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.)