Moral Theorizing and Intuition Pumps; Or, Should We Worry about People's Everyday Intuitions Regarding Ethical Issues?

Document Type


Publication Title

The Midwest Quarterly







First Page



Publication Date

Spring 2005


Most agents take their intuitions to have significant evidential weight, such cases usually indicate something problematic with the theory in question. Yet, there has been considerable interest lately in the status of such a practice. This interest has in part surrounded the issue of whether the cases themselves pose a problem for moral theorizing. Such cases are sometimes called intuition pumps. These thought experiment-style cases are usually taken to elicit intuitions that count for or against a moral theory. But many have claimed that the reliance upon such intuition pumps in moral theorizing is unjustified. In this paper I will investigate this claim. First, I will lay out what I take to be the problem of intuition pumps. In particular, the problem will surround (1) there always being the possibility of constructing new cases that "pump" people's intuitions to the other side of a moral debate and (2) there being systematic and patterned disagreement as to what the "correct" intuitive response for a given case is. Next, I will give an account of the structure and evidence conferring status of intuitions. Then, given this account, I will illustrate how we can and why we should appeal to the intuitions of experts to solve the problem of intuition pumps. Thus, I hope to show that the problem of intuition pumps is not a problem for moral theorizing. That is, the use of intuition pump-style cases in moral theorizing is prima facie justified.