From New World Encyclopedia

Intuition (from the Latin for “look into”) refers to the capacity of knowing or understanding through direct insight, without rational analysis or deductive thinking. It can also refer to the mysterious psychological ability to obtain such knowledge. Intuition’s very immediacy is often considered the best evidence of its accuracy, but the rationalist approach will tend to dismiss it as vague and unreliable. Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine an intellectual system that makes no use of some sort of intuitive apprehension of reality. The rational discourse eventually leads to intuitive insights that, in turn, can be used as building blocks for further reasoning. Because of its very nature, intuition is thus very difficult to define through logical discourse and its meaning can best be conveyed through suggestive hints.

The nature of intuition

Intuition in everyday life

Because of its immediacy, intuition can be seen as a largely unconscious form of knowledge. Intuition differs from an opinion since opinion is based on experience, while an intuition is held to be affected by previous experiences only unconsciously. Intuition also differs from instinct, which does not have the experience element at all. Intuition is trans-intellectual, while instinct is pre-intellectual. A person who has an intuitive opinion cannot immediately fully explain why he or she holds that view. However, a person may later rationalize an intuition by developing a chain of logic to demonstrate more structurally why the intuition should be considered as valid. Intuition does not mean to find a solution immediately, though it does mean the solution comes inexplicably. Sometimes it helps to sleep one night. There is an old Russian maxim: "The morning is wiser than the evening" ("Утро вечера мудреннее").

Intuition is one source of common sense. It is also an essential component of induction to gain empirical knowledge. Sources of intuition are feeling, experiences and knowledge. A situation which is or appears to be true but violates our intuition is called a paradox. Some systems also act in a counter-intuitive way. Attempts to change such systems often lead to unintended consequences.

The sixth sense

Intuition is thought as the sixth sense (there are five basic senses). Recent scientific research has found some evidence for the existence of this sixth sense. The key question is how to interpret these findings. Apparently there are lots of unconscious processes that happen within a person and when those unconscious signals become strong enough, a conscious thought is experienced. For example, a person might be walking in a dark alley and suddenly get the feeling that something is wrong. Her intuition has become strong enough to warn her about the possible danger. The information that contributes to the intuition comes from different hardly noticeable observations about the environment that a person doesn't consciously register.

In this case, intuition refers to the capacity to unconsciously bring together a variety of subliminal observations obtained in a perfectly rational way. This process reaches a point where it triggers a response in our system before it even becomes conscious, an immediacy that can save precious time. We “sense” danger before finding the time to put together consciously the elements that are indicative of it. Such findings are perfectly compatible with scientific thought. But there is an additional dimension that is more open to discussion, that of sensing the presence of, e.g., danger, without any sensory perception that would provide us the elements for subconscious though processes. In that case, we would not simply pick up bits of information without being aware of it – our mind would directly feel something through non-material communication.

In most cases, when someone states that he or she “intuitively” feels something, there is not much reflection on the nature of that intuition, neither is there any particular claim to supersensory perception. From a theoretical perspective, however, this issue raises questions about the nature of reality and the scope of the human mind’s activity.

Intuition in Philosophy

Intuition and the foundation of knowledge

If one is to avoid infinite regress – one argument being used to justify another, and so on without end – there must be an ultimate starting point to any thought process. In the history of philosophy, this view is known as foundationalism, the belief that it is possible to establish a system of knowledge that is based on irrefutable truths. It is easy to argue that such ultimate, secure knowledge must involve some sort of intuition, or knowledge that is immediate and indisputable, all further knowledge being an extrapolation of it.

Most past philosophers have assumed the existence of such a starting point. Otherwise, it would not even have been possible for them to design their system, since they would, from the start, have known that their undertaking was unjustifiable. An exception were the skeptics, who precisely believed that there was no such starting point. Only recently, in the twentieth century, have thinkers generally begun to doubt the possibility of any “safe” knowledge. This has led to the appearance of views such as deconstructivism for which every system, no matter how well structured, in the end amounts to nothing more than personal opinion and prejudice or, at the very best, an interpretation that is no more justified than any other.

Perennial philosophy, on the other hand, is a contemporary movement of thought that considers the various philosophical schools to be mere variants of an underlying, age-old vision or “Weltanschauung” that is common to all cultures and intuitively grasps what is essential about life. Elaborate systems, as they have been proposed throughout the ages, would then be the (often misleading) "tip of the iceberg." It would, again, take insight or intuition to grasp the underlying truth that transcends specific formulations.

