Friday, 30 April 2010

Illative sense

Jean Steinmann in his biography of Pascal considering the intuitive knowledge of the heart says of it :

It is direct and absolute. It places us in contact with things and beings, while reason only apprehends ideas and concepts.

This may be as I believe a faulty and perhaps dualist approach to perception and rationality. However one knows what he means.

The heart is the 'illative sense' of The Grammar of Assent according to Steinmann:

"It is a capacity (writes Newman) of entering with instinctive
correctness into principles, doctrines and facts, whether they
be true or false, and of discerning promptly what conclusion from them is necessary, suitable, and expedient „ . . .It is an intimate understanding of an assemblage of intellectual data .....
I have already ventured to say that our belief in the extended material world follows on an inference from our perception of particular objects through their phenomena, as these phenomena actually come before it us, or even... from our experiences of the sensible phenomena of self, It is by the illative sense that we come to this conclusion, which no logic can reach.

Illative means arising" out of, consequently in Newman's sense it is the power of immediately- grasping the consequences of a given set of data. It is this which prevents philosophers from going wrong. It is also the sense that they can get that there is something not quite correct in the judgements of another thinker.

Bergson turned intuition into a philosophical method:

"It is not necessary in order to reach intuition to move out of the sphere of the senses and consciousness, Kant's mistake was to think that it was.--. Let us go back to the origins of our power of perception and we shall find that we possess knowledge of a new kind without there being any need to appeal to new faculties,.....

The origin of our powers of perception, that's the famous hard question. Is it about qualia? Let's say that the fuzzy red of a ripe tomato presents itself but not the concept 'tomato'. That concept is not the stuff of any operation of the senses in the sense that though it may be out of the senses it is not equivalent to them. What is the source of the identity which the unschooled in philosophy recognise between the object out there and the mental modification? The advaitins hold that the identity is not numerical but a matter of substratum.

I leave the obvious 'what about' to see if you've been paying attention.


elisa freschi said...

I am not sure I understood all of this (but thanks for making me aware of it). How could one then counter-check whether one illative sense is not in error? Does Steinmann share with Descartes the idea that there are some basic, clear, ideas we can intuitively grasp and WILL NEVER go wrong about?
But then, your last proposal (here and about the Vedanta Paribhasa in your last comment) seems rather to point to the possibility of applying such sense to every content, even the more complex ones. Or do you believe that what one grasp through the illative sense is their fundamental core? Last, what if one were to deny to have such a faculty?

ombhurbhuva said...

Hi Elisa,
There does seem to be some backing for the idea that snap decisions made by experienced people are as accurate as their more considered decisions (medical research). You get a 'nose' as they say for these things. Without having to work it out in detail there's a sense that something is not quite right about an argument or that with a lateral twist might be put right. We are all idiot savants to some extent achieving results and drawing consequences we know not how. Is this beyond all possibility of error? Certainly not. Some thinkers are clear for want of lack of depth others are opaque because of the deep matter that is a struggle to access. 'Anything that can be said can be said clearly and if you can't say it you can't whistle it either' said Wittgenstein (roughly) but he himself was often intuitive and direct by routes which we must painstakingly discover.

elisa freschi said...

I see and I agree that in most cases, one 'senses' something well before one can prove it to be the case. However, should not this be just one's first step? Would you trust a physician you relies just on her nose? Wouldn't you expect him/her to rather do all control-checks even if s/he knows X to be the case?
As for clarity vs. obscurity, I am against unnecessary obscurity, obscurity used in order to make others believe that one is too smart to be understood, obscurity which is against communication. Sometimes, on the other hand, proper communication requires an appropriate language, which may seem obscure to lay people. Or do you mean that obscurity is due to one's deep grasp of things? If so, shouldn't one make the effort to emerge from it and share her insights —or stay silent, if s/he doesn't want to share?