Connection. Life is a dynamic movement. Each human being is carried by time towards … What? Where did I come from? Where am I going? What should I do right now? Why should I do what I am doing now? I somehow find myself existing with others in a mysterious environment which people call “the World”. In every situation I must decide what to do. How can I make a good decision? What is this world surrounding me? Is there a God? What happens after I die? Questions, questions, questions. Man is a questioner. We cannot live our lives without constantly asking questions. The fact that I question indicates that there is something lacking in me without which I would not be able to live. This something is called knowledge. Knowledge is absolutely necessary for life. For it can be compared to a beam of light in a dark, mysterious forest of reality which envelops me. Without knowledge I perish. The reason why mankind survived for so great stretches of time, and dominated this earth is in its knowledge. The same applies to each individual. Knowledge means living, growing, developing, Ignorance means death. Thus the question “What is knowledge?” (Epistemology) was from the very beginnings of philosophy a central problem.
We shall consider this problem in the following sections:
1. What are the sources of knowledge?
2. How does man know? (The nature of human knowledge.)
3. What is knowledge?
4. Truth or Illusion.
5. Summary and concluding remarks.
1. The Sources of Knowledge.
A. Faith. Faith is necessary in human life. When a baby is growing it must rely on much information (usually coming from parents) which it does not yet understand.
The capacity to know for it-self, that is to understand critically, is practically nonexistent. To live it must believe, it must take things on faith. Faith is an indispensable element in our life, also later on. We put our very lives into the hands of many people almost every day in many ways. The only motive why we do this is that we trust them, we believe them or we have faith in them. It is impossible to check at each moment everything. Life would come to a stop. (Think, for example, about going to a doctor, to a lawyer, or even shopping.)
The domain where faith becomes crucial is religion. Religious faith is an assent to some truths which transcend the normal understanding of man. Those truths are not against human understanding they transcend it. If it is true that God exists, and that God is an Infinite Reality it may not appear so shocking that such Infinite Reality may not be completely comprehensible for the finite, that is limited mind of men. It does not mean, however, that religious assent has to be completely blind assent. As Thomas Aquinas pointed out, faith is a reasonable assent. It is not any kind of uncritical and blind “yes” without thinking at all. For if I accept a religious creed I should be able to know why I accept it. This question shall be treated in more depth later on.
B. Authority. This source of knowledge is grounded in accepting the testimony of some expert in matters that are not necessarily religious in nature. As already mentioned above, there are many difficult problems connected with accepting something on authority of another. What elements must be present to constitute someone as an authority? What criterion shall we use in selecting one authority above another? What are the psychological effects produced in an individual who accepts something on authority without having some valid reasons for doing so. Blind worship and uncritical submissions to authority are never justified, and may lead to disastrous consequences. History shows that some most cruel atrocities and crimes were done by people who were hiding their responsibility behind some alleged authority, in the name of which, they supposedly acted. Blind appeal to authority is unphilosophical and unscientific way of acquiring knowledge. There are many dangers connected with such authoritarian attitude:
a) it tends to block progress.
b) it leads to confusion (conflicting authorities)
c) it leads to mental laziness and lack of confidence in oneself
d) it leads to immoral pushing of one's responsibility to others, and thus it is dehumanizing.
e) it perpetuates errors, prejudices and ignorance.
f) it produces fanaticism and mental blindness.
Prejudice, public opinion, propaganda and social tyranny are the most potent factors, destructive to independence of thought, and authentic search for true knowledge.
C. Common Sense. Common Sense is the view of the “the man on the street”. We are born into a definite social-group-situation, in a definite time and place. Thus from the very beginning of our conscious existence we are being influenced by the powerful factors of our social existence. We acquire feelings, habits of behavior and thought, beliefs and memories. Those ways of acting and thinking are all designed to “keep in line” the individual members of a society. Common Sense is a vague notion. It may contain traditional opinions, maxims and proverbs which are supposed to be the outcome of common experience through generations.
