Epistemological profiles of the Intellectual and the Pragmatist

Previously, I had written and posted the following in response to Davidm’s rhetorical question (couldn’t we get along?):

No good reason to comment, other than this: We cannot get along for certain reasons I’ve found to be the case with Internet Intellectuals or intellectuals of any other color. One of the reasons I enjoy the company of non-intellectuals (members of the working class or those lacking intellectual pretensions) is that they are usually blessed with a greater amount of humor than the so-called wordsmiths or scholars, and do not take themselves far too seriously. That helps foster healthier relationships, for socializing with a variety of people will aid in keeping one’s feet solidly on the ground and provide a sense of well-roundedness.The intellectual must regard himself as the model of sincerity, and in doing so he sets himself up for ridicule at every turn, no matter the noble aspirations. By being sincere in his pursuit of Truth, Knowledge, and Justice, the intellectual overlooks the more important things in life, such as comedy, pleasure, and conversation. The many Truths of the intellectual generates superficial ideological differences, the Knowledge of the intellectual also creates an air of pompous superiority, and the Justice of the intellectual determine the rules of Internet discussion boards and standards of scholarly Journals as divine, beyond the pale, beyond the various diversity of people. Therefore, intellectuals are bound to clash with other intellectuals and sink their relationships on the slightest of differences or infractions, being capable of neither forgiveness nor the insight of the common person: we’re human and we’re going to make mistakes.

I need to expand why intellectuals are crippled by their own greatest attribute – the powers of abstraction – and why the practical person always has an advantage over the intellectual in social settings, because of their own grasp of the understanding. That requires an exposition of the faculties of the mind, reason and the understanding, how they function in real world scenarios, and particularly how they lead to different personalities.

This is not to say that the Intellectual and the Practical person are persons in themselves, or that a person is entirely either an Intellectual or a Pragmatist, for these idealized portraits of human behavior are merely epistemological outlines of a profile, a persona that we may adopt at one time or another. Indeed, people may be closer to one or the other in their inclinations, habits of thought or action, or etcetera.

The intellectual’s chief attribute – reason – functions by dealing with abstractions in reflection. These abstractions are concepts that have been constituted by (acquiring language) the ability to formulate a generalization of many particular instances, or philosophically speaking, the mental activity of abstracting concepts from the representations of perception. These concepts are objects of reason, conceived and articulated via language. I.e., a car is a general representation devised to stand for many individual objects of perception, say, a Dodge Durango, but the concept of car always leave out many detailed elements of what is perceived or experienced in each particular case.

The practical person’s main attribute – the understanding – functions by dealing with the representations of perception. These representations are objects of perception, which contains and presupposes causality, because they are mediated through our sense organs and intellect. Representations in perception are conditioned by the formal and categorical framework of the mind. All perceived objects already conform to and are conditioned by the human senses and conceptual apparatus. Then all representations necessarily implies an object and subject, for they are always “object-for-a-subject.”

Each and every representation of perception presupposes the law of causality, or cause and effect, which is the sole function of the understanding. On the other hand, the representations of representations are themselves concepts – the “representations of reflection” – which are general concepts we employ when classifying phenomena according to common features.

Therefore, reason utilizes the intelligible perceptions in its application, but since it merely produces concepts from perception and organizes them, it cannot produce anything ex nihilio because it is itself nothing at all. Reason in its abstracting activity is limited to arranging the generalization of perception – representations – because in order to know anything, it must be known by the understanding and be intuitively apprehended before it can be abstracted by the faculty of reason as a concept. Then it follows that bodily activity in all forms is more original than the representations that generate intelligiblity. While it is possible to grasp existence through a more direct means of contemplative awareness, it is likely we cannot think without representations, or specifically, think without using language at all.

Additionally, whereas animals are deficient in conceptual representation, and are incapable of forming judgments, they make up for that in the understanding because they are capable of cognizing causality that is necessary for the cognitive ability of perception. Animals demonstrate amazing ability of coping with their environment (an elephant refusing to cross a bridge, despite having crossed many before, because it does not think the bridge will stand under its weight, a young puppy refusing to jump off a table at a great height, even though it has never fallen before) The behavior of animals indicate their ability to survive and flourish without the aid of reason, which consists of abstract knowledge of concepts. Then this should illustrate the crucial difference between the understanding and reason.

In people, the understanding works best with intuitive knowledge of the particular case where one perceives how to manipulate a certain object(s), such as driving a car. By driving a car one develops an immediate and perceptive knowledge in perception. An experienced driver, say a NASCAR racer, may himself possess brilliant intuitive knowledge of the laws of gravity, of inertia, all coded within the understanding, and for immediate perception. The driver is a pragmatist in practice who employs knowledge via perception in his driving. Incidentally, many inventors of machine or talented craftsmen function without any scientific knowledge whatsoever.

Reason only replaces the intuitions and perceptions with abstract concepts. Yet in the very act of abstraction, the concept loses the particular differences and instances of the perception, then they do not precisely represent experience, and can never come anywhere close to exhaust it.

The greatest value of rational knowledge is, besides its preciseness, communicability. The driver can affix concepts to his experience of representations in perception and communicate those concepts to other people who lack the experience of driving. People working on a collaborative project together require an abstract plan and exchange concepts that are understood by all.

Interestingly, the driver, who is supposed to be alone in his course of action, rational knowledge or reflection can be an obstacle because it is likely to divide his attention, causing him to lose focus and grow confused. There is no need for the driver to think abstractly and deduce the degrees and minutes the angle he needs to turn the steering wheel in order to get ahead and win races.

I’ve said my piece on why scholars (as intellectuals) are not genuine philosophers, so this exposition also alludes to that thread as well. However, the dichotomy between the Intellectual and the Pragmatist need not be so cleanly delineated, for there are certain individuals who encompass both personalities at the level of brilliance: they employ an exceedingly original means of intuition in their grasp of the understanding in their insightful discoveries (hooke’s discovery of law of gravity, Lavoisier’s chemistry, Einstein’s relativity, etc). Basically, the great discoveries of knowledge do not consist long chains of abstractions but rather the presentation of the immediate knowledge for the faculty of reason in a way that never happened before. The genius marries his intuitive understanding with the proper concepts of reason for others. The ideal type is not an over-intellectual scholar, nor an inarticulate but experienced loner, but a person who recognizes the limits and the profits of both the understanding and reason and maximizes them in his or her self-odyssey.

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...a philosophisticator who utters heresies, thinks theothanatologically and draws like Kirby on steroids.