According to Intuitionism, man possesses the power to know the good and of an action without thinking. In this principle the conscience knows the property of an action without meditating upon its result or aim.
According to Muirhead, the intuitionist theories possess the following common features:
(1) Conscience is ultimately a simple and natural object
(2) The judgments of conscience are intuitive. Conscience deplores acts of cheating and cowardice without informing about the cause or reasoning, acts of truth, sacrifice and self control are applauded.
(3) Thus conscience has an authority over consciousness without thinking of the secondary thoughts of pleasure or utility.
(4) It is also due to this reason that conscience possesses universality. It is found in the most superior and inferior races, and all moral people.
Intuitionism takes two major forms philosophical and unphilosophical. Unphilosophical also has two forms-moral sense theory and aesthetic sense theory. Cudworth, Clark and Wollaston support a type of philosophical intuitionism.
According to them the nature of conscience is intellectual and it has intuitive knowledge of right and wrong. Kant treats the conscience as a practical reason present in every one and conveying knowledge of right and wrong to everyone.
It would be in keeping with the context to make a brief description of the opinions of Cudworth, Clark and Wollaston, before proceeding to the difficulties inherent in philosophical intuitionism.
Cudworth’s philosophical intuitionism places an exaggerated importance upon rationality in a moral life a moral life is founded upon a rational basis. Moral judgments are in the moral basis.
In moral judgments moral theories are applied to special acts and for this, knowledge of moral theories is essential. In this way moral judgments are not intuitive but based on logic.
According to Cudworth, moral conduct is rational. Only judgments based upon rational volition are moral. Moral laws are universal, inevitable and self proved. Human reason knows them intuitvely.
Opinion of Clarke:
Clarke opines that human relations are definite, permanent and inconvertible as are mathematical relations. Consequently they are universal and definite. Propriety or inappropriateness of the relation determines morality.
Reason knows intuitively whether a relation is appropriate or not. In the various relations different duties are manifest. But these duties are as permanent as are these relations.
In this way, good and bad actions are predetermined. Some actions are definitely good while others are bad. Even supernatural will cannot convert badly to good and good to bad.
Thus, a moral life is based upon appropriate relations or, in other words, upon fulfilling their duties. For this, knowledge of these relations and an insight into them is essential. Thus intellectual development is essential for moral life.
Wollaston recognizes a direct relation between true and false, and good and evil. True is good and false evil. In this way, like his teacher Clarke, Wollaston treats virtue as knowledge.
A good act is a supporter of truth and an evil act contradicts truth. Falsehood is sin. Sin is a rational mistake. To do evil is to negate truth. And it is evil because of the negation of truth.
Stealing is bad because the thief negates the truth that the stolen property is the wealth of another in this way, Wollaston concurs with the other philosophical intuitionists in treating knowledge as the ultimate good.
A moral life is a life of knowledge. For it knowledge is essential. A person with knowledge knows good and bad intuitively.
Difficulties in Philosophical Intuitionism:
In believing the theory of conscience, on the basis of philosophical intuitionism, there are many difficulties, the moral important of them being as follows:
(1) Moral laws have place for experience:
Moral laws are unqualified for die individual because they are traditional, but from the viewpoint of ethics they are based upon experience. Common sense looks upon them as originating in intuition but from the critical viewpoint they do not seem to be so.
(2) A formalist, dogmatic, illogical moral theory:
This theory does not interpret moral laws and neither does it analyze its rational basis. It does acquaint us with right and wrong but not why they are right and wrong. It is formalist instead of teleological. It refuses to prove the validity of moral laws from the view point of ultimate good. Thus, it is dogmatic and illogical.
When based on intuitionism moral laws fail to direct along any clear path in practical life they are abstract. They fail to shed light on unusual circumstances. When there are exceptions, it becomes necessary to modify and, convert them. In James Seth’s words “Philosophical intuitionism is form without manner and unphilosophical intuitionism is matter without form.”
(4) Absence of guidance in duties or mutually contradictory laws:
Intuition cannot achieve a compromise in a situation involving conflict of moral laws. It looks upon all moral laws as equal; consequently it cannot decide which of the two conflicting laws is superior. Only a clear visualizing of the ultimate good can show the right path when duties conflict
(5) External moral laws:
Intuitionism does not treat the self as the integral self. If conscience is not treated as the integral self, its law becomes an external directive for the self. It can be credited as an internal law only when it is the law of the integral self.
According to unphilosophical intuitionisin, conscience is a moral sense by means of which we can know the moral quality of an action in the same way as we know the qualities of different objects by the other senses.
This knowledge can come in two ways:
(1) An intuition of pleasure or pain.
(2) An intuition of beauty or ugliness.
Based on the first is the theory of Moral Sense and based on the second is the theory of Aesthetic Sense.