Epistemic Intuitions: Adopting a Distinction from Moral Philosophy

I’ve been thinking about two ways of understanding epistemic intuitions. The first view is the liberal view. This is the view proposed by Williamson, Ichikawa, Lewis and Van Inwagen. On this view intuitions are judgments or inclinations to judge. The motivation for this view is that it avoids psychologizing evidence. If intuitions are judgments, then they are not basic sources of evidence. They are more like acts of affirming a proposition rather than basic sources of evidence for the content of a proposition. The second view of intuitions is the restrictive view. According to this view intuitions are a special class of mental states and these mental states are capable of serving as evidence for the propositional content they represent.

In thinking about these two views it occurred to me that it is possible to adopt and adapt a distinction from moral philosophy. Consider reframing these two views in roughly the following way:

  • Non-cognitivism (liberal): Intuitions do not evidence the truth of propositions. Intuitions are akin to attitudes of affirmation of propositional content, but they do not count as basic sources of evidence for that content. Intuitions have no truth conditions; they are more like utterances “Yes, that P” or “I agree that P.” Intuitions are attitudes of desire, approval or disapproval.
  • Cognitivism (restrictive): Intuitions are states of mind (i.e., cognitive like beliefs are cognitive). Intuitions are able to evidence the truth or falsity of propositions. So, intuitions are capable of being basic sources of evidence.

Cast in this light, what can the debate over epistemic intuitions learn from the debate over the truth-value of moral propositions? Does this recasting of the debate over epistemic intuitions sharpen what is at stake?

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