Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Intuitions, Reasons, and Compatibilism

In class yesterday, we discussed the role of intuitions in philosophy. It came up because John Martin Fischer has a chapter in the book we're reading in which he seems to rely on a kind of epistemic principle involving intuitions. We had trouble articulating the principle in class. Perhaps the entry on intuitions in the SEP will be helpful in clearing up some of the questions that arose in my class and will help us spell out the principle that Fischer seems to have in mind.

Here's a principle like one we considered in class (and which is not that far from one mentioned in the SEP entry). I'll call it principle "P"
P = If a theory (generalization, etc.) contravenes the content of an intuition, then that intuition should be treated as (defeasible) evidence against the theory.  
Fischer doesn't explicitly endorse this principle, but he does seem to think that, all else being equal, our theories (beliefs, views, etc.) should be in keeping with our intuitions. That is, he seems to think that if a theory is not in keeping with an intuition, then this is a reason (albeit a defeasible one) for thinking that the theory is false.

The majority of students in my class didn't take issue with this sort of principle, but a number of them were skeptical of the reliability of intuitions in providing reasons to endorse a theory (have a belief, etc.). I was surprised, in fact, by the level of skepticism about principles like P.

A related issue that we discussed involved how we ought to unpack Fischer's argument at the beginning of the chapter (and whether he was intending to really offer an argument).

We might read Fischer as having put forward the following argument:
(1) We have the intuition that we're sometimes free and morally responsible for what we do, and we would have this intuition even if determinism turned out to be true.
(2) We thus have the intuition that compatibilism is true.
(3) Incompatiblism contravenes the content of this intuition (i.e., the intuition that compatibilism is true).
(4) Principle P.
(5) Therefore, the intuition that compatibilism is true provides (defeasible) evidence against incompatibilism.  
Is this an accurate way to unpack Fischer's argument? Even if it's not, what do you make of the argument and what do you think about Principle P?


Anonymous said...

P = If a theory (generalization, etc.) contravenes the content of an intuition, then that intuition should be treated as (defeasible) evidence against the theory.

A lot hinges here on how to define “intuition.” Consider the following fascinating definitions of INTUITION from various sources. Interesting to see how the word knowledge pops up in these.
1)A natural ability or power that makes it possible to know something without any proof or evidence
2)A feeling that guides a person to act a certain way without fully understanding why
3)Something that is known or understood without proof or evidence
4)The act or faculty of knowing or sensing without the use of rational processes
5)Immediate cognition
6)A perceptive insight
7)A sense of something not evident or deducible
8)An impression
9)Direct perception of truth or fact independent of any reasoning process
10)Immediate apprehension
11)A keen and quick insight
12)An immediate cognition of an object not inferred or determined by a previous cognition of the same object
13)Pure, untaught, non-inferential knowledge

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that principle P is making a really strong claim that intuition should be treated equally with reasons or at least taken seriously, and people should rely on intuition as a criterion in their justification. Although I think to certain extent it is true that intuition does provide some guidance in our reasoning, intuition seems to play a very similar role as beliefs. There might be disagreement on whether intuitions are identical to beliefs, but intuitions, like beliefs, tend to rely on impressions and/qualitative data. Most intuitions or beliefs that people have are particular and personal.

