Reflection, like intellection, is an activity of the intelligence, with the difference that in the second case this activity springs from that immanent divine spark that is the Intellect, whereas in the first case the activity starts from the reason, which is capable only of logic and not of intellective intuition. The conditio sine qua non of reflection is that man reason on the basis of data that are both necessary and sufficient and with a view to a conclusion,(1) the latter being the reason for the existence of the mental operation.
1. It is precisely the absence of such data that makes modern science aberrant from the speculative point of view, and hypertrophied from the practical point of view; likewise for philosophy: criticism, existentialism, evolutionism, have their respective points of departure in the absence of a datum which in itself is as obvious as it is essential.
If on the one hand reasoning can give rise to—but not produce — intellection and if on the other hand intellection is necessarily expressed by reasoning, a third combination is also possible, but it is abnormal and abusive; namely the temptation to support a real intellection by aberrant reasoning; either because the intellection does not operate in all domains on account of some blind spot in the mind or character, or because religious emotivity involves the thought towards solutions stemming from expediency, given that faith is inclined to allow, even if only subconsciously, that “the end sanctifies the means.
As for intellection, on the one hand it necessarily expresses itself by means of reason and on the other hand it can make use of the latter as a support for actualization. These two factors enable theologians to reduce intellection to reasoning; that is to say, they deny it — while at the same time seeing in rationality an element that is more or less problematic if not contrary to faith— without seeking or being able to account for the fact that faith is itself an indirect, and in a way, anticipated mode of intellection.
The reduction of the notion of intellectuality to that of simple rationality often has its cause in the prejudice of a school: St. Thomas is a sensationalist— that is to say he reduces the cause of all non-theological knowledge to sensible perceptions — in order to be able to underestimate the human mind to the advantage of Scripture; in other words, because this allows him to attribute to Revelation alone the glory of “supernatural” knowledge. And Ghazali inveighs against the “philosophers” because he wishes to reserve for the Sufis the monopoly of spiritual knowledge, as if faith and piety, combined with intellectual gifts and grace — all the Arab philosophers were believers — did not provide a sufficient basis for pure intellection.
To illustrate the three modes of thought we have been considering (metaphysics, philosophy, theology) let us apply them to the idea of God. The philosophical point of view, when it does not purely and simply deny God even if only by ascribing to the word a meaning it does not possess, tries to ‘prove’ God by all kinds of argument; in other words, this point of view tries to ‘prove’ either the ‘existence’ or the ‘nonexistence ‘of God, as though reason, which is only an intermediary and in no wise a source of transcendent knowledge, could ‘prove’ anything one wished to prove. Moreover this pretension of reason to autonomy in realms where only intellectual intuition on the one hand and revelation on the other can communicate knowledge, is characteristic of the philosophical point of view and shows up all its inadequacy. The religious point of view does not, for its part, trouble itself about proving God—it is even prepared to admit that such proof is impossible—but bases itself on belief. It must be added here that ‘faith’ cannot be reduced to a simple matter of belief; otherwise Christ would not have spoken of the ‘faith which moves mountains’, for it goes without saying that ordinary religious belief has no such power. Finally, from the metaphysical standpoint, there is no longer any question either of ‘proof’ or of ‘belief’ but solely of direct evidence, of intellectual evidence that implies absolute certainty; but in the present state of humanity such evidence is only accessible to a spiritual elite which becomes ever more restricted in number. It may be added that religion, by its very nature and independently of any wish of its representatives, who may be unaware of the fact, contains and transmits this purely intellectual Knowledge beneath the veil of its dogmatic and ritual symbols, as we have already seen.
It is not possible to emphasize too strongly that philosophy, in its humanistic and rationalizing and therefore current sense, consists primarily of logic; this definition of Guénon's correctly situates philosophical thought in making clear its distinction from "intellectual intuition," which is direct perception of truth. But another distinction must also be established on the rational plane itself: logic can either operate in accordance with an intellection or on the contrary put itself at the disposal of an error, so that philosophy can become the vehicle of just about anything; it may be an Aristotelianism conveying ontological knowledge, just as it may degenerate into an existentialism in which logic is no more than a blind, unreal activity, and which can rightly be described as an "esoterism of stupidity." When unintelligence – and what we mean by this is in no way incompatible with "worldly" intelligence – joins with passion to prostitute logic, it is impossible to escape a mental satanism which destroys the very basis of intelligence and truth.
Cartesianism — perhaps the most intelligent way of being unintelligent — is the classic example of a faith which has become the dupe of the gropings of reasoning; this is a "wisdom from below" and history shows it to be deadly. The whole of modern philosophy, including science, starts from a false conception of intelligence; for instance, the modern cult of "life" sins in the sense that it seeks the explanation and goal of man at a level below him, in something which could not serve to define the human creature. But in a much more general way, all rationalism — whether direct or indirect — is false from the sole fact that it limits the intelligence to reason or intellection to logic, or in other words cause to effect.