Against Intuitive Horribleness

Episteme 21 (1):304-319 (2024)
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Testimony by disabled people concerning the relationship between their experiences and overall well-being has long been an object of social scientific and humanistic study. Often discussed in terms of “the disability paradox,” these studies contrast the intuitive horribleness of certain impaired states against the testimonial evidence suggesting that people in such states do not in fact experience their lives as horrible. Explanations for why such testimonial evidence is suspect range from claims about adaptive preferences to issues of qualitative research methodology. In this paper, I argue that the problem lies not with the evidence, but the intuitions in question. Using the disability paradox as a case study, I further argue against the use of the concept of intuitive horribleness in social epistemology and beyond. I contend that testimonial and hermeneutical injustices are baked into most deployments of the concept, and even if one were to justify its use in select cases, it should be accompanied with prima facie suspicion. In conclusion, I discuss the implications of this analysis for the literature on transformative experience and also for the stakes of multi-cultural, historically informed philosophical inquiry more generally.

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Joel Michael Reynolds
Georgetown University


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