Like we were discussing in class, intuition is not fully evidence-based, but it does require some background evidence to support such intuition. For example, suppose I see a person and I have some intuition that she is Russian. I acquire such intuition based on my past experiences, such that I have some Russian friends and most of them share similar facial features; and if that person speaks English with an accent that sounds like Russian, I am more confident that she is Russian. However, before I verify if she is Russian, my intuition is not grounded since it could either be true or false. There is some probability that she could be a Ukrainian. In general, most people’s intuitions are based on their past experience, which vary from person to person, and should probably not be generalized. Thus similar to beliefs, intuitions provide some first-hand ideas to guide our thought and actions, but it seems to lack full account of justification in itself, and should not be equated with reason or knowledge.
For something to serve as the evidence against some theory, it may require more than intuitions given that intuition is unstable and may easily to be refuted. Another example of intuition would be that, most people have intuition that we cannot travel faster than speed of light, c (c is roughly 3*10^8 m/s), perhaps based on some facts like the fastest runner in the world runs at a speed of about 10m/s, a fighter jet has a highest speed of 600-700m/s, etc, which are way below c. But it is not so satisfactory to say that our intuition conflict with a theory then it should be rejected. Instead, we want the theoretical physicists to show us that why we cannot travel faster than speed of light based on some more rigorous mathematical proof, which are more reliable evidence to go against some theory. So, perhaps, intuition is good enough to go on with everyday life, but if we want to take a theory seriously, we may not use intuition as guide, but merely use it as a reference. We could still keep intuition in the discussion as it makes us doubt, but it should not be taken for granted when it comes to justification of a view, such as compatibility.

Emily Heilman said...

It is hard for me to realistically understand the arguments against the reliability of intuition. I can't think of an example in which my intuitions about a topic misalign with my theory (beliefs, etc.) about that topic. I don't believe intuitions are permanent and they are subject to change with new information we learn, but at any given time my intuition implies my beliefs.

When considering Fischer's arguments though, it does feel extremely loose to base a theory off of assuming everyone would have the same intuition even if determinism is true. The rest of the conditions follow suit if this is valid but my issue with Fischer's argument lies in the first condition. I agree with the first part that we sometimes feel free and morally responsible but in my understanding, learning that determinism is true would affect that intuition. If we consider a situation where the agent is being blamed, for example on trial for a committing a crime, I would predict very quickly his/her intuition would rely on the fact determinism is true and therefore, he/she would argue they are not morally responsible. Since intuition is so subjective and flexible, it seems it can be highly situational and thus, difficult to depend an entire argument on.

Anonymous said...

If intuition is a feeling (e.g., "so active a principle as a conscience" - Hume), how on God's green Earth can you best surface it by the dictates of reason alone?

Kelly Fisher said...

I disagree with Fischer in this sense because I am still skeptical of the idea that Intuitions even exist. I think that intuitions aren't existent because I believe that when you make a decision it is often off what you know already, you have some deductive reasoning behind it. When you have literally no knowledge of something I wouldn't say you have an intuition but make a decision and that decision is based merely off chance. Here is an example: I have never taken a philosophy course before, it is my first day of class and I'm heading up to the classroom. I have met several philosophy majors and they all seem like smart people who are concerned about being hydrated. I would make the guess then that when I walk into the room that a lot of people will have water bottles with them. This was not an intuition, but a deductive guess. From this reasoning I would make this argument

1) When I make an assumption it is usually from some deductive reasoning, even when I have no personal experience I reason from what I have heard
2) When I know literally know nothing about something I would reason from what I know about similar things or make a totally random choice
3) My random choice had no gut feeling with it, it was merely random decision making
4) Since my decisions are either made from deductive reasoning or random choice, I believe intuitions are non-existent

Anonymous said...

Here is something from John Heil (p.42) for consideration:

Compatibilists take the concept of agency to encompass a spectrum of paradigm cases. If it is pointed out that the cases in question apparently allow for the possibility that what we ordinarily regard as free actions could, on closer examination, turn out to be wholly causally determined, a compatibilist is likely to shrug: this shows only that, in spite of what we might have thought, free action is at home in a determined world.

Incompatiblists, in contrast, are likely to begin with a set of requirements extracted a priori from the concept of agency. These imply that an action is free only when it is robustly spontaneous. Spontaneity, however, requires at a minimum an uncaused cause: it might require an uncaused causer. Anything less, the incompatibilist reasons, falls short of authentic agency. Faced with the response that we are unlikely to be in a position to reconcile agency in this sense with the idea that agents are, at bottom physical beings – or at the very least that agent’s actions have manifestly physical effects – an incompatibilist is likely to shrug. This is what agency – genuine agency – requires; if human beings fail to satisfy the pertinent conditions, then human beings fail to be genuine agents: agency is an illusion.