Can philosophers have expert intuitions?

Philosophers make frequent appeals to intuitions. Many of these appeals are to intuitions as a source of evidence. The credibility of intuitions as a possible source of evidence has come under attack in recent years by some members of the experimental philosophy movement, who have produced evidence that ordinary intuitions about philosophical issues can vary significantly in response to cultural background, educational level, variations in affective states and the order of presentation of thought experiments. All of these are factors that appear to be philosophically irrelevant, so it seems hard to square these findings with the claim that ordinary intuitions are plausible candidates to provide a reliable basis for philosophical claims.

In this paper I examine one influential line of response to the challenge to ordinary intuitions about philosophical issues presented by experimental philosophers. This is the response that Alexander and Weinberg refer to as ‘intuition elitism’. It involves denying that studies of ordinary intuition are relevant to philosophical claims and arguing that the considered intuitions of professional philosophers are the evidential source that philosophers implicitly appeal to (and should appeal to) when they deploy intuitions as an evidential source.

I consider this line of argument from three angles. First, I ask whether it plausibly accounts for our practices when we appeal to intuitions as an evidential source in philosophy. Second, I ask whether this argumentative move genuinely relieves those who employ it from the onus of responding to experimental philosophers’ findings about biases that affect ordinary intuitions. Third, I consider empirical research on the intuitions of other professionals to see if lessons can be learned about the suitability of philosophy as a context for the generation of reliable intuitions and about
the reliability of the intuitions of professional philosophers.