This essay answers the question “How can the different ways of knowing to help us to distinguish between something that is true and something that is believed to be true?” A good understanding of the different ways of knowing is basic to explaining how they can be of use in distinguishing what is true from what is believed to be true. This essay will thus investigate the ways of knowing before determining how they can help in distinguishing truth from mere belief.
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Truth is a complex concept. Different definitions of truth have been posited over time. Some have stressed the idea that truth is what corresponds to reality (Lehrer 36). Others view truth in line with divine illumination i.e. truth is what God has revealed through inspired people. Truth is also understood as the result of coherence. A postulate is true as long as its arguments exhibit coherence and consistency (Lehrer 38). In some fields, especially within the legal fraternity, the key to establishing truth is the idea of adducing evidence. Evidence is given in the form of data that is verifiable by some other independent person.
Human knowledge is both discovered and invented. Human beings in their day-to-day endeavors, experientially, learn and thus come to know things. How they come to learn or know things are the ways of knowing. What they come to know falls under certain categories i.e. it is knowledge of given particular characteristics. These categories are referred to as areas of knowing. Considering ways people come to know and the different areas of knowledge lead to the conclusion that knowledge is discovered as well as invented.
The problem of knowledge is not a new one. It became an object of scrutiny long ago in ancient Greece (Copleston 5). This problem has been formulated across all cultures. All human beings by virtue of being rational and conscious at some point come to question the veracity of what they hold as knowledge. The questions ‘how do we know what we know?’ and ‘is what we know really truthful?’ are as old as human history. Human beings as intellectual beings strive towards the veracity of what is captured by the intellect. Some knowledge is discovered while some other knowledge is invented. Knowledge is acquired or discovered through our senses but by an act of reasoning and relating; also an abstraction, we invent knowledge of a different order.
People aspire and desire knowledge. The first question is ‘what is knowledge?’ it is imperative that whosoever seeks to understand knowledge be able to understand the object of knowing. This is a circuitous question, however, once well defined, a lot with regard to knowledge and knowledge makes sense. It is an established fact that there are ways of knowing and not just one way of learning or knowing. Through understanding the different ways of knowing one can understand to what extent the point towards truth or mere belief that whatsoever is true.
In knowing, the knower is and cannot just be a passive recipient. He or she has the obligation of verifying and to a great extent he or she determines what he comes to know (Lehrer 6). Knowledge has a history and is often angular due to perspectives arising from the limitedness of human beings. It, therefore, follows that ideas have to be tested and contextualized if truth is to be established. When one wants to truly understand what a writer had to say, one has to look at the context of the writer (the environmental factors that determined the writer). By understanding what drove a particular writer, every literal bias in a book or literary work can always be understood in its totality.
One of the ways of knowing is experiential knowing. In experiential knowing, an individual learns or knows through direct contact with stimuli or objects (Gadamer, Hans & Joel, 64). In experiential knowing, the veracity of reality is not so much in terms of how I perceive it but more in terms of correspondence between my perceptions to what truly is. All people rely on experience as the primary source of knowledge.
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In experiential knowing, it is true that which one has experienced and can thus attest to. It is only believed to be true, that which can not be experienced directly. The sun, in experiential knowing, is true because one can observe and feel it. The existence of angels can not be verified through experiential knowing and thus falls in the realm of merely true as believed.
In our world of today, people trust the scientific way of knowing as most disposed towards truth (Lehrer 79). However, some thinkers, especially religious leaders, posit that scientific inquiry can not apply to all realms or beings. In the spiritual realm, they posit that only acknowledging such ways of knowing like a revelation, divine illumination makes sense. However, via such methods, one can only get truths that are beliefs and often questionable.
Experience sometimes exposes people to very complex realities that are unfathomable in the given space and time. This realm is best understood as a mystery. In the face of mystery, people especially in ancient traditions posited myths. Mythology or relying on myths is another way of knowing (Lehrer 17). Myths are stories, formulations offered by the most knowledgeable or the eldest in explanation of the phenomenon. Such stories or formulations are taken as a tradition that cannot be contested because they were given by one in authority. The authority of the source is what gives veracity to the stories or formulations (Gadamer, Hans & Joel 41). Mythical or tradition-based knowledge unless it is testable is merely believed in the truth.
Over time, people started appreciating the limitation of experience and tradition as the only way s of ascertaining truth. It is self-evident that reason has to play a role if truth is to be understood or verified. For some thinkers from ancient Greece, sense perception is not reliable as a source of knowledge. One great proponent of this kind of idea was Plato who in the allegory of the cave posits that sense perception is like a shadow that often distorts what is true about things. He posits truths he calls forms are the real and certain knowledge that one can arrive at. The greatest problem with sense perception is that it often depends on one’s focus and the conditions of one’s organs. It is not uncommon that two people in the face of the same scenario, gain different or varied experiences. To illustrate, some thinkers have used color. People who have shown the same kind of object may perceive it as being of different colors. It is interesting that one looking at an object at a particular time sees a totally different thing from one he/she sees when he or she looks at the same at another time.
The problem of experiential knowing and mythological knowing led to more focus on intellectual knowing. Intellectual relies heavily on experiential knowing but goes beyond experience through such brain processes like analysis, reasoning, pattern or trend identification, and generalizing (Gadamer, Hans & Joel 52). Once one receives a picture or sensation via sense perception, often the brain goes for what is distinguishing about the object. In this process, the brain picks what is elementary and crucial about the given object of our senses. Abstraction leads to the birth of ideas or concepts. The concepts have given relations with other ideas or concepts. From rationally investigating and relating the different concepts, new concepts are developed. Knowledge or truth established through intellectual knowledge can only be ascertained through going back to experience. Therefore, via the intellectual way, the consistency in thought and correspondence to reality help in discerning what is truth and what is the truth by belief. By reason one is able to discern if a given relation is true as corresponding to reality out there or true as established by a coherent system of thought but not having any correlative in the world out there.
Knowledge arrived at through intellectual knowing can sometimes be very confusing. It leads and often handles abstracts or metaphysical concepts whose veracity can not be clearly established or denied e.g. Hegel’s system (Copleston 237) Due to the stated complexity, schools of thought called empiricists and positivists came up (Copleston 94). Positivists and later Empiricists’ thoughts are what led to the development and popularity of scientific inquiry. Science aims at ensuring that by use of a well-designed methodology, knowledge is only facts that can be tested and verified (Gadamer, Hans & Joel 93). The scientific knowing process engages both experiential knowing and intellectual knowing but in a controlled way to avoid mistakes that could easily lead to wrong conclusions. Truth in science is what has been determined through a scientific method. The conclusions, principles, or rules established after a scientific inquiry have to be universal and objective. The method used to arrive at the principles has to be repeatable for the purposes of others being able to verify the conclusions.
Copleston, Charles, Fredrick. History of Philosophy. London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 1999.
Gadamer, Hans, Georg, and Joel Weinsheimer. Truth and Method: Continuum Impacts Question What You Thought Before. 2nd Ed. London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004.
Lehrer, Keith. Metamind. New York: Clarendon Press, 1990.