In his Faust, Goethe has Lynceus, the Watchman, say: “Zum Sehen geboren, zum Schauen bestellt” (To see I was born, to look is my call). This means that human beings are not just able to see, like all other animals: their task is to have an intuitive view of what surrounds them, to investigate the horizon in its infinity, and to contemplate things in their essential nature, in the way they actually are, in their being-thus. Here lies the origin not only of the crucial role that the issue of intuition has played in philosophy, but also of the notion’s employment in the mathematical-scientific and psychological domains, as well as of the human predisposition to put intuition at the service of artistic imagination. In a 1907 letter to Hofmannstahl, Husserl states in this respect that the phenomenological view, which must never transcend the phenomenal datum, is very close to the aesthetic view of “pure” art, insofar as the latter does not concern a kind of seeing that is related to aesthetic pleasure, but aims at investigation, knowledge, and the scientific findings of a new philosophical sphere. Artists observe a world reduced to phenomenon, not in order to probe or grasp conceptually its sense, but in order to appropriate it intuitively and to collect the fullness of its forms, that is, the materials they will use to frame their aesthetic-creative patterns, or to participate spiritually, in Goethe’s sense, in the way nature ceaselessly grows richer and richer through its productions.
Intuition is undoubtedly one of the more complex and problematic concepts of all philosophy, raising as it does open questions both at a theoretical and historical level, for instance concerning the place of origin of its oldest formulation, or the constellation of terms that articulate its meaning and peculiar functioning. In its conceptual physiology, which is largely contained in its very linguistic roots, intuition stands for a penetrating, or at any rate remarkably acute, seeing or viewing. But beyond its contribution to knowledge narrowly understood, the role of intuition extends to perception in general and to the various types of acts in which perception is articulated – issuing in hardly reconcilable oppositions between intuition and thought, intuitive thought and symbolic thought, the immediateness of intuition and the discursivity of thought, the receptivity and spontaneity of cognition. If intuition is not just an exercise of sight, but relates more generally to the apprehension of things by the mind, one needs to ask again whether an intuition uncoupled from the senses is indeed possible, or whether it is necessary to see intuition as a sort of original evidence whose concreteness fixes the empirical genesis of any conceptual abstraction and of any attempt to think a thing. Partly on the basis of such fundamental oscillations, Heidegger states in one of his Marburg courses (Logic. The Question of Truth) that it is the thing itself that gives the intuition, because knowing is nothing more than apprehending or grasping an entity in its person – which in turn requires us to go back (in the wake of Husserl) to Aristotle, acknowledging the fact that truth does not relate primarily to propositions, but to the act of knowing qua intuition. The task would then be to go back to an experience that appears evident to us because intuition precedes any distinction between subject and object, so that the intuiting subject must be one and the same with their object, identifying themselves with it – which, for that matter, is the speculative claim of Hegel’s Differenzschrift.
As a technical term, “intuition” entered philosophical language through Wilhelm von Moerbeke’s Latin translation of Proclus’ Peri Pronoias. “Intuition” is there used to render the meaning of the Greek word epibole, an Epicurean term which was originally used to refer to the direct and immediate apprehension by which one grasps the whole object of knowledge, as distinct from the sort of knowledge that gives pride of place to the object’s single parts. For a long time intuition was almost unanimously regarded as the deepest form of knowledge precisely because of its directness: philosophers tended to associate its immediateness with the highest degree of certainty and cognitive reliability. However, the 20th century brought with it increasing disagreement, most notably in American philosophical circles, concerning some distinctive features of intuition, especially in connection with its value for knowledge and the search for truth. Peirce had already criticized the concept of intuition in his Questions concerning certain faculties claimed for man (1868), denying its capacity to ensure knowledge’s immediate reference to its object. Intuition does not constitute, in this sense, the cognitive evidence that the “I” has of itself, nor can it distinguish the subjective elements of different instances of knowledge. Such considerations have led to a debate on the status of the notion of intuition and on the possibility of treating it as a foundation for knowledge, as well as to an acute awareness of the obstacles that stand in the way of explaining our cognitive experience as a whole without assigning an equally foundational role to the conceptual, linguistic and semiotic network of knowledge, as well as to the mutual links that tie different instances of knowledge together.
Topics could include but are not restricted to:
1) The emergence and increasing importance of the role of intuition in ancient philosophy (Plato, Aristotle, Epicureanism, Plotinus);
2) intuition in medieval and Renaissance thought (Augustine, Aquinas, Eriugena, Scotus, Ockham, Nicholas of Cusa, Ficino);
3) intuition in modern rationalism and empiricism (Descartes, Malebranche, Spinoza, Locke, English and Scottish ethical intuitionism);
4) intuition in critical-transcendental philosophy (Kant, Maimon, Reinhold, Jacobi);
5) the faculty of intuitive judgment and the critique of the senses in Goethe;
6) sensible and intellectual intuition in German idealism (Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Schleiermacher, Novalis, Jean Paul, Hölderlin);
7) the role of intuition in philosophically oriented psychology, psychopathology and psychoanalysis (Schopenhauer, Eduard von Hartmann, Freud, Jung, Binswanger);
8) intuition at the crossroads between Dilthey’s “verstehende” psychology, the philosophy of life, and Bergson’s intuitionism;
9) the key role of intuition in the phenomenological tradition (Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Ingarden);
10) perception and (sensible, categorial, aesthetic) intuition;
11) mathematical intuitionism (Brouwer, Heyting, Kleene, Vesley);
12) moral intuitionism in the 20th century (and beyond) (Moore, Ross, Audi).
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