A Defense of Epistemic Intuitions

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Since the very beginning, intuitions have played a crucial role in philosophical inquiry. When Socrates asks, “What is justice?” he appeals to an innate source of knowledge that inexplicably recognizes examples of justice, even those falling outside the constraints of a definition. Intuition, as this purportedly omniscient source has been deemed, appears not only to exist universally among people, but also to hold some sort of special weight in the evaluation of normative claims—i.e. what the definition of justice should be. Likewise, epistemology in the analytic tradition employs intuitions in its conceptual analysis of knowledge. However, recent work in experimental philosophy, an emerging field that impresses the necessity of empirical data, threatens to overturn the foundations of traditional philosophy by proposing the unreliability of intuitions. According to data gathered by Weinberg, Nichols, and Stich in their paper “Normativity and Epistemic Intuitions,” intuitions are not universal and subject to 1) cultural variation, 2) socioeconomic variation, 3) previous philosophical exposure, and 4) the order in which cases are presented—that is, they are dependent on situational factors. Therefore, intuitions cannot be trusted to make normative epistemic claims. However, I plan to counter Weinberg, Nichols, and Stich by referencing the transparency of intuitions, proposed by Frank Jackson in his paper “On Gettier Holdouts,” in order to reconstruct an understanding of intuition that does not threaten epistemology in the analytic tradition and, furthermore, can be reconciled with experimental philosophy. First, I will deconstruct Weinberg et al.’s argument that intuitions fail to satisfy the Normative Project—the division of epistemology dedicated to understanding how knowledge should be understood—through their discussion of how intuitions vary. Second, I will explain Jackson’s notions of transparent intuitions, representational structures, and the “intuition module.” The last sections of this paper will be dedicated to responding to Weinberg et al. and exploring the implications of experimental philosophy on the Descriptive and Normative Projects of epistemology.



Philosophy, Epistemology


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