Though the troubles of the Enlightenment are mostly products of rationality, there is another danger which must be avoided.
The work of O.G. Rose regularly and constantly discusses the dangers of “autonomous rationality,” inspired by the work of David Hume, which is to say that rationality which believes it can be its own “grounding” ends up a force of destruction and self-effacement. This case is made particularly in “Deconstructing Common Life,” as found at the end of The Conflict of Mind, and hopefully the case is clear enough.
Rationality is possible only after a truth is accepted relative to which rationality can be defined, and this means rationality requires something “nonrational” in order to be possible. Where rationality denies this need for the “nonrational,” it ends up dysfunctional and prone to trouble. Again, this case is made throughout O.G. Rose, but I wanted here to take a moment to make clear that my emphasis against “autonomous rationality” doesn’t mean there isn’t a danger with “autonomous nonrationality,” for indeed that can prove extremely problematic too. Ultimately, autonomous anything leads to dysfunction, but I wanted here to take a moment to focus on “autonomous nonrationality.”
“Nonrationality” is any method of knowing by which I ascent to a “truth” which makes possible rationality. If I feel the temperature change outside, it’s then rational to conclude it might rain; if I experience my neighbor screaming at me for no reason, it is rational to conclude that either my neighbor is mean or going through something; if I intuit that I shouldn’t talk to my boss, then it is rational to wait until tomorrow to interact. Without nonrationality, rationality will struggle to start, and if it denies its need for nonrationality, rationality can become “autonomous,” deconstructive, and pathological, as discussed throughout The True Isn’t the Rational trilogy by O.G. Rose. Generally, this mistake has proven common after the Enlightenment.
Just as problematically though, experience, emotion, intuition, faith, and the like can be used in service of “autonomous nonrationality.” If I experience x, I can believe that x is not something which anyone but me can understand; after all, I alone experienced x. If anyone asks me questions about x or tells me I should revisit my interpretation of x, I can simply claim I have done so more than another (for who needs interpretation when we have experience?). If I am told that my feelings about a situation are incorrect, I can disqualify the person as “not feeling what I’m feeling,” and also feel hurt by the person, further disqualifying him or her (an interaction which suggests the dangers of “emotional judgment,” as discussed by O.G. Rose). In these examples, we are highlighting the possibility of ascribing to a truth while denying the need to “rationally test it” or “rationally interpret it,” which can prove extremely dangerous. It gives the person ascribing to “the autonomous nonrationality” great power and invincibility: the person is right by default. Testing and “conceptual meditation” are abandoned as unnecessary and even dirty.
Hegel saw in his day that the most common form of “autonomous nonrationality” was intuition, and we will focus on intuition here to make points which can be applied just as well to other nonrationalities like emotion, experience, faith, etc. In the Preface of Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel establishes that he is against intuition as commonly employed:
‘To lay down that the true shape of truth is scientific — or, what is the same thing, to maintain that truth has only the Notion as the element of its existence — seems, I know, to contradict a view which is in our time as prevalent as it is pretentious, and to go against what the view implies […] If, namely, the True exists only in what, or better as what, is sometimes called intuition, sometimes immediate knowledge of the Absolute, religion or being […] For the Absolute is not supposed to be comprehended, it is to be felt and intuited; not the Notion of the Absolute, but the feeling and intuition of it, must govern what is said, and must be expressed by it.’¹
Hegel’s claim (which I often reference) is that many people make claims of “knowing the Absolute” through intuition and other ways of knowing, without “conceptually meditating” that knowledge, testing it, or making it something intelligible to others. What is gained nonrationally through intuition is treated like an “apophatic God” who is beyond all possibility of comprehending, and yet this Unknowable God is still able to speak to people. And those people are those gifted with intuition which cannot be rationally meditated. They are blessed, and we must acknowledge their blessedness.
Hegel is very concerned when intuition is used this way, both because of the power it grants people and because of how it removes the need to think philosophically. Kant has already seemingly fated philosophy to be replaced by science, and now intuition removes the possibility of philosophy operating in abstract realms like religion or personal life. Philosophy is being attacked from all sides, and if lost, the consequences could be dire (especially if Hegel is right that Philosophy has arisen in History “now” precisely because it is utterly necessary, as discussed regarding Elements of Philosophy of Right in “Hegel’s Justification of Hegel” by O.G. Rose).
