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marc moffett

Hey John,

Nice post. I just wanted to add a couple of points. First, Bealer does touch on the issue of presentation. He says that inuitions present themselves, not just as true, but as necessary.

Second, I think that it is intrinsic to our basic sources of evidence--and so our intuitions--that we recognize (at least implicitly) that we are justified in accepting their deliverances. Such deliverances just seem to us, not merely true, but justified. Compare this with a, say, premonition-like mental state. Such a state might present itself as true, but not justified.

John Bengson

Hi Marc,

Thanks for raising both points. Regarding the first, I'm not sure I'm clear on how we are to understand the idea that intuitions present themselves as necessary. (I know George is currently thinking about how to elaborate upon the idea in future work, so I'm just focusing on what's been said about it in his published work.) One plausible way to understand it is as the claim that the contents of intuitions are always necessary: the content seems to be true, and necessarily so (roughly, this content must be so). But, if this is supposed to apply to all intuitions (George doesn't think it does), this is wrong. One can have intuitions whose contents are contingent. Indeed, one problem for the attempt to individuate intuitions on the basis of their presenting themselves as necessary comes from non-rational intuitions. I don't mean irrational intuitions, but intuitions that are not plausibly a priori, such as the intuition that a house undermined will fall (George's example). That intuition doesn't seem to present itself as necessary. Contrast the property of being presentational: *all* intuitions, whether rational or not, have this property.

I need to think more about your suggestion that intuitions present their contents as justified. I think you're right when, in your conservatism paper, you suggest that retained beliefs present their contents as justified. But I'm not yet convinced that this is so for all intuitions. Consider the naive comprehension intuition. This intuition doesn't seem to present its content as justified. Perhaps this is simply because I have substantial reason to the contrary -- I don't know. Then there are non-rational intuitions such as the intuition that this guy isn't trustworthy. In many cases, one may have such an intuition but, perhaps because one knows how unreliable it is, will fail to be presented with it as being justified. But, obviously, these remarks are just off the cuff. I'll need to think more about this suggestion -- thanks for raising it.

Btw, what exactly is a premonition? I've been wondering about this. Is it just a future-directed contingent seeming?

marc moffett


I hadn't recognized that you were using "intuition" in this very broad sense. I am not so confident that all of these different things are really species of a single genus. Maybe they do all share some sort of presentational component. But when the notion of presents-as-true is used to cover all these wildly different epistemic states, I begin to lose some of the sharpness of the proposal in just the ways that motivate the alternatives you list in your post. For instance, I am not sure that "physical intuitions" present themselves as true in a way that is distinct from simply an attraction to believe. Do physical intuitions persist in spite of contrary belief? I tend to think not, at least not for any significant length of time. Physical intuitions seem to be pretty maleable in light of experience and knowledge.

So my own "philosophical sense" of the matter is that it is probably a mistake to seek a general theory of all things we want to dub "seemings" pretheoretically. This is probably why I am not sold on Huemer's phenomenal conservatism. Among other concerns, too much epistemic weight is placed on an imprecise notion of seeming. Bealer's work IMO avoids this pitfall.

My comments regarding justification were intended to apply only to rational intuitions.

Dan Korman


I'm not sure about your use of "under the impression". I knew (from reading Bealer) that the naive comprehension theory was false before I even had any idea what it was. I would say that I was never (even for a moment) under the impression that it was true. Similarly for the Muller-Lyer: I knew it would be an illusion of different lengths before I first saw it, so I'd say I was never under the impression that they were the same length. Though in both cases, I agree that the relevant falsehoods were presented to me as being the case.

Also, you said in response to Marc that you agree that retained beliefs present their contents as justified. But don't you want to deny that beliefs are presentational?

John Bengson


I definitely sympathize with some of your worries. You're right that there may be many differences between rational and non-rational intuition. As you suggest, the latter may be more malleable and may not persist through contrary belief. Still, I contend that we have both, and that they're both presentational: when one intuits that a house undermined will fall, one is presented with this as being the case. Not so for the attraction to assenting to the proposition that a house undermined will fall.

As for your justification claim, I intended to suggest that the naive comprehension intuition, not just non-rational intuitions, may pose some trouble. Given that I know of the paradoxes, my intuition that naive comprehension holds does not seem to present its content as one which I'm justified in believing. (For related reasons, I'm now skeptical of the justification claim wrt to retained beliefs. I have in mind retained beliefs that are in explicit contradiction with one's present belief set. These don't seem to present their contents as ones which the believer is justified in believing.)

