Jes Heppler

FPO Fellow 2024-25
PhD Candidate in Philosophy, University of California Berkeley

Jes Heppler received her B.A. summa cum laude in Philosophy at SUNY Geneseo in her home state of New York. Her interest in philosophy led her to pursue a PhD in Philosophy at UC Berkeley. She plans to defend her dissertation project, Gut Feelings, Orientation, and Embodied Epistemology in May 2025. The heart of Jes’ philosophical interests concern how we relate to the ineffable. The considerations, desires, and reasons that shape our life choices often live in the realm of senses, hunches, or intuitions—these are phenomena that can dramatically alter one’s life course. On the other hand, these are also phenomena of which we lack full understanding. Jes’ research focuses on intuition as it presents in the body, or gut feelings, and how we ought to relate to our intuitions.

Jes’ dissertation argues for a novel distinction between intuition as it is typically discussed and intuition under a particular mode of presentation. Intuitions are seemings that are spontaneous, non-inferential, opaque in their source, intentional, and epistemically significant. Jes argues that some intuitions present neither as observational seemings (e.g., a painting that seems fake) nor as intellectual seemings (e.g., a philosophical thought experiment that seems not to be a case of knowledge), but through bodily feelings (e.g., it seems that this person isn’t trustworthy). When an agent has an intuition or seeming that presents in the bodily mode, that agent has a gut feeling whose content is its valence: a positive or negative feeling that reflects the adaptive value of the intentional object for the organism.

Gut Feelings, Orientation, and Embodied Epistemology argues for gut feelings as distinct from both intuition and emotion while also arguing that gut feelings are disorienting and reorienting. Gut feelings reorient us because they point our awareness towards something that is not yet assimilated into our perception. They hint towards a horizon—towards something that is sensed, but whose full nature is not yet known. That gut feelings are both disorienting and revelatory means that epistemic agents have a difficult task before them: how can we be in responsible epistemic relationship with gut feelings that are simultaneously epistemically powerful yet suspect in their origin and nature?

Jes’ dissertation project charts out how we can adopt a domain-specific reliabilist epistemology with respect to our gut feelings. This framework integrates findings in cognitive science that many of our intuitions—especially expert intuitions—are worth trusting, while also accounting for the risks of gut feelings reflecting bias or fallacies. Jes ultimately argues that listening to our gut feelings and acting ethically requires a commitment to cultivating self-knowledge about our own standpoint and hypothesizing about our embodied epistemology: the life experiences, biases, instincts, footholds, and beliefs that inform our gut feelings and default orientation.

Learn more about Jes here on her website.