About the workshop

Intuitions, the A Priori, and Philosophical Knowledge

In recent decades there has been a surge of interest in the role that intuitions play in philosophy. Which type of intuitions? Intuitions about the morally good, justice, knowledge, possibility, identity, persistence, and the other big themes of philosophy. Whose intuitions? Some experimental philosophers suggest next to everybody’s, while others think there is such a thing as philosophical expertise – a skill-set honed by years of a priori reflection – and, if any, only the intuitions of experts count; yet others think the role of intuitions tends to be overrated: careful counterfactual reasoning is all that matters.
If everybody is everybody else’s peer, then being in line with what most think becomes the new yardstick; and while this has the benefit of making it easy to identify who measures up to the standard, it has the drawback of making philosophy unlike any other discipline: one doesn’t establish chemical facts by surveys. But appeal to philosophical expertise would appear to provide no safe haven either, since in philosophy, unlike other disciplines, even the professionals persistently disagree.
Such debates about philosophical method would seem to presuppose a conception of what philosophers aim to figure out. Are the facts that philosophers seek to unravel primarily facts about the use of concepts, or facts articulated by its means? Does philosophy aim to describe the way folk think, in order to draw conclusions from this for the kinds of questions traditionally considered within its remit? Or is philosophy normative in the sense that it seeks to establish how one ought to think, in particular about those questions, where such ‘ought’ derives from the obligation to get the facts right? Or is philosophy rather concerned to explore possible answers to its questions, and so identify ways the world might be, where there may end up being alternative such ways without detriment to the project’s success?
The workshop seeks to discuss issues in this ballpark, connecting reflections on philosophical method – in particular, on intuitions and a priori reasoning – with reflections on the nature of philosophy’s epistemic goal.