Common Sense may lead people in the right direction but also into error, prejudice and falsehood. This happens to be true for the following reason:
a) common sense is usually uncritically accepted. It is not permitted to question the “obvious”, which common sense allegedly contains;
b) Common Sense opinions are vague and ambiguous. Almost any proverb can be contradicted by another one, as “venerable” as the first;
c) Common Sense contains a mixture of truth and wisdom with emotional bias, prejudice, and falsehood and untested, unexamined beliefs, which are wholesale accepted;
d) Common Sense opinions are very rarely justified by explanations or a valid appeal to experience, and reasonable evaluations.
To summarize, although common sense has its undeniable merits, it needs constant examination, and critical evaluation. Many beliefs which were “common sense” in the past, are today rejected as relics of past errors. There is hardly any domain of human experience in which what was common sense, is not so any more. What today passes for common sense will in many respects be discarded by future generations.
D. Reason as a source of knowledge is the distinctive mark by which human knowledge is different from the kind of knowledge other living organisms possess. By following carefully some informal procedures, which are called thinking man can arrive from knowing A to know B and C. Reasoning must follow definite rules of procedure. Only correct and logical thinking may lead to valid conclusions. The rules how to think clearly and correctly are studied by logicians. The science of correct and valid thinking is called Logic. Even a cursory acquaintance with Logic will show how difficult it may be to think correctly, and how many pitfalls and fallacies are waiting for everyone, whose thinking neglects the necessary caution in drawing conclusions.
The question discussed in philosophy again and again is: Is reason a real source of knowledge or a tool with which to acquire knowledge? Do we possess innate fund of insight, somehow present because we possess reason? Some philosophers of note believed that this is the case (Parmenides, Plato, Descartes, Leibniz, Hegel). This belief, however, is not the most commonly accepted in philosophy. The more prevalent outlook is that reason is a tool in acquiring knowledge. The fact is that conceptual thinking belongs to the essential capacities of man, and man only. For it is the originating source of all typically human modes of living and acting (see Part II, chapter I, #3).
E. Experience. Experience is the source of knowledge resulting from concepts (ideas) originating in accordance with observed facts. A host of disputed problems is connected with this source of knowledge. We shall discuss some of them later on. The problems will naturally emerge when we shall proceed examining the nature of human knowledge. Some of those problems are:
a) how do we know that this kind of knowledge validly represents extra-mental reality?
b) should all knowledge be ultimately reduced to senses?
c) is it possible to have purely “objective and unbiased” knowledge, or is all our knowledge influenced and biased by other motives (more or less “blind” urges in us) which necessarily obstruct our knowledge?
2. How Does Man Know?
When do I possess valid knowledge, and when do I enter into illusion? How can I locate this borderline between valid insight and illusion?
The Question Revisited: How Does Man Know?
From the preceding sections we learned that the problem of human knowledge is by no means an easy problem. If we approach it from a wrong vantage point, or with the wrong unjustified frame of mind, we cannot arrive at any true insights. Many philosophers ended up in blind alleys. It should be evident that the sources of mistakes resided in the wrong approach to the problem. Once the first assumptions are made without proper caution, and openness to evidence, the outcome necessarily leads to false solutions. We must keep in mind the fate of the Subjective “Idealist and the Radical Empiricist, and draw a conclusion that one-sidedness and exaggeration will not do. Neither will any dogmatic attitude, for dogmatism is nothing but a prejudice, a sort of lack of openness to evidence at hand, in the name of un-proven, and preconceived viewpoints.
In restating the question on human knowledge we are particularly indebted to insights developed by Phenomenology and some Existential Thinkers of modern times. (Husserl, Merleau Ponty, Heidegger, Gabriel Marcel, Karl Jaspers, J. P. Sartre, and others.)
