As a matter of fact, philosophers rely on intuitions as the ultimate grounds for the claims they make. Are intuitions good grounds for philosophical claims and if so, why is it all right to rely on intuitions (are they evidence of some sort)?
The analogy with perception (which is predominant in the literature on intuition) attempts to provide an answer to the above-mentioned question by first answering the question what intuitions are and what their role in philosophical practice is. The proponents of this picture usually invoke two (related) dimensions of comparison between intuitions and perception, an analogy based on phenomenology and an analogy based on the epistemic role of intuitions.
The most prominent defender of the perceptual model of intuition (regarding both phenomenology and epistemic role of intuitions) is George Bealer, according to whom, to have an intuition that P is just to seem to you that P, where ‘seeming’ is understood as a sui generis cognitive episode irreducible to beliefs and with distinctive phenomenology that separates it from unreliable sources of belief such as hunch, guess, etc (Bealer (1996), ‘A Priori Knowledge and the Scope of Philosophy’, Philosophical Studies, 81, p.123). Intellectual seemings that vindicate themselves in light of the best theory that systematizes them are the one’s that have reliable connection with modal truths, and constitute good evidence in support of that theory, according to Bealer.
A natural question to ask is whether we should take the analogy with perception seriously.
I am doubtful that the perceptual analogy is useful and relevant in accounting why it is all right to rely on intuitions as grounds for a priori (philosophical knowledge). If the perceptual model of intuitions is correct, then intuitions are like perceptual experiences in a sense that one relies on them in order to establish a link between how things seem to one and what the facts are, coming thereby to acquire new knowledge. A reason why we should be suspicious of perceptual model lies in that that it is doubtful that intuitions indeed produce new knowledge. And I take it that similarity in this respect must be crucial for the success of the characterization of intuitions on the model of perception.
Thus, if we can generate doubt that intuitions produce new knowledge then we have at least a prima facie good reason to be suspicious of the perceptual model of intuition.
To generate such doubt let’s take an example of an a priori discipline that lends itself to visualization–geometry –and show that even in this case perceptual model looks inadequate.
Consider the following story. McJess is thinking how to shape pizza so as to get the most crust from a certain amount of dough. The particular question his attention is directed to is whether a pizza crust shaped as a circle, the diameter of which equals the side of a square shaped pizza, has a bigger circumference and area than a square-shaped one. After drawing a picture, McJess brings some geometrical facts in his focus, reflects a bit and judges that he should make the square shaped pizza because the relevant square must be bigger in circumference than the circle.
In this case it would be wrong to say that it only seems to McJess that he should shape the pizza as a square. His epistemic situation is much better than this. That is, by virtue of knowing some facts about squares and circles, McJess seemed to already had known the answer to his question and consequently, he did not learn anything new. What may be new here is that McJess’ antecedent knowledge got manifested in an occurent belief. Manifestation of such knowledge is, however, contingent upon reflection and triggered by an episode of reflection.
And what guarantees that McJess’ belief is an instance of knowledge? The special connection between intuitions and the domain they are about guarantees this. The facts about squares and circles (and concepts in general) are necessary truths. This means that necessarily, if one considered the relevant question, were to reflect sufficiently, and possessed the relevant concepts, then one knows that P.
A case in which it would only seem to McJess that the square-shaped pizza would have more crust would be the one in which he only asked his neighbor, who is a mathematician, for advice, without actually being fully competent with the relevant concepts and/or not sufficiently reflecting on the matter. This knowledge would be based on testimony and is fallible. This is because there is no special connection between empirical claims and the domain such claims are about.
Now, let’s extend our story. McJess wants to share the goodness of his pizza with friends. Usually he makes pizza for two people and uses the square shaped pan of certain area (Obviously the example is adopted from Meno). Now, he invites two more people and has doubled the amount of dough. However, McJess has only one square shaped pan for the standard size pizza. ‘That’s not a trouble’, he thinks, ‘I’ll just cut aluminum foil that is double in area comparing to the original pan and bake pizza on it’. First, it seems to McJess that he just has to double the side of the original square. After thinking a bit and making a diagram in the flour on the countertop he dismisses this thought because he comes to believe that that gives him a four times bigger area. With the help of the diagram he comes to see that in order to double the area of a square one should have the new square with a side, which is the same in length as the diagonal of the original square. “Eureka”, exclaims McJess, “That’s it, I got it.” Following the insight that this experience of reflecting on the matter brought, he starts cutting the aluminum foil.
In this case, McJess has various seemings, which disappear on reflection. He dismisses the first off seeming, believing that that would not give him the right result (he understands that that would give him a four times bigger area). It is worth emphasizing that the first off seeming that McJess has should not be confused with having an intuition. It’s just an instance of insufficient reflection. McJess simply did not consider the question carefully.
The moment when McJess comes to “eureka experience’, it seems to him that he has got things right and he acts upon the belief that in order to double the area of a square one should have the new square with a side, which is the same in length as the diagonal of the original square.
The phenomenology of eureka experience suggests recognition of some facts. One can recognize something only if one had known that antecedently. Aha, I understand (know) this. It looks like that what McJess is doing is simply recalling something that was not occurrent but was already in the inventory of the things he knew.
If the foregoing discussion is on the right track, the perceptual analogy can’t get us far in accounting what intuitions are and why it is all right to rely on them. However, if the story that intuitions reflect antecedently possessed knowledge of some sort is correct, then we have a promise of the story why it is all right to rely on intuitions (and this story would not just tell us how is it that we reliably get to modal truths but also why it is rational to rely on intuitions in aiming to get to modal truths).
– Ivana Simic