Ignatieff on intuition

Michael Ignatieff says something in his article on ‘Getting Iraq Wrong’ that ties up with this discussion of belief and intuition we’ve been having.

Having taught political science myself, I have to say the discipline promises more than it can deliver. In practical politics, there is no science of decision-making. The vital judgments a politician makes every day are about people: whom to trust, whom to believe and whom to avoid. The question of loyalty arises daily: Who will betray and who will stay true? Having good judgment in these matters, having a sound sense of reality, requires trusting some very unscientific intuitions about people.

I’ll buy that. That is one place where intuition mostly does work a lot better than reasoning – which is not surprising, because people aren’t reasonable, so trying to make judgments about people by using reason just…doesn’t fit. That’s another thing that The Curious Incident illustrates so beautifully, of course. Christopher is good at logic and he hasn’t got a clue about people. To understand about people you have to be all sloppy and organic and random and sentimental and selfish and generous and hundreds of other messy non-logical things. You have to have all sorts of feelings and impulses and reactions in order to know how they work in other people; you can’t learn them, you have to have them. You’ll probably still get people wrong all the time, but at least you’ll have a shot. Without all the sloppy soppy unreasonable stuff, it’s hopeless.

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