Sources of Knowledge

2000-12-10

A discussion on the Agora mailing list brought up the point that Rand disparaged intuition as a kind of mysticism and that intuition means conclusions based on nothing, or, at most, emotions. Yet this is not my understanding of the word 'intuitive'. When I say I have an intuitive grasp of a situation or problem, I mean that, based on all my knowledge and experience (much of it tacit) in life or in this "problem space", I can understand the essentials of what's going on. But I don't mean that I'm basing my insights on nothing or on emotions divorced from reality and experience.

Rand was adamant about saying that "emotions are not tools of cognition". Yet I've long wanted to explore my admittedly vague notion of a "realist theory of emotion", since I think that often (not always) emotions provide valuable clues to the reality of a situation. This is especially true when the reality one is working with is the reality of one's relationships with other people, or the reality of one's inner life.

The Randian position on emotions is just a specific form of her principle "reason is one's only absolute" or one's only means of knowledge. Yet I think it's obvious that there are forms of cognition other than reason. To me, the canonical other form of cognition is perception. This includes intero-perception (perception of one's bodily states) as well as perception directed outward to the world. I feel that the Randian principle that reason is the only valid mean of cognition has skewed many Objectivists in a rationalistic direction, with negative consequences.

In general, my approach in the area of knowledge and experience (under the influence of Jacob Bronowski among others) is to seek harmony between reasoning and perception and emotions, between intuitive insights and the forms of evidence that are more objectively demonstrable, between the personal/internal and the social/objective, between imagination and logic. I don't think there is a necessary conflict between any of these, and that a truly healthy individual will experience an integration between them that most of the time is seamless. This is not to say that there will never be tension between one's thoughts and one's emotions, between one's imaginative insights and one's logical conclusions -- but for myself I feel that these tensions are more positive and creative than negative and destructive, and that (for example) imagination and logic feed off each other in an ever-ascending spiral of knowledge and understanding.

I feel that too many people in the Randian tradition denigrate those aspects of experience that would enable this spiral, so they never ascend to wisdom. In the terms of one of Nietzsche's book titles (Die Fröhliche Wissenschaft, a.k.a. la gaya scienza, a.k.a. the joyous science), they may possess knowledge of a sort, but their "science" is bereft of joy.


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