Précis of Philosophy without Intuitions Replies to Weatherson, Chalmers, Weinberg, and Bengson. Précis of Philosophy without Intuitions - PDF

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Précis of Philosophy without Intuitions Replies to Weatherson, Chalmers, Weinberg, and Bengson Forthcoming: Philosophical Studies Symposium on Philosophy without Intuitions Herman Cappelen Précis of Philosophy

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Précis of Philosophy without Intuitions Replies to Weatherson, Chalmers, Weinberg, and Bengson Forthcoming: Philosophical Studies Symposium on Philosophy without Intuitions Herman Cappelen Précis of Philosophy without Intuitions Philosophy without Intuitions (hereafter, PWI ) is in many ways a simple book. It has a simple guiding question: Guiding Question (GQ). Is it characteristic of philosophers that they rely on intuitions as evidence? The central thesis of the book is also simple: the answer to GQ is No. A corollary is that all the work that assumes a positive answer, e.g. experimental philosophy and what I call methodological rationalism, is based on a false assumption. For those familiar with the last 30 years of metaphilosophical debates, it should be easy to see the importance of the answer to GQ. A shared assumption among practically all participants in those debates is that the answer to GQ is Yes (I call that thesis Centrality ). However, no one has ever presented a detailed case for Centrality. I mean this literally: not even a page is devoted to setting out a careful case for a positive answer it s just assumed that the answer is Yes. 1 This is a bizarre state of affairs. If someone proposed that philosophers tend to eat carrots while writing about thought experiments (and then went on to investigate the possibly insidious or positive effects of carrot-eating on contemporary philosophy), we wouldn t even pay attention unless careful evidence was presented. A proponent of this proposal would have to investigate the eating habits of philosophers. One simple aim of PWI was to encourage those interested in metaphilosophy to engage in empirical work: to empirically investigate whether it s true that philosophers do 1 It is also an historical aberration. Prior to roughly 1970, leading metaphilosophers would have been very surprised to hear that their work relied on intuitions as evidence. This wasn t the view of Wittgenstein, Carnap, Quine, or Davidson. So proponents of Centrality can t claim that they were 1 something properly labeled rely on intuitions as evidence. To engage in that work, you need at a minimum to do three things: (i) (ii) (iii) Tell us what intuitions are; Tell us what it is to rely on intuitions as evidence; and Tell us how you found out that philosophers rely on intuitions as evidence: i.e. what part of philosophical practice you investigated. Metaphilosophers sometimes tell us about (i) and (ii), but never put serious work into (iii). Before saying more about the content of PWI, a brief big-picture remark: if one effect of PWI is that philosophers who endorse Centrality start focusing on (iii), that alone would be immense progress. More generally, many metaphilosophical claims are empirical claims about how a group of people (those who call themselves philosophers ) goes about doing something (what they call philosophy ). To find out how people do something, you have to study their actions. So a very big-picture goal of PWI is the encouragement of a practice-centered metaphilosophy. 2 PWI s strategy for answering GQ is also simple. I consider two basic forms of argument for the view that philosophers rely on intuitions as evidence. In Part One I consider the view that philosophers use of intuition -vocabulary provides evidence for reliance on intuitions as evidence. Roughly speaking, the view I consider is that the way people use intuitive in texts shows that Centrality is true. This part of the book contains detailed discussions of how intuitive is used in philosophical texts and I conclude that the term isn t used to denote a source of evidence. It is worth highlighting that the issue of how intuitive is used is an empirical one. One needs to look in careful detail at a wide range of sentences and passages where the relevant terms are used and then propose interpretations. Part Two of PWI explores the view that Centrality is established not by how philosophers speak, but by how they argue and judge. The intuitive kind of judging can be prevalent among philosophers even if it isn t accompanied by intuition -talk (much like we can rely on vision as evidence even when we don t use words like sees ). Part Two of PWI has a big-picture simplicity to it: I develop a set of diagnostics for when someone is judging intuitively, then look for evidence that such judging takes place in the relevant kind of texts. I find no such evidence and so conclude that this second strategy for defending Centrality also fails. While the overall strategy of Part Two is simple, the details are extraordinarily messy. I think that s in the nature of this kind of investigation. There are three sources of messiness. First, it is impossible to pick diagnostics that all (or even a majority of) 2 That of course is not all metaphilosophers should do: we should also make normative claims, but even those often presuppose descriptive assumptions. 