In order not to end up in a blind alley leading nowhere, we must at the start recollect some facts which are commonly evident
The first fact is that philosophy intends to interpret and to draw meaningful conclusions from illuminating the already existing man-in-the-world-with-others. The role of philosophic reflection is not to deny, what is evidently there, but to recollect, to critically examine the fact of human existence-in-the-world. The result of philosophic reflection should be a deeper, more rational, more comprehensive, and more coherent vision of all reality insofar as it is intelligible to human insight. Philosophy is an attempt constantly renewed, at a unified vision of What is and what such a vision means for humans.
I should always keep in mind that philosophic reflection does not start in a vacuum. There are people living in a world and these people living in a world start to reflect philosophically on the deeper meaning of their existing and living in a world with others. It follows that before philosophic reflection takes place there exists a universe inhabited by living, and wondering, concrete, human beings.
The undeniable fact is the philosophical given of myself-as-a-living-being-in-a-universe which is equally given in pre-reflective awareness. This must be the starting point of philosophic reflection. I cannot begin to philosophize by artificially wiping out any of the givens which I am, and part of which I am. I cannot radically doubt everything I am, and know already. If I would, there is the end of my philosophy. If I would truly doubt that I exist, I would never get out of such a doubt, for I would deny the very data on which to reflect. (David Hume, Subjective Idealism, Rene Descartes). The fact is that I cannot reflect on reality by pretending artificially that this on which to reflect, is un-reality! If I start with a dogmatic negation which is contrary to evidence already possessed by me, I must end up in a blind dead darkness of un-reality. We know that this actually happened to the philosophers examined in this section under the topic: Roads Leading to Nowhere. (D. Hume, I. Kant, etc.)
Those remarks do not invalidate philosophy as such, they are methodical in nature. Each question and each problem I face requires a proper approach, and a proper method. If this method is not adapted to the problem at hand, it will not lead to any fruitful insight. To clarify. I cannot investigate the question: what is correct thinking, by denying that thinking really is a fact of experience, that is that there truly exists correct thinking. Why not? For the obvious reason that in order to examine what is correct thinking, I already must think and I will have to think correctly! Unless this is evident and accepted, there is no question, no problem, no hope of any solution. All has been doomed to nonexistence by my contradictory, and erroneous denial. I would be like the microbiologist who would write a scientific book on bacteria and would begin by saying that bacteria do not exist, and then proceed to describe different classes and morphology of non-existent bacteria.
Keeping in mind the above remarks let us now reflect on our question.
3. What is knowledge?
Can knowledge be defined? This is not easy because to define something is an act of knowledge. To answer the question what is knowledge is itself knowledge-in-action. Thus it is impossible to define knowledge and it does not seem necessary.
I know what knowing is, as I know what seeing is, what loving, or hating, or fearing is. All those are mental activities which I performed for quite a time of my life. The purpose of philosophic reflection is to illumine and meaningfully examine those pre-reflective activities.
I know that I am a Subject in the world and all my knowing activity is intentional, that is directed to something that is not me, something that is outside me. I intend other things (tend knowingly towards them). Of this I am vaguely aware. Then there exists a pre-reflective, original and spontaneous knowledge of reality based on the fact that I-exist-in-the-world. Neither I exist alone, nor the world exists alone, but I-in-the-world. This is an important observation which should not go unnoticed.
Next I-existing-in-the-world am a kind of oneness in myself rooted in the world. I am living-existing knowingly in, and with the world. This fact has important implications. As a living Subject in the world I am intending always something else than I, myself. There is no just consciousness, but always consciousness-of-something; there is no just awareness, but awareness-of-something. My Subjectivity is incomprehensible unless seen as correlative to some object. Both exist together. Consciousness awakens as response-solution to some object. Let us note next, that like all other material beings I am oneness intrinsically composed of two co-principles (matter + form). Let us note also that those two co-principles are co-existing, and can be known only by a mental analysis, or rather co-knowing, i.e., known together. Man is a materialized spirit or spiritualized materiality. It is the whole, living, this man, who knows, who acts, who wonders, etc. This point needs some clarification. When I see a tree, it is I, the whole man, who sees the tree. Since I am material and spiritual in one, or better a unity of materiality in spirituality, I always act as such. Thus in all my actions there will be a combination of materiality and spirituality. There will be material aspects and spiritual aspect for each human act. Each human act therefore is an intentional, living, dynamic, spiritual-material act. Thus the only proper way of speaking is that the whole man sees the tree. Since the act of knowing is some sort of union with what I know, I reach to the known object in my human way: by material-spiritual means. For knowing a tree is an act of a living-material-spiritual Self.
