Intuitions and Charges of Implausibility

What exactly are we doing when say that certain philosophical theories, if we think it out fully to its logical conclusion, would lead to conclusions that are extremely unacceptable from an intuitive sense? I’m thinking in particular of the Repugnant Conclusion here. Often times, such philosophical theories are rejected because they are thought to be highly implausible because of their dramatic departure from our common intuitions.

But is this kind of rejection right? Why is the departure from common intuition a good reason to reject such theories? Isn’t philosophy, at least in part, the exercise of reason so come up with radical conclusions that challenge existing intuitions? Case in point: philosophical theories that advocate the equal treatment of all persons regardless of gender, nationality, skin color, and religion would have been very counter-intuitive to people living a thousand years ago. Yet now such a theory is now part of our common intuition; in fact, any philosophy whose conclusion leads us to reject the equality of persons would now be seen as counter-intuitive and most likely rejected out of hand.

So is there a non-question begging way of using intuition in moral philosophy?

This question became a question for me as I was reading the first chapter of A Theory of Justice, the section on the reflective equilibrium. I find Rawls’ discussion of the subject unsatisfying, because as he explicitly acknowledges, he won’t answer many of the questions that one might logically have about the reflective equilibrium: such as, how do we decide when and how to modify our theory and intuition, and by much, and which one has priority, and how we come up with these rules? Furthermore, what is equilibrium actually reached? Is it complete convergence, or merely convergence up to a certain point? And if the latter, when is there “enough” convergence to constitute an equilibrium?

Granted, I haven’t finished A Theory of Justice, but I feel like if these questions aren’t answered satisfactorily, then the whole project becomes too abstract.


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