Finally, though it's sort of a tangent, I want to say something about your comment about phenomenal conservatism. You're right that not all things we refer to in ordinary language as "seemings" are of the same kind. Since Chisholm, we've known to distinguish between, for instance, comparative and non-comparative uses of 'seems'. But since Huemer goes through the trouble of identifying a certain kind of seeming (71ff), one that he goes on to argue is epistemically relevant (99ff), I don't think your suggestion that phenomenal conservatism fails because it places too much epistemic weight on an imprecise notion of seeming is well-grounded.

Hi Dan,

Interesting. I'll have to think more about the expression "under the impression". It seemed to fit, but you may be right that it's not quite what I'm looking for. Still, I'm not sure I'm ready to give it up just yet. I have to admit that even though I know that the Muller-Lyer lines are of equal length, I'm still under the impression that they are of different lengths when I'm looking at them. The context is crucial: when I'm not staring attentively at them, caught in the throes of the standard Muller-Lyer experience, I'm not under the impression that they're of different lengths. I'm tempted to say the same thing about the naive comprehension intuition. Things are different when I'm in the throes of the intuition, as it were, as compared to when I'm not.

Can I consistently hold both that beliefs do not present their contents as being the case (i.e., they are not presentational) and that some beliefs present their contents as being ones which the believer is justified in believing (i.e., what I called 'the justification claim')? I don't see why not. Am I missing something?

marc moffett


I grant that Huemer's view isn't excessively naive. Still, I think it is excessively broad.

I don't think that the naive comprehension principle provides a counterexample to the justification claim. Reporting my own phenomenology, I feel as though I ought to be able to accept the damn thing, its just that I have overriding beliefs that make acceptance unacceptable. This is, IMO, the core problem with paradoxes generally: we feel that each premise is, not simply true, but epistemically ok. (Premonitions, for instance, wouldn't generate paradoxes.)

Justin Tiehen

Hey John (and Marc and Dan),

Interesting post. I'm especially interested in the question of whether a priori and physical intuitions both fall under the same psychological kind, or whether a taxonomy that lumps the two together is too disjunctive.

Regarding physical intuitions, some psychologists think we have an internally represented, possibly innate, folk physical theory. Though generally accurate, this theory gets some things wrong. When that happens our physical intuitions seem to persist even though they conflict with our beliefs.

Here are a couple of examples. Suppose I'm on an elevator and the cable has snapped, sending it crashing to the ground with me inside. My physical intuition is that I could survive the crash if I waited until the split second before the elevator hits the ground, and then jumped up (within the elevator). In fact, though, I know this wouldn’t really work. Here’s another case. Suppose I spin a yo-yo around my head in a circle and then release it. I have the physical intuition that the yo-yo will head off on a curved path. In fact, though, I know that it will head off in a straight line. One account of what’s going on here is that my folk physical theory predicts one result – generating an intuition – while the physics I’ve learned in school predicts another. I know that the intuition is wrong, but I still feel its pull because I can't "turn off" the folk theory.

Many functionalists, including intuition-friendly ones like Lewis and Jackson, think that folk psychology is just like folk physics, so conceived: it too is an internally represented, possibly innate theory (though one whose subject matter is psychology rather than physics). Suppose such a view is right. Then it seems that if we want to carve nature at its joints, we must group physical and psychological intuitions together in the same category. (These psychological intuitions are the ones we use in the philosophy of mind, in thinking about the mind/body problem and so on.) Maybe this line of thought can be resisted, but it does seem to put at least some pressure on us to resist splintering off physical intuitions from those intuitions most relevant to philosophy, when it comes to setting up our taxonomy of psychological kinds.

marc moffett

Hi Justin. Interesting stuff!

I am not entirely sure what I want to say. Well, that isn't right. I am sure that I want to draw a distinction between innate beliefs and seemings. Unfortunately, I don't see how to do that cleanly. As a first pass, my inclination is to say that beliefs, but not seemings, involve an act of judgment. Its seeming to me that p gives rise to my judgment that p, and so to my beleiving that p. So if the innate attitudes are folk beliefs, then I think we can find a way to sort through this. But suppose that they are innate physical intuitions (seemings). Then there might be two tacks: (1) argue that these seemings are only de facto fixed, whereas rational seemings are necessarily fixed; or (2) try to cash out the difference in terms of rational seemings presenting as justified, intrinsically as it were.

