Dissertation

My principal areas of research are epistemology, philosophy of mind, and philosophical methodology.  In particular, I am interested in the ways by which philosophers seek to establish their claims and the types of special evidence (especially intuition) they take as probative.  What (if anything) justifies the philosophical practice of conducting thought experiments to elicit intuitions to support or refute philosophical claims?  Philosophers engaged in answering this question often talk past one another because of their radically different views about the subject matter of philosophy and the nature of intuitions.  However, every theory of intuition tacitly or explicitly appeals to some sort of competence to explain how intuitions reveal their subject matter.

My dissertation, “Intuition as a Source of Philosophical Insight: A Critical Examination of Some Contemporary Views,” demonstrates that attending to competence can provide both common ground for fruitful debate and a new framework for determining whether contemporary theories of intuition sufficiently justify thought experimentation in philosophy.

Chapter by chapter, my dissertation critically examines prominent theories of intuition: Ernest Sosa’s virtue-based theory, Michael Devitt’s naturalistic theory, and the theory implicit in the methodology of experimental philosophy. Each theory examined relies on the assumption that subjects have knowledge in virtue of possessing competence—rational competence, empirically informed competence, or experimentally ascertained competence.  My dissertation evaluates the degree to which each theory’s appeal to competence might be considered naturalistic, suggesting in the end that evidential appeals to intuition are incompatible with thoroughgoing naturalism.

I ultimately argue that the competence appealed to by each theory fails to effectively justify, or explain, the evidential status of intuitions in a way sufficient for underwriting the philosophical practices that employ them.  In order to justify appealing to intuitions as evidence, each philosopher must either come in conflict with or reach beyond the commitments of his own philosophical approach.  In light of these failures, the conclusion briefly sketches how intuitions might be better understood as playing a rhetorical role in furthering philosophical inquiry.

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