Devitt on Intuitions
As I talked about in a previous post, Devitt argues that there is only one way of knowing, which is the empirical way. He calls this the epistemological thesis of naturalism. From this standpoint semantics is a science. When we look at other sciences we do not see them being interested in the intuitions of the common folk about their subject matter (a point an actual scientist has been making against me over at Brains…). So, Biologists are not concerned about folk intuitions about life forms, nor is their science given the task of systematising the intuitions that people have about life forms. So, he continues, why should we think that semantics, as a naturalized science, would be any different. The subject matter of biology is life forms not intuitions about them, the subject matter of semantics is meanings, not intuitions about meanings.
Now this does not mean that he gives no role to intuitions. Intuitions can be ‘reliable’ in so far as the person who has them is an expert in the theory from which the intuitions flow. His example is one of a paleontologist who is able to spot a certain white thing in the sand as a such-and-such bone. I asked him if he thought that ordinary language users counted as expert in English, and if so mightn’t that be the reason that their intuitions are important? I *think* he agreed. Neale at that point asked if Devitt thought that the paleontologist and the English speaker were in exactly the same boat and Devitt said ‘yep’. Neale, like most philosophers, attributes a certain weightyness to intuitions that Devitt does not. I hope we can hash this out a bit more…
Devitt on the Methodology of Natural Semanitcs
There is a lot to say about this, but I think I’ll eat dinner and get back to it later..