Intuition (philosophy)  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Intuition is a priori knowledge or experiential belief characterized by its immediacy. Beyond this, the nature of intuition is debated. Roughly speaking, there are two main views. They are:

  1. Intuitions are a priori. This view holds that distinctions are to be made between various sorts of intuition, roughly corresponding to their subject matter (see George Bealer). The only intuitions that are relevant in analytic philosophy are 'rational' intuitions. These are intellectual seemings that something is necessarily the case. They are directed exclusively towards statements that make some kind of necessity claim. For example, a rational intuition is what occurs when it seems to us that a mathematical statement (e.g. 2+2=4) must be true. Intuitions as this view characterizes them are to be distinguished from beliefs, since we can hold beliefs which are not intuitive, or have intuitions for propositions that we know to be false.
  2. Intuitions are a species of belief, and based ultimately in experience. This view holds that intuitions are not especially different from beliefs, although they appear subjectively to be more unrevisable than other beliefs. Unlike the previous view, these intuitions are liable to differ between social groups. Evidence for this is shown in various psychological studies (e.g. the one by Stich, Weinburg and Nichols)

In the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, pure intuition is one of the basic cognitive faculties, equivalent to what might loosely be called perception. Kant held that our mind casts all of our external intuitions in the form of space, and all of our internal intuitions (memory, thought) in the form of time.

Intuitionism is a position advanced by Luitzen Egbertus Jan Brouwer in philosophy of mathematics derived from Kant's claim that all mathematical knowledge is knowledge of the pure forms of the intuition - that is, intuition that is not empirical (Prolegomena, p.7). Intuitionistic logic was devised by Arend Heyting to accommodate this position (and has been adopted by other forms of constructivism in general). It is characterized by rejecting the law of excluded middle: as a consequence it does not in general accept rules such as double negation elimination and the use of reductio ad absurdum to prove the existence of something.

Western philosophy

In the West, intuition does not appear as a separate field of study, and early mention and definition can be traced back to Plato. In his book Republic he tries to define intuition as a fundamental capacity of human reason to comprehend the true nature of reality. In his works Meno and Phaedo, he describes intuition as a pre-existing knowledge residing in the "soul of eternity," and a phenomenon by which one becomes conscious of pre-existing knowledge. He provides an example of mathematical truths, and posits that they are not arrived at by reason. He argues that these truths are accessed using a knowledge already present in a dormant form and accessible to our intuitive capacity. This concept by Plato is also sometimes referred to as anamnesis. The study was later continued by his followers.

In his book Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes refers to an intuition as a pre-existing knowledge gained through rational reasoning or discovering truth through contemplation. This definition is commonly referred to as rational intuition. Later philosophers, such as Hume, have more ambiguous interpretations of intuition. Hume claims intuition is a recognition of relationships (relation of time, place, and causation) while he states that "the resemblance" (recognition of relations) "will strike the eye" (which would not require further examination) but goes on to state, "or rather in mind" – attributing intuition to power of mind, contradicting the theory of empiricism.

Immanuel Kant finds intuition is thought of as basic sensory information provided by the cognitive faculty of sensibility (equivalent to what might loosely be called perception). Kant held that our mind casts all of our external intuitions in the form of space, and all of our internal intuitions (memory, thought) in the form of time. Intuitionism is a position advanced by Luitzen Egbertus Jan Brouwer in philosophy of mathematics derived from Kant's claim that all mathematical knowledge is knowledge of the pure forms of the intuition – that is, intuition that is not empirical. Intuitionistic logic was devised by Arend Heyting to accommodate this position (and has been adopted by other forms of constructivism in general). It is characterized by rejecting the law of excluded middle: as a consequence it does not in general accept rules such as double negation elimination and the use of reductio ad absurdum to prove the existence of something.

Intuitions are customarily appealed to independently of any particular theory of how intuitions provide evidence for claims, and there are divergent accounts of what sort of mental state intuitions are, ranging from mere spontaneous judgment to a special presentation of a necessary truth. However, in recent years a number of philosophers, especially George Bealer have tried to defend appeals to intuition against Quinean doubts about conceptual analysis. A different challenge to appeals to intuition has recently come from experimental philosophers, who argue that appeals to intuition must be informed by the methods of social science.

The metaphilosophical assumption that philosophy depends on intuitions has recently been challenged by some philosophers. Timothy Williamson has argued that intuition plays no special role in philosophy practice, and that skepticism about intuition cannot be meaningfully separated from a general skepticism about judgment. On this view, there are no qualitative differences between the methods of philosophy and common sense, the sciences or mathematics.


See also




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