Intuition and Modal Error

In Quentin Smith (ed.), Epistemology: New Essays. Oxford University Press (2008)
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Modal intuitions are not only the primary source of modal knowledge but also the primary source of modal error. An explanation of how modal error arises — and, in particular, how erroneous modal intuitions arise — is an essential part of a comprehensive theory of knowledge and evidence. This chapter begins with a summary of certain preliminaries: the phenomenology of intuitions, their fallibility, the nature of concept-understanding and its relationship to the reliability of intuitions, and so forth. It then identifies two sources of modal error: the first has to do with the failure to distinguish between metaphysical possibility and various kinds of epistemic possibility; the second, with the local misunderstanding of one's concepts. The first source of error is widely misunderstood; the second source has not been discussed in philosophical literature. This source of modal error, and the potential to overcome it, has wide-ranging implications for philosophical method. The failure to understand these sources of modal error has recently led to sceptical accounts of intuition and modal error, which are, ultimately self-defeating.
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