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Bergson and the Transformations of the Notion of Intuition NATHAN ROTENSTREICH THE CONCEPT "INTUITION",like many other concepts referring to the particular or the singular mode of philosophic cognition, is by no means a univocal concept. In different philosophical systems this concept was given different meanings and directions in accordance with the general trend of the system at stake. We are about to attempt to understand the meaning of the concept of intuition in Bergson's system against the transformations that concept underwent in some major philosophical world-views. Let us observe in the first place: the term 'intuition' derives from the root intu~rL Like several other concepts in the philosophical vocabulary referring to modes of knowledge this term too denotes seeing, a mode of cognition brought about by a direct visual encounter with the world. It belongs to a family of concepts like theoria, speculatio, contemplatio. It is a conjecture that the first use of the term 'intuition' connoting a singular mode of knowledge appears in the mystical literature. The mystic conception stresses the mode of seeing whereby the light is seen; pursuing the Platonic notion, the light of vision makes the very seeing possible. From the mystical literature the concept intuition was absorbed into the philosophical vocabulary.1 Intuition is a mode of knowledge. Yet it conveys a particular ingredient in the sum-total of knowledge, making this mode of knowledge different from other modes. The ingredient conveyed is that of the certainty of the achievement reached by knowledge. From this point of view 'intuition' denotes the position of knowledge in terms of its ultimate consummation, taking consummation as being different from the procedure leading to the final outcome. This component characteristic of 'intuition' is present in Bergson's doctrine, though possibly does not occupy a central place in it. From here we can proceed to the discernment of an additional meaning of 'intuition', a meaning which to some extent seems to be the most common one. 1 Shlomo Pines, translator's Introduction to Maimonides' The Guide oJ the Perplexed (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963),p. Iv. [335] 336 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 'Intuition" is knowledge which takes place directly, without mediation. As such it does not stand in a need of a method, since every method is a way leading to knowledge as well as a wall between the step taken and the final objective of knowledge. A method is essentially a mediation, as a way is a mediation between the point of departure and the destination. Knowledge acquired through a method is thus different from knowledge acquired directly or immediately. We do not confine the notion of method to any particular method, whether experimental or analytic. Any method is reasoning, comparison, verification and a procedure for deriving conclusions. Against these aspects of method intuition is presented precisely as seeing. Seeing is that visual encounter with objects which does not take on a methodical character. It might be preceded by methodological knowledge, but the act of seeing per se is trans-methodical. A close reading of Bergson's text will show that this aspect of intuition again is present in his doctrine, but it is by far not the most prominent aspect of his own rendering of intuition. It can be said in a general way that in different philosophical systems we find a kind of a conjunction of the first meaning of 'intuition' in terms of certainty with the second meaning in terms of directness. Different philosophers in different contexts maintained the view that the unqualified certainty of knowledge can refer only to the ultimate stratum of reality or to God, and that this stratum or God can be known directly. Plato's view (to look to the absolute and eternal) could be a paradigm of this trend. 2 This view re-emerges in Spinoza. The mode of knowledge which is the highest and most certain achievement on the ladder of modes of knowledge, as Spinoza puts it, is true and necessary: "He, who has a true idea, simultaneously knows that he has a true idea, and cannot doubt of the truth of the thing perceived." 3 This mode of knowledge is adequate to its...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 335-346
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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