Lin Yutang

"Modern" philosophy begins with Descartes, or the positivist method of proceeding cautiously from the known to the unknown. Pascal, who appreciated the limitations of the finite mind in trying to know the infinite, said, "I cannot forgive Descartes." Nor can I. I am inclined to take a Buddhist view of Descartes. It was a fine gesture on the part of Descartes to say, "Cogito ergo sum." He was trying to prove the basic (and rather obvious) fact that he existed. In actual fact, however, Descartes' basis that he thought was pure, arbitrary assumption. But he had to start with something known, and he therefore blandly assumed that he thought. There is no reason why he could not, just as well, assume that he existed to prove that he thought. This is a kind of self-inflicted illusion of a logical mind. The most famous dictum of the father of modern philosophy had to start with a fallacy. Buddha would have asked Descartes briefly, "How do you know that you think?" If existence were an illusion, could not thinking be an illusion, too? Between the two, my existence and my thinking, I would more likely doubt my thinking. ... philosophy should be concerned with values, and values are strangely elusive to the application of the Cartesian method.

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If we leave logical arguments alone, we find that intuitive insight is very much like common sense, which is not very common among "intellectuals." Common sense is based on experience, like woman's mysterious sixth sense. We call it the sixth sense because, like all complicated human experience, it can not be easily put into so many words. It appears mysterious because many of us do not have that extra-fine apparatus for synthesizing experience. It is by no means to be despised. When a wife says, "I feel," the husband ought to shut up. The sixth sense is subtler than logic, as calculus is subtler than geometry because it deals with more variables. We all feel or say someone looks like a Frenchman, or a Swede, or an Austrian, without our being quite able to give an exact definition of the French face or the Austrian face. ... It is all calculus, a science of variables, a seizing and sizing up of intangibles, based on past experience. We speak of luscious lips, or languid eyes, or deceitful looks without being able to set the geometric proportions. All we can say is that luscious lips are just luscious lips. Just as bats have developed an apparatus for detecting radar waves, so our mind has developed a capacity for registering experience by its own language faster than articulate words.

__ Lin Yutang, From the essay, "Intuitive and Logical Thinking" in the book The Pleasures of a Nonconformist.