A question about “intuitions”

In a paper just published online in Erkenntnis, “Intuition Talk is Not Methodologically Cheap: Empirically Testing the ‘Received Wisdom’ About Armchair Philosophy,” Zoe Ashton and Moti Mizrahi mention the following note by Anscombe as an example of an appeal to intuition:

The nerve of Mr. Bennett’s argument is that if A results from your not doing B, then A results from whatever you do instead of doing B. While there may be much to be said for this view, still it does not seem right on the face of it. (Elizabeth Anscombe, “A note on Mr. Bennett,” Analysis, 26(6), 208. Emphasis supplied by Ashton and Mizrahi)

Part of their evidence that this is indeed an appeal to intuition is the fact that the quoted pair of sentences is the entirety of Anscombe’s published note. In other words, the only thing Anscombe has to say against Bennett, in the published note, is that his conclusion “does not seem right on the face of it.”

Ashton and Mizrahi claim, in effect, that Anscombe here provides an argument against Bennett’s view, an argument that has the following form: “It seems to me, Elizabeth Anscombe, that Bennett’s conclusion is false. Therefore, Bennett’s conclusion is false.” This is, it should be said, a terrible argument. And that provides some reason to doubt that it’s the argument Anscombe was giving. And if there’s no other argument she could have been giving, perhaps that’s because she wasn’t giving an argument.

But if Anscombe wasn’t making an argument from intuition, what was she doing in this note? Well, here’s one possibility: She was, first, identifying a central claim of Bennett’s (a helpful thing for a reviewer to do), and, second, pointing out that there are good reasons to doubt that his claim is true––though without herself identifying those reasons. Why not identify those reasons? Good question. I don’t know what Anscombe was thinking, obviously. But one possibility is that she thought that anyone who reflected on this one central claim of Bennett’s would herself be able to see that there are good reasons to doubt it.

Granted, if that’s right, Anscombe might instead have said: “While there may be much to be said for this view, it is false (for reasons the reader herself is in a position to see, without my going into them myself).” And she didn’t say that. She instead said, that the view “does not seem right on the face of it.”

But why take that to indicate that what Anscombe is doing is appealing to intuition, if that means that she’s making an argument of the form “It seems to me that Bennett’s conclusion is false; therefore, Bennett’s conclusion is false”? Why not take the expression “does not seem right” to indicate merely that Anscombe’s claim that Benett’s claim is not right is being entered somewhat tentatively (which is, after all, a reasonable enough way of entering it, since she hasn’t told us why she thinks it’s false)?

What I’m suggesting, then, is that the things philosophers do that are often treated as “appeals to intuition”––where intuition is represented as a special source of evidence––are instead expressions of the author’s view, where the author takes herself to have evidence, in the form of arguments (for example), that that view is the correct one, but where the author (for various practical reasons) isn’t in a position to provide that evidence at present.

This isn’t to say that no one ever appeals to intuition in the course of giving a philosophical argument. But it is to suggest that appeals to intuition may be quite a bit rarer than they appear to be. And it’s also to suggest, rather more importantly, that the use of phrases like “it seems to me that” aren’t generally entered as evidence, but as tentative expressions of an author’s view, for which the author both takes herself to have evidence, and which she assumes she will need to provide, should a reader find reason to doubt her view. And the same thing could, I think, be true of phrases like “my intuition is that.”

That’s my view, at any rate. But am I missing something here?

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