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Assessing the Use of Intuitions in Contemporary Political Theory

Institutions
Political Theory
Normative Theory
P13
Emanuela Ceva
University of Geneva
Nikolas Kirby
University of Oxford

Wednesday 16:00 - 17:00 (15/12/2021)


Abstract

Intuitions have come to play a prominent role in philosophical analysis. Conceptual claims in contemporary analytic political theory, for example, are often assessed with reference to key intuitions. Recent scholarship on intuitions and their use in moral and political argument has, however, raised doubts concerning the capacity to rely on intuitions. Bosworth and Dowding (2019) argue that our intuitions have the potential to be shaped by classic texts in the history of ideas, which has the potential to embed systematic errors in political argument. In a similar vein, the history of an intuition might disqualify it from use in certain political arguments (see Rossi and Argenton 2020). In this paper, I extend the logic of experimental critiques of the use of intuitions in the philosophy of language, and philosophy of mind to the use of intuitions in political theory. I argue that intuitions are shaped by more than just the history of ideas and the history of certain intuitions. Instead, intuitions are shaped, and biased, by various features of the world including political institutions, political actors, and the random life history of individuals. As intuitions are shaped by these features of the world, via cognitive shortcuts and heuristics, there is greater scope for intuitions to be biased, and therefore unsuitable for certain political arguments. I identify three ways that intuitions can be biased; 1) parochialism, where intuitions are shaped by the country or city of residence, 2) endogeneity, where the motives of political actors feed into intuitions via institutions, and 3) idiosyncrasy, where intuitions are contingent on the random life history of individuals. I begin with a brief treatment of the role of intuitions in contemporary political theory, before turning to recent approaches that have sought to interrogate the sources of those intuitions. I then set out the various ways that certain features of the world can shape our intuitions, via various cognitive shortcuts and heuristics. In the substantive part of the paper, I set out the ways that intuitions can suffer from the biases of parochialism, endogeneity, and idiosyncrasy. I conclude with an assessment of the continuing use of intuitions in contemporary political theory and advocate for a greater reliance on social science methods, including survey methods and psychology in normative theorising.