Appealing to Intuitions
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, Miller Scholar, SFI and Research Associate, Psychology, Harvard University. An author of both fiction and nonfiction, her books include The Mind-Body Problem, Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel, and Thirty-Six Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction.
Appeals to intuitions have something suspect about them. Intuitions can vary from person to person, and even those that seem least assailable sometimes lead us astray, as the paradoxes of set theory demonstrated. Mathematicians of the last century, in their attempts to formalize mathematics, tried to eliminate all appeals to intuitions, but Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems can be viewed as a proof that we can’t get along without appealing to them. But the entrenched practice of appealing to intuitions goes beyond mathematics. Intuitions are an essential part of our moral and philosophical thinking. But where do intuitions come from, and why should we trust them? Does their fixed presence in our intellectual and moral lives indicate the limits of rationality? Goldstein explores these questions and others in her talk.