2 the participants in the debate will agree on. Second, the selection of texts 3 to be investigated will be controversial. Third, having settled on a set of diagnostics and texts, determining what to say about a particular text is very difficult requiring detailed interpretative work. Here s a brief overview of how I approached these three problems: I chose a very weak set of diagnostics (see PWI, chapter 7). I operated with the disjunction of three features that are mentioned by most intuition-theorists. I chose case studies that are widely claimed to be paradigms of intuition-based philosophy from a wide range of philosophical disciplines (see chapter 8). When it comes to applying the diagnostics to particular texts, there s no simple methodology. I basically just read carefully and then improvised. One point about my procedure in Part II is worth highlighting: in several of the responses to PWI, one of the diagnostics I appeal to, Rock, have come under particular scrutiny. This is the idea that intuitive judgments justify, but need no justification. They have a kind of default justificatory status. When writing PWI, I always assumed that many of those inclined to defend Centrality would respond in three steps: (i) first, they would use only Rock to characterize the intuitive (even though no one who has ever written on intuitions before PWI did that the characterization is always richer, including at least one of the other diagnostics), (ii) then they would make Rock very difficult to detect they would give some extremely vague (or purely negative) characterization and make sure not to say anything about how to actually go about discovering the presence of this feature in a particular text, and finally, (iii) they would point out that PWI doesn t prove the absence of this (obscure, impossible to discover) feature. This kind of reply not only fails to engage with PWI, but more generally fails to take seriously the task at hand. I think it would be real progress to find improved diagnostics that would help us determine whether in a particular text we can find a reliance on the intuitive. What is not helpful is a watering down of the intuitive to something entirely mysterious, undetectable, and largely pointless, and then insist that no one can prove its absence. In closing, I ll offer some brief remarks about why these topics should be of interest even to philosophers who don t work specifically on metaphilosophy. What we philosophers think about philosophy affects how we philosophize. The caricature of philosophy as resting on a foundation of spontaneous flashes of insight (or however you choose to spell out the intuitive) misleads us about what the core of philosophy is and is responsible for institutional and professional prejudices (see e.g. Weatherson, this vol.). Maybe most strikingly, this false metaphilosophical belief is singlehandedly responsible for the birth of an entire sub-discipline of philosophy experimental philosophy devoted to the study of so-called intuition. This has had an insidious 3 Even the choice of focusing on written texts over spoken philosophy (e.g. Q&A sessions) is nontrivial. 3 effect even on those who are not experimental philosophers. It has, for example, made many philosophers think that they need to do something they call explaining away intuitions. If I am right, that kind of activity is a waste of time and should have no place in serious philosophy. So the worry isn t just that a few metaphilosophers have some false beliefs about how philosophy is practiced. False metaphilosophical beliefs impact the practice of first-order philosophy in many, often unpredictable ways. Reply to Critics The replies in this symposium are some of the most insightful contributions to contemporary metaphilosophy I have read. I wish I had seen them before I wrote PWI. It would have made it a better book. I also wish I had space to explore all the important issues raised, but unfortunately, the focus here will have to be on points of disagreement. The replies build on each other I draw on material from the earlier replies in the later ones. It is possible to read each reply in isolation, but they are best read in sequence. Socratic Knowledge and Its Role in Philosophy Reply to Brian Weatherson 4 Weatherson presents one of the most interesting accounts of the role of intuitions in philosophy that I have encountered. For Weatherson, the role is limited, fragile, and elusive (as soon as you even remember them, their argumentative role is shattered!). 5 4 Thanks to Josh Dever and Brian Weatherson for helpful comments and suggestions. 5 One of the most interesting ideas in the paper is that the important intuitions are the ones you barely notice or remember. if you remembered them enough to argue about them (or experimentally test them), the fragility conditions had probably been triggered, and the intuition probably wasn t doing much argumentative work (this vol.). 