Nagel, Jennifer, and . Intuitions and Experiments: A Defense of the Case Method in Epistemology

2012, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 85 (3): 495-527.

Abstract: Many epistemologists use intuitive responses to particular cases as evidence for their theories. Recently, experimental philosophers have challenged the evidential value of intuitions, suggesting that our responses to particular cases are unstable, inconsistent with the responses of the untrained, and swayed by factors such as ethnicity and gender. This paper presents evidence that neither gender nor ethnicity influence epistemic intuitions, and that the standard responses to Gettier cases and the like are widely shared. It argues that epistemic intuitions are produced by the natural ‘mindreading’ capacity that underpins ordinary attributions of belief and knowledge in everyday social interaction. Although this capacity is fallible, its weaknesses are similar to the weaknesses of natural capacities such as sensory perception. Experimentalists who do not wish to be skeptical about ordinary empirical methods have no good reason to be skeptical about epistemic intuitions.

Comment: Nagel is one of the prominent epistemologists who bring relevant psychological researches to philosophical debates. In this excellent paper, Nagel discusses the legitimacy of using pre-theoretical epistemic intuitions in epistemological theorizing in the light of findings in cognitive science. It is very useful for teachings on experimental philosophy in courses on epistemology or methodology of philosophy. It can be used together with Stephen (2013)'s response "Do different groups have different epistemic intuitions? a reply to Jennifer Nagel".