There is a great debate throughout the course of history as to what the concept of knowledge ought to refer to. A great amount of literature has been written on this controversial topic with scholars and philosophers pitting their impressive brainpower towards a possible definition of what knowledge is. However, these celebrated individuals seem to have exhausted their literary weapons within their academic and philosophical arsenal and there remains no common and acceptable consensus as to what real knowledge is and whether there is a common and agreeable method to acquire it and a way to test its validity. In my opinion, it is clear that knowledge is more influenced in the real world not by logic or reason but by individual culture and how a person is limited to acquire knowledge in accordance to his environment. The English dictionary in its attempt to harmonize these views recognizes it to have three meanings. The first includes skills that could have been acquired through pursuing education or experience in a particular activity; another includes information or findings in particular fields and lastly having awareness regarding a particular environment or condition due to experience and interaction with the same.
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However, philosophers have failed to reach a consensus with individual philosophers stubbornly clinging to their own individual views on what knowledge ought to be. A person might take knowledge to be what his society takes it to be whether this account is totally contrary to what other societies believe it to be. Take for example a case whereby a country chooses to isolate itself from whatever it takes to be unnecessary foreign knowledge and this leads the country to impose only what it chooses to believe to be good. This means that an individual’s perspective will be limited to whatever knowledge he receives as agreed by the state and it will be difficult later on to change the individual’s perspective on knowledge. Along with this point, it might lead to people misleading others and therefore leading to false knowledge. For instance, In China people have been conditioned by culture to commend all efforts as good even if that effort does not merit such praise. This might make an individual who is not talented in a certain field believe he is simply because such a culture encourages such a practice.
In contrast to my view philosophers have tended to lean towards a general agreement that all knowledge must seek truth and any presupposed knowledge that lacks this objective must be discarded. Truth has been understood over time to be a general agreement of both our perception of things with the true and unchanging reality of things. Nonetheless, This understanding differs depending on which school of thought the philosophers belonged two with some preferring to stick to subjectivism while others objectivism. This has resulted in the development of several theories of truth that require either truth to be tested through logical consistency of claim or through the real and practical application of individual perception to evaluate its validity in relation to the real world (Copleston, 1963 pg345-500).In the real world, truth is taken to be what the majority of people agree on whether or not real proof exists to support such claims. This usually leads to arguments as individual members seek to convince other people that their view on a certain matter is more right than others.
For knowledge to be true one must have sufficient reasons to believe in that knowledge. However, this is sufficient to abuse or contradiction since one’s belief might be contrary to another leading one to question whether there really can be a situation whereby all people can have similar reasons to justify any fact. In other words, knowledge must be justified fully for it to be taken to be truly so. A classic example suggests that a sick person who has no knowledge of curative techniques might believe optimistically that he will eventually get better but even if that particular individual is cured, his belief in his eventual cure does not constitute knowledge. This is because his claim was assumptive because the mentioned person lacked the technical know-how to truly understand whether his disease was curable and there exists a possibility that the same person could have died from the disease. It is important before we continue with our discourse to note that the occurrence of an event as one thought or said it might do not imply that one possessed full knowledge that such an event must occur in that manner. Take for example a weather forecaster whose predictions about the weather may actually come true or not. This negates the forecaster from the claim that he has actual knowledge about the state of the weather in the future since the past has shown that those claims are unjustified.
Blackburn (1994 pg.450-470) asserts that humanity is faced with the problem of how then do we acquire real and truthful knowledge?
Some in the philosophy discipline have identified that there exists a problem about the justification of truth associated with knowledge owing to the fact that it might be difficult to attempt to justify every element of truth independently. This problem leads to an emergence of a school of philosophical thought or doubts if you like that seems to focus on the fact that such justifications of truth lack finite and therefore truthful knowledge is unattainable. These individuals strongly believe that knowledge is unattainable and that the human race in its endeavor to find and spread what it perceives to be knowledge cannot in fact know anything. This in philosophy is what is referred to as skepticism and has proved to be a huge hindrance in pursuit of truth and the acquiring of knowledge. In my opinion, we should not completely affirm that human beings can know everything or whether they can’t know anything. It is clear that in some fields we can a lot while at the same time we might not comprehend fully all that a field entails. Take for example the field of medicine where research has solved several ailments. On the other hand, some like cancer and AIDs have continued to elude scientists in their pursuit of discovery.
This paper is based on the suggestion that to know something one must rely on one’s experience and culture as the only basis for acquiring real and truthful knowledge. In my humble opinion experience is the best and surest way to really know but the claim that it is the only method to acquire real knowledge is fallacious, inadequate, and misleading. Why do I say this? Because philosophers have identified that there are two broad ways of acquiring knowledge. The first method and my basis for this paper is the identification of a posteriori knowledge that is explained to be knowledge that has been reached through experience.
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The other method of acquiring knowledge which is referred to as a priori knowledge would seek to refute the claim that knowledge is obtained through personal experience and culture. This is because the a priori theory recognizes knowledge as being totally independent of the senses and claims that all knowledge is formulated in the mind through the synthesis of innate ideas.
It is important to note that despite the difference that exists in these two beliefs, both a priori and posteriori knowledge must either be analytic or synthetic in nature. Analytic knowledge involves recognizing propositions to be actually true if as long as we know their meaning. An example of analytic knowledge is the proposition “my father’s father is my grandmother “and it is understood to be true so long as we understand the meaning and implications of the terms used. On the other hand, synthetic knowledge includes the presence of both subjects and predicates. An example includes “my father’s father has grey hair. “It is clear that in some areas of knowledge that we cannot disagree for it is common knowledge for how wouldn’t a person that the brother to his father is his uncle.
Those like me who believe strongly that real and useful knowledge can only be obtained through experience and culture are found in the philosophical school of thought known as empiricism. This school contains people who believe strongly that personal knowledge can only be received through the senses and therefore our interaction with our environment serves the best basis for knowledge. It is important to note however that even empiricists recognize the fact that experience is not the only factor in the acquiring of truthful knowledge but is the most important in establishing any form of concrete knowledge. This theory is construed by some to suggest that knowledge their fore depends on how one experiences a certain situation or the effect caused by interacting with a certain environment. This would be taken to mean that knowledge is subjective since it is solely subject to individual perception of certain conditions and truth to be based on how the individual interprets this perception in relation to the real world (Fiebleman, 1962 pg.34-110). This, therefore, begs the question of whether Objective knowledge can exist if knowledge is subjected only to our experience and how this experience causes us to perceive the world and issues in question.
For the purpose of clarity, objective knowledge might be taken to refer to that knowledge that exists completely independent of both an individual’s mind and indeed an experience. Devries and Triplets (2000 pg.69-100) explain that for a start rationalists refuse to believe fully that real and justified knowledge can actually be realized through the senses. These philosophers have stuck to the notion that all knowledge must come from the mind through innate ideas that exist in the mind. The methodology involved in seeking truth in this school is the negation of the importance of experience and emphasis being on intellect and deduction. A prominent rationalist, Rene Descartes proved easily that the mind existed through his famous “ergo sum” which means that I think therefore I am. He started by doubting all knowledge and truth and decided that since he doubted therefore he must exist. This, therefore, formed the basis for rationalists’ belief in the mind having the only capability to understand the truth and therefore the source of all knowledge. Therefore it becomes difficult for the rationalist just like the empiricist to embrace objectivism since it becomes even more difficult to imagine truth independent of the mind (Brown, 1995).
My conclusion tries to evaluate whether knowledge can exist beyond human experience and in my opinion, what has not been experienced cannot be said to either exist or be real. I want to make it clear that while I do support though to a small extent that experience is not the only source of knowledge, it is the most fundamental and without which all knowledge will be meaningless. Experience allows people to truly appreciate the consequences of acts guiding humanity to make informed and responsible decisions. An example can be viewed in a situation whereby policymakers in the city may be reluctant to make decisions that reduce environmental degradation pushed by rural folks faced with dried-up rivers in rural areas. While the politician in the city knows that pollution causes drastic effects he is however cushioned from those effects since the city still has not suffered the effects of this pollution. If on the other hand some a person lived and relied directly on this river he might be compelled to act promptly since the negative effects he experiences would spur him to action.
Lastly, experiences based on the condition and separation of environment and the formulation of a particular way of interaction may constitute what some people may choose to refer to as culture. This leads to a group of people having a particular way of behavior, a common way of perceiving things, and an agreed course of transmitting these beliefs to the next generation. In this context where a person has been born plays a major role in how a particular individual chooses to perceive truth since his choice will be influenced greatly by his present environment and how his people have chosen to respond to matters of truth. A good example is the classic case of British philosophers who found themselves inclined towards empiricism since most of the philosophers preceding them in British society were empiricists.
- Blackburn, S. The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy: Types of knowledge. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.pg 450-470
- Devries, A., & Triplett. Knowledge, Mind, and the Given: Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind. New York: Macmillan publishers, 2000.pg 69-100
- Coplestone, F. History of Philosophy: Modern Philosophy: the British Philosophers, Part 2: Berkeley to Hume (Vol. 5, Part 2).New York: Image Doubleday, 1963.pg 345-500
- Stephen Brown “Philosophy Site: Descartes-Mediation III”1995.
- Feibleman, K. Foundations of empiricisms: Growth of empiricists. Hague: Martinus Nijhoff’1962.pg 34-110