Of the reality or unreality of the mystic’s world, I know nothing. I have no wish to deny it, nor even to declare that the insight which reveals it is not a genuine insight. What I do wish to maintain—and it is here that the scientific attitude becomes imperative—is that insight, untested and unsupported, is an insufficient guarantee of truth, in spite of the fact that much of the most important truth is first suggested by its means.
It is common to speak of an opposition between instinct and reason; in the eighteenth century, the opposition was drawn in favor of reason, but under the influence of Rousseau and the romantic movement, for the first time, instinct was given the preference, first by those who rebelled against artificial forms of government and thought, and then, as the purely rationalistic defense of traditional theology became increasingly difficult, by all who felt in science a menace to creeds which they associated with a spiritual outlook on life and the world. In response to this latter concern, in the early nineteenth century, Bergson, under the name of “intuition,” raised instinct to the position of sole arbiter of metaphysical truth. But in fact, the opposition of instinct and reason is mainly illusory. Instinct, intuition, or insight is what first leads to the beliefs which subsequent reason confirms or refutes; but the confirmation, where it is possible, consists of agreement with other beliefs no less instinctive. Reason is a harmonizing, controlling force rather than a creative one. Even in the most purely logical realm, it is insight that first arrives at what is new.
Where instinct and reason do sometimes conflict is in regard to single beliefs, held instinctively, and held with such determination that no degree of inconsistency with other beliefs leads to their abandonment. Instinct, like all human faculties, is liable to error. Those in whom reason is weak are often unwilling to admit this in regards to themselves, though all admit it in regard to others. Where instinct is least liable to error is in practical matters such as judgments regarding survival or friendship and hostility in others. Such feelings are often felt with extraordinary discrimination through very careful disguises. But even in such matters, a wrong impression may be given by reserve or flattery; and in matters less directly practical, such as philosophy deals with, very strong instinctive beliefs are sometimes wholly mistaken, as we may come to know through their perceived inconsistency with other equally strong beliefs.
It is such considerations that necessitate the harmonizing mediation of reason, which tests our beliefs by their mutual compatibility, and examines, in doubtful cases, the possible sources of error on the one side and on the other. In this, there is no opposition to instinct as a whole, but only to blind reliance upon one interesting aspect of instinct to the exclusion of other more commonplace but not less trustworthy aspects. It is such one-sidedness, not instinct itself, that reason aims at correcting. Since the true objects of philosophy are strange, unusual, and remote, it is here, more almost than anywhere else, where the individual runs the risk of one-sided reliance on unexamined beliefs arrived at by instinct alone. It is in such occurrences more almost than anywhere else, that intellect proves superior to intuition in so far as that quick unanalyzed convictions are least deserving of uncritical acceptance.
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