Chalmers and Cappelen on Intuition

Today I was reading a recent paper by David Chalmers entitled "Intuitions in Philosophy: A Minimal Defense," which you can find here.  It's a reply to a recent book by Herman Cappelen which argues that, contrary to a recent interpretation of philosophical methodology particularly prevalent in experimental philosophy, philosophers do not rely upon intuitions in their arguments.  Cappelen's basic strategy is largely a negative one: he tries to show by analysis of the language philosophers use, and the arguments philosophers employ, in several cases studies, that intuitions are not at play.  Chalmers has a rather interesting reply to one of Cappelen's arguments that I want to briefly take up here.

Cappelen, when examining these case studies, classifies them as not appealing to intuition in cases where the author makes an argument for the claim purportedly supported by intuition.  That is, if the author has an argument that p, then that p is not supported by appeal to intuition.  I offered a similar argument in my dissertation by pointing to the arguments that Putnam offers in the Twin Earth thought experiment.  This seems obvious enough at first glance, since one would think that the intuition would only be at play if no argument was possible.  If an argument is available, why bother with an intuition?

On Chalmers' analysis of intuitions, an intuition has dialectical non-inferential justification.  That is, we need not make any claims about the actual epistemic justification of the intuition, but rather we look at what justifications are accepted for that claim in argument.  For intuitions, they are accepted without inferential justification.  This, however, only means that they do not require inferential justification.  It is entirely consistent that a claim might have both non-inferential justification and inferential justification.  If so, then we have to deny the general principle that if an author argues that p, then that p is not supported by an intuition.

For example, the Gettier case includes both an argument and an intuition.  We can see that they come apart in the further reporting of the Gettier case in secondary literature, where the argument is often dropped and only the intuition remains.  Indeed, the same could be said of the Putnam case (it is why I thought it an important contribution to even point out the Putnam argument at all!).  The later authors have taken the intuition as non-inferentially justified.  If they did not, then they would have maintained the inferential justification.  Perhaps they were wrong to do so (the question of epistemic justification), but from the point of view of methodological analysis, it is clear that they did accept the intuition.

I think Chalmers is making an important point here, and it reveals an aspect of Cappelen's analysis that didn't sit right with me either.  Even if the arguments he looks at can be best understood as not requiring intuition, this is a different claim from the one that intuition has not played a central evidential role in the field as it has actually progressed.  Indeed, I have argued that Kripke's arguments can be interpreted as not relying on intuition at all, but it does not follow that Kripke himself is not using his own intuitions in making the case.  

However, I think caution is needed with Chalmer's position as well.  One reason for endorsing Cappelen's principle is the Principle of Charity.  If we can interpret an argument as not relying on intuition, when those intuitions are epistemically problematic, then we ought do so.  Perhaps others have made the dialectical move of taking the intuition on board, but this might not just be epistemically unjustified, but unjustified as a matter of interpretation as well.  Interpreting involves balancing the competing demands of textual fidelity and charity.  We can read Cappelen's principle as tacitly assuming that it is uncharitable to ascribe an appeal to intuition when not necessary.*

This is important because we should also be cautious with using the secondary literature as evidence here.  Intuitions are evocative and easier to understand than arguments.  The author might be using them for the purposes of illustrating the position she is considering, rather than as justifying it.  At the least, care is required when looking at the secondary literature to see if the author is actually taking it on as a dialectical assumption rather than using it for more pragmatic purposes.

* This might be more problematic for Cappelen than I am giving credit for here.  His intention is not to evaluate the methodology, but strictly to interpret it.  He might want to avoid taking on the assumption that intuitions are epistemically suspect.