Ethical Intuitionism is a book (hardcover release: , paperback release: ) by University of Colorado philosophy professor Michael Huemer. Michael Huemer. University of Colorado, Boulder. Abstract. This book defends a form of ethical intuitionism, according to which (i) there are objective moral. In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in Ethical Intuitionism, ( ), Bedke (), Huemer (), Shafer-Landau (), Stratton-lake.

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This is chapter 5 pp. Do not reproduce without permission of the publisher. In the last three chapters, we have seen that intuitionis claims are assertions about a class of irreducible, objective properties, which cannot be known on the basis of observation. How, if at all, can these claims be known?

Is it rational to think any of these claims are true? In the present chapter, I explain how we can know or be justified in believing evaluative statements on the basis of ethical intuition.

I call this principle ‘Phenomenal Conservatism’ ‘phenomenal’ meaning ‘pertaining to appearances’.

Ethical Intuitionism // Reviews // Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews // University of Notre Dame

I have discussed the principle elsewhere, so here I will be relatively brief. Appearances have propositional contents–things they represent to be the case–but they are not beliefs, as can be seen from the intelligibility of, ‘The arch seems to be taller than it is wide, but I don’t think it is’.

Nevertheless, appearances normally lead us to form beliefs. Thus, we can say, ‘This line seems longer than that one’, ‘I seem to recall reading something about that’, ‘It seems to me that I have a headache’, and ‘It seems that any two points can be joined by a single straight line’.

5 Moral Knowledge

It initially seems that the top line is longer than the bottom line. But if you get intuihionism a ruler and measure them, you will find them to be of the same length. The top line will seem, when holding a ruler next to it, to be 2 inches long, and the bottom line will similarly appear to be 2 inches long.

hudmer So, all things considered, it seems that the two lines are of the same length. As this example illustrates, an initial appearance can be overruled by other appearances this does not mean the initial appearance goes away, but only that we don’t believe itand only by other appearances.

Some appearances are stronger than others–as we say, some things are ‘more obvious’ than others–and this determines what we hold on to and what we reject in case of conflict. Presumably, it more clearly seems to you that the result of measuring the lines is accurate than that the result of eyeballing them is, so you believe the measurement result this may have to do with background beliefs you have about the intuituonism of different procedures–which would themselves be based upon the way other things seem to you.

Appearances can be intellectual, as opposed to sensory, mnemonic, or introspective. It seems to us that the shortest path between any two points must be a straight line; that time is one-dimensional and totally ordered for tehical two moments in time, one is earlier than the other ; and that no object can be completely red and completely blue at the same time.

I accept those things on intellectual grounds. I am not looking at all the possible pairs of points and all the possible paths connecting each pair and seeing, with my eyes, that the straight path is the shortest in each case. Instead, I am ‘seeing’ intellectually that it must be true–that is, when I think about it, it becomes obvious. Logical judgments rest on intellectual appearances.

We think the following inference logically valid iintuitionism premises entail the conclusion, regardless of whether the premises are true: Socrates is a heumer. All men are inconsiderate. Therefore, Socrates is inconsiderate. Therefore, Ethicla is a platypus.


intuitoinism We ‘see’ this, not with our eyes, but with our intellect or reason. All judgments are based upon how things seem to the judging subject: An argument has force only to the extent that its premises seem true and seem to support its conclusion. Intellectual inquiry presupposes Phenomenal Conservatism, in the sense that such inquiry proceeds by assuming things are the way they appear, until evidence itself drawn from appearances arises to cast doubt on this.

Even the arguments of a philosophical skeptic who says we aren’t justified in believing anything rest upon the skeptic’s own beliefs, which are based upon what seems to the skeptic to be true.

This indicates in brief why I take any denial of Phenomenal Conservatism to be self-defeating. Be that as it may, we have already laid down in chapter 1 that general philosophical skepticism is off the table in the present discussion. Since all judgment and reasoning presupposes Phenomenal Conservatism, a rejection of Phenomenal Conservatism amounts to a general intuitoonism skepticism.

Therefore, we assume Phenomenal Conservatism to be correct. But there is also a way things seem to us prior to reasoning; otherwise, reasoning could not get started. The way things seem prior to reasoning we may call an ‘initial appearance’.

An initial, intellectual appearance is an ‘intuition’. That is, an intuition that p is a state of its seeming to one that p that is not dependent on inference from other beliefs and that results from thinking about pas opposed to perceiving, remembering, or introspecting.

Many philosophers complain either that they don’t know what an intuition is or that the term ‘intuition’ huemwr essentially empty and provides no account at all of how one might know something.

