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I happen to come across the theory that intuitions are infallible, therefore whatever we intuit must be true. How is this rational at all?

Our intuitions do not come from experience, so we really can not back our intuitions up with anything, it is therefore prone to a lot of errors.

In fact since I am here I might as well ask what we exactly mean by intuition. Is it what is already built in at birth and does not rely on experience or is it something like maths where you really can not "experience" it but know you are doing it right, like a proposition?

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    Can you please try to find some sort of reference to the theory you're referring to? As stated it is trivially demonstrated to be false by noting that people sometimes report having intuitions which turn out to be wrong. I assume that whichever theory you are talking about is not quite that blatantly faulty. – Rex Kerr Jul 21 '14 at 3:34
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If the keyword "Kant" is particularly significant here, then what is meant by "intuition" is likely radically different from what we ordinarily mean by that term.

The most prominent place that Kant writes about intuitions is in his second critique--the Critique of Pure Reason. What he means by 'intuitions' are things immediately given. We have empirical intuitions, such as the experience I am now having of this particular blue. Such intuitions are given in experience. There are also a priori intuitions, such as time and space. These are "Pure Intuitions" because they are not derivative--we do not experience time after or based on our sense experience. Sense experience is only possible in time. So time is a necessary prerequisite for there to be any experience whatsoever. The Pure Intuitions of space and time are forms that must be a priori present for perception or experience to occur.

Intuitions in Kant's sense are not fallible, largely because intuitions are not judgments. My experience of this particular blue cannot be said to be true or false, except perhaps metaphorically or in comparison with some other experience. My judgment that the blue I experience actually derives from specialized interactions between my retinas and an object outside of me that is really blue, this can be true or false. That is to say, judgments are fallible.

  • "There are also a priori intuitions, such as time and space. These are "Pure Intuitions" because they are not derivative--we do not experience time after or based on our sense experience." This is really not true. Our realization of time and space emerge after recurring, consecutive perceptions of the natural world which is essentially gradual and continuous. (See my discussion of Mulla Sadra's theory of time). This is only one of the wrongs in Kantian epistemology. – infatuated Dec 8 '14 at 14:21
  • Moreover, to define intuition to include empirical perceptions is also self-undermining because it obscures the very distinction that is intended to be made between intuition and other forms of perceptions, and thus renders such categorization as pointless. – infatuated Dec 8 '14 at 14:25
  • Intuitions defined as direct, self-sufficient and infallible, they exclude any intermediary process (such as natural perception, or mental analysis) that would make the verifiability and infallibility of the act to be questionable and dependent on additional corroborating/certifying cognitive process. Perception of one's self happiness is an example. Once happy, one doesn't need any second thought or verification to feel it. The other way to define intuition is when the agent and object of perception are the same, as in feeling of happiness. When Joe feels that's because he simply is happy. – infatuated Dec 8 '14 at 14:36
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The nature of intuition and conditions of its validity and how it is related to and verified against objective criteria comprise a huge topic to discuss. But just to provide you with a glimpse into the subject, intuition is a strike of truth or a truthful realization that comes neither from sensual percepts nor exercise of intellect (reasoning).

The Nature of Intuition, A Philosophical Intro

In the following I can only provide a summary description of the nature and main workings of intuition according to muslim theosophists such as al-Farabi and Mulla Sadra.

First of all, it is believed that all developments of the natural world are determined by God and His agents, the angels. Archangel Gabriel represents the full knowledge of every existing being. Through their communication with Archangel Gabriel, Divine Prophets gain ultimate knowledge about everything.

It is now believed by muslim theosophists, that even for ordinary human beings, both philosophical and intuitive knowledge emanate from Gabriel.

The idea that philosophical knowledge emanates from non-material, intellectual forms unto human soul was first proven and elaborated by the Greek Plotinus.

Later, the muslim philosopher, al-Farabi, adopted and expanded upon the theory arguing that when a philosopher arrives at a new conclusion or statement of fact after a truthful contemplation or the process of logical reasoning, he is in reailty being enlightened by what he termed as the Active (or Agent or Universal) Intellect.

He also argued that this agent corresponds to Gabriel who is also responsible for revealing Divine knowledge and commandments to the Prophets.

However, intuition in its more common application can be equated to introspection. Evidently, we make many valid statements of personal truth only by an insight into the realities of our soul or mind. For example, every random idea that strikes our mind (that can be expressed as "I am thinking about this [random idea]") is sensed through a direct, immediate internal realization. In other words, in such examples, we simply know what is going in our mind or heart without any recurse to any form of logical reasoning or empirical proof. These forms of intuition that are regarded as the most primitive and basic principles in classical philosophy of mind and epistemology, form the self-evident principles of logic which in turn serve as the foundation of First Philosophy from which other forms of knowledge are inferred by deductive and inductive reasoning.

The subjects of common forms of intuition are dreams, feelings, emotions, abstract concepts and self-evident principles all sensed and confirmed without the need to exercise of logical thinking.

All Intuitions Are Infallible?

The real problematic subject of intuition is however dreams which I think is also the core of your question as all other forms of common intuition that I mentioned just above are confirmed with definite certainty, i.e. emotions, abstract concepts and self-evident principles.

For example when you feel pain, anger or love as emotions you can't whatsoever doubt that you are sensing them and that they are real---that is in contrast to your sensual percepts as you can't be totally sure whether you really heard the sound you think your heard, saw the thing you thought you saw, etc without certifying verification(s). Same goes for self-evident principles that humans naturally discover as absolute fundamental laws of reality (e.g. non-contradiction, identity, etc) during early months of their life as infants that are confirmed with full certainty. These types of intuitive perception are thus infallible from any error.

But despite the fact that dreams are also doubtlessly sensed and confirmed through intuition, it is their implied interpretative meaning, if any, that is hard to verify.

Dreams and extraordinary visions, according to theosophists, can reflect either Divinely or angelically revealed truths or just random thoughts caused by physiological or psychological conditions or daily life experiences. The later group of dreams and visions which are actually the most common have evidently no basis in truth.

However actual verification of the truthfulness of the former type (i.e. truthful dreams or visions that are believed to be revealed by God or Angels) is a challenging job mainly for two reasons:

  1. only a learned theosophist with a logically validated philosophical knowledge of the universe on one hand and a correct comprehensive understanding of the previous divinely revealed truths (i.e. doctrines of Divine religions revealed to infallible saints or prophets) can examine truthfulness of new claims of intuitive truth by the fallible men. These claims should not conflict with beliefs already established by revelations to infallible saints, and also should not contradict the logically established philosophical statements about the universe.

  2. the most challenging difficulty associated with dream or vision verification/interpretation, is the fact that many truthful visions or dreams are experienced in metaphorical, symbolic forms. For example according to Islamic traditions, Prophet Muhammad once had a dream seeing baboons climbing his throne and was wondering about its interpretation. But soon later, he received a second more clear revelation that explained the actual meaning of what was only vaguely revealed to him during the dream: that after his death his most wicked sworn enemies (Ummayads) will take over his throne. This second clarifying Divine revelation finds mention in the Quran. The merit of the latter revelation was that he actually saw Gabriel explaining to him what the first dream meant while the former was shrouded in a metaphor.

Therefore the question of infallibility of such dreams is more about a technical, interpretive difficulty, as they are various ways to express one statement of truth through symbolic/metaphorical expressions. Also often times it is practically impossible to even verify whether a dream or a vision has any truthful implication or is just a bunch of crazy meaningless thoughts caused by random physiological or psychological conditions. That's why there are few real dream-interpreters.

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There is no way, in a large majority of philosophical theories to test an intuition in-itself, only whether it applies to reality, or whether it fits with other people's intuition. So there is a sense in which what is fallible is never your intuition, but its application to any given situation.

One could argue that mathematics and logic capture, model and reconcile intuitions, but if the intuitions themselves were not in some sense well-grounded, mathematics and logic could simply be wrong. Instead, we like to think that they are never wrong, just pointless a lot of the time.

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The intuition can be just an immediate apprehension. For example, let's say you have an intuition of A. That is to say that you have an immediate apprehension of A. Your belief about A may be totally mistaken, however, it can be the case that the error comes from your understanding of your intuition.

An possible analogy can be that you used a knife to kill someone. The killing is totally wrong, but it is not wrong because the knife is wrong. Then intuition, in this sense, does not mean an understanding of something, instead, is more like the "grasping" of something: you may grasp an apple when you think you are grasping a tomato, but the act of "grasping" itself is always successful no matter what you grasp. Let's consider a more concrete case where it may seem absurd to say your intuition is infallible.

Let's take the case of the bent chopsticks in water. If you see a bent chopsticks in water, without any knowledge of the true state of the chopsticks (that the chopstick is always straight), it is totally reasonable for you to have an intuition that the chopstick is bent in the water. Of course, with the knowledge of the true state of the chopsticks, it seems plausible for you to claim that your intuition is wrong at this case. However, if you understand the intuition as the immediate apprehension, is it really wrong that you intuit that the chopsticks are bent in the water? You saw this! It seems that your intuition is ipso facto justified: how can your intuition be wrong since you actually see the bent chopsticks in the water? It seems more plausible to say that the intuition is correct if intuition just means the immediate apprehension, i.e., mere "grasping" of a fact.

However, your belief that the chopsticks are bent in the water is wrong because you fail to "treat" your intuition properly. I have to say that it is sloppy to use "treat intuition improperly." so I will give a possible example here: let's say understanding A is cognizing the causality of A. You have an intuition of A and through understanding you add causality to your intuition. Thus, the reason that your belief about bent chopsticks is wrong is not that your intuition is wrong but is that you added the wrong causality--you fail to cognize that the water causes the chopsticks appear bent instead of making chopsticks actually bent, i.e., your understanding is wrong.

So yes, with certain definition of intuition, it seems possible for intuition to be infallible.

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And now this is the moment that intuition and supervenience converge. Our intuition, along with everything else we feel, think, say, do, believe, and want - is the product of metabolism - a series of biochemical reactions. Since chemical reactions are governed by infallible laws of nature, therefore any process that inherits from them (via supervenience) is likewise infallible (including intuition).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supervenience

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metabolism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intuition_(philosophy)

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

  • I have had clients who threw themselves in front of cars, believing themselves invulnerable. I would consider that an error, even though it proceeded from their body chemistry. So this seems to require more context, if it is supposed to mean anything. – jobermark Nov 29 '14 at 18:19
  • I added wiki references to supervenience, metabolism, and philosophical intuition. The theory of supervenience dictates that our intuition is derived from metabolism, which in turn is a product of biochemical processes. These biochemical processes themselves are based in natural law, which are infallible in our universe. Therefore, any process which inherits from them is likewise infallible. This is how supervenience could be applied to this problem. – wildBillMunson Dec 1 '14 at 17:48
  • So insane behavior is perfectly correct in all cases where it proceeds from sheer chemical imbalance. I understand the way this can be seen as true, but it does not seem to be the sense of 'infallible' that the OP is considering. – jobermark Dec 2 '14 at 0:29
  • My definition of 'infallible' is "always true" or "never wrong." Chemical processes are based in natural law and therefore are infallible, given this definition. I'm applying the principle of supervenience to argue that everything that inherits from chemical processes are likewise infallible, including our 'intuition.' – wildBillMunson Dec 2 '14 at 1:38
  • You don't need to repeat yourself, you need to address the concerns raised in the comment. There are many meanings of 'true' and of 'wrong'. In what sense would you consider all the thoughts that arise from biochemical process that modern medicine would label mental illnesses to be infallible? They may never be 'error' in the sense of 'sin', but most folks would not consider them reasonable to use logically or as a guide to interpreting reality. If your whole post is sarcasting, at least give us a smiley. – jobermark Dec 3 '14 at 1:16

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