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Intuitionism in ethics

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L041-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 18, 2024, from

Article Summary

To intuit something is to apprehend it directly, without recourse to reasoning processes such as deduction or induction. Intuitionism in ethics proposes that we have a capacity for intuition and that some of the facts or properties that we intuit are irreducibly ethical. Traditionally, intuitionism also advances the important thesis that beliefs arising from intuition have direct justification, and therefore do not need to be justified by appeal to other beliefs or facts. So, while intuitionism in ethics is about the apprehension of ethical facts or properties, traditional intuitionism is principally a view about how beliefs, including ethical beliefs are justified. Varieties of intuitionism differ over what is intuited (for example, rightness or goodness?); whether what is intuited is general and abstract or concrete and particular; the degree of justification offered by intuition; and the nature of the intuitive capacity. The rejection of intuitionism is usually a result of rejecting one of the views that lie behind it.

Note that ‘intuition’ can refer to the thing intuited as well as the process of intuiting. Also, somewhat confusingly, intuitionism is sometimes identified with pluralism, the view that there is a plurality of fundamental ethical properties or principles. This identification probably occurs because pluralists often accept the epistemological version of intuitionism.

Citing this article:
Frazier, Robert L.. Intuitionism in ethics, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L041-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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