Philosophy Intuitions
Jonathan Ichikawa, Ernest Sosa
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0059


Philosophy often proceeds via appeals to intuition. In a prototypical instance, a theory is rejected on the basis of its counterintuitive verdict about a real or hypothetical case. A famous example is Edmund Gettier’s rejection of the justified “true belief” theory of knowledge; the dominant view was that knowledge was equivalent to justified true belief, but Gettier provided thought experiments involving subjects with beliefs derived from justified falsehoods, which happened by luck to be true—these thought experiments generally gave rise to intuitions to the effect that they described cases of justified true belief without knowledge. And on this basis, 20th-century epistemologists generally rejected the justified true belief theory. In recent decades, significant metaphilosophical attention has turned to such uses of intuitions in philosophy. What are intuitions? In what sense do arguments such as Gettier’s rely on the use of intuitions? Why should we trust them? What can they show us? This entry focuses on contemporary work on these and related topics.

General Overviews

There are relatively few nonpartisan introductions to the topic of intuitions in philosophy, although Nagel 2007 is a concise and helpful exception; it focuses on epistemic intuitions in particular, but much of its content will be generally applicable. Knobe and Nichols 2008 introduces the experimental philosophy movement in both its positive and negative forms (see Experimental Philosophy). Pust 2000 is a book-length presentation of a traditional approach to intuitions in philosophy, while Williamson 2004 gives a much more deflationary treatment of philosophical intuitions. Grundmann 2007 is also listed, as it contains discussion and criticism of a wide variety of approaches.

  • Grundmann, Thomas. “The Nature of Rational Intuitions and a Fresh Look at the Explanationist Objection.” Grazer Philosophische Studien 74.1 (2007): 69–87.

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    Offers a traditional picture of rational intuition. Intuitions are evidential sources based in understanding. Responds to explanationist skepticism. Also contains good overview of recent approaches to intuition.

  • Knobe, Joshua, and Shaun Nichols. “An Experimental Philosophy Manifesto.” In Experimental Philosophy. Edited by Joshua Knobe and Shaun Nichols, 3–14. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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    An articulation and defense of the relevance of experimental work to philosophy. Emphasizes the philosophical interest of psychological facts and the role of experimental data as a supplement to traditional philosophical theorizing.

  • Nagel, Jennifer. “Epistemic Intuitions.” Philosophy Compass 2.6 (2007): 792–819.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2007.00104.xE-mail Citation »

    An excellent comprehensive primer on intuition. Focuses on intuitions in epistemology but largely applicable to all philosophical intuitions. Emphasis on intuitions in the history of philosophy and on recent psychological data about intuitions.

  • Pust, Joel. Intuitions as Evidence. New York: Garland, 2000.

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    A monograph treatment of the use of intuitions in philosophy. Defends a psychologistic, “seeming”-based account of intuition and defends the use of intuitions as evidence in philosophy from skeptical arguments.

  • Williamson, Timothy. “Philosophical ‘Intuitions’ and Scepticism about Judgment.” Dialectica 58 (2004): 109–153.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1746-8361.2004.tb00294.xE-mail Citation »

    Defends a reductivist view according to which “intuitions” are judgments or inclinations to judge. There are general reasons to think judgments generally reliable, so there is no particular reason for skepticism about the use of intuitions in philosophy. Substantially overlaps chapters 7–8 of Williamson 2007 (cited under Defenses), although the latter is more eliminativist than reductivist.

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