed anything in practice.

    I guess the only way to address that issue is to take up a specific experimental paper and use it as a case study. My latest experimental philosophy paper is an attempt to use experimental methods to address philosophical questions about epistemic modals:

    http://semprag.org/article/view/sp.7.10

    Thus far, this specific use of experimental methods has been pretty uncontroversial. Some philosophers think that our conclusion is correct, others think it is incorrect, but everyone seems to agree that experimental results can be relevant here. Do you think that is a mistake? And if so, why?

    [In keeping with the very helpful point you made above, I am not asking about the value of experimental methods in principle but rather about the value of these specific experiments in addressing this specific philosophical question.]

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  44. Massimo,
    Thank you for your clarification, following which I thought it well to do further research.

    The Stanford encyclopedia article on Intuition, rather than being a generalized discussion (which one can find at Wikipedia), is entirely about the issues raised in your article,including discussion of XPhi, and a supplement on the formal issues with the Gettier problem, given Timothy Williamson’s criticism. Those still unclear as to the ground of the present discussion should review that SEP entry.

    That said, it should be noted that, having read the SEP article, I shouldn’t wonder that some of us found it difficult to distinguish intuition-Psych from intuition-Philo, because the discussion the SEP engages in, primarily concerning professional debate ranging over the past 15 or so years, seems to me what I would call ‘intra-traditional’ – that is, one needs reading in the Analytic tradition to fully grasp it. It largely concerns intuitions about propositions, and intuitions that can be expressed as propositions, in order to determine justification through analysis. Those with backgrounds in other traditions, or those who read philosophy eclectically might indeed have a different understanding of the nature of intuition. (At one point I considered getting all Kant on this, but my intuition told me that would be inappropriate, which turned out to be the case.)

    And that said, and having read the SEP article, and pending further research (like reading Cappelen’s book), I can now tentatively agree that Cappelen’s case seems the stronger. For instance, the SEP article includes discussion of intuition based criticism of several thought experiments (Gettier, Transplant, Chinese Nation, Flagpole); but in review, it is clear that one doesn’t need to resort to intuition to critique any of these experiments; nor (as another example) does one need even ‘rational intuition’ to recognize that certain truths – like the nature of addition – can be grasped immediately.

    —–

    Pust, Joel, “Intuition”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/intuition/

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  45. Joshua, well, I’ll need to read the paper, though I must say that the subject matter is pretty far from my own expertise to make a judgment. What would you say is the best contribution of XPhi to the free will debate, with which I’m much more familiar? or even better, is there any contribution of XPhi to, say the realism-antirealism debate (or anything else) in philosophy of science?

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