Carving intuition at its joints
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Metaphilosophy is the philosophical study of philosophy itself. Metaphilosophers attempt to articulate and evaluate the aim(s) of philosophy, the value(s) of philosophy, and the method(s) of philosophy. One striking feature of contemporary metaphilosophy is the attention it devotes to the investigation of philosophical intuitions. There is a tacit presumption in this literature, shared by both proponents and critics of appeals to intuition, that philosophical intuitions constitute something like a natural kind. Intuitions may not issue from a single faculty, and the intuitions themselves may concern a heterogeneous collection of propositions, but nonetheless—so this line of thinking goes—there is something unifying about philosophical intuitions that justifies treating them monolithically. This treatment, I argue, is a mistake. To determine the merit of philosophical appeals to intuition, we need some way to gauge the reliability or justificatory power of such appeals. But attempting to measure the reliability or justificatory power of intuitions immediately generates a dilemma. On the one hand, challenging the reliability or justificatory power of all intuitions leads to self-defeat, as any such challenge will necessarily rely on intuition at some point in the argument. On the other hand, restricting the challenge to a certain subset of intuitions risks a familiar sort of generality problem: what makes these intuitions problematic and not their counterparts in other domains? In response to this dilemma, I argue that metaphilosophy would be best served abandoning intuition talk altogether. ‘Intuition’ picks out an overly broad and general category. When assessing the reliability or justificatory power of an evidence source, it is necessary to be fine-grained about the evidence source. We ought not ask whether intuition as a whole is reliable; rather, we should ask whether particular kinds of intuition are reliable, leaving open the possibility that some sorts of intuitions are more reliable than others. I explore three principled ways of sub-dividing intuitions in a way that pushes the metaphilosophical dialectic forward. We can individuate classes of intuition by (1) their context of employment, (2) the exoticism of their content, and (3) their psychological provenance. This tripartite division will make it easier to identify which appeals to intuition are problematic without risking wholesale skepticism.