Some question whether intuitions exist. Here are some examples in ethics: Etgical is better than suffering. It is unjust to punish a person for a crime he did not commit. Courage, benevolence, and honesty are virtues. If a person has a right to do something, then no person has a right to forcibly prevent him from doing that thing.

Prior to entertaining arguments for or against them, each of these propositions seems true. In each case, the appearance is intellectual; you do not perceive that these things are the case with your eyes, ears, etc.

And they are evaluative.

Here are some examples of ethical claims that, I take it, are not intuitive, even for those who believe them: The United States should not have gone to war in Iraq in We should privatize Social Security.

Though these propositions seem true to some, the relevant appearances do not count as ‘intuitions’ because they depend on other beliefs. For instance, the sense ethifal the United States should not have invaded Iraq depends on such beliefs as that the war predictably caused thousands of deaths, that this is bad, that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, and so on.

This is not to deny that intuition has a role in one’s coming to the conclusion that the U. It is intuition that tells us that killing people is prima facie wrong.

Intuition is ethidal involved in the weighing of competing values–for instance, we may have intuitions about whether it is right to kill many people in order to depose a tyrant, if the facts of the case are as we believe them to be.

Some think that intuitions are just beliefs, and thus that ‘intuition’ does not name a way of knowing anything, 8 for we do not want to say that merely by believing something, I know it.

A more sophisticated worry is that what we think intuituonism as intuitions may be products of antecedently intuitionims beliefs, perhaps via subconscious inferences. Perhaps ‘Enjoyment is better than suffering’ only seems true to me because I already believe it, or believe things from which it follows. There are two replies to these worries. First, the view that intuitions are or are caused by beliefs fails to explain the origin of our moral beliefs.


Undoubtedly some moral beliefs are accounted for by inference from other moral beliefs. But since no moral belief can be derived from wholly non-moral premises, we must start with some moral beliefs that are not inferred from any other beliefs. Where do these starting moral beliefs come from? Do we just adopt them entirely arbitrarily? No; this is not the phenomenology of moral belief. We adopt fundamental moral beliefs because they seem right to us; we don’t select them randomly.

Second, moral intuitions are not in general caused by antecedent moral beliefs, since moral intuitions often either conflict with our antecedently held moral theories, or are simply unexplained by them. Here are two famous hypothetical examples from the ethics literature: A doctor in a hospital has five patients who need organ transplants; otherwise, they will die. They all need different organs. He also has one healthy patient, in for a routine checkup, who happens to be compatible with the five.

Should the doctor kill the healthy patient and distribute his organs to the other five? A runaway trolley is intuitioniism for a fork in the track. If it takes the left fork, it will collide with and kill five people; if it takes the right fork, it will collide with and kill one person.

None of the people can be moved out of the way in time. There is a switch that determines which fork the trolley takes. It is presently set to send the trolley to the left. You can flip the switch, sending the trolley to the right instead. Should you flip the switch? Some philosophers hold that the morally correct action is always the huemsr with the best overall consequences.

Their view implies that imtuitionism answer to example 1 is yes. But even these philosophers, when confronted with the example, admit that their answer is counter-intuitive, that it seems wrong to kill the healthy patient and harvest his organs.

Intuitionism in Ethics (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Relatedly, most people have difficulty explaining why they feel inclined to answer one way in example 1, and the opposite way in example 2; both cases introduce the possibility of sacrificing one person to save five.

Philosophers have proposed various explanations of this which remain controversial. The point is that no moral theory held prior to considering cases such as those above is likely to afford us an explanation for why the sacrifice should be found unacceptable in example 1 but acceptable in example 2.

The point that intuition is often independent of belief is important, since it enables intuition to provide the sort of constraint needed for adjudicating between competing moral theories.

If intuition simply followed moral belief, then it could not help us decide which moral beliefs are correct. But this point is compatible with intuition’s showing some degree of responsiveness to our beliefs, and I do not want to claim that a person’s intuitions will in general remain entirely uninfluenced by the theories they adopt.

Compare the observation that sensory perceptions are largely, but not entirely, independent of our background beliefs–for example, even if I believe Big Foot does not exist, if Big Foot should walk up to me, I will still see him. Among intuitive moral propositions, some are more intuitive than others. Compare the above two examples to the following: As in example 2, except that there is no one on the right fork; if the trolley goes down the right fork, it will run into a pile of sand which will safely stop it.

Everyone answers ‘yes’ to this one, even those who answered ‘no’ to example 2. Our intuitions about example 3 are clearer and more certain than those about examples 1 and 2.