I was thinking about the role intuitions play in philosophy and I found a nice paper by Steven D. Hales called “The Problem of Intuition”, which was published a few years ago. It contains a discussion of the role of intuition in philosophy and then presents an argument that philosophy is unavoidably founded on rational intuitions which have no external justification. This need not be viewed as a bad thing if we accept that some propositions can be self-justifying: they are the intuitive axioms upon which further reasoning is grounded. I thought Hales’ analysis in the paper made sense.
It’s worrisome, of course, that many of us seem to bring conflicting intuitions to philosophical debates. Yet I think we can still hope that we can find a secure shared foundation of at least some intuitive axioms.
So, what are they? What are yours? Famous philosophers of the past tried hard to base grand philosophical systems on carefully considered intuitive first principles. That style of philosophy is rare today. The long history of scientific advances overturning common sense intuition about empirical facts has inspired some philosophers to extrapolate further and argue that many of the deep intuitions we all presuppose in our daily lives are actually wrong and the result of illusion.
Two bedrock intuitions I view as axiomatic have been called into question by philosophers of a naturalistic bent. I maintain that there is no scientific finding or valid inference from the sciences that contravene these.
1. First-person experience is real. Because experiential facts accompany or precede all facts, experience cannot be completely grounded in non-experiential facts.
2. Possibilities are real. The future is open.
In considering these two I’m not saying that our common sense intuition about the nature of the conscious self and free will is accurate. Cognitive science and neuroscience will continue to reveal deep flaws in our “folk” conceptions of self and will. This is to be expected given that we are complicated composite organisms. But it is a mistake to infer from this that the axioms above are false.