Intuition in the history of philosophy

Intuition rarely appears as a major, separate issue in the history of philosophy. It is rather an underlying theme that has been present at least since Plato. Plato was a thoroughly rational thinker. However, for him, knowledge culminated with the intuitive knowledge (Gk. νόησις [nóêsis]) of the Good, which he believes resides in the soul for eternity. In his dialogues, Meno and Phaedo, this form of knowledge is related to the notion of anamnesis, the process by which one regains consciousness of pre-existing knowledge that was hidden in the depth of one’s soul. Plato uses the example of mathematical truths to show that they are not arrived at by reasoning but present in our mind in dormant form and accessible to our intuitive capacity. Plato’s intuitive views were continued by the mystical Neo-Platonism of his later followers.

Rationalism and irrationalism

Though practically all philosophies contain some elements of both, rationalist philosophies stress the importance of reasoning in the quest for certainty, while irrationalism and forms of intuitionism stress the non-rational or irrational element that implies intuition.

For most thinkers, intuition and reason are complementary and are meant to work harmoniously in the human quest for truth and meaning, the issue being which element should be emphasized over the other. Others see that relationship as a paradoxical, even conflictual one, as evidence by French philosopher Blaise Pascal’s assertion that “heart has its reasons that are unknown to reason.”

Mainline philosophical thought, at least in the West, has always emphasized clarity of rational thinking over intuition, whether that thinking was based on deduction from innate ideas (the great metaphysical systems) or on sense experience (British Empiricism). However, there has always been a powerful, though less visible strand of more intuitive thought – schools of thought that emphasize the irrational or non-rational over the rational. In the middle ages, there was a powerful mystical trend represented, among other, by Meister Eckhart, Hilegard von Bingen, and Jakob Böhme. That view emphasized intuitive knowledge of God over rational knowledge or tradition.

Kant and intuition

In the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, intuition is one of the basic cognitive faculties, equivalent to what might loosely be called perception. Kant held that our mind casts all of our external intuitions in the form of space, and all of our internal intuitions (memory, thought) in the form of time. For Kant, then, intuition refers to the mental forms in which we perceive external phenomena (time and space). It has nothing to do with intuitive understanding as it is generally understood. Kant also denied that we possess what he called intellectual intuition, i.e., the capacity to intuit entities that are beyond the dimensions of time and space, hence beyond our experience. Such entities include God, freedom, and eternal life. For Kant, all that is said about these entities is empty speculation and it can never be the object of theoretical knowledge. It can neither be proved nor disproved. Kant, however, went on to state that, on moral grounds, it was legitimate for our mind to assume the reality of these entities and that the universe seems to imply a designer. Since this cannot be justified based on theoretical reasoning, it can be said that Kant nevertheless assumed some sort of intuitive knowledge about the ultimate, though he never called it such. His famous statement that the “starry heavens above and the moral law within" filled him ”with ever increasing wonder” can be taken as an expression of such intuitive insight.

Intuitionism is a position in philosophy of mathematics derived from Kant's claim that all mathematical knowledge is knowledge of the pure forms of the intuition - that is, intuition that is not empirical (Prolegomena, 7).

Post-Kantian thinkers

Beginning with Kant’s successor Fichte, who believed in intellectual intuition, German Idealism (Hegel and particularly Schelling) stressed the mind’s capacity to have direct access to the ground of reality. Together with the emotionally laden current of Romanticism, their philosophies accounted for decades of stress on intuition at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Subsequent philosophers favoring intuition in one form or another include Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bergson and other thinkers of the first magnitude. For Henri Bergson, whose thought was intent on overcoming Kant’s agnosticism, intuition was the key to cognition

Phenomenology, as introduced by Edmund Husserl around 1900, offers a very intellectual approach to the philosophical quest and its discourse is eminently rationalistic. However, its foundation is the assumption that entities of all kinds are first perceived by the mind before they can be analyzed. Phenomena are thus “given” to the mind or intuited by it.

Ethics and intuitionism

In moral philosophy, intuitivism amounts to a belief that our mind is able to immediately, intuitively make the distinction between what is right and wrong. This question is important in metaethics, i.e., the discussion over the ultimate grounding of ethical theories.

Intuition and religion


Various forms of theology emphasize scriptures, tradition and spiritual or mystical experiences to various degrees. There has always been tension between these elements. While some insist that God can only be known directly (i.e., intuitively) “within one’s heart,” most traditions insist that such knowledge can be deceptive and that full knowledge of God (beatific vision) is not accessible in this life, hence the need for dogma based on revelation and tradition.

