The method of thinking proposed by René Descartes is instructive. He proposed intuition and reason (deduction) as the way to wisdom. “Concerning the objects presented to us we should investigate, not what others have thought nor what we ourselves conjecture, but what we can intuit clearly and evidently or deduce with certainty, since knowledge is acquired by no other means.” This concept of intuition implies perfect clarity, although Descartes realized that his ideal was too high for daily life: “The need to get things done does not always permit us the leisure for such a careful inquiry . . . .” Nevertheless, his passion for clarity inspires efforts toward a higher quality of thinking. He recommended a rule that resonates with Buddhist practice: “We ought to turn the whole force of our minds to the smallest and simplest things, and to stop there for a long time, until we become accustomed to intuiting the truth clearly and distinctly.” He lamented the popular disregard for careful intuiting of simple objects, and he taught how to strengthen the mind by exercising it on the most obvious and well-established things. At its height, insight is a gift. “Intuitive knowledge is an illumination of the soul, whereby it beholds in the light of God those things which it pleases him to reveal to us by a direct impression of divine clearness in our understanding which in this is not considered an agent, but only as receiving the rays of divinity.”
Wisdom is a quality of thinking that integrates the full spectrum of our powers of mind. In a universe of many dimensions, we can cope thanks to our powers of intuition in the realms of material fact, intellectual meaning, and spiritual value. Sharpened by experience and reason, rooted in depth of thought, intuition achieves unshakable insight. Thanks to intuition we can come to know the facts of things and what causes events to happen; we can come to know intuitively what is right; and we can also develop an intuitive awareness sense of spiritual reality. In these areas of reality, intuition enables us to cope: we can function, explore, and think for ourselves.
These powers of intuition are basic in the sense that there is nothing more basic we can appeal to in order to prove their validity. Logically speaking, they are assumptions. Perception assumes that our material surroundings exist; caring about the difference between right and wrong assumes that morality is a valid concern; prayer assumes that God is real. As our experience gains in its length, breadth, and depth, intuitive insights form a web. Around the world, people shape these intuitions in culturally different ways; but the capacities are universal. Skeptics can deny but never disprove them.
Could you share an experience of achieving insightful intuition? What factors were involved that led up to that insight? Living at your best, are there stretches of time when you are intuitively insightful without having to experiment, reflect, or go through some process or other? Are there stretches of time when your very process of working toward intuition-insight becomes graced (some speak of flow or being in the zone)?
René Descartes, Rules for the Direction of the Mind, #3, in Roger Ariew, ed., René Descartes: Philosophical Essays and Correspondence (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2000), p. 5, substituting “knowledge” for “scientific knowledge” (scientia); Meditations on First Philosophy, Meditation Six, last sentence; Rules for the Direction of the Mind, #9, p. 20; and Descartes quoted by Nel Noddings and Paul Shore, Awakening the Inner Eye: Intuition in Education (New York and London: Teachers College Press, 1984), 13. Photo: http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/images/descartes.jpg