Living at our best, we go forth upon the field of experience, and in various kinds of interaction we cope in a way that is grounded, poised, and intuitive. Aristotle saw that we need a kind of courage to establish intuition (or is there a kind of intuition at the root of courage?): “It is like a rout in battle stopped by first one man making a stand and then another, until the original formation has been restored.” Aristotle’s reference to the rout in battle hints at the terror of a cognitive free-fall which threatens to carry off all of our knowledge by a ceaseless demand for reasons to justify our reasons.
The need for courage comes from the persistent possibility of doubt, illustrated by a complaint by the main character in Notes from Underground by Russian novelist Feodor Dostoevsky, a writer who portrayed tough challenges to basic convictions.
All straightforward persons and men of action are active just because they are stupid and limited. How can that be explained? This way: as a result of their limitation they take immediate and secondary causes for primary ones, and in that way persuade themselves more quickly and easily than other people do that they have found an infallible basis for their activity, and their minds are at ease and that, you know, is the most important thing. To begin to act, you know, you must first have your mind completely at ease and without a trace of doubt left in it. Well, how am I, for example, to set my mind at rest? Where are the primary causes on which I am to build? Where are my bases? Where am I to get them from? I exercise myself in the process of thinking, and consequently with me every primary cause at once draws after itself another still more primary, and so on to infinity. That is precisely the essence of every sort of consciousness and thinking.
The problem of the underground man comes from his unreasonable demand for an impossible absolute knowledge, a static ease of mind, and an exaggerated sense of his ability to keep discovering deeper reasons (“causes”). We do experience moments when cognitive slippage reveals an abyss, but we also find sufficient bases for thinking and acting.
Regarding basic assumptions, we are not suspended between two equally attractive piles of evidence and argument. Rather, we have living experience on one side and the bottomless abyss of doubt on the other. The abyss has its own deep message for us. The abyss is the measure of our freedom regarding our powers of mind. The abyss is the death of intuition, reason, and wisdom. We walk onto solid ground simply by embracing the spontaneous and normal affirmations embedded in our basic intuitions. The body and our material surroundings are for real. The mind’s intuition about the importance of right and wrong is for real. Spirit is for real.
Any comments on the quotations from Aristotle and Dostoevski? Any experiences to share of clarifying intuition until it becomes strong and powerful? Any thoughts on the relations between intuition and courage?