Last thoughts about the reason v intuition debate.

I do the lecture on the importance and the power of reason in every undergraduate course I teach at every university where I’ve been retained as a lecturer. So this isn’t a new debate to me, and to be honest, there was not one comment or criticism raised here in this blog that I haven’t seen before. I would like to put it to bed and move on. But since so many commentators either didn’t understand what I was saying, or else so earnestly wanted to protect the idea that their intuition can be a source of knowledge, then I’ll just wrap it up as follows.

JM Greer thought I was asking for positivist standards of proof when it comes to spiritual or religious knowledge. Someone like Richard Dawkins probably would ask for such proof. While I’m generally in favour of the work he does debunking the nonsense people believe in the name of religion, I might point out the small, barely noticeable fact that I am not Richard Dawkins, and that I have different purposes than he. For my complaint is against the categorical rejection of any attempt to examine the sacred by means of reason, tout court .

But a few people read that point and thought I was telling them they can’t use their feelings or emotions at all, or that I was demanding positivist proofs for religious claims as one might require positivist proofs of scientific experiment results, or solutions to engineering problems. Not so at all — and thus those who complained about that were in fact committing the logical fallacy of attacking a straw man.

Even Wittgenstein, the arch-logician, enjoyed reading The Golden Bough, and had a few things to say about the wrongness of analyzing religious claims the same way one analyzes ordinary truth claims.

In my view, intuition isn’t good enough to establish the truth of some claim: and I thank jdhobbes for pointing out the problems that arise therein. But I have never said that the emotions have no place in the spiritual life. Indeed, I’ve recently been investigating the role that aesthetics may have in the ethical life: and this question was the topic of my Mt Haemus paper.

A few of you did understand what I was on about: notably Meg, who cast it in terms of Aristotle’s doctrine of the Mean. A mention of Aristotle, being one of my all-time favourite philosophers, is a sure way to get my attention. 🙂 For those who did understand what I was on about, as Meg did: please accept my thanks and gratitude.

I am very sure that when my interlocutor back in September told me that I am “insufficiently spiritual” because I don’t do much ritual anymore, that the speaker was expressing an anti-intellectual prejudice. The same can be said of those who categorically excluded the very possibility of rational discourse on things spiritual. I am sure that nearly everyone reading these words is agreed on that point. That anti-intellectual prejudice, my friends, has got to stop.

But I am also very sure that poetry, songs, stories, symbols, metaphors, and the like, is a means of speaking of the sacred, and that it would be a mistake to examine that language using the same standards of rationality as one might examine a scientific theory or an engineering problem. I might add only that apophatic communication (to use JM Greer’s term) is a language, and can thus be rationally examined to see whether it makes sense, and that such an examination can also uplift and enrich people’s lives. On such basis, it might be possible to undertake a pagan theology (that is, a logos of the theos, an “account” of “God”) in a systematic and enlightening way.

My own views on the matter are on record in various places. In this blog, I described Reason as a spiritual thing; I did the same in ch.95 of OSV (although rather briefly). I also described my views on the matter in a public talk I delivered in Calgary last September, some of which was filmed. (My thanks to sexycanadiangrl for filming it.) A more extensive discussion of “the Word”, and its corresponding “Song”, can be found in ch.12 of “A Pagan Testament”.

My purpose is to do philosophy in service to the world. It is to investigate “all things in the sky and below the earth”, as Socrates said, in pursuit of a worthwhile and flourishing life for myself and all my relations. I wish to encourage others to do the same, as I believe Socrates was absolutely correct when he told the jurors at his trial that “the unexamined life is not worth living”. So when I hear of people deliberately cutting out of their lives the instrument that is perhaps most useful for the purpose, not only in terms of its results but also in terms of the pleasure and satisfaction involved in its exercise – well, I’d like to say something about that.

Okay, I hope we’re done now.
Anyway, I’ve got to get off the computer and shovel the snow.

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4 Responses to Last thoughts about the reason v intuition debate.

  1. samgillogly says:

    “Anyway, I’ve got to get off the computer and shovel the snow.”

    As they say in Zen: …after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. 🙂

  2. Anonymous says:

    please accept my thanks and gratitude

    Just glad I was able to make a contribution 🙂


  3. Anonymous says:

    Bren: I’m sure you wouldn’t be so frustrated by these things if you were getting more action.



  4. Anonymous says:

    glad you spoke up

    Dr. Myers, I wanted to say a few things regarding all this hub-bub about Deo’s Shadow and the anti-intellectual fight you seem to be dealing with.

    1. I always loved hearing you on DS, and am very sad to see it go because of the amount of introspection that I got from Deo and his guests, you namely. There was always something to reconsider, and even though I could feel Deo losing his “faith” near the end, it was obvious that it was not for unfounded reasons. I learned to reason my way through Paganism in that show, and that is how I ended up where I am. I won’t blather on about that. It’s at my blog if you want to check it out. *smile*

    2. I am much in the same quandary you are about the intellectual status of this set of paths. I am currently in a discussion over at the Druid Journal, where we are discussing whether or not magic is conformation bias. I believe it is, at least in the instances provided by the author of that blog. The anti-intellectualism of Paganism is its main reason why I distance myself from it, though still call myself pagan.

    3. I’m glad I found your blog, and I’m glad you are taking apart the arguments by the lay people of paganism. I think it’s an interesting dichotomy that the seeming “experts” are either mucho mega high priests of 15 orders and much ritual doing, or do no ritual at all. I also think it is funny how so many of the lay people serve as the priests for these paths. Perhaps I have that wrong, but it’s an interesting idea.

    Again, thanks!

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