Monday, May 09, 2005

The power of intuition

Sometimes the strongest philosophical arguments we make cannot overcome our intuition that tells us just the opposite.

A good example of this is the argument of Parmenides against the existence of the external world. He used Zeno's paradoxes to show that the external world is logically impossible. Zeno came up with four paradoxes of motion that supposedly prove that motion is impossible. Parmenides argued like this:

1. If the external world is real, then motion is possible.
2. Motion is not possible.
3. Therefore, the external world is not real.

The reason for the first premise is just that it's obvious when you look around you that there's motion going on. We see it continuously. But if motion is not possible, then what we're observing can't be real.

Philosophers have struggled for over two thousand years to solve Zeno's paradoxes. Some think it can be solved, and other think it can't. But hardly anybody really takes the argument seriously. As logical and sound as the argument may have been, we continue to believe in motion and in the external world. It's this confidence that the external world exists along with motion that fuels this drive to solve Zeno's paradox. Everybody supposedly "knows" that the the argument has a flaw, even if they can't figure out what it is.

David Hume demonstrated in his book, An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding that it's impossible to prove the external world exists. All we have to go on is our perceptions, and we have no way of knowing that our perceptions correspond to anything outside of us. Yet we believe in the external world.

The only way we can know that there's an external world is by intuition. We have an intuition that what we percieve corresponds to something real. We don't derive that knowledge from anything prior. It can't be proved. We can only know it by intuition.

Since Parmenides has given us an argument against the external world from Zeno's paradox, and since some people cannot solve Zeno's paradox, and yet continue to believe in the external world, that shows that in some cases, our intuition is far more powerful than philosophical arguments. Rather than give up a belief in the external world, we assume there's a flaw in the argument whether we can discover that flaw or not.

This may seem like a pointless point to make, but it will become relevent in blogs to come. For the next two weeks, I'm going to be posting blogs in response to an argument against morality.


Chris Andrade said...

Very nice blog! It's funny that I'm posting a comment to an article that is over five years old but I just found you from listening to STR's podcast last weekend. I probably have no hopes in you reading this, let alone to have the desire after all these years to comment on something this old. I will however, if only for giggles, leave my two cents.

I've read through both your nine-part series on your response regarding the "argument against morality from determinism" as well as your "God's sovereignty and man's responsibility" series. You have given me some great things to contemplate as I continue to wrestle with this great subject.

However, I find this posting in the series to resonate with me the most because it accurately describes the problem I have with Calvinism. That is the fact that it seems to be a counter-intuitive proposition no matter how many philosophical arguments are given defending it's five points. I would say that Calvinism is something that most people are convinced of after coming to faith rather than their intuitions naturally leading them to those conclusions.

Regardless of agreement, you've put forth some great material. You have a new reader!

Sam Harper said...

I read it, Chris. Thanks for commenting.