During the Romantic period, German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher came to emphasize the role of feeling, closely related to intuition, in religious experience. His groundbreaking contribution influenced many later thinkers, among them Ernst Troeltsch, Rudlof Otto and Paul Tillich, all of whom emphasized the role of intuition over an exclusive reliance on reason or tradition.

Spiritual intuition

The notion of intuition eventually leads to the question of supersensible, non-material, or spiritual knowledge. Such knowledge has been claimed by mystics and spiritualist of all traditions and all ages. In western history, Hildegard von Bingen and Emmanuel Swedenborg have been among the most famous spiritualist thinkers. The presupposition of spiritualism is that the human mind has the capacity to relate to a non-material realm where the limitations of time and space do not apply, hence immediate, intuitive knowledge is possible.

Intuition in psychology

A well-known statement about the way our brain works is due to the renowned Neuropsychologist and Neurobiologist Roger Wolcott Sperry. According to him, intuition is a right-brain activity while factual and mathematical analysis is a left-brain activity[1]

Intuition is one of Swiss psychologist Carl Jung's four 'psychological types' or ego functions. In this early model of the personal psyche, intuition was opposed by sensation on one axis, while feeling was opposed by thinking on another axis. Jung argued that, in a given individual, one of these four functions was primary — most prominent or developed — in the consciousness. The opposing function would typically be underdeveloped in that individual. The remaining pair (on the other axis) would be consciously active, but to a lesser extent than the primary function. [2] This schema is perhaps most familiar today as the “Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.”

Intuition in decision making

Intuition is not limited to opinions but can encompass the ability to know valid solutions to problems and decision making. For example, the Recognition Primed Decision (RPD) model was described by Gary Klein in order to explain how people can make relatively fast decisions without having to compare options. Klein found that under time pressure, high stakes, and changing parameters, experts used their base of experience to identify similar situations and intuitively choose feasible solutions. Thus, the RPD model is a blend of intuition and analysis. The intuition is the pattern-matching process that quickly suggests feasible courses of action. The analysis is the mental simulation, a conscious and deliberate review of the courses of action.

An important intuitive method for identifying options is brainstorming.

Women's Intuition

This phrase is often used by men and women when a woman makes a statement or proposition that is intuitive. This phrase may be considered sexist by some, since it can be read to imply that women use intuition because they are incapable of rational thought, or read to imply that women are better than men because of said intuition. Gender differences in intuitive perception are the object of various psychological experiments.

See also


  1. Allen Chuck Ross. "BRAIN HEMISPHERIC FUNCTIONS AND THE NATIVE AMERICAN." Journal of American Indian Education Special Edition (August 1989) [1].Retrieved November 1, 2007.
  2. C. G. Jung. Psychological Types. Bollingen Series XX, Volume 6, (Princeton University Press, 1971).


  • Bergson, Henri. Matter and memory. New York: Zone Books, 1988. ISBN 9780942299045 [Matière et Mémoire, 1896].
  • Davis-Floyd, Robbie and P Sven. Arvidson. Intuition: the inside story. Interdisciplinary perspectives. Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Laboratory. Academy of Consciousness Studies. New York: Routledge, 1997. ISBN 9780415915939
  • Depaul, Michael R. and William Ramsey. Rethinking Intuition.. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., January 1999. ISBN 9780847687961
  • Dummett, Michael. Elements of Intuitionism. Oxford University Press, USA; 2nd edition, July 24, 2000. ISBN 9780198505242
  • Kal, Victor. On Intuition and Discursive Reasoning in Aristotle. Brill Academic Publishers, 1988. ISBN 9789004083080
  • Nishida, Kitaro. Intuition and reflection in self-consciousness. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987. ISBN 9780887063688
  • Noddings, Nel and Paul J. Shore. Awakening the Inner Eye: Intuition in Education. Educator's International Press, November 15, 1998. ISBN 9781891928000
  • Sterling, Grant C. Ethical Intuitionism and Its Critics. Peter Lang Publishing, May 1994. ISBN 9780820419770
  • Weissman, David. Intuition and Ideality. State University of New York Press, July 1987. ISBN 9780887064289

External links

All links retrieved March 5, 2018.

General Philosophy Sources


New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:

The history of this article since it was imported to New World Encyclopedia:

Note: Some restrictions may apply to use of individual images which are separately licensed.