4 In what follows, I focus on areas of disagreement. In sum: I think what Weatherson calls Socratic knowledge is extremely important in philosophy, but my understanding of it differs from Weatherson s. I don t think Socratic knowledge is tied (or even interestingly connected) to heuristics, speed or to anything in the neighborhood of the intuitive. 1. Socratic knowledge and its role in philosophy Weatherson introduces the notion of Socratic knowledge in this way: It s interesting that we can expand the common ground, or at least expand the explicit common ground, by introducing claims that most people recognise as true when they hear them. This relies on people having what I ll call Socratic knowledge (this vol.). I like the idea of Socratic knowledge, but not all aspects of Weatherson s account. Here is how I think of it: 6 we know a lot that we cannot bring to mind at a moment s notice. One way to describe this phenomenon is to say that we have much tacit knowledge. Rather than give you a theory of tacit knowledge, I ll give you some examples that will, I hope, make obvious what I have in mind. You know what thousands of people are called and how you can talk about them using their names. If you re like me, it ll take a lot of time to recall all (or even just a few) of those names you don t have that knowledge on immediate recall. More generally, you have an enormous (probably infinite) amount of knowledge about how to talk about objects, how you have talked about objects in the past, and how others have talked about objects to you. You have tacit knowledge of that kind about many domains: you might never have thought about whether more than 32,184 people live in Belgium, but you know it. You know an enormous amount about how people justify, rationalize and explain their actions, about how we attribute mental states to others, about knowledge ascriptions, and about the rules, norms, and conventions that govern interpersonal behavior. So it goes in many domains of interest to philosophers (and of course also in non-philosophical domains). Three points about this kind of tacit knowledge: (i) It is often mundane knowledge that no one but an extreme skeptic would deny that we have. For example: I have a daughter called Nora. I can use that name to talk about her. I have on thousands of occasions used Nora to talk about Nora. I have told others that she is called Nora and when I ve done that, they are able to use Nora to talk about Nora. (ii) Making tacit knowledge explicit can be difficult work and when we are made explicitly aware of knowing what we know tacitly, it can come as a surprise. (iii) Putting tacit knowledge together into interesting patterns and generalizing over (or inducting on) can be very difficult. That, I take it, is the kind of process that Weatherson says can result in Socratic knowledge. I ll use the same term. 7 6 I wish I had made this clearer in PWI: this is what I had in mind when I talked about common ground and it is what I was relying on e.g. in the discussion of Thompson s violinist in section (and throughout the book). 7 The phenomenon described above I take to be fairly non-controversial. Full-blown theories of tacit 5 2. Tacit and Socratic knowledge in philosophy The best way to describe the roles of tacit and Socratic knowledge in philosophy is through examples. Kripke s work is a paradigm. Here is Kripke s remark about the name Feynman : Consider Richard Feynman, to whom many of us are able to refer. He is a leading contemporary theoretical physicist. Everyone here (I am sure!) can state the contents of one of Feynman s theories so as to differentiate him from Gell-Mann. However, the man in the street, not possessing these abilities, may still use the name Feynman. When asked, he will say: well he s a physicist or something. He may not think this picks out anyone uniquely. Still I think he uses the name Feynman as a name for Feynman. (1980, p. 81) A normal English speaker who has never thought about this particular case will have sufficient tacit knowledge (of the kind described in the previous section) to have a justified true belief that the agent in the example uses the name Feynman as a name for Feynman (call this proposition Q.) Of course, making the justification explicit would be hard (and often pointless) work. But the agent is in a position to know Q before having gone through the process of making it all explicit. 