Warp, Weft, and Way

Chinese and Comparative Philosophy 中國哲學與比較哲學

Culturally Variant Intuitions

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A session at the recent APA Pacific on “Multicultural Epistemology” (featuring Jason Stanley and Edouard Machery, among others) has got me thinking about culturally variant intuitions. Recent evidence from experimental philosophy has indicated that respondents in East Asian countries tend to have different reactions than their Western counterparts to cases such as “The Magistrate and the Mob,” or Kripke’s Gödel scenario. A recurring question at the APA session concerned what these differences ought to mean for philosophers working in the given areas. Stanley argued that rather than refuting a prevalent methodology that begins from philosophers’ intuitions about cases, cultural variances simply provide us with a wider data set to be explained. Machery in turn presented his research-in-progress suggesting that cross-cultural intuitions about Gettier cases exhibited far more similarity than previous work by experimental philosophers has suggested.

Culturally variant intuitions can be used as a premise in an argument for making philosophy more cross-cultural. If there is evidence that not everyone reacts to a well-known case in the same way we do, we should be hesitant of using our own intuitions about these cases in support of the view we think is correct. Learning how members of culturally distinct traditions respond to these problems is necessary if we want the views we defend to have truly universal appeal.

Is this a convincing argument? Critics of experimental philosophy have argued, for instance, that the existence of culturally variant intuitions is no big deal, since philosophers already know from talking to their colleagues and students that their own intuitions are not universally shared. How significant is this objection? Are there other potential uses of culturally variant intuitions in comparative philosophy?

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