I know that is pretty sketchy, but I've been up since 2 a.m. and am officially fried. Anybody else have a thought?

John Bengson

Hi Justin,

Glad you dropped by. That's an interesting line of reasoning. I tend not to think that the intuitions we justifiably employ in core philosophy of mind (e.g., its seeming that Putnam's Spartan-pretender might experience pain) are generated by an internally represented, possibly innate empirical theory about the mind -- though I do find it plausible that a variety of other psychological intuitions (e.g., its seeming that the experience of sea blue is more calming than the experience of bright red) are so generated. (Some of Bealer's arguments are relevant here.) On the other hand, it is definitely plausible to say that our physical intuitions (e.g., its seeming that a house undermined will fall) are generated, at least in part, by an internally represented, possibly innate, empirical physical theory (one consisting of beliefs regarding gravity and the like).

Does this mean that I think that physical and rational intuition are not of the same general, non-disjunctive kind? No. When it comes to individuating intuition, it seems that reflections on generation may be beside the point. Perhaps the generation issue is epistemically relevant (more on this in a moment), but it doesn't seem to decide our ontology of mind. This seems to be the thought motivating Marc: his response is to cite some other difference between rational and physical intuition that might ground the distinction. Anyway, since intuition could be individuated in some way other than generation (cf. hope, desire, experience, etc.), the intuitions we justifiably employ in core philosophy of mind need not be generated in a way analogous to the way in which physical intuitions are generated in order for both to fall under the same general non-disjunctive psychological kind.

(As a sort of aside, I have two questions for Marc: first, do you not think that Bealer's notion of presenting itself as necessary can distinguish rational intuitions from physical intuitions? second, do you allow that physical intuitions and rational intuitions are both members of the same kind (intuition), though you deny that membership in this kind can be given a non-disjunctive analysis -- or do you think that physical intuitions and rational intuitions are not even members of the same psychological kind?)

One final point. I find the question of generation quite interesting partly because of the epistemic issues it raises. I'm inclined to believe that, at the end of the day, our rational intuitions (such as the Putnam intuition) have greater epistemic oomph, as it were, than physical intuitions. If Cummins is right, then the intuitions, if any, generated by a tacit theory T are only as good as T. Since our tacit empirical theories tend not to be very good, it looks to be all for the better that rational intuitions aren't generated by a tacit theory -- and all for the worse for physical intuitions if they are. Incidentally, if it's true that physical intuitions and rational intuitions are not generated in the same way, then it's plausible that the reliability or unreliability of our physical intuitions is irrelevant to determining the reliability or unreliability of our rational intuitions.

marc moffett


Yes I think that rational intuitions and physical intuitions can be distinguished by way of their modal character. But, I am skeptical that there is any interesting sense in which they are members of the same psychological kind. For instance, physical intuitions are not modally reliable and so not a form of basic evidence. Rather, their evidentiary status (if any) is derivative. If that is right, then it raises for me a huge red flag about lumping them in with rational intuitions. For it seems to me that rational intuitions have the evidentiary status that they do *in virtue of their status as seemings.* If this is so, then the two kinds of seemings must be of fundamentally different sorts.

John Bengson


Presumably, rational seemings have the evidentiary status they do in virtue of their status as *seemings with property P* (where P is, say, the property of being modally reliable). It can't be that they have their evidentiary status merely in virtue of their status as seemings, as you suggest, if physical intuitions are also seemings -- albeit ones that differ from rational intuitions in lacking P. So, on your view, it must be something about the *sort* of seemings rational intuitions are that makes them evidentiary in the way that they are. But then it's not obvious why the two sorts of intuitions are not, in at least some interesting (perhaps non-epistemic) sense, members of the same psychological kind -- e.g., the kind intuition, or seeming. Of course, in saying this I'm assuming that it's possible for a psychological kind to be interesting for some non-epistemic reason. But this seems like a safe assumption.

marc moffett

But, as Aristotle might have put it, "seeming" is said in many ways. Seriously, though, it sounds quite wrong to me to say that rational intuitions get their evidentiary status in virtue of their status, not qua seemings, but because they have some other property P; or alternatively, not in virtue of their status as seemings simpliciter, but only in virtue of their status as seemings-with-property-P.

