Dennett

How To Build Persuasion Machines

Intuition pumps are sometimes called thought experiments.  But they’re not really formal arguments typically.  They’re stories.  They’re little fables.  In fact, I think they’re similar to Aesop’s fables in that they’re supposed to have a moral.  They’re supposed to teach us something.  And what they do is they lead the audience to an intuition, a conclusion, where you sort of pound your fist on the table and you say, “Oh yeah, it’s gotta be that way, doesn’t it.”  If it achieves that then it’s pumped the intuition that was designed to pump.  These are persuasion machines.  Little persuasion machines that philosophers have been using for several thousand years.

I think that intuition pumps are particularly valuable when there’s confusion about just what the right questions are and what the right – what matters.  What matters to answer the question.  I think we’re all pretty good at using examples to think about things and intuition pumps are usually rather vivid examples from which you’re supposed to draw a very general moral. And they come up in many walks of life. 

Anytime you’re puzzled or confused about what to do next or whether something’s true or false, you might cast about for an intuition pump that could help you. 

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