Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

AFinerGrain comments on Your intuitions are not magic - Less Wrong

65 Post author: Kaj_Sotala 10 June 2010 12:11AM

You are viewing a comment permalink. View the original post to see all comments and the full post content.

Comments (33)

You are viewing a single comment's thread.

Comment author: AFinerGrain 02 October 2017 11:52:39PM 0 points [-]

I originally learned about these ideas from Thinking Fast and Slow, but I love hearing them rephrased and repeated again and again. Thinking clearly often means getting in the cognitive habit of questioning every knee-jerk intuition.

On the other hand, coming from a Bryan Caplan / Michael Huemer perspective, aren't we kind of stuck with some set of base intuitions? Intuitions like; I exist, the universe exists, other people exist, effects have causes, I'm not replaced by a new person with memory implants every time I go to sleep...

You might even call these base intuitions, "magic," in the sense that you have to have faith in them in order to do anything like rationality.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 03 October 2017 11:37:19AM *  0 points [-]

Well, we don't know if they work magically, because we don't know that they work at all. They are just unavoidable.

It's not that philosophers weirdly and unreasonably prefer intuition to empirical facts and mathematical/logical reasoning, it is that they have reasoned that they can't do without them: that (the whole history of) empiricism and maths as foundations themselves rest on no further foundation except their intuitive appeal. That is the essence of the Inconvenient Ineradicability of Intuition. An unfounded foundation is what philosophers mean by "intuition". Philosophers talk about intution a lot because that is where arguments and trains of thought ground out...it is away of cutting to the chase. Most arguers and arguments are able to work out the consequences of basic intutitions correctly, so disagrements are likely to arise form differencs in basic intuitions themselves.

Philosophers therefore appeal to intuitions because they can't see how to avoid them...whatever a line of thought grounds out in, is definitiionally an intuition. It is not a case of using inutioins when there are better alternatives, epistemologically speaking. And the critics of their use of intuitions tend to be people who haven't seen the problem of unfounded foundations because they have never thought deeply enough, not people who have solved the problem of finding sub-foundations for your foundational assumptions.

Scientists are typically taught that the basic principles maths, logic and empiricism are their foundations, and take that uncritically, without digging deeper. Empircism is presented as a black bx that produces the goods...somehow. Their subculture encourages use of basic principles to move forward, not a turn backwards to critically relflect on the validity of basic principles. That does not mean the foundational principles are not "there". Considering the foundational principles of science is a major part of philosophy of science, and philosophy of science is a philosophy-like enterprise, not a science-like enterprise, in the sense it consists of problems that have been open for a long time, and which do not have straightforward empirical solutions.

Does the use of empiricism shortcut the need for intuitions, in the sense of unfounded foundations?

For one thing, epistemology in general needs foundational assumptions as much as anything else. Which is to say that epistemogy needs epistemology as much as anything else. -- to judge the validity of one system of epistemology, you need another one. There is no way of judging an epistemology starting from zero, from a complete blank. Since epistemology is inescapable, and since every epistemology has its basic assumptions, there are basic assumptions involved in empiricism.

Empiricism specifically has the problem of needing an ontological foundation. Philosophy illustrates this point with sceptical scenarios about how you are being systematically deceived by an evil genie. Scientific thinkers have closely parallel scenarios in which humans cannot be sure whether you are not in the Matrix or some other virtual reality. Either way, these hypotheses illustrate the point that the empiricists are running on an assumption that if you can see something, it is there.