There is rationality “from” a premise (I intuit I should skip a party, so it’s rational to not attend), but then there is also rationally “considering” a premise (I intuit I should skip a party, so then it’s rational for me to consider the reasons for why I should not attend). In the first example, my rationality follows the lead of nonrationality without question, while in the second example my nonrational intuition leads to me considering the intuition and searching for further justification in its favor or against it. In the first example, I’m at risk of “autonomous nonrationality,” while in the second example, if I outright dismiss my intuition as “irrational,” then I am at risk of “autonomous rationality.” An intuition should be taken seriously, but it also shouldn’t be treated as infallible, as rationality should be honored, but not considered the sole arbitrator of truth. Of course, we might want to believe that intuition and rationality are infallible, because if not we must constantly and actively think about their relationship and how they might “dialectically” inform one another without replacing one another. To practice this means we must practice a life of the mind, and that is not something we naturally enjoy.
Hegel sees people claiming they have knowledge of x or y without a process of “conceptual meditation” to validate their claim: because they “know it,” it is thus. They do not need to rationally justify themselves; they simply have to intuit and stick to what they intuit. Hegel sees this as very dangerous, and a society which accepts this way of thinking will have no time for philosophy, especially if philosophy cannot clearly define its role independent of science (as Hegel attempts to show of philosophy in Science of Logic). And where philosophy is lost, we will fail to “conceptually mediate” ourselves, which will lead to profound individual and social problems.
Rationality is dangerous when “autonomous,” but at least rationality is able to ask questions about rationality. Rationality can arrive at “meta-rationality” in which it self-references itself, and in so doing rationality might realize “the incompleteness of rationality,” at which point it can move into “nonrationality” rationally. However, intuition which is moralized as “all we need” is particularly dangerous, because “meta-intuition” is not possible. Intuition cannot intuit about itself, and furthermore it places the subjects of its knowledge in an “apophatic space” which cannot be reached. In fact, to try to rationally understand the intuition is to risk ruining the intuition, and it can then be moralized that we don’t try to “understand” the intuition, but instead just accept it. Other people are similarly supposed to accept and respect the intuition; if not, they “don’t get it.”
For those who stress intuition, “conceptual meditation” is often seen not as an expression of rationality but rationalism, which is to say rationality is mostly useless. It is better to intuit, for intuition is not so prone to rationalization as is reason, and it also seems to suggest “a higher form of consciousness” which is above simple processes of thinking. In this, we can see how intuition places itself “above” (dirty) rationality, and also how it cannot be questioned, which is to say intuition is made remarkably powerful. And herein lies the danger…
“Autonomous rationality” creates a world in which everything that cannot be justified in terms of rationality is deconstructed and destroyed, but in “autonomous nonrationality,” say where intuition is king, everything which questions intuition is automatically wrong, and anyone who seeks to “conceptually meditate” intuition or have it justify itself can be framed as “below” the special knowledge found in intuition. If we don’t “just know,” we’re not in “the in-crowd,” and thus can be treated as an outsider. Those with the power of intuition (or some secret connection with Divinity) are not obligated to explain themselves, and they cannot be argued out of their position. After all, argument is “conceptual meditation.”
In this way, intuition is powerfully prone to “enclose itself” while at the same time framing itself as special and powerful in that enclosure. “Autonomous rationality” can do the same by enclosing itself in its own “internally consistent system” of logic and ideology, which means what is “autonomous” is at risk of ending up in a prison of its own making. Hegel understood this danger regarding both rationality and nonrationality (in critiquing intuition), and he proposes “the dialectic” to deal with this great totalizing terror. Rationality and nonrationality, “conceptual meditation” and intuition, etc., must relate dialectically, one never entirely replacing the other. Where there is an “autonomous force,” there is danger and totality.
