The nature of intuition : what theories of intuition ought to be

  • Hung Nin LAM

Student thesis: MPhil Thesis (Lingnan)


Immediate striking feelings without any conscious inference are viewed as one of the sources of truth by many philosophers. It is often claimed that there is a long tradition in philosophy of viewing intuitive propositions as true without need for further justification, since the intuitiveness, for traditional philosophy, suggests that the proposition is self-evident. In philosophical discussions, it was extremely common for philosophers to argue for the intuitiveness of their theories. Contemporary philosophers have put increasing attention and effort into the study of this methodology in philosophy. They explicitly use the term ‘intuition’ and ‘appealing to intuition’ to refer to such common practice in philosophy. Recently there are numerous papers discussing the topic of intuition, its reliability, evidential status, and what philosophy ought to be. These disputes have lasted for several decades and it seems the disputes may even continue for several more decades.

Despite the excessive usage of the term ‘intuition’, there are still polarized attitudes towards intuition: not only on the question of whether we should appeal to intuition in doing philosophy, but also on what ‘intuition’ means. The latter problem, the divergence of understanding on ‘intuition’, seems to be the main factor causing endless disputes of this topic and it should be the problem primarily solved. There are philosophers who notice the problem that there is no general agreement on the accounts of intuition. However, surprisingly, most of them have not attempted to solve the problem, but just simply give their own accounts of intuition, or claim that it is improbable to have general agreement on the definition of ‘intuition’ instead.

In fact, it is possible to have a general acceptable theory of intuition. The main aims of the thesis are to provide the method of seeking the good candidates for a general acceptable theory of intuition and to use the method in seeking one of the good theories. In order to achieve the goals, the thesis will (1) provide the ground for the discussion, by specifying several features of intuition as the desiderata of a good theory; and (2) examine several theories of intuition that have been offered in recent literature as example. We will find that, unfortunately, among the theories selected in philosophy, there still seems to be no satisfactory account of intuition. Nevertheless, there seems a promising account of intuition offered in psychology. The thesis will argue the psychological account is one of the good candidates of general acceptable theory of intuition. If not, we at least have a method of seeking the good theories of intuition.
Date of Award2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Philosophy
SupervisorJennifer Ellen NADO (Supervisor)

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