Female (And Male) Intuition In Philosophy

Over at Rationally Speaking (far and away my favorite philosophy blog), Julia Galef has a thoughtful post on philosophical judgments from intuition. This passage caught my eye:

One central concern for the critics is that a single question can inspire totally different, and mutually contradictory, intuitions in different people. Personally, I’ve often been amazed at how completely I disagree with what a philosopher claims is “intuitively” the case. For example, I disagree with Moore’s intuition that it would be better for a beautiful planet to exist than an ugly one even if there were no one around to see it. I can’t understand what the words “better” and “worse,” let alone “beautiful” and “ugly,” could possibly mean outside the domain of the experiences of conscious beings. I know I’m not alone in my disagreement with Moore, yet I’ve also talked to other well-respected professional philosophers who claim to share his intuition.

Perhaps Galef shouldn’t be that amazed. After all, philosophy is a notoriously male-dominated field, and there is evidence to suggest that men and women presented with the same philosophical problem will tend to have very different intuitive responses.

That’s a major strike against arguments from intuition. For an argument for intuition to be universally applicable, it has to be the “right” one — likely the reason why Galef so often disagrees with that intuition is because it also happens to be the one held predominantly by men instead of women.

When there’s broad disagreement between male and female intuitions, it seems to me that any argument from intuition must be junked entirely. Of course we won’t hear about those broad disagreements as long as academic philosophy remains an atavistic sausagefest. And so arguments that are actually built on sand will continue to be treated with far more gravity than they deserve simply because they mesh well with male prejudice.

(Incidentally, if you want to see just how misogynistic university philosophy departments can get, the blog What is it like to be a woman in philosophy? is truly heartbreaking. Flip through it if you have the stomach, but then be sure to check out all the posts tagged “Do Try This At Home” for a chaser. I swear to god, some of those posts will bring tears to your eyes. In a good way.)

About these ads

8 Responses

  1. “likely the reason why Galef so often disagrees with that intuition is because it also happens to be the one held predominantly by men instead of women.”

    This is purely speculative, and relies quite a great deal and subsequently dismissed intuition. Does it make a difference why she disagrees? She has made a cogent and significant argument in favor of more rigorous bases of thought in philosophy and you explain away her challenges by resorting to poorly applied statistics?

    I agree with the point you make, but you should beware of the examples you use. It might also be interesting to note that in general, it is women who are most often identified with the ‘woo’ of intuition, a relic from cultural designations of being closer to natural, god and the spiritual world through the conduit of emotional sensitivity. When your archetypes also diverge frantically depending on the subject, it’s probably time to ditch them, too.

    • What makes you think I’m trying to “explain away” Galef’s challenge to arguments from intuition? I’m pretty sure my post supports her point.

  2. Indeed, moore’s intuitionism is virtually unchallenged in philosophy today.

    Oh, wait.

  3. You should look at Chalmers’ surveys on philosophical positions held by professional philosophers, to see whether there are gender based effects, or whether professional training dampens them.

    • That’s a good suggestion! I’ll take a look.

  4. “When there’s broad disagreement between male and female intuitions, it seems to me that any argument from intuition must be junked entirely.”

    The fundamental problem with intuition is that for some questions, different people have different intuitions. I’m not not sure that pointing to statistical differences between the genders adds anything to this point.

    Also, as a methodological point, different responses to the questions don’t necessarily reflect different intuitions. Take the scenario where Peter leaves his watch on the table and someone replaces the watch with a different one. The question is whether Peter knows that a watch is on the table. It may be that some people have an intuition about what the correct answer to this question is, but I don’t.

    As for Moore’s intuition that it would be better for a beautiful planet to exist than an ugly one, I don’t think this is merely the case of Galef having a different intuition. It seems to me that Galef has identified the issue: concepts like “beautiful” and “ugly” reflect the “experiences of conscious beings.” Moore’s intuition has led him astray because Moore has never experienced being nonexistent (such an experience being a contradiction in terms) and thus has trouble imagining a world in which there are no conscious beings (since he would be nonexistent in such a world).

    (In fairness to Moore, I should acknowledge that I haven’t read him; the preceding paragraph is based on what I read in this discussion.)

  5. I’ve always been annoyed by arguments from intuition in moral philosophy, but I never have thought about whether men (statistically speaking) and women might have different intuitions.

    I’m awaiting details about the coconut, life boat, baby, steamroller, trolley, Fat Man, etc.

  6. “I’ve always been annoyed by arguments from intuition in moral philosophy” – As opposed to arguments in moral philosophy based on….? Don’t kid yourself that the scope of ‘arguments from intuition’ is limited to things like people who are homophobes due to feelings of an ick factor; justifications for utilitarianism are just as much intuition-based and justification for moral particulars.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 80 other followers

%d bloggers like this: