Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Intuition and Truth

Had lunch with Jeff Maynes yesterday and we got to talking about his research in experimental philosophy.

In philosophy, topics we deal with are often not open to empirical investigation. Therefore, we often use intuitions as data. This is frequently the case in ethics and the philosophy of language. We test boundary cases, for example, where clearly this act is wrong, yet moral system X permits it showing that the system is not a necessary condition for moral rightness.

But while the intuitions are about untestable claims, what becomes testable is how widespread the intuitions are. So a group of philosophers have recently begun testing exactly this. Experimental philosophy in part looks at the intuitions at the heart of certain major philosophical works and sees whether those intuitions are shared by non-technicians, by the average person.

The question we discussed is what this shows. Suppose you have a minority intuition, does this mean that your intuition is in some sense wrong? Can your intuitions change? Is this a result of life experiences? How about as a result of rational argumentation? If intuitions are malleable, can they be used in philosophy in the way we tend to? If we surrender them, what else do we have for discussing the cogency of many philosophical views?