Philosophies of the Cognitive and Non-Cognitive

The Western world, in the 20th and 21st centuries, has evolved a philosophy which could be loosely be characterised as “democratic,” “liberal”, “expressing freedom of association and speech” or “the age of the individual”.

This resulted from an evolution which began in the Age of Enlightenment,  enhanced by the Industrial Revolution and entrenched by the European conquests in the context of colonisation.

The strongest demarcaters of this philosophy are the “rights of the individual” and “cognitive supremacy”.

The former was accelerated by institutions such as the United Nations but also the liberal-academic forces which came with the economic indulgence of the Ivy Tower. This “intellectual” component had a close relationship with “cognitive philosophy”. As written in this context it implies the capacities of humans to make rational decisions and (in theory) to be able to control their entire spectrum of activities by cognitive/intellectual capacities.

Even when it was clear that intellect could not triumph overall – such as preventing death – it was predicted and believed that ultimately cognitive capacities would overcome and defeat this challenge. Annexed to this was the belief that the individual, and the individual’s mind, was supreme. Each and every individual was believed to have the capacity to make sufficient rational decisions to control the events of that lifespan, and indeed the life spans of their progeny. The supremacy of the individual became triumphant and the control and concerns the societal organism were correspondingly diminished to near vanishing point. For practical purposes the societal organism was discarded as a concept.

In parallel with the cognitive philosophy, the 20th and 21st century saw growth in one particular non-cognitive philosophy, that of the Muslim. Here the behaviour of society was controlled by edict with the Qur’an at centre stage. Cognitive reflections on the role of individuals in society were strongly discouraged to the point of abolition. The pattern of behaviour of individuals was dictated by a uniform societal pattern whereby adherence to strict religious rules or by abolition of individual identity as revealed in variegated clothing was mandated. Behaviour, likely intuitive in origin, was readily adopted by social dictates and equally readily became social norm. Perhaps secondary to this evolved the need to impose this philosophy on all possible humans, if necessary by force.

This essay makes no value judgment in the above comparison. However, the question of “supreme cognitive control” by humans” is energetically questioned. This brings to the fore philosophical questions which arose centuries earlier as to what is consciousness and what is “the mind”. A dictum, by now famous, was “I think therefore I am” which asserted by implication that thought and consciousness were identical.

One therefore has to question the biological value of consciousness/cognitive capacity.

This essay challenges the supremacy of cognitive qualities. It is suggested that the cognitive capacities are merely a portion – perhaps a small portion – of the biological function of the human. It is further suggested that the purpose of cognitive capacity is to allow observation of the contextual world in which humans find themselves and to provide a platform to adapt to varying external contexts. It might be by this quality that humans have been able to adapt to a wide variety of physical contexts more successfully than any other single animal.

Thus cognitive capacities may well represent a false idol, an innocent misunderstanding of the biological juxtaposition in humans of the intuitive and the “cognitive”. A result is to undermine the very foundations of the belief which Western-world humans now have of themselves.


About jp

Orthopaedic Surgeon
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