Critique of Pure Reason

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Intuition being itself an abstract concept, evaluating its role in the different areas of knowledge is a very challenging task. The very act of such evaluation implies the use of the faculty of reason, whfich as we shall see implied in the definition of intuition, is the anti-thesis of intuition. Intuition has been defined in philosophy as a way of knowing or cognition independent of experience or reason. It implies knowing something instinctively without actual evidence of it. Terms, such as perception, insight, sixth sense, awareness, clairvoyance, hunch, etc.

to be found in any thesaurus, attempt to indicate the various meanings of intuition. Among the ways of knowing, emotion and perception in relation to the knower appear to be relevant in respect of intuition. The concept of intuition appears to have originated from two sources; namely, the mathematical idea of an axiom, which is an area of knowledge in its own right, and the mystical idea of revelation. An axiom can be defined as a self-evident proposition that requires no proof, and revelation can be considered to be a truth that surpasses the power of the intellect.

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The dilemma here is that this very intellect is attempting to evaluate the role of intuition in the areas of knowledge. In Greek philosophy, Pythagoras and his followers, who were trained in mathematics, attached considerable significance to intuition. Plato, who developed the philosophic concept of transcendence, also affirmed the existence of absolute goodness as something beyond description and as knowable ultimately through intuition. In this sense, intuition, and not reason, was regarded as the highest human faculty.

Philosophers like Baruch, Spinoza, Immanuel Kant and Henry Bergson extolled the idea of intuition. Ethical philosophers like Spinoza believed that a sense of moral values is intuitive and immediate, which is a stand point in direct contrast with that of the empiricists and the rationalists. The empiricists believe that moral values result from human experience, while the rationalists believe that moral values are determined by reason. Spinoza regarded intuition as the highest form of knowledge, transcending empirical knowledge derived from the senses and scientific knowledge derived from reasoning and experience.

Bergson’s view is that intuition is the purest form of knowledge in stark contrast with intelligence. Immanuel Kant, in his famous work, Critique of Pure Reason, asserted, “Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind….. The understanding can intuit nothing, the senses can think nothing. Only through their union can knowledge arise”. Friedrich Heinrich was a German philosopher who argued that intuition, perception and faith are superior to reason as a means of attaining truth.

When the issues as mentioned above are put into light, it really can be made evident that the source of knowledge behind every discovery or invention has to be an intuitive thought or feeling. From the model of an atom to gravity, whether one agrees or not, it has its source in intuitive revelations. An overt dependence on intuition as that expressed by some philosophers may not be in line with the concept of scientific investigation in the area of knowledge pertaining to the natural sciences as a truly rational activity. Nevertheless, it is an approach adopted by many research scientists.

A knowledge claim imagined to be based on emotion; intuition and vested interests may sometimes influence the course of science as much as logic and experimentation. Prior to the advent of radioactive dating techniques, there was a fierce debate amongst the geologists, biologists and the physicists regarding the age of the earth. Two earlier estimates regarding the age of the earth as just several million years were toppled when the descriptive sciences of biology and geology were compelled to defer to the more exact science of physics, when radioactive dating revealed the earth’s age to be a few billion years1.

The philosopher John Locke did not believe in intuition or innate knowledge, while the early twentieth century Italian philosopher and statesman, Benedetto Croce, emphasized the importance of intuition in art and freedom of expression in the development of civilization. The often heard of phrase “all of a sudden, it hit me! ” points to the experience of many artists and scientists when, after years of struggle with a problem or riddle, the answer erupted from their sub-conscious mind in a flash of recognition, in their finer moments of quietude following the futile and frustrating moments of their struggle to solve the problem.

This experience is described as a stroke of lightning when reason and logic reached its limits and intuition took the person a step further. It is perhaps the creative part of the mind originating in the recesses of the sub-conscious revealing itself under the right circumstances. In 1999, the world chess champion, Garry Kasparov, had challenged chess enthusiasts everywhere through an internet project named “Kasparov versus the World”. He had competed two highly publicized chess matches against Deep Blue, which was a super computer designed to play chess.

In his September 1999 Encarta Yearbook interview, Kasparov said, ” Chess is probably the ideal for comparing human intuition vis-i?? -vis the brute force of calculation, because you can clearly see at what point the simple calculative process matches the results based on human intuition”. In the field of scientific theory, although Einstein is reported to have mentioned that the only source of knowledge is experience, he also believed that scientific theories are the free creations of a finely tuned physical intuition and that the premises on which theories are based cannot be connected logically to experiment.

Like his scientific theories, Einstein’s experiments were motivated by sound intuition based on a careful assessment of evidence and observation2. My father always tells me, “Sure, intuition can develop with experience. But trusting your hunches has perils, too”. Intuition is essential, but it can even mislead one to dangerous extents. If I say my geological intuition tell me that, Mumbai is north of Delhi and that Kolkata is south of Chennai, for which I must surely be held wrong.

This reminds of what Noble Prize winning physicist once said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself-and you are the easiest person to fool. ” It is very meek for people to understand that, as often as we misjudge and wrongly predict reality and then display ‘conviction perseverance’ whilst in front of disconfirming facts. To a mind used to furious thinking and conscious planning of every aspect of life, intuition is a far away thing. Only in the quietude of the tumultuous mind can intuition get a chance to operate.

A scientist reasons furiously if the earth is round or flat. But when he goes to sleep, all his organs of perception are abated, and what does it matter to a sleeping person if the earth is round or flat? The utilitarian mind always obsessed with profit and loss can never realize the value of intuition, for it is not a process of conscious volition. When all is set aside as just a process of thought, without which cognizance of anything so called external is impossible, will the mind cease to create worlds upon worlds and impart reality to its imaginations.


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