The Unreliability of Philosophical Intuitions

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Dr. Tony Roark


Many philosophers, particularly those of the contemporary analytic variety, appeal to intuitions to justify their arguments. This practice is best known through hypothetical stories, sometimes called ‘thought experiments’. Within the story, a certain philosophical concept seems to intuitively apply to an action, state, phenomenon, etc. Basically, our intuitions about hypothetical cases are thought to serve as evidential information that a philosophical theory ought account for. A philosophical theory that does not account for this “evidence” is regarded as false or extremely implausible. A bold assumption is being made that intuitions are the sort of thing that can guide us to philosophical truths. This essay challenges the evidential use of intuitions in philosophy. An epistemic argument is formed to the conclusion that intuitive seemings cannot justify premises in philosophical inquiry. It is argued that philosophical intuitions are not known to be reliable since they fail to meet the conditions for a reliable source of information that we ought (and, indeed, often do) uphold. Philosophical intuitions, therefore, are not admissible as evidence/justification. Yet philosophers need not worry about philosophical progress without intuition, since there are more reliable tools at their disposal.

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