Now since I am materiality, I know the tree with my materiality (organs called senses), but since I am living spirituality in materiality, my act of knowing the tree is pervaded and is a living spiritual act too.
It follows that it is improper to say “my eye sees the tree”, or “my hand touches the tree.” The fact is that I see the tree, I touch the tree. It is incorrect to say “My mind understands” or “my mind grasps this or that.” The fact is that I understand, I grasp this or that in a mental way.
The eye does not see for itself. I see with my eye. The eye is a living material prolongation of myself with which I see. My mind is not understanding itself, but I understand mentally something. Thus I knowingly live my spiritualized materiality always in dynamic relatedness to other things or persons.
Let us remember this well: the expression “human senses” or the “human mind” have meaning only when I consider them within the totality of a living human being in the world. It follows that I am my eyes, I am my mind, I am my ears etc. I am all this as living knowingly my existence in the world.
When Socrates was about to drink the poison in prison, his friend asked him: “Where shall we bury you?” Socrates mockingly pointed out that this expression “bury you” was wrong, because after death, he will not be there any more! There will not be any living, human Subject any more, and consequently no “you”. He correctly indicated that what remains after he dies, is not him all. The non-living remains are precisely that: non-living remains. They are a thing, or rather many things, for a time having the appearance of unity. But even this appearance of unity vanishes gradually away, and the different elements join other more complex, different unities. We say that the body de-composes. That which remains after death is nothing human anymore. The appearance of unity is the vanishing after-effect of the one act of existence of this one living human form (Subject), which is no more there. Many other forms join the underlying materiality (prime matter) which, when this living Socrates existed was his materiality.
Now imagine a scientist, who would like to discover, what is life by studying those remains. He may discover a great number of things, and construct great many theories except one: he will not know what life is. For the obvious reason that there is no life there.
The Subjective Idealist, as we recall, considers knowing as something that occurs totally within consciousness, shut up within itself, and aware only of conscious interests. Then, he asks how does this content correspond to extra-mental reality. He will never be able to answer it. In order to answer it he must reach, and compare, both sides of the relation. but he already decided for one only.
The Sensist or Empiricist considers knowing as a result of physical and physiological stimulation. There is a tree. From it light vibrations are reflected. Those light vibrations affect the retina of the eye and effect chemical changes. These are transmitted by the optical nerves to the optical brain center. But now what? Now a surprising thing happens: I see the tree! I know the tree! How is the scientist to explain that? He never will. Why not? Because his whole approach to the question is based on a number of assumptions contrary to what really happens.
First he assumes that knowing is an end result of all those stages of physiological stimulation. He assumes that first there is a tree, then light vibrations, then affecting of the retina, then affecting of the optical nerves, then after that, – What? After all those stages of stimulation have taken their time, and run their course, then, he may imagine, that there is something inside me (?) (consciousness, mind, Self?), and this something is fed in the information about the outside tree. The fundamental mistake here is understanding the act of knowingly perceiving the tree as a telephone message. The objects are supposed to send messages which are picked up over receiving systems, then transmitted over the wires of our nerves to the brain (central board?), then they pass out the visual. This mysterious mind then interprets those messages by decoding the mysterious input according to some (inborn?) rules. The mind is like the spy, who processes the key to a complicated code of information. When the mind decodes them, mysteriously enough, it knows! But how does it know remains a mystery here.
