Modes of Perception

Some scientisms claim that there's no truth out in the world to be found and that we simply have some descriptions, in science, of what is going on, at any given time during the course of the evolution of science as a human activity. While this claim has its proponents, it does not quite jive with the reality of human existential experience, a good part of which seems to be summed up in understanding the truth of what is out there.

Although proponents of various scientisms may deny such existential experience, all human beings seem to experience it given some level of maturity and emotional preparation. So, in philosophical discourse, some philosophers are keen on talking of prephilosophical understanding or perception. For example, in the preface to his The Tasks of Philosophy, Alasdair MacIntyre writes:

For the last three hundred years the project of explaining human thought and action in natural scientific terms has been an increasingly influential aspect of the distinctively modern mind. The sciences to which appeal has been made have undergone large changes. But the philosophical questions posed by that project have remained remarkably the same. So Hegel's critique of the claims advanced by the pseudosciences of physiognomy and phrenology in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century is still to the point. And in “Hegel on faces and skulls” I conclude that Hegel provided us with good reasons for rejecting the view that human attitudes and actions are explicable by causal generalizations of the kind provided by the relevant natural sciences, in our day neurophysiology and biochemistry. In “What is a human body?” I argue further that we all of us have and cannot but have a prephilosophical understanding of the human body that is incompatible with treating its movements as wholly explicable in natural scientific terms. This understanding is presupposed by, among other things, those interpretative practices that make it possible for us to understand and to respond to what others say and do. So that in and by our everyday lives we are committed to a denial of the basic assumptions of much contemporary scientific naturalism.

This kind of view is not unique to McIntyre or the strand of Western philosophy to which he belongs.

Very recently and quite accidentally I got hold of a translation of a theosophical treatise prepared by a Berkeley scholar of Islam and Persian which opens up and addresses the same question.

A series of special modes of perception exist in man's being that are rooted in themselves, arise from the very stuff of man's nature, and do not owe their emergence to any external factor. Among these perceptions are the sense of commitment to trust, justice, veracity and honesty.

Before he enters the realm of science and knowledge with all its concerns, man is able to perceive certain truths by means of these innate perceptions. But after entering the sphere of science and philosophy and filling his brain with various proofs and deductions, he may forget his natural and innate perceptions or begin to doubt them. It is for this reason that when man moves beyond his innate nature to delineate a belief, differences begin to appear.

...The roots of innate feeling in the disposition of man are so deep and, at the same time, so clear and evident that if a person purges his mind and his spirit both of religious concepts and of anti-religious thoughts and then looks at himself and at the world of being, he will clearly see that he is moving in a certain direction together with the whole caravan of being. Without any desire or will on his part, he begins his life at a certain point, and again without willing it, he advances toward another point, one which is unknown to him. The same reality can be observed in all natural creatures, operating in a precise and orderly way.

Sayyid Mujtaba Musavi Lari, Lessons on Islamic Doctrine (translated by Hamid Algar)

For other writings by Hamid Algar, see here.


Masood, Thanks for the very interesting post. One of the reasons I read your post are not only the level of discussion, but the new things I learn. The name Hamid Algar was such a person this time. The other item of interest was your use of the word "theosophical." There is an organization very close to where I live (The Theosophical Society), and I am a member. There is a difference between using a small "t" and a large "T", but the meaning and use of the word is similar. Here is a good URL to do a quick read. Notice, in the article it does say, "All theosophical speculation has as its foundation the mystical premise that God must be experienced directly in order to be known at all. " I see I need to read a little more about Hamid Algar Best, Ralph

Posted by Ralph Hannon on October 28, 2006 at 02:34 AM PDT #

Thanks for you note. Algar is a truly unique scholar. teaches several very interesting courses in Berkeley. He alternates the classes during the course of three or four years. He has also translated some very important work and documents into English. He is fluent in multiple languages and speaks a very beautiful Persian. His translation of Lari's Lessons on Islamic Doctrine as well as his translation of classical works such as Najm Razi's Path of God's Bondsman are monumental. He also brings a unique style to his other work of research.

Posted by M. Mortazavi on October 28, 2006 at 06:06 PM PDT #

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