“Autonomous nonrationality,” which I do think often manifests in the form of intuition, presents itself as receiving insight from an apophatic God which cannot ultimately be accessed through “conceptual meditation.” We cannot reason our way to God, but God can speak to us, and at this point all we can do is trust in what God said — or else we risk damnation. Similarly, the Enlightenment gave us a world where rationality was practically God, and what could not rationally justify itself was thus deconstructed. The dialectic helps check and balance both rationality and nonrationality, and hence why I am personally concerned about what seems to me to be an “autonomous nonrationality” lurking in Deleuze — but that is another topic for another time.
Like rationality, intuition is dangerous, for it leaves a person justified to avoid “conceptual meditation” in honor of a “secret knowledge” that only those with intuition are allowed to know. This creates “a priestly class” who cannot be reasoned with, for reason is dirty and ultimately in service of rationalism. Intuition leads to self-enclosure, and indeed I myself have not seen people benefit from placing far too much faith in intuition. Not because their intuitions are necessarily wrong, but because they can be right and the person still not be able to conceptually meditate how they should employ those intuitions. Intuitions do not tell you what they mean or how they should be lived out: that requires thinking. If thinking is dirty, the intuition is of a Divine Nothing which might become a blackhole.
The Map Is Indestructible is the third book of The True Isn’t the Rational series, and the text will describe various “indestructible maps,” which is to say worldviews, philosophies, etc. that are “locked from the inside.” They consist of no essential contradictions, are utterly coherent, and yet may not correspond with reality. Both “autonomous rationality” and “autonomous nonrationality” can lead us into “indestructible maps,” causing destruction through rationality like Hume admonished about or utter (“apophatic”) self-enclosure like what intuition can bring about. Both of these are examples of “A/A”-logics, systems of “self-relation” from which there is no “reason” to escape. A/B-thinking adds the uncertainty of “B” required so that we consider “becoming-other” and venturing outside “the room” which is “locked from the inside.” Uncertainty can be a grace, but our brains hate uncertainty, which is to say that we naturally dislike grace.
What is autonomous is A/A and self-relating, and self-relation ultimately leads to the hell of “a self-relating effacement,” one which is (internally) “indestructible.” More must be said and require a book to elaborate on, but both of these possibilities terrified Hegel, and we can see Hegel’s dialectic as an effort to assume we never fall into either, precisely by forcing thinking to remain forever active. Unfortunately, since we do not like active thinking and prefer “a place to rest,” we are always in danger. Worse yet, if we fall into “autonomous rationality” or “autonomous nonrationality,” then escaping either will require us to experience something akin to “the death of God,” which is to say a deconstruction of our very way of understanding the world. This will easily prove existentially overwhelming, and so if we fall into A/A-thinking, escape will prove difficult.
Now, to bring this work to a close, though I have spent this paper emphasizing the dangers of “autonomous nonrationality” because I spent most of my time elsewhere considering the dangers of “autonomous rationality,” I want to make it very clear that though intuition is dangerous, it is also necessary (like rationality). When we are trapped in an “internally consistent system” and “loop of rationality” that has us trapped in a cult, anxiety, a conspiracy, or the like, intuition is easily the only thing which can help us escape. At this point, rationality is part of our problem, as can be “conceptual meditation.” And frankly it has been a lack of emotional intelligence, intuition, experience, and the like which has mostly brought about the terrors of Modernity — this must be stressed.
I have focused on the dangers of intuition to make a wider point because of Hegel’s Preface, but again any and every “autonomous nonrationality” is dangerous. In Hegel, we must use all ways of knowing, but this is a radically complex affair, for it means not only that we must train ourselves masterfully in both rationality and intuition, but also in the relation between rationality and intuition, as well as the relation between these two and experience, the relation between rationality/intuition (a relation itself) and rationality/experience, the relation between experience/intuition and rationality/emotion — the complexity multiplies immensely. We must master all the ways of knowing and the relations between the ways of knowing, as well as the relations between the relations. This is no easy task, but this is what Hegel teaches that we must attempt, equipping us with the dialectic to go about this work. Otherwise, we will inevitably slip into the danger of something autonomous, something too comforting.
¹Hegel, G.W.F. Phenomenology of Spirit. Translated by A.V. Miller. Oxford University Press, 1977: 4.