8 Note that this is not to say that the fact that we think (or intuit) that Q is true is treated as evidence that Q is true. Rather, we know a lot about reference and that knowledge puts us in a position to know the truth about the cases Kripke draws our attention to. The justification isn t transparent to us, but that lack of transparency is an entirely mundane phenomenon, not an indication that something called an intuition serves as a source of evidence. What I just said applies also to beliefs we form about more general principles. Consider this more general thesis, based, with only slight modifications, on passages in Naming and Necessity (91): Someone, let s say, a baby, is born; his parents call him by a certain name. They talk about him to their friends. Other people meet him. Through various sorts of talk the name is spread from link to link as if by a chain. When the name is passed from link to link, the receiver of the name must intend when he learns it to use it with the same referent as the man from whom he heard it. The receiver can then use the name to refer to the baby at the beginning of the chain. You might not have thought about this before reading Naming and Necessity (and you might even have endorsed a philosophical theory incompatible with it) but you knew it (or knew enough to come to know it on reflection). What you know (tacitly and explicitly) about language and communication puts you in a position to know it. Of course, often when we rely on Socratic knowledge we can also give some reasons. When we say that the man on the street refers to Feynman with Feynman, and we re asked why, we re not just completely at sea. Maybe we start with an knowledge will no doubt be controversial, but the points above will, I predict, not be points of contention between more sophisticated theories. 8 These points are, I think, common ground between Weatherson and me. 6 argument from analogy: I know lots of specific cases in which someone refers to someone with a name, and this case seems relevantly analogous to those cases. Of course, filling out all the details of the argument from analogy is enormously complex, and people will probably quickly get lost and baffled if you ask them to do it. But that s exactly the same as in explicit arguments from analogy, so there s no special phenomenon here. Sometimes we can elicit little bits of proto-theory. People say, Well, people would blame him for saying false things about Feynman, so he must be talking about Feynman when he says Feynman. Again, at best partial and weak arguments will come to us in this way, but again that s how it is with most explicit theorizing. Once we see that the bits of Socratic knowledge are often backed up by little pieces of argumentation, we then realize that we can do some evaluation of the epistemic weight of the bits of Socratic knowledge. We don t have to take them to be oracular dictates of some mysterious faculty, but conclusions of pieces of reasoning. So we can push back against the judgments in the Feynman case by pointing out disanalogies to other cases of naming, by arguing that blame doesn t track semantics (and so, we wouldn t blame him is irrelevant), etc. After reading the case studies in PWI, many readers ask: if we don t base casejudgments on intuitions, then how can the beliefs we have about them be justified? Many readers find it unsatisfactory that I don t give a general answer to this kind of question. They find what I say vague and inconclusive. I still don t have a general answer (or think one should be given), but I took it to be obvious that in many cases the justification is Socratic in the sense sketched above, often mixed up with little bits of explicit reasoning Why tacit and Socratic knowledge have nothing to do with intuitions The notion of the intuitive is obscure and the term intuition is used in many different ways in philosophy and other disciplines. Despite that, I know of no usage of intuitive that would make appeals to tacit knowledge of the kind described above intuitive. Keep in mind: it is not accompanied by any kind of distinctive phenomenology, they are not judgments that are based solely on conceptual competence, they are not judgments that have the kind of distinctive epistemic status I characterized as Rock in PWI, they are not justified in what Chalmers (this vol.) calls a broadly noninferential way. Finally, and this is important in connection with the reply to Weatherson, they are not what psychologists would describe as intuitive. Jennifer Nagel gives the following helpful summary: Mercier and Sperber describe intuitive judgments as generated by processes that take place inside individuals without being controlled by them (Mercier & Sperber, 2009, 153). The spontaneous inferences produced by these processes modify or update what we believe without the individual s attending to what justifies this 9 For an elaboration on these remarks, see also Cappelen 2014a. 7 modification (ibid.). (2012, p. 498) The reflections that generate Socratic knowledge (e.g. the kind of reflections we engage in when we think hard about the material in Naming and Necessity) are slow and under our control. We engage in explicit, sequential reasoning and devote personal-level attention to the grounds of the conclusions we reach. In other words, the work that goes into generating Socratic knowledge is exactly what e.g. Mercier and Sperber contrast with the intuitive (see Nagel 2012, pp ). 4. First point of disagreement with Weatherson: The irrelevance of speed For Weatherson, Socratic knowledge is tied to the psychological notion of the intuitive (the k
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