Peter Railton "Intuition and Intuitions"
Friday, February 26, 5pm, Lipton Hall (108 West Third St)
Tuesday March 1st, 5pm, Jurow Hall (100 Washington Square East)
Friday March 4th, 5pm, Jurow Hall (100 Washington Square East)
A reception will follow each talk.
Speakers: Peter Railton
The ideas of intuition and intuitions have played an important role in philosophy at least since the time of Aristotle, and are firmly established in everyday life, where we often speak of acting intuitively, or of relying upon intuitions when making up our minds about what to think or feel. While we often cannot explain why, intuition and intuitions seem to possess a kind of authority we are reluctant to ignore.
Despite the ubiquity of appeals to intuition and intuitions, these notions have never been entirely free of an air of mystery and concomitant doubt. And recent years have witnessed an intensification of this doubt, partly due to work in cognitive psychology and “experimental philosophy”.
In these talks I will be undertaking a qualified defense of intuition and intuitions, by developing a theory of what mental structures and processes might lie behind some of the most important appeals to intuition and intuitions in philosophy and everyday life. This defense takes empirical psychology seriously, and connects intuition and intuitions with a rethinking now underway of the fundamental architecture of the mind in intelligent animals such as ourselves—detailed study indicates the centrality of statistical learning and evaluative, model-based action guidance. It seems that a posteriori evidence and a priori normative considerations are converging, and that we now can see what intuition and intuitions might actually be, how they can be well-grounded, and also what particular limitations they can be expected to have.
Lecture 1 will introduce the notions of intuition and intuitions I will be using and connect them with some key uses in traditional and contemporary philosophy. I then will begin to present the substantive account of intuition and intuitions I am developing, using the case of ethical intuitions as the key focus. I will also present some evidence that this account affords a plausible explanation of how intuitions seem to work in some well-known “problem cases” in ethics, e.g., trolley problems, and what this might tell us about their authority.
Lecture 2 will continue to develop the substantive account, extending it to epistemology and the theory of action. We will consider arguments and evidence concerning the structure of intuitive knowledge, how it yields spontaneous learning, and how it coordinates the key elements of thought and action to make possible self-consciously rational thought and behavior. We will consider as well the vulnerabilities of intuitive knowledge, and what distinctive contribution self-conscious thought can make to overcoming them.
Lecture 3 will move into “meta” issues. Why might intuition and intuitions have a special role to play in philosophical analysis, and what might this tell us about how concepts operate in natural language? How might the present account of intuition and intuitions help resolve some of the challenges faced by naturalism in ethics and epistemology? I believe it is now possible to defend what I call the “strong program” in meta-normative naturalism, according to which the naturalist must discharge the burden of showing, not only that a naturalistic basis could in principle be given of key normative phenomena, but that such a grounding plausibly exists.