Donovan paragraphs 25-29

So up to now Donovan has been discussing whether the ‘intuitive’ feeling of certainty can be equated with being right. For example in the past men were ‘certain’ that women were inferior, Tony Blair we assume was certain there were WMD in Iraq or even earlier it was commonly believed that the earth was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth. He concludes that these feelings are in fact a matter of our ‘beliefs’ and ‘states of mind’ [cross over with Ayer here!] unfortunately he goes on that just because we may on occasion also happen to have been right does not make the feeling reliable.

[25+26] The problem he addresses in this paragraph is what happens if ‘intuitive feelings’ are all one has to go on. You may have been right in the past and you’ve got that same feeling again but you’ve only got an ‘intuitive’ memory to check the intuitive feeling! This as he points out is circular and shows that our ‘sense of intuition’… ‘is not an independent guide to genuine knowledge.’ Here reliability is the key and sticking point!

[27] He goes on to quote Russell who famously gave the example of people who think they are in love but that ‘deception in such cases is constantly practiced with success.’ Donovan agrees with Russell at least in this that ‘the intellect’ is more reliable in the long run.

[28] He now brings the argument into the debate about religious experience. While the experient may be convinced of the religious experience they then go on to assume the reality of the object of that religious experience. However that cannot be assumed says Donovan.

[29] Here he takes issue with Owen’s suggestion that we should accept this kind ‘intuitive, non-inferential knowledge’ on the basis that we accept it in ordinary aspects of our lives. Especially the kind of sense perception which allows us to know that other people exist and what they are like because we have a body just like them, Donovan argues that this is true only because we can also support our belief in the existence of other people by analogy from our knowledge of ourselves as ‘conscious beings.’ Thus what he appears to be saying here is that although we can know other people exist because of our own experience of consciousness to make the jump to the existence of a supreme being outside of ordinary ‘sense experience’ is as Hume would have said a ‘leap too far!’ Maybe as Ayer said it merely says something about the ‘condition of the mind’ of the experient.

Concepts to discuss

  • Do we ever know other people? What they are capable of?
  • Examples of persons who have been convinced they were ‘right’ historical and modern.
  • What happens when our intuition lets us down? We tend to ignore it and only count it when we are right!
  • Describe and discuss some of the examples of religious experiences and what the experients learned and / or believed.
  • Religious experiences only tell us of the state of someone’s mind – this can then bring in all the other alternative explanations for religious experiences e.g. hallucination; drug induced; starvation, meditation, neurological reaction to stimulus, wishful thinking etc


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