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Discarding Explanations Which Are Intuitively Appealing Philosophy Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 1524 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Intuition is one of the basic traits of human beings, representing a special cognitive ability. Although it is often the basis of our decisions, there are some cases in which its explanatory power should be doubted.

Although notably different, we all share a number of considerable commonalities, especially as sculptors and sculptures of the world – „We make our surroundings, and then they make us” [1] . However, our nature (including our minds), does not suggest perfection. It puts forward fallibilities and generates complex knowledge issues. One of them may be formulated as follows: Are intuitively appealing explanations a reliable source of knowledge? The answer to this question lies in the nature of intuition. In order to explore it explicitly, we must consider all three main types of intuition known to us – core/common sense intuition, subject-related intuition, and social intuitions, as well as the definition of the term explanation and its linkage to this specific subject-matter.

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An explanation is a relevant, coherent and structured expression of the cause behind something, making it comprehensible. Typically, explanations consist of beliefs, which on the other hand build our belief systems. These belief systems outline our knower’s perspective and therefore, it is a characteristic of huge significance. There are two main methods by which we build it and gradually develop it. One of them is choosing intuitively appealing explanations according to the three main types of intuition, and the other one is through creating explanations by reason. Each of these alternatives has to be explored in order to adequatelly answer the topic question.

Core intuition is the type which is embeded deep within our nature. However, it is a continuously developing trait. Sometimes core intuitive explanations rely on the way in which we perceive reality, regardless of limitations and bias of our perspective. For instance, all of our sences show some unreliability. When we look at an object, we distinguish its colour. In reality however, the object has no such characteristic. Colours are due to the reflection of specific light rays, depending on the surface.

Common sense is also an expression of intuition. It can be defined as the expected knowledge from all normal individuals within a society. It relies on the clarity of obvious explanations which should be straightforward enough to be acquired unconsciously. It requires either very simple reasoning, or knowledge concerning a common socially learned fact. To exemplify this, let’s consider the following case: Everyone knows that fire may be harmful, since it can burn human flesh. Scientific knowledge states that fire is a process of combustion in which one or other material is ignited and combined with oxygen, giving off light, heat, and flame, which can destroy tissues. As common sense aknowledges the harmfulness of fire, it is socially learned at a very early age, usually taught to children by their parents. Thus in a modern social setting, the fact that an object generating a large quantity of heat should not be touched has become common sense although people may not necessarily know the exact reason and the physical characteristics which produce it’s effect. Intuition in this case relies on pragmatic criteria of truth, while scientific knowledge is based on correspondence and coherence. Moreover, as common sense provides universal knowledge within a society, it is supposed to be reliable. However, universality may not necessarily mean reliability. The majority can be mistaken, while only some individuals may know the truth. Common sense tells us that the Earth is flat, but if this was the case, we would not have been able to reach a same initial point from an opposite direction, after circumnavigating the earth.

Within the subject-related intution we can distinguish educated intuitions, based on some knowledge concerning a specific area, but on a closer look, this knowledge proves to be insufficient. For instance, 200 years ago it was intuitively obvious to biologists that everything in nature had a purpose, and that since each species had its own unique essence one of them could not evolve into another. Since Darwin, however, there has been a consensus among biologists that nature works blindly with no goal in mind, and that species gradually evolve into other species. This shows that even educated intuitions often give fallible explanations due to lack of proof.

The third type of intuition is the so called social intuition. Its origin is the repetition of social interactions, creating unconscious, socially learned behaviors. These behaviors may be defined by the social setting in which a person is raised as well as his culture. They can be expressed through a person’s mentality, attitude, manner, value system or body language. However, as they are relative to different societies, misconceptions may arise. For instance, although in the West people commonly nod their heads up and down in order to express their approval or left and right for refusal respectively, in Bulgaria it is the opposite. On the other hand, without any social intuitions, a person can not behave adequatelly in a social setting, and her/his attitude towards other people would be rather complicated. A number of social intuitions should not be discarded as long as their adequacy in the certain society is verified through reason.

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On the whole, intuitively appeapling explanations are those which are easily processed by the mind or those which are assimilated unconsciously. Intuition does not treat an issue according to reason directly, but to an already established belief system concerning our everyday life, our behavior within society or a specific area of knowledge: „Intuition is an inference that is validated by the thinker’s belief systems” [2] These belief systems however, may prove to be unreliable as they are not always liable to reasonable proof on their own. This explains why some people may judge wether something is right or wrong according to some principles in a specific subject, though they may not explicitly state why. „And the same holds for other logical principles. Their truth is evident to us, and we employ them in constructing demonstrations; but they themselves, or at least some of them, are incapable of demonstration.” [3] 

What can overcome the unreliability of intuitions and provide a criterion for discarding intuitive explanations? In my opinion, this can be the human faculty of reason. Reason is the ability to draw conclusions from premises established by experience, experiment, and other kinds of learning. Although reason is liable to bias and other limitations, compared to intuition it exhibits more comrephenciveness and reliability. Therefore reason is one main factor on the basis of which explanations are formed. This can happen through the scientific method and logic. Logic is an expresson of reason exhibiting coherent and constant relations between pieces of information on the basis of which explanations are formed. If our belief system was based entirely on logic, it would be flawless.

The scientific method is another expression of reason. Beside reasoning, it includes empirical evidence through induction and controlled experiment. For instance, although hundreds of years ago, it had been intuitively obvious that a heavier object would fall faster than a lighter one, Galileo has proved the opposite logically but also empirically. Such a way of obtaining knowledge is very trustworthy, as an experiment directly reflects reality. It relies on the correspondence theory of truth.

On the whole I think that both reason and intuition are two significant characteristics of human beings, without which our advancement would not have been possible. Social intuitions are of extreme importance so that a person is able to lead a normal and uncomplicated social life. However, they should be discarded if they prove to be inadequate within a social setting. Core intuitions and subject-related intuitions should also be discarded in certain cases, although they contribute for the gradual creation and development of our belief system through common sence, personal experience and available knowledge. Even though they are more widely and easily applicable as they are assimilated unconsciously, they are much less reliable than reason. Therefore they should be discarded when they contradict the laws of logic or any empirically established facts. When a reliable reasonable alternative exists even if it is counterintuitive, it should be accepted on the basis of its veracity.


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