From Erlebnisse to Nous

Aristotle writes in Posterior Analytics 100a16 ff.:

“…demonstration cannot be the source of demonstration, and therefore science cannot be the source of science; if, then, intuitive reason is the only necessarily true state other than science, it must be the source of science. It apprehends the first principle (arche), and science as a whole grasps the whole subject of study.

The fundamental presuppositions which ground science cannot be demonstrated through scientific methods. So how do we arrive at these principles? Aristotle thinks, according to this particular translation, that it is “intuitive reason” which provides the ground from which Aristotle can move forward. In another translation I found has it translated simply as “intuition.” Thus we arrive at the following formulation: intuition or intuitive reason apprehends the first principles underlying science. These principles have traditionally been conceived as things like the principle of identity (this thing is a cup; A=A), the principle of non-contradiction (a thing cannot both be and not be in the same way at the same time), or the excluded middle.

The key assumption here is that one needs a notion of a first principle in order to move forward with rational inquiry. In a word, we need to grasp this (or these) first principle(s) with something other than the cognitive tools of science in order to justify their use in science and logic.

Whence come these intuitions? When, as Hegel thinks, the object of sense experience becomes a universal, how do we come to agreement on what the object is? While this may not be a difficulty for most when it comes to normal objects of sense experience (although it is a perennial philosophical question), it becomes a bit more interesting when one considers the phenomenon of motivated perception and how we arrive at the sense that we “know” something. It becomes more interesting still when we examine the constitution of shared meanings such as moral virtue, the founding ideals of a country or the judgement of a piece of art.

Thus, we take it as assumed that our psychology often shapes how we perceive things. But if we humans are primordially nothing more than a bundle of individual perceptions driven by our own personal desires, how do we arrive at shared meanings? In a word, how do we get from Erlebnis to Nous?

This, I think is the question Gadamer is asking in his magisterial Truth and Method, which I just finished reading. At just under 500 very dense pages, it’s going to take me a while to digest all the themes that jumped out at me from the book.

When presented with Aristotle’s question, I found myself wondering, what kind of experience could it be to have such an intuition? What stuck out to me while reading the book is the question of how the understanding of these intuitions underlines a certain intentionality. In other words, of what is this intuition? One does not hear often of someone having a stroke of genius or vision of the identity principle. We do, however, often hear of out of body experiences or sudden mystical cognitions of “being itself” or some such thing. Much more often, we are told that these types of experiences might be a vision of God or the logos itself. As I argued in the About page, active intellect, logos, nous, transcendental ego, absolute knowing or the One might also be conceived as participating (so many other verbs could be used here) in this function, i.e., serving as the ground from which one might be able to move forward using pure reason.

I must stop for now, but more on this later.

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