But look, I grant that there could be cognitive states which present their contents as true. I said as much above about "premonitions." And I think it is reasonable to note that these sorts of cognitive states bear a family resemblance to rational intuitions/seemings. What I am skeptical of, however, is the following picture (which seems to be the one you are pushing): There is a general kind of seemings which are to be identified with states which present their contents as true. This kind then splits into two different kinds: rational and non-rational. The rational ones are seemings which not only present their contents as true, but say, necessary and/or justified; the non-rational ones lack one or more of these characteristics and/or possess some other characteristic(s). Or maybe you want to differentiate two species of rational seemings: (i) phenomenal seemings present as true and justified, but not necessary; (ii) intellecutal seemings which present as justified as well. I grant that this is a pretty picture (and that is high praise), and if it works, great! The result would be something like the following definition: s is a rational intuition iff s is a propositional attitude which presents its content as (necessarily?/intrinsically?) necessary, true and justified.

Now while I think that rational intutions do have those properties, I don't think that they can be defined in terms of them. In particular, I don't think that these conditions are sufficient for something's being a rational intuition. I think I can imagine a state which possesses these properties, but which isn't a rational intuition. The problem is that these properties can be "externally attached" to an attitude state--this is sort of the trick Justin was using. For instance, suppose that whenever you are in the state of considering a proposition that p, the evil, mean, bad, naughty alien-thugs make it so that the content is presented as necessary, true and justified. Would it *thereby* become a rational intuition? Surely not! (Actually, if it were, then rational intuitions could not be counted as modally reliable.)

I think that it is better to point to these characteristics of rational intuitions, not by way of definition, but just by way of locating them. Once you locate them, you figure out what they are by acquaintance. I think this is George's strategy in TIofE, but I don't want to speak for him.

John Bengson


Forgive me if I'm just completely missing something obvious, but I still don't see how you can hold that rational intuitions can get their evidentiary status simply in virtue of being seemings (i.e., that the property of having the particular sort of evidentiary status that rational intuitions have supervenes on, or is somehow determined by, the property of being a seeming), if there are other seemings that don't have that evidentiary status. Your Aristotleanesque comment about the varieties of seemings (with which I completely agree) suggests that you think that only a certain class of seemings have this evidentiary status, and those are the rational intuitions. But if that is so, then it's in virtue of being *a seeming in this class of seemings* (that is, a seeming with a certain property) that a rational intuition has the evidentiary status that it does -- not in virtue of being a seeming, period, as you suggest.

Incidentally, if I read Bealer correctly, his view is that *what makes it the case* that rational intuitions are evidentiary is that they are modally reliable. (If I remember correctly, IofE doesn't offer an account of that in virtue of which rational intuitions are evidentiary; IofE just argues that they are. The modal reliabilist account appears in Scope and after.) This would mean that, on Bealer's view, it's in virtue of having the property of being modally reliable (not in virtue of being seemings) that rational intuitions are evidentiary. If this reading is correct, then Bealer adopts the (in my view extremely plausible) view that, as you put it, "rational intuitions get their evidentiary status in virtue of their status, not qua seemings, but because they have some other property P."

I didn't intend to suggest that intuition is a non-disjunctive psychological kind that can be individuated solely on the basis of presentationality. I tend to think that intuitions might have additional properties relevant to their individuation. This is something I need to think more about. I focused on presentationality in the post simply because it struck me that that's a property which distinguishes intuitions from a variety of other attitudes. Still, I definitely have at various points been attracted to something like the pretty picture you sketched. Does this mean I believe that "there is a general kind of seeming which is to be identified with states which present their contents as true." I'm not sure. But, even if so, it's worth emphasizing that they wouldn't all be intuitions: given that sensory experiences are also states of this general sort, individuating intuition would require still further narrowing.

I like your evil aliens case, though I'm not convinced that your "trick" can be made to work. As the case is described, I see no reason to deny that this is an intuition, since I take it that in your case, it intellectually seems to you that p. The interesting thing about the case is that there is an evil alien making you have this intuition. Perhaps this intuition isn't modally reliable, in which case it won't count as a rational intuition, if that's how one distinguishes rational vs. non-rational intuitions. I'm not prepared to take a stand on this here. But unless the state has some other relevant features you didn't mention, it's not obvious to me why we should doubt that it's an intuition.

