Tag Archives: branches of philosophy

Knowledge vs Truth

Knowledge vs Truth seems counterintuitive, but there is a distinction to be made and it is an important one.   Instead of continuing our series on the various methods of obtaining knowledge, I decided it was a good time to pause and regain our focus on why we should do so in the first place.  These processes are relevant and important in our everyday lives because they make the pursuit of truth possible.

Knowledge vs Truth Rational Worldview Blog

The pursuit of truth is often the driving force behind our actions.  Even criminals find it necessary to increase their chances of success.  The more reliable the knowledge they receive, the more likely they are to succeed when they plan and execute their crimes.

Knowledge and truth are frequently used interchangeably, and understandably so; in many contexts it is not wholly inaccurate.  But the difference between these two abstract terms is very significant in other cases.

Battle of Gettysburg AftermathFor the purposes of this discussion, I will borrow from Merriam Webster.  Truth is the “body of real things, events, and facts.”  Examples being, respectively, buildings, a pivotal battle in a war (such as the Battle at Gettysburg during the American Civil War), and a fact — a historical one being “Germany was defeated in World War II.”

It follows logically that this body consists of both the material and the abstract — such as a mathematical law.  (An example — Euler’s identity — is pictured below).*

Eulers-identity

Truth is like reason in that it exists independently and separately from human beings.  If it were not so, future discoveries both on the planet and even in the galaxy would be impossible.  As it is, there is still so much we have yet to learn and discover about the universe and its inhabitants.

Further, the validity of truth is not reliant on the opinion of human beings.  A simple example will suffice since I do not believe this concept takes a lot of intellect to grasp.  That is: I can be the only person remaining on earth and believe with all my heart that 2 + 2 = 3, but that will never change the fact 2 + 2 = 4.

Picture of Mars by Nasa

Knowledge, defined by the same source above is: the condition of apprehending truth.  In other words, knowledge is the tool — using various methods — to acquire truth.

The more knowledge we gain about the universe, the closer we become to grasping this body of truth mentioned above.  The ideal situation is for human knowledge to mirror truth.  Given the situation, sometimes that is the case, many other times it is not.  We can have partial knowledge of something now, with the hope of obtaining complete knowledge of it later.

The various methods of acquiring knowledge bring us closer to the truth (as defined above).  We pursue knowledge, because it brings us closer to truth, and most of us do so because we’ve learned it only stands to benefit us in some way.  That does not mean truth is never painful, but most would agree in the long run, it is far more merciful than ignorance, or at least prolonged ignorance.

This post is the basis for the next one Certainty and Probability.

*Euler’s Identity is widely acknowledged as a non obvious fact that relates irrational and imaginary numbers with the very simple integer values of 0 and 1, using the basic operations of multiplication, addition, exponentiation.  

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What is knowledge?

In my last post I wrote that empirical science is limited in its ability to provide comprehensive knowledge for the metaphysical questions that nag us as human beings, but what is knowledge and how do we classify it? These questions alone have been the topic of many books, but let’s Butler Library at Columbiakeep it simple by sticking to a standard definition.  Most English dictionaries list several definitions, most of them similar, but I will combine two from dictionary.com to keep this post brief.  For our use here, its definition is: the acquaintance of or familiarity with facts, principles, and theories, acquired by experience, report, or study/investigation.

In short, knowledge is obtained by education, by experience, and sometimes both.  The branch of philosophy concerned with both the limits of human knowledge and the methods of obtaining it is known as epistemology.  Epistemology is also concerned with the origin and nature of knowledge.

The three basic categories of knowledge

In general, knowledge is classified into three basic categories among philosophers, though it should be noted it is not infrequent to find overlap in these categories.  The three main categories are:

  1. Knowledge by acquaintance or personal knowledge.  It is obtained by repetitive personal interaction, which brings about familiarity. An example would be: I know Allen because we have been friends for many years.  I am familiar with his personality traits and some of the current events and historical events of his life. e.g. He is married (current event) and grew up in Brooklyn (historical event), respectively.

  2. pianoProcedural knowledge, often referred to as knowledge-how.  It is often acquired through instruction (though not always), learning, and repetitive action.  An example of its stated use would be: After seven years of lessons and consistent practice, I know how to play the piano.

 

Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth     3.  Propositional or descriptive knowledge.  It is knowledge declared to be true based on a fact and is more ambiguous and of the three classifications here, is definitely the most debated in philosophical circles. Instead of “knowledge-how,” it is the “knowledge-that,” and is often stated “I know that A because of B.” Example: I know that Yankee hall-of-famer Lou Gehrig wore number the number 4 on his jersey.

Understanding these basic categories of knowledge gives a better understanding for the argument that if the knowledge obtained by the study and experimentation of empirical science it provides is limited, then it logically follows that the nature of knowledge embodies more than just what empirical science provides us.  Further, we must be open to other types of knowledge as well as how to acquire such knowledge in order to gain a better understanding of the universe.  I will begin that topic in my next post.

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Why metaphysics is for everyone

In previous posts, I have gone to great lengths at least on some general level to define metaphysics in its broadest of senses, but I believe in short, metaphysics is merely an evaluation of our view of the universe, or more simply the world and human existence.  Though vast and overwhelming, it is ultimately the pursuit of truth.

