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After all, we can also easily imagine communities who don’t share our intuitions about the multiple-realizability of mental properties, about the moral impermissibility of torturing babies for fun

I can't imagine a community that doesn't share these moral intuitions, if what you mean is a community in which these sorts of counterintuitive things are not regarded as bad. I have, and I imagine most have, the 'imaginative resistance' that Tamar Gendler worries about when it comes to imagining worlds/communities where torture is ok.

Dan Korman

Hi Mike,

It's one thing for torturing babies to be okay; it's another thing for torturing babies to be regarded as okay. I can't imagine the former. But surely we can easily imagine the latter (and we *do* when we read Rebellion in Brothers Karamazov). And if we can imagine that, can't we imagine people to whom it doesn't even *seem* wrong?

Bryan Pickel

Hi Dan,

You say

"We “draw the lines that we do” largely as a result of our intuitive judgments about what kinds of things there are"

You seem to want to use alleged fact to show argue that users of a deviant theory which commits to incars would have to be stupid. They'd be stupid because they would have to have different intuitions than we do.

Even putting aside my general intuition skepticism, I don't see the argument.

Suppose you're right that (i) we have intuitions and (ii) the fact that you have an intuition partially causes you to utter `there are no incars' and believe a corresponding proposition. What I don't see is why a community which utters `there are incars' and believes the corresponding proposition would have to have different intuitions.

I can imagine a community that has the same intuition that you do,(suppose we show this by neurological testing) but are inclined to report it by `there are incars'. I can easily imagine a community which is conditioned to do this (modulo my inability to imagine a community which has intuitions). That is, every time you have an intuition which you report by `there are no incars', they have the exact same intuition but issue the opposite intuition-report. Suppose further that the overall practice of the community makes it reasonable for a translator to ascribe to the words of these speakers the same meanings which they would ascribe to our terms.

So, I think that I've imagined a community which (a) ``divides up the world" differently than we do (this is a phrase which I have trouble understanding btw) -that is, has a different theory- and (b) does not differ from us in regards to which intuitions they have.

Now you may respond that either we or they must be stupid on the grounds that we have the same intuitions but differ on our intuition-reports. But, I think this response merely pushes the problem back a step. What grounds do we have to think that it's them and not we who have messed up introspection reporting mechanisms? It is useful to compare this case to perceptual reports. Hawthorne (for his position to make sense) must be supposing that perceptual reports are socially and biologically conditioned (or at least determined in part by an agent's background theory). It seems very plausible to me to say that our intuition reporting mechanisms are socially and biologically conditioned just as much as these perceptual reporting mechanisms are.

So, if you, like me, can imagine such a community and find it hard to ascribe wrong-doing to them, then you might be inclined to agree with Hawthorne that it is a sociological or biological accident that we carve up the world as we do.

marc moffett

"We “draw the lines that we do” largely as a result of our intuitive judgments about what kinds of things there are"

I am a little bit puzzled about this claim. Consider the sort of cases where our intuitions clearly have evidential import (pace Bryan), such as the Gettier cases. In such cases it is natural to think that we possess a certain concept, say the concept of knowledge, and our intuitions concern the applicability of that concept in a given actual or hypothetical situation. But if one thinks that our concepts are what "carve up the world" for us and one thinks that our intuitions depend on which concepts we possess (and probably the mode of possession), then it is hard to see what you mean when you claim that the way in which we carve up the world depends on our intuitions. Isn't it rather that the way in which we carve up the world (i.e., which concepts we possess) which determines our intuitions?!

In any event, it seems to me that Hawthorne (and others, such as Stitch) have a certain thesis that I would call a "voluntaristic" thesis about concept possession. In its strongest (and most obviously implausible) form, voluntarism basically says that which concepts the members of a given society possess is independent of the way in which the world is; there are no mind-independent constraints on concept possession. Now a sophisticated voluntarism would need to qualify that claim in various ways to rule out certain sorts of obvious objections. But at bottom, what seems to be at stake between you (and me) and Hawthorne (and Stitch) is something like the extent of voluntary control individuals have over which cognitively/epistemically basic concepts they possess. (Obviously, once one has a basic conceputal repetoire, one can cook up further concepts ad nausseaum.) The opposing view is a kind of externalism, which says that the nature of the world determines which basic concepts we possess.

Well, not sure if that is useful or not, but it does seem to me to be the correct way of setting up the debate.

Dan Korman


First a small point. You interpret me to be saying: “They'd be stupid because they would have to have different intuitions than we do.” I meant it the other way around: they’d have different intuitions because they’re stupid. (I’m here supposing something like what Marc calls "externalism" about concept possession.)