Not only does it seem to me to be an intuition, but, modally reliable or not, it seems to me to be an intuition that justifies the corresponding belief. If you're not aware that the evil alien is screwing with you, and lack reason to think that anything else is going wrong, then insofar as p is involuntarily presented to you as (necessarily) being the case, and as something which you are justified in believing, then clearly you're justified in believing p (cf. new evil demon cases). After all, that's precisely what you *should* believe, given your unfortunate situation.

marc moffett

Thanks John. It is all very interesting.

The Aristoteleanesque comment was intended to make the point that all of these things are seemings in name only. More accurately, my suspicion is that "seeming" displays a sort kind of focal homonymy (polysemy). The pretty picture is really quite pretty and it would be nice if that were it; but I just don't think it is going to turn out right. If it does, I'm there, man!

My understanding of The Uber-Master's work is that it is indeterminate wrt many of these issues. First, I think George is pretty clearly committed to the claim that phenomenal and intellectual seemings taken together constitute a natural kind. I agree. I don't think he is committed one way or the other about other purported seemings. I *suspect*, however, that he would be suspicious. George believes that a priori intuitions are a sui generis propositional attitudes and he nowhere even attempts to give necessary and sufficient conditions for them. (His strategy is more like what Frege calls an "explication" in his discussion of primitive truth.)

Second, George is explicitly committed to the claim that intellectual and phenomenal seemings count as basic evidence in virtue of their modal reliability. But notice that there could be modally reliable seemings of various sorts which do not also present themselves as being justified. (I think I misled you by using "evidentiary" status, when I intended to be making reference to its status as justification-conferring.) It would, at the very least, be non-trivial to show that anything which counts as basic evidence also counts as justification conferring (at least if you are an internalist). In the end, I don't think George has said enough here and the issue needs quite a bit more thinking through. [This is not to say that what he says is inadequate for the purposes to which he puts it; it is just to say that he hasn't fully resolved the issue.]

Regarding my bad-ass alien case. I am not entirely sure about it either. I have the intuition that it is not a rational intuition and that this is somehow grounded in the external source of the properties. I think what I want to say is that in genuine intuitions, it not only seems to us that that their contents are true/justified/neccesary, but that it is also evident to us that these characteristics come bundled together and arise from our grasp of the content. --Something like that. Hopefully I will be able to say more soon.

John Bengson


Thanks -- this has been very helpful. The pretty picture is probably too simple, I admit. But since I haven't seen anything yet which suggests that something like it couldn't be made to work with a bit of sophistication, it seems worth a shot.

I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks there's a gap between counting as basic evidence and counting as justification conferring. It's that gap that I intended to exploit in my response to your evil aliens case: the state you're in is an intuition and it justifies, regardless of whether it counts as basic evidence.

A final comment on the corpus of the Uber-Master, as you called him. I think it's become clear that you diverge from George on a number of counts. First, George explicitly allows that physical intuitions are genuine seemings. So, he accepts, while you deny, that non-rational intuitions are genuine seemings. (He invokes presentation as necessary, not genuine seeming, to distinguish rational intuitions from their non-rational counterparts.) Second, as you note, "George is explicitly committed to the claim that intellectual and phenomenal seemings count as basic evidence in virtue of their modal reliability." So, George accepts, while you deny, that intuition has its epistemis status in virtue of its being modally reliable, and thus in virtue of having that property, not in virtue of its status as a seeming.

Of course, such divergences between your views and George's may only be in the letter -- ultimately, your bundle theory (which sounds pretty intriguing) may very well capture its spirit.

marc moffett

John, very quickly, I accept George's claim intuitions count as basic evidence in virtue of their modal reliability. What I deny is that they count as justification-conferring either on the basis of their status as basic evidence or on the basis of their their modal reliability. Rather, to be more careful, I think that something more needs to be said to hook things together.

Second, I know George essentially concedes that physical intuitions are genuine intuitions. But, then, not really. In his discussions, all he cares about is distinguishing rational/a priori intuitions from physical intuitions on same basis or other. Having done that, nothing further is required for his purposes. So it is possible to read George as just saying, "Suppose physical intuitions are intuitions. Still, they aren't the sorts of things I am talking about and here is why." His commitments, as far as I can tell, go no deeper than that.

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