Let us note first that a living human being is not a telephone! Next that the mysterious “decoder”, the mind is not a little ghost in a machine (Descartes), and third that such picture of the act of knowing would not be knowing at all. For how does the passive, waiting mind interpret the code? Decoding to what rules does the mind do it? How does the mind know that the decoding gives one insight about extra-mental reality? This is not knowledge. We are again on a road to nowhere.
Let us put together the basic observations made so far on knowledge.
First, in order to answer the question What is knowledge, or how do I know, I must presuppose a pre-reflective knowledge which I already have. I know already before I start reflecting on my knowledge. There is no other way open.
I must presuppose some knowledge, because to reflect on the problem of knowledge I must already be able to know. This presupposition is not gratuitous. Scientific knowledge is based on it, philosophic reflection must presuppose it. Thus I can only ask how can I justify my knowledge, how can I reflect on the validity of my knowledge, but I am not allowed to question or deny the very existence of knowledge. For I do have pre-reflective knowledge before I examine its nature.
Next I must note that knowing is a living and dynamic intentional activity of a human being who knows. This human being is both materiality and spirituality in one. Thus a human being knows as a totality. Both principles (materiality + spirituality) will be present in each act of knowledge (senses + mind).
Third knowledge is intentional activity. This means that knowledge is in the Subject, but of reality which is not the Subject. It is an immanent living activity about extra-mental reality. It intends the object.
Next all knowledge is reflective. This means that I not only know, but I know that I know. Knowing is knowing of one's own knowing. It means to be knowingly engaged in the activity of knowing.
Next knowledge is consciousness. To be conscious is to actively identify myself with myself. This is where I am most perfectly in touch with being itself. I am my own being and I know that I am my own being. This is existing as a human being. A stone is, but it does not know that it is, or what it is. An animal is and knows on sense-level other beings. But the animal does not know itself. The animal mind goes out to things, but it does not revert back to itself. There is no self-reflective knowledge there. In man we realize self-reflection. Thus we observe (from the stone upwards a gradual increase in immateriality of the form in question. The human form is most immaterial of all the other forms. Its dependence on materiality still exists, but it is free from this dependence to a great extent. This freedom is the reason why man can know in an immaterial way. He can form universal principles and ideas (matter constricts, stiffens a being to the “here and now”, to this concrete individuality and singularity in space and time). The fact of universal principles and ideas present in human knowing cannot be denied. This needs some clarification. Each material object of this material is singular i.e. numerically one. This chair, this table, this book, this pencil etc. The chair has one act of existence, is made, it has this shape.
However, when I know a thing I know “what” it is. My idea of “chair” is not only of this here and now chair in front of me. Once I understand what does it mean that something is a chair, I know, I have an idea of all chairs, and any chair. My idea of a chair is universal. It applies to all chairs independently of space and time. I grasp the very nature, “whatness” or “essence” of chair. I grasp the meaning of the notion “chair”. My mental notion is free from the “here and the now”, and is valid by being applied to all beings which constitute the class “chair”. This constitutes immaterial universality of my ideas. Since it is materiality that concretizes and binds to the “here and the now” concrete singular existence, it is the character of my ideas that accounts for the universality of my mental knowing. Now this with which I form universal ideas, the power to do this, we call the mind. Ideas are the elements with which I judge. Every judgment in turn is a union of ideas compared with each other. Every judgment is some sort of affirmation whether it is negative (A is not B) or an affirmative (A is B). Let us note parenthetically, that a Materialist, a Radical Sensist, or Radical Positivist, covertly or openly does not take into account the immaterial character of my mental spirit or knowing. If we take him seriously, he simply dislikes knowledge. In any case human knowledge.