The study of unanswerable questions falling under the umbrella of metaphysics, which ultimately comprises one’s worldview (or framework of beliefs about the world) is for everyone — not just philosophers, scientists, and other academicians.

Metaphysics is unlike, say, accounting, sports, or music.  In other words, there is no special “gift” required or necessary talent to excel in understanding metaphysical matters — only the ability to use rationality and a devotion to the pursuit of truth  Sure, there will be some who have a better understanding of how to articulate better what they believe and why they believe it, but at this juncture, what I am claiming (and will support with future posts) is that no one — no matter how brilliant — has a monopoly on metaphysics.  It is, in general, a level playing field.

Metaphysics, by its nature, opens its discussion to everyone.  As human beings, we are forced to visit its study, first, because “we are” and second, because we are — or do that business of being — within the universe.  Everyone draws metaphysical conclusions, both implicitly and explicitly, acknowledged or unacknowledged, every day.  We have done it for years and cannot escape it, although I do think it true that many do not bother to examine, much less discuss, their metaphysical views.  Most of us are consumed with quotidian affairs, and justifiably so, with earning a living and taking care of the people and things important to us.  Many times, the monotonous, uninspiring but necessary demands of life prevent us from such examination and discussion — a discussion vital to our destiny.

Therefore, establishing that one’s understanding of the universe — in this context, mainly the how and why of its existence — are not totally and necessarily dependent on one’s intellect or whether a person excels — or has the potential to excel — in one specific academic area or another.  There are plenty of people who, as a rule, are horrible spellers, but excel very quickly in mathematics or in their ability to reason and debate.  How many times have we met or heard of a brilliant person who suffers with dyslexia? These two examples are meant to illuminate the fact that we all, as humans, have strengths and weaknesses, but we all have something to contribute to the most important philosophical questions that have plagued humankind as far back as we, collectively as a species, can record.

To disparage or even discredit someone’s contribution to the conversation based on the fact that someone lacks knowledge in physics, biology, theology, history etc. is, I believe, foolish.  To ask, debate, think about, and discuss such issues is to be human.  Someone may be an expert in say, neuroscience or quantum mechanics, but that does not qualify her to make definitive, absolute factual statements about important matters such as the existence of God or why and how the universe came into existence, because ultimately nobody can; further, being an expert in one academic field or another does not even make a person more qualified to make such statements either.

For example, to make the jump from “I am a credible source for knowledge about quantum mechanics because I have a PhD in the field” (a reasonable claim) to: “Therefore, I am more qualified to make absolute, comprehensive statements involving matters such as the existence of God and and why the universe came into existence” has no logical merit.  Such a person would, no doubt, be qualified to explain the theories, facts, experiments, and observations in her specific field, but could not possibly declare as fact her stance on the philosophical matters listed above because she cannot prove those philosophical ideas in the same way she is able to prove her scientific hypotheses in the lab.

This fact that no person can conclusively and definitely answer with absolute proof the numerous unanswerable metaphysical questions that plague us as humans is the nature of this beast.  Therefore, questions like “Does God exist?”; “Why did the universe come into existence?”; and other related questions are open to every single person to study, observe, speculate, and ultimately make conclusions about them.

A note on leaving comments

Finally, when leaving comments on this blog about metaphysics, one should not disparage the observations or comments of others that have already been widely accepted as true.  We are all in different stages and chapters of life.  What is apparent to a 50-year-old will not be so apparent to a 12-year- old.  Then again, what may be apparent to a particular 12-year-old may be news to a 50-year-old. We can all stand to learn something from each other.

This blog’s comments and eventual forum are meant for the young and old, experienced and inexperienced alike.  Because all humans are literally in different places in life, the general attitude should be one of openness to our differences both in our lives — both good and bad — and the level to which each wants to explore this topic and those which fall under its umbrella.

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Metaphysics defined… or not

Today, I’ve decided to write for the readers who want me to go into more detail about metaphysics and the branches of philosophy under which it falls.  If you are like me, you always want terms clearly defined in order to prevent misunderstanding and enhance communication.  On the other hand, others are  not as obsessive as I am and are content with a general definition of terms.  If you are that person, you may be bored with my next entry, so please re-visit me later in the week.

I should point out the term “metaphysics” has a long and complicated history.  It is unruly and it is almost impossible to pin down its precise all-encompassing definition.  However, that should not prevent us from talking about it.  If we never endeavored to know more about something simply because we know from the start we will never comprehend its totality, then no progress could ever be made in anything.

On my blog, I will be using the term “metaphysics” and “metaphysical” in a general sense.  Metaphysics includes, but is not limited to, four main branches of philosophy.  They are: ontology, cosmology, epistemology, and etiology.

Both the online version of Merriam-Webster and dictionary.com provide similar definitions, but I personally prefer dictionary.com’s definition for metaphysics and its related branches.  I see no need to write out their full definitions here, when you can click on the links below; they will open in a separate window.  I use:

For those who are not philosophy majors, all of this may seem a bit overwhelming.  The main point I am trying to establish here is that metaphysics is a broad and large part of philosophy, that raises important questions about how we think about the universe — or more relevant and closer to home — about ourselves and the world around us.  The conclusions we draw from our metaphysical views of the world shape our framework of