Over the course of my life I have come across many arguments based on sound intuitions but where those intuitions are in my opinion misapplied. I call such arguments shadow arguments as they shadow more interesting arguments and observations. Shadow arguments occur often on the frontier between religious/'spiritual' and reason/scientific thought (they are often 'God of the gaps' arguments). In this post I want to explain more about this phenomenon, give (in brief) some examples and discuss why I think it may be valuable to investigate further.
The intuitions involved in shadow arguments tend to be of the form "X is over simplified. When X is simplified in this way important detail is missed or incorrect consequences are drawn.".
However, generally the argument takes the form of observing that a simplified explanation in some domain does not account for certain observations. The conclusion is then drawn that a 'spiritual' understanding is needed.
Now from a Spinozoan perspective we ought to be interested in why people are making these erroneous arguments. As mentioned above I suspect that there are underlying and valid intuitions involved (through misapplication). Isolating these intuitions and finding valid application for them seems to be a worthwhile exercise to me.
I shall now give two examples along with the underlying intuition and how I think its misapplied. I may return to some of the examples in future blog posts.
1) Emotions cannot be understood with reason.
Intuition: Emotional behaviors are not always rational.
Misapplication: The only way reason can seek to understand behavior is through rationality.
Rationality has a peculiar property: It is not always rational to remain rational. If one could choose to lose control over certain decisions or to cede control to an emotion this can be the best choice. Emotions can be thought of as perfectly sensible ways to achieve certain goals which would not be accessible to rationality (at least if simply defined).
Note that democracy has much the same trouble. Democracies can democratically decide to lose their democratic status (temporarily or permanently).
2) Ineffable qualities of sensory experience exist.
Intuition: A thing and a description of the thing are not the same.
Misapplication: The description of a sensory experience is not the sensory experience itself and so sensory experiences cannot to described.
A sentence in English may be represented in a brain in a very different way to how an experience is represented. In a computer, opening an executable file in notepad does not run the file. But that does not mean that everything describing the action of that program is not expressed in the notepad file (technically a hex editor would be needed here).
Further examples would include the Chinese room argument, arguments that is impossible to be good and various discourses seeking to establish that reason is not a sufficient mode of thought for understanding reality.