More importantly: Let’s call the intuition on the basis of which we judge there to be no incars “Intuition X”. I want to say that Intuition X is the intuition that there are no incars. You seem to be suggesting that, *merely because we can imagine* communities who have Intuition X and believe, on the basis of introspection, that it’s the intuition that there are incars, we therefore have no grounds for thinking that it’s them and not us who have “messed up introspection reporting mechanisms”.

I wonder whether you feel the same way about all mental states. Let’s say that you take yourself to believe that p, hope that q, think that r, etc. (And let’s suppose p, q, and r aren’t about empirically pressing matters, e.g., whether tigers are dangerous.) We can imagine communities who have the same belief, hope, and thought that you’re having, but who take themselves to be having the belief that ~p, the hope that ~q, the thought that ~r. Now that you’ve successfully imagined this, do you concede that you have no grounds for taking yourself to believe that p, hope that q, and think that r?


About the voluntarism: Suppose you’re right that Hawthorne’s thinking of things this way. What’s he going to say about the other cases I mentioned: indiscernibility of identicals, multiple-realizability, moral supervenience, torturing babies for fun, various and assorted premises of arguments he takes to be sound, etc.? Is there any non-ad-hoc way for him to insist that our toddlescent intuitions are a biocultural accident and unreliable while our moral-supervenience intuitions are not? What could possibly be so special about intuitions about what kinds there can and cannot be?

Bryan Pickel

On the first point, I think I was using ``because" evidentially: your grounds for thinking that they're stupid is that they would have different intuitions. You seem to be using ``because" to mean something like metaphysical determination. So, I think you were just misreading me.

On the more substantive point. I don't see why the point about the contents of our intuitions should extend to all of our other attitude reports. All that I needed was that there is no advantage to intuition reports over perceptual reports. The former are as likely to be biologically and sociologically conditioned as the latter. So no, I don't concede that I may be thinking, hoping, etc.

Moreover, I was supposing you were conceding the point that perceptual reports are conditioned. Otherwise there would be no reason to invoke intuition. For you could argue as follows: I see a car in front of me. If someone has the exact same experience and say that they see an incar front of them, then they're just misreporting on what they're perceiving. What are they, stupid?

marc moffett

Dan, My comment about voluntarism was just a suggestion about how to frame the debate (together with some vocabulary) which doesn't turn on the problematic claim with which you started.

I think that many of the (Stitch-influenced) voluntarists do believe that the mere imaginability of communities w/ different intuitions IS a reason for global skepticism about intuitions. So I think that this is going to be where a lot of the action is in this debate. [Of course, a lot depends here on what you mean by "mere imaginability". FWIW: My understanding of the history of experimental philosophy is that it is in part the product of an attempt to address certain objections to Stitch's merely possible communities by finding actual communities w/ such differences in intuitions. I obviously don't think that finding the existence of such actual communities is sufficient for undermining intutions, but then again I've drunk the kool-aid.]

It is also possible that wrt to some of the normative domains, voluntarists might be more inclined to some form of anti-realism. (And many people will regard logic as special for independent reasons.) Is Hawthorne committed to denying anti-realism across the board?

Dan Korman


I think I see what you have in mind. I guess perceptual reports are conditioned, but only in the very weak sense that we could easily have used different words to express our perceptual beliefs. But I wouldn’t concede that our perceptual beliefs could easily have been different, e.g., that we could easily have believed that there were toddlescents when confronted with the sorts of perceptual experiences that lead us to believe that there are toddlers. So I suppose I agree: they’d have to be stupid (or subjected to philosophy) in order to come to the belief that there are toddlescents on the basis of the sorts of experiences that lead us to believe that there are toddlers.


Perhaps you’re right that logical truths (and other “analyticities”) will be a special case for the voluntarists, and that they may be willing to go antirealist in other domains. But there’s a big middle ground there, and that’s where I think they’re in for some embarrasment. Just think of all the traditional (non-normative) synthetic necessities. Here a good one: a thing’s parts at t have to be located where it is at t. Most of the people pressing Hawthorne-style worries in the material-object literature are realists and armchair philosophers, happily (and without apologies) invoking a priori principles. I just don’t see how they can be voluntarists *and* realists about metaphysics *and* be at all confident that a thing’s parts at t have to be located where it is at t.

Bryan Pickel

So does that mean that the conjunction of the following two claims about the possible community which has the same experiences but issues different perceptual reports can't be true: (1) the best translation of their talk into our talk is homophonic and (2) they have high IQs? Because it seems that there could be a community which issues different perceptual reports about a certain range of experiences, but our best IQ tests (probably not the SATs) determine them to be of high intelligence, and our best linguistic tests determine that a homophonic translation is best in light of their overall practices and situation in the world.

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It is impressive that the mind track that kind of things and it has a markable difference between those two world.

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