The “a priori” and “a posteriori” in human knowledge. Let us recall that by “a posteriori” we mean “coming from object, the experienced “other”, and by “a priori” we shall understand “from the knowing subject”. It is obvious that both elements must be present whenever there is act of knowledge. Since knowledge is of another, there must be “a posteriori” present, and since knowledge is an immanent living, dynamic activity of the knower, there must be “a priori” elements present. In every act of knowing both elements interpenetrate each other, or there is no knowledge. Knowledge is some sort of union between the known and the knower. It seems that we arrived at a contradiction: on one hand there must be an intellectual knowledge since elements come from within, on the other hand our knowledge comes entirely “through the senses”, from without. This is only a seeming contradiction. We never have any knowledge without some contribution from the sense and some contribution from the intellect. The contribution of the mind (intellect) consists in the first affirmation or first principles. (“whatever is, is”, “a being cannot be, and not be, at the same time under the same aspect”, Every being must have a sufficient reason for its existence”, “Every contingent being must have an efficient cause”, “every being acts for an end”).
Those affirmations or judgments are called principles, because they are beginnings of knowledge. They come from the mental power (mind) in us. We know them habitually and we know that they are valid always and everywhere, wherever applicable.
Let us note carefully that although we naturally possess those principles because we are endowed with the mind, we do not explicitly discover them “in” our intelligence without or before or independently of, some sense-experience. As soon as I get in touch by means of sense with some object, those principles are discovered in intelligence as valid. Thus we discover them in the object as known by intelligence in the act of knowing. The mind sees the object in the light of those principles. This light comes from the object as reflection of the mind's light thrown at the object first.
An example always helps. Suppose you drive a car at night. Within the beams of your car's headlight you see a road sign. The road sign is known within the light, and it reflects the light of your headlights. Note well: without the light, you would not know the sign. But the light does not originate in the sign. It is because the sign is within the beam of light that it becomes luminous itself, “lights up” and is known by you. What is known is not the light itself, but the sign as illumined, becomes known to you.
We do not possess any inborn ideas. Every idea supposes the cooperation of the senses. Without this sense-cooperation it does not exist. I do not have any idea of color unless I see color first; I will never have any idea of a tree unless I see a tree. This goes for everything I know. All knowledge requires sense-contribution. Nothing is in the intellect that somehow is not in senses too.
Knowledge is a dynamic living activity. Both our senses and our mind are active, intentional faculties with which to know. Knowledge occurs within us, but its object is outside of us. But the object must – to be known – somehow be present within the knower. This presence of the object in the knower is not physical. When I know the tree, the tree is not physically present in me. It is growing in the yard over there. Nevertheless the object is somehow in the knower. This presence of the object we call intentional. Let us recall again that the knower is intentional towards the object. Knowing is a dynamic, active reaching towards the object, by the knower. All conscious activities are in-tending something. They are directed outside towards reality. (I love something, I am conscious of something, I decide something, I judge about something). This intentionality of consciousness is a given fact. In knowing something, I reach, I grasp the object knowingly. Since I am material, and since knowledge is a union with the object in this world, there is necessarily a physical and physiological impact (impression). This impact is the prolongation of the object in the animated materiality of the knower. This impact is actually an aspect of the act of knowledge. The act of knowledge is the conscious illuminating meeting with the object. If the object is not actually present in itself there must be at least a revived former impact which will serve as an impression. In that case the knower produces an image of the object or an idea, it “experiences” the object vicariously.
Let us note well that the material meeting of the knower with the materiality of the object (sensation) is completely permeated with the living mental light of the knower. Sensation is one element or aspect – although a necessary one – of the total living act of knowledge in which the materiality of the knower is permeated through and through by the dynamic presence of the mental aspects. There are two aspects, but one activity of knowing in which the living human knower meets the object intentionally present in the knower, within the light of the knower.Neither the senses nor the mind know, as it were separately, but they are dynamic extensions in which the knower becomes present knowingly, and unites with the object known. Knowing is neither “subjective” nor “objective”, it is both. “A priori”, and “a posteriori” elements are, in an act of knowledge actively meeting in one, living dynamic and conscious act. Whatever is known is known according to the knower's mode of knowing. Knowledge admits degrees. To what extent a being knows depends on the degree to which it possesses awareness and consciousness. Since knowledge implies some sort of freedom from the bonds of sheer materiality, the degree to which a being knows will correspond to the degree it manifests such freedom (the law of complexity-consciousness – Teilhard de Chardin). In man we observe the highest degree of freedom from materiality in his needs of existing, and his mode of knowing. This is why man, and only man, developed religion, philosophy, science, art. None of those would have been possible without the immateriality and thus universality of man's mode of knowing.
Knowledge therefore is a fact. Man knows himself in knowing relation to the community of other beings. He knows that there are other things and what those things are. He knows that the world in which he lives is an active system of beings, because he acts and reacts to them. Man's knowledge is real. It is not creative, but reflective. This position which steers in between Idealism and Sensistic Skepticism we shall call Moderate Intellectualism. Man is neither a disembodied mind, not “a ghost in a machine” (Plato, Descartes), nor a passive “bundle of perceptions” (David Hume), nor “nothing but a system of behavioral patterns (Behaviorism).
Man is a living oneness of materiality in spirituality; a dynamic Subject-in-the-world, capable of intellectual knowledge. For he is always engaged in a conscious search for a more unified, and meaningful understanding of himself and his role within the horizon of his human knowledge.
The principle: whatever is known, is known according to the knower's mode of knowing spells not only the specificity of human knowing, but also the limitations of human knowing.The different factors which limit human knowledge are so numerous that we shall mention only the most obvious, and basic without pretending to have exhausted the list.
A. The fact of my materiality or my bodiliness. As explained already, the fact that I am material limits my existence and knowledge to a definite place, at a definite time: to the “here and now”. I must extrapolate.
My knowledge is limited by the structure, the number and the “power” of my senses. Since they are selective and limited, so must be my knowledge. This fact makes my knowledge egocentric, and perspectival. Every human knower is the center from which he knows in a perspectival way. This egocentric predicament of man's being and knowing is an unavoidable, powerful limiting predicament.
My materiality imposes limitations on my mind. No human knowledge is ever complete, without the probability of growth and improvement. Thus, at any moment of my life, what I know is very, very little, but what I do not know is practically infinite.
B. Cultural, Social and Psychological Determinants.
I am born into a definite environment: from the very beginnings of my life I am subject to, and fashioned by the totality of the culture into which I am born. My modes of behavior, my feelings, my thoughts, my beliefs, my interests are to a great extent the result of the powerful influence of environment. The social molding of my person is continuous and persistent. I cannot escape it.
Thus, I absorb all the valuable elements, the true and the positive, but also all the prejudices, phobias, false mythologies and beliefs, the destructive, and inhuman ways of living, thinking, judging and acting. In short, I absorb all the evils of my social acculturation process. Needless to say that to a great extent I am all my life a prisoner of those external molding factors. Insofar as I remain in an uncritical mode of naive acceptance alone I do not live really my life, “I am lived” by the powers which mold me. In order to authentically live my existence there is the demand for constant critical evaluation of my environmental influences. I must develop the courage to think for myself, or remain enslaved, and manipulated all my life.
The modern society has at its disposal far more powerful means of propaganda and manipulation than ever before in human history: radio, press, television, penetration of private life, investigation of each individual by police. All those potent factors, if I submit, gradually kill independent thinking and enslave me into becoming a worshiper of the idols of the time.
The psychological factors, conscious or subconscious are also powerful limitations of my knowledge. My interests may become determined by motives, urges, which if not controlled and directed, can ruin my life. Many lives have been ruined tragically by uncontrolled destructive passions, which gradually took possession of the whole personality. Since it is not our concern to go into detail here, we mention only those factors briefly. Their importance, however, should not be overlooked. There are too many people in mental asylums in our times. Their sickness puts a question mark on the sanity of the society in which they lived before ending up in a mental institution. The instinctual guidance the animals are endowed with has been denied to man. If there is no vision of meaning, a kind of focus on which my life is centered, there will be no direction, no unifying center of my life. I may find myself in a state of “existential vacuum” (V. E. Frankl) a decentralized, dissipated state of boredom and blindness of mind. This may easily lead to the decay of my whole personality and reduce my life to a level of senseless vegetation.
All limitations of knowledge are also limitations of my freedom, and my whole life.
Thoughts for Reflection
1. Knowledge has been quite often compared to light. Life is a dynamic “going towards”. Evaluate the functions of light in everyday experience. Is it a proper analogy to the function of knowledge in human life?
2. Since people make errors of judgment is therefore all knowledge undermined?
3. The Subjective Idealist denies the possibility of knowing extramental reality altogether. What do you think is the basic assumption leading to such position? Is it justifiable?
4. The position of the extreme Sensist (David Hume) leads to Skepticism. Why?
5. Can the Skeptic remain consistent with his own philosophy?
6. Reflect on the following statements. Do you agree or not?
a) “I think therefore I am.” (Rene Descartes)
b) “Mental events are only brain changes; and thinking is speaking soundlessly.”
c) “One never really knows other minds.”
d) “Perhaps all knowledge is nothing but illusion.”
e) “Is not my life a kind of dreaming?”
f) “Knowledge is the factor that changes the world. It is the source of all meaning for man.”
g) “The most reliable way of life is the one based on “common sense”.
7. Computers are sometimes called “thinking machines”. Do computers really think?
8. Why should man strive to bring under control his blind animal passions. Why not”let them loose”? Is reason really so important in human life? Is not a “life by passions” far more exciting and colorful?
9. The Positivist believes that “special sciences” are the only “true” and reliable sources of knowledge. Any question which is “unscientific” is therefore meaningless. What do you think? Can you point to meaning human questions which are “unscientific”?
a) What assurance can man have that his/her belief is truly from God?
a) What elements must be present to constitute one as authority?
b) By what criterion do you select one authority above another?
a) What part do emotions play in influencing thinking processes?
b) How do attitudes of bias, prejudice, credulity, indecisiveness, timidity, sloth, fear, rigidity, submissiveness influence the individual's reasoning?
a) Is all knowledge reducible to sense-data?
b) Is all knowledge reducible to “ideas in the mind”?
a) Is “Common Sense” an unquestionable source of true knowledge?
b) How does “Common Sense” influence an individual's modes of learning?
c) Can we liberate ourselves from the influence of “Common Sense”?
11. Since human knowledge obviously is a limited and finite knowledge, does this mean that it is worthless?
12. Why do we call the positions of Subjective Idealism (Berkeley) and Extreme Sensism or Empiricism (D. Hume) “roads leading to nowhere”?
13. Why is Skepticism a “road leading to nowhere?”
14. What is pre-reflective” knowledge?
15. Why must all science and all philosophical reflection be based on pre-reflective knowledge?
For Further Reflection Study Also:
Donceel, J. F.
Philosophical Anthropology, New York, Sheed and Ward, 1967. (Chapters: I, IV, V ,VIII.)
Hassett, J. D.
Mitchell, R. A.
The Philosophy of Human Knowing, Westminster, Maryland, The Newman Press, 1967.
Physics and Philosophy, New York, Harper and Row, Publ., 1958.
Mind and Matter, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1958.
Mentality and Wackiness, Garden City, Audion Books, 1971.
Hamlyn, D. W.
The Theory of Knowledge. Garden City, Doubleday, 1970.
Montague, H. P.
The Ways of Knowing, New York, Macmillan, 1925.
Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1958.
Selections from Classics:Any Edition
Descartes: On the Nature of the Human Mind.
J. Locke: An Essay on the Human Understanding
Berkeley: Principles of Human Knowledge.
D. Hume: An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding