indifferent child of the universe (nonbeing) wrote in unjust_phil,
indifferent child of the universe

More Epistemology

An important distinction must be made before we engage in the discussion of epistemology. Before we ask "what can be known" or "how can we know it," we have to define what we mean by knowledge. I've found that there are several types of knowledge worth noting and analyzing. The boundaries between them are always fuzzy, but it is still useful to make the distinctions.

Two prominent types of knowledge come to mind-- in my opinion, the two types most relevant to epistemological discussion: rational knowledge and intuitional knowledge.

- Rational Knowledge

Knowledge in the form of linguistic/categorical/conceptual representation of experiential reality. This is the type of knowledge that utilizes logic and reason. To possess this type of knowledge, raw perceptual experience must first be delineated into abstract classes and objects by means of symbolic designation. Relationships between these classes and objects are then analyzed and described, also through symbolic representation (be those relationships causal, logical, empirical, etc). The product of this process of discrete categorization is a linguistically-constructed paradigm. Such paradigms are judged true or false based on how accurately, precisely, and consistently they cohere with the external phenomena they purport to represent.

- Intuitional Knowledge

Knowledge in the form of feelings, instincts, or other emotional inclinations. This knowledge is also based in experiential reality, except it is notoriously difficult to articulate or communicate. The most that can usually be said about this knowledge, if a person believes she possesses it, is merely that she possesses it, but cannot explain why or how she obtained it. Reference to personal experience can often be cited as the source of intuitional knowledge, but the experiences that offer such knowledge are usually those that defy description, which is why the knowledge does also.

The validity of intuitional knowledge is often criticized by those who adhere to scientific dogma, on the grounds that it cannot be represented in a neat string of symbols. However, intuitional knowledge is invariably the foundation of all forms of rational knowledge, for the following reason:

Given any rational paradigm, there must exist a set of axioms (or "self-evident" truths) upon which the rest of the knowledge contained within the paradigm is based. In any branch of mathematics or physical sciences, all theorems that constitute the higher levels of knowledge can be traced back to axioms that are simply accepted as fact without further question. These axioms cannot be broken down or explained in simpler terms like the higher theorems can.

So how is it that we "know" these axioms are true? Intuitionally. No rational explanation can be given for why "x = x," yet it is universally accepted as a foundational mathematical axiom. It is our intuition that tells us x = x, that it could not be possible for x to be equal to anything other than itself. It would be absurd, wouldn't it? Any mathematician or scientist would agree. But none of them could ever give an explicit, logical reason for why they agree. "Why" is simply not a question that can be asked of an axiom. Hence, while axioms subtend rational knowledge, the knowledge of the axioms, themselves, is not rational.

There is something to be said about why "x = x" seems self-evidently true-- however, it isn't something rational. It is based in experience. Have you ever encountered a scenario in which a thing, at some given, fixed point in time and space, was not itself? Has any human being ever encountered such a scenario? No. Experience-- both subjective and intersubjective, both personal and historical-- has shown us that, time and time again, x will continue to equal x. Will x always equal x? Our intuition says it will, but rationally, we have no claim over such knowledge. We are forced to trust that this knowledge will continue to be true only insofar as it has never failed to be false, and we have no conception of what it would mean for it to be false.

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