Responding to my post on doubt, Jim Wilton agreed that “truth established through thought and logic is always subject to doubt.” But he suggested that not all knowledge or truth is a product of logic – and, he claimed, perhaps this non-logical knowledge can be certain, indubitable.
I agree that not all knowledge is a product of logic. This is one of the reasons I have spent a great deal of time discussing what Thomas Kasulis calls intimacy worldviews, background approaches to philosophy that are not derived from direct argument. I agree with the thinkers in such traditions that truth is not merely something expressed in linguistic propositions.
Where I disagree strongly, however, is on the view that such non-logical knowledge can be a source of genuine certainty. Jim’s first example of such knowledge is the “eureka” moments of natural science: points where a discovery is made in a flash, a leap. I agree that such moments, though likely impossible without a long and disciplined prior process of rigorous logical reasoning, themselves include something more than logic; this example is an important argument for an intimacy worldview. The question is: are such moments free from doubt? I think the answer must be no. I don’t think one would have to probe the history of science very long to find a “eureka” moment whose resulting insight turned out to be largely false. I remember that writing my dissertation involved moments of insight which later reflection revealed to be untrue.
Jim refers to the knowledge faculty that produces such moments as “intuition.” He attempts to define “intuition” as a knowledge based on direct perception. But it seems to me that direct perception is among the most unreliable of all sources of knowledge – mirages, ropes misperceived as snakes, eye diseases or whatever example of illusion one might wish to cite.
I suspect that the underlying question in this discussion might be the kind of knowledge derived from mystical experience, the kind of wordless realization obtained in meditation. That possibility came up in the discussion that led to my old post on certainty, where a friend claimed that he reached absolute certainty in his Sufi chanting. But I said then and say now: such experiences lead to a feeling of certainty, but it could be a felt certainty of falsehood rather than truth. I suspect any of us could find a militant fanatic, of whatever stripe we disagree with, who derived his fanaticism from a cultivated vision.
Direct perception, intuition, mystical experience, aha experiences: I don’t intend to denigrate any of these as potential sources of knowledge. But are they sources of certain knowledge, indubitable knowledge? The answer must be no. Indeed, I would argue that they are less reliable sources than is boring old logic; for logic can proceed with the kind of inexorable rigour that rules out impossibilities. As I’ve said before, if there is certain knowledge to be found, it is likely to be there, in the kind of logical certainty sought by Plato.
Still, I want to note an important point of agreement between Jim and myself. In a comment on another post he claimed: “From my point of view (and I think Amod’s as well), doubt is more an openness to what exists than a negative statement or a disagreement.” I like this claim and I think it expresses something true and important. I see doubt as essential given our status as imperfect, non-omniscient beings – there is always more to be learned. Doubt is an intellectual manifestation of the key virtue of humility – a key virtue for monotheists and other encounter traditions, taken a step further by doubting even God. And so too with mystical experience and its directly perceived or intuited cousins: this, too, must be doubted. It is as capable of generating improper pride and arrogance as any of the works of logic and reason. We should not and will not find true certainty there.