, Volume 140, Issue 1, pp 19-46

Empirical metaphysics: the role of intuitions about possible cases in philosophy

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Abstract

Frank Jackson has argued that only if we have a priori knowledge of the extension-fixers for many of our terms can we vindicate the methodological practice of relying on intuitions to decide between philosophical theories. While there has been much discussion of Jackson’s claim that we have such knowledge, there has been comparatively little discussion of this most powerful argument for that claim. Here I defend an alternative explanation of our intuitions about possible cases, one that does not rely on a priori extension-fixers. This alternative explanation provides a vindication of our reliance on intuitions, while blocking Jackson’s abductive argument for a priori semantic knowledge. In brief, I argue that we should regard our armchair intuitions as providing an important, a priori source of evidence for hypotheses about the contents of our implicit referential policies with regard to our terms. But all such hypotheses have a potential falsifier that is only discoverable empirically. In other words, gold-standard evidence for such hypotheses is always empirical.