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One of the dictionary definitions of "intuitive" is:

Direct perception of truth, fact, etc., independent of any reasoning process; immediate apprehension.

The best I can come up with from an Objectivist perspective is

intuition is a belief backed by a desire for something to be true with the cause of that desire to be base on one or many other desire/premises

asked Jul 18 '12 at 20:10

Humbug's gravatar image


edited Jul 18 '12 at 20:45

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

I think there is a valid use of the concept intuition which refers to automated subconscious knowledge/integration, and our conscious experience of these subconscious integrations. For example, the chess master who "knows" what piece he should move next just by looking at the pattern on the board, without explicit conscious analysis. Or the wife who "knows" what her husband is thinking just by the expression of his face. Or the guy in the movie Twister, who "knew" which way the tornado was going to move just by looking at it. All of these things could be called intuition.

In all these cases the person experiences their intuition as a form of direct but inexplicable knowledge, a hunch, a gut feeling which bypasses reason. But it is not knowledge obtained without reason since they had to think about it before in order to form the integrations, it's just the experience of it that feels as if it came out of nowhere. Someone inclined to mysticism would attribute their intuitions to some supernatural realm, but an Objectivist would see them as what they are, subconscious integrations, which can be wrong and always have to be double checked, but should never be ignored.

The term is also useful to denote layman or common sense understanding of the world, based on observations only, without theory. This is where the idea of something being counterintuitive comes from. For example the fact that one can balance two forks on a quarter on the edge of a glass is counterintuitive the first time one sees it, but learning the physics behind it helps us internalize the knowledge until it becomes intuitive. Also the solution to the Monty Hall problem in statistics is counterintuitive for a lot of people who are not mathematicians. All paradoxes are just situations when our intuition clashes with reality, resolving the paradox means understanding reality better so our intuition won't clash with it.

Some philosophers take intuitions as a primary, and try to reason and infer principles from them. A lot of moral reasoning by non-Objectivist philosophers starts from "moral intuitions" of what is right and wrong and then trying to generalize a principle from it. Of course this is backwards and wrong because the intuitions are a result of the ideas held by the philosopher, so trying to get ideas from intuition is trying to reverse cause and effect. But the fact that some people have a wrong view of intuition does not make it an invalid concept.

answered Jul 19 '12 at 15:33

Francisco's gravatar image

Francisco ♦

It appears what you mean by "intuition" is a feeling that something is true.

There is no question that "intuitions" are feelings. But the concept of intuition, as such, presumes that such feelings are a means of knowledge.

The term "intuition" is still invalid, because feelings are not a means of knowledge.

The word "hunch" is much better, because it doesn't aspire to the status of knowledge.

(Jul 19 '12 at 15:44) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

Automatized knowledge is not intuition. It's not by means of feelings that you know something.

(Jul 19 '12 at 15:49) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

I agree, intuition is not knowledge, and any definition that presumes it is a form of knowledge is wrong. I was trying to capture what people mean when they use the word intuition in different situations. The phenomenon the word denotes is real, so there ought to be a concept for it. Do you know of a better word than intuition for that?

(Jul 19 '12 at 15:53) Francisco ♦ Francisco's gravatar image
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Under the Ayn Rand Lexicon's entry for Mysticism, we have this:

What is mysticism? Mysticism is the acceptance of allegations without evidence or proof, either apart from or against the evidence of one’s senses and one’s reason. Mysticism is the claim to some non-sensory, non-rational, non-definable, non-identifiable means of knowledge, such as “instinct,” “intuition,” “revelation,” or any form of “just knowing.”

It's clear from this that Ayn Rand thought intuition was claimed to be a form of "just knowing", or knowing through no means.

"Just knowing", here, is a phrase of contempt. Ayn Rand held that there is no such thing as "just knowing". She held that knowledge has a means, and that the means is reason applied to sensory evidence.

"Intuition", then, according to Ayn Rand, is an invalid concept, like "ghost", because its referents do not exist.

Unfortunately, unlike Ayn Rand, many people today still hold intuition as a valid notion, especially in the field of morality. See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethical_intuitionism

Ayn Rand held that moral viewpoints can be rationally defended, rather than by appealing to "intuition". The crux of her argument is here: http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/is-ought_dichotomy.html

answered Jul 19 '12 at 08:52

John%20Paquette's gravatar image

John Paquette ♦


I'm not aware of any usage of the terms "intuitive" or "intuition" in the literature of Objectivism, other than as general terms that people may commonly use as described in dictionary definitions. Objectivism, as far as I know, does not attempt or need to offer a specifically Objectivist definition of "intiutive" or "intuition," since ordinary dictionary definitions generally are adequate, and since "intuition" has no specific significance as part of Objectivism in any way.

Philosophy has a lot to say about what makes a definition valid or invalid, however, and about the principles of forming valid definitions. But Objectivism does not attempt to define, nor make any distinctively Objectivist usage of, the term "intuition," as far as I know.

As for the validity of the dictionary definition cited in the question, is there anything in that definition that Objectivism would challenge, from the perspective of the principles of valid definition (other than the factual question of whether or not such a thing as "intuition" can actually exist or occur)? In this particular case, I do not see any specific problems with the ordinary dictionary definition cited in the question, expect for some possible ambiguity and confusion with the term "instinct." Objectivism (Galt's Speech) describes "instinct" as "an unerring and automatic form of knowledge," and then denies that man possesses any instincts. How does an instinct differ from an intuition? That is the only significant objection that I can see to the dictionary definition of "intuition" or "intuitive" cited in the question.

In ordinary usage, "intuition" seems to refer to conceptual knowledge (and/or its emotional corollaries) obtained by non-rational means, while "instinct" tends to refer merely to behavior, i.e., action, and/or sensory-perceptual awareness, rather than conceptual knowledge. Perhaps that distinction should be incorporated more explicitly into the definition of "intuition," to differentiate it more clearly from "instinct."

Refer also to the topic of "Instinct" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon. The Lexicon excerpts seem to use "instinct" somewhat more broadly than ordinary usage, making it essentially equivalent to "intuition." But, again, even those excerpts on "instinct" seem to emphasize action as well as knowledge, while "intuition" in ordinary usage seems more akin to "feeling" or "faith" or "whim" rather than action that implies automatic knowledge.

There may also be an implication in the usage of "instinct" that many (or all) members of a species function the same way, while "intuition" may commonly connote wide variation from one person to another, making "intuition" more subjective than "instinct" (which some non-human species actually do possess). Furthermore, note that the term "intuition" is rarely used to refer to cognition in animal species other than man. One may describe birds as having instincts but usually not intuitions.

One may wonder: why does Objectivism offer some significant observations about "instinct," but none specifically about "intuition"? I suspect it is probably because of the claim by some that man possesses an "instinct of self-preservation," which Objectivism strongly denies. Objectivism seems to view "whim" as an adequate term to describe anything that "intuition" might denote, particularly insofar as any concrete action proceeds from it.

Regarding the question's suggested alternate definition, it reads as if it implicitly judges "intuition" to be invalid as a means of knowledge, and then attempts to identify the motivation behind it. Those kinds of considerations are certainly important, but they go beyond the principles of valid definitions of the terms and concepts that man forms and uses. For instance, in developing the principle of man's life as the only objective standard of value for man, Ayn Rand began with a very generic definition of "value" that did not make any explicit claims about the proper standard of value. The identification of the proper standard came after noting the minimum that any comprehensible, actionable concept of "value" denotes.

answered Jul 19 '12 at 01:20

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Ideas for Life ♦

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Asked: Jul 18 '12 at 20:10

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Last updated: Jul 19 '12 at 15:53