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Introduction To Philosophy – Epistemology

Introduction

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According to Importanceofphilosophy.com, “Epistemology is the study of our method of acquiring knowledge. It answers the question, “How do we know?” It encompasses the nature of concepts, the constructing of concepts, the validity of the senses, logical reasoning, thoughts, ideas, memories, emotions, and all things cognitive. It is concerned with how our minds are related to reality, and whether these relationships are valid or invalid.”

It is one of those definitions that attempts to ‘say it all’ and ends up not saying much. What this definition shows us is that the nature of knowledge is difficult hard to capture and define. We are going to, together, work on creating a definition that makes sense to each of us. Epistemology is the study of how we learn and how we know what we know and how we think we know what we know.

There are many “types” of knowledge. For purposes of this class, we’ll talk about four of them:

  • INTUITIVE KNOWLEDGE is like the word “intuition” you hear often… This kind of knowledge comes from your beliefs, faith, etc. It is really more emotional than logical and should be understood to be based on feelings rather than facts. You intuitively know when a friend is mad at you without them having to actually tell you.
  • AUTHORITATIVE KNOWLEDGE stems from what we get from other people, books, your God, etc. It is strong or weak depending on the authority of the source. You heard a rumor from a 12-year-old about a kid he thinks he heard something about: weak… You read a peer-reviewed research article in an academic journal: stronger
  • LOGICAL KNOWLEDGE is brain math. If I know “A” (which is generally accepted) then I can assume “B” (even if it not so well known). The fire over there is hot; that pot has been in the fire for 2 hours; it is logical that the pot is hot too (although the only proof, from just looking at it from a distance, is the logic about fire being hot…)
  • EMPIRICAL KNOWLEDGE is more scientific in nature. It is demonstrable, objective facts (generally determined through observation and/or experimentation). The Theory of Gravity is Empirical. Someone thought about it and tested it through experimentation.

As we learn more about Epistemology, the next logical step is to talk a bit about Truth. After all, isn’t knowledge founded in, or at least hunting for, Truth? Where does truth come from? How do you “know”? And then, how do you know that you know?

Reading

Please start with the single page reading about Epistemology available at http://www.importanceofphilosophy.com/Epistemology_Main.html. Keep in mind that these three paragraphs are a starting point for your understanding of Epistemology. Do not be discouraged if this concept is not clear yet.

Now let’s go deeper:

Read the selection starting on the last paragraph of page 282 (starting “Following the definitions,”) through the end of the paragraph on page 287 (which ends at the top that that page with “or preserve from logical inconsistency.”)

Spinoza’s axioms appear to align with the four types of knowledge outlined above. His axioms of knowledge, bridge the ages and continue to remain salient in philosophical discussions. You will be asked later which of those axioms lines up with which types we’ve covered.

Notice on page 287 (top) where Spinoza (a devotedly religious man) separates Divine intellect (authoritative knowledge) from human intellect (intuitive knowledge). For Spinoza, the human can only be known through the Divine. To him, truth can only be known through (his) God. Which brings us to our next lesson.

What is truth? How do we find it, and how do we know it when (if) we do? Spinoza, like Descartes, started his philosophical methodology with a preference for the mathematics. When they wrote about truth and deception, life and death, human reality and spiritual reality, etc, they both believed it was all rather mathematical. That is, rather clear and distinct with logical reasoning driving the truth of it all.

Whatever knowledge was to be borne of philosophy, Spinoza felt it would come from logic. Morris (1877) writes, “Were it not (principally) for the existence of a science of mathematics, which has to do, not with purposed ends, but only with the natures and properties of figures, Spinoza fears that the truth would have remained eternally concealed from the human race” (p. 290). But is math the answer?

If you’ve read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you’ll recognize that the answer to the “Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything” is mathematical… it’s “42” as calculated by the supercomputer “Deep Thought” after seven and a half million years of thought. (For more info, go here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aboZctrHfK8)

But is this what Spinoza meant? It is not what Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, Descartes, Kant, or anyone besides Douglas Adams meant. The Truth, as it were, is up to you. Yes, you. Yet truth, like knowledge, is surprisingly difficult to define. Like Love, we think we know it when we see it, but cannot quite clearly (or mathematically) define it. Yet 42 may not be so wrong either. If we do not know what it is, can we definitively say what it is not?

Notice as you read “Perspective and Truth” from this blog you can see that Spinoza would strongly object to the author’s assertion that there is no absolute truth. What would Spinoza say about this?

If Spinoza’s assertion about Divinity is correct, isn’t that an absolute truth? Which type of knowledge is that? Which to you, and which to Spinoza? Are they the same truth? Can there be two truths?

Re-watch (yes over again, now that you’re smarter on the topic) the TED-Ed talk on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave (Book VII in The Republic) from Unit 4. Gendler, A. (2015). Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. [Video File]. Ted-Ed. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1RWOpQXTltA

Do you see Truth differently now? Does the Allegory make more sense? As we grow as adults and philosophers, there is value in revisiting almost everything you’ve learned and held “as truth” to see if it is still true based on the new facts and perspective you have.

Now read the “Community Agreement” section from the “What is Truth?” blog. The author appears to imply that truth is a democratic process. Do you feel this is a logical reasoning to discovering truth? If everyone believes it, it is true? You later be given the opportunity to explore this concept further in your research paper.

ASSIGNMENTS:

For this PART 1:

  • Your FIRST of TWO topics this week:

Write a SINGLE-SENTENCE example of each of the four types of knowledge as they directly describe something in your life you believe to be true. Number them 1-4. For example:

“___ is true based on intuitive knowledge.” (or) “We all believe _________ to be true based on _______ knowledge.”

Be creative; you’re an adult; use challenging ideas.

  • Your SECOND topic posts in the Discussion Forum this week:

After you’ve prepared the first one, cut and paste your 1-4 into a new post and defend your reasoning for each:

  1. ……………..
    1. For Intuitive, describe why it’s obvious to you
    2. For Authoritative, define why the source is an authority in your life
    3. For Logical, give the reasoning you went through
    4. For Empirical, explain the process of proving it
  1. …………………
    1. For Intuitive, describe why it’s obvious to you
    2. For Authoritative, define why the source is an authority in your life
    3. For Logical, give the reasoning you went through
    4. For Empirical, explain the process of proving it
  1. …………
    1. For Intuitive, describe why it’s obvious to you
    2. For Authoritative, define why the source is an authority in your life
    3. For Logical, give the reasoning you went through
    4. For Empirical, explain the process of proving it
  1. ……………………..
    1. For Intuitive, describe why it’s obvious to you
    2. For Authoritative, define why the source is an authority in your life
    3. For Logical, give the reasoning you went through
    4. For Empirical, explain the process of proving it

For this PART 2:

Write a 3-page paper on your truth and contrast it against a philosopher we have studied so far this term.

Remember, your personal philosophy is right for you, you do not have to agree with scholars, the professor, or anyone in the class. Please respect yourself enough, as a learner, to state your case, and others enough to allow others to state theirs. Use any previously covered philosopher from Week 1-6. choose one who’s beliefs about ‘truth’ contrast with your own.

  • Study.com has some good tips on writing a Contrast Essay. http://study.com/articles/Step-by-Step_Guide_to_Writing_Compare_and_Contrast_Essays.html
  • Your classmates, the University Writing Center, and your Professor are all good resources as well.
  • This is a challenging assignment, which is why the reading this Unit was shortened
  • You will need to use your college-level research and resource-finding skills to complete this assignment. Practice makes perfect
  • Review the assessment guidelines before beginning your paper

Assignment Guidelines

Write a fully APA-compliant 3- page paper for this Unit

  • You should include a reference page, with APA citations, at the end of your paper. This page is not part of the 3-pages of written work
  • Standard margins, 12-point font, New Times Roman or similar
  • Do not write less, do not write more
  • Be sure to read the assessment criteria before you begin writing

For more information on APA formatting: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01/

Assessment Criteria

  • Does the paper have a clearly formed question/statement using a philosopher/philosophical lens studied in this unit?
  • Does the paper discuss the author’s worldview on family, society, and politics as related to their chosen philosophical lens?
  • Does the writer give meaningful examples that illustrate his/her beliefs? Do those examples make clearer the ideas proposed in the paper?
  • Presentation of reasonable argument for why the chosen topic is important to the student’s view of society.
  • APA and overall look and feel of the paper is college-level work

For this PART 3:

Hopefully, this week has increased your worldview about the importance of actually thinking about truth and knowledge. It is certainly something we take for granted that we understand, but don’t.

For this part, please share what the most interesting part (lesson/discussion) this week was to you. How did that reading, or experience of thinking about it, change your perception of knowledge and truth around you? Please explain how you thought before, and how the new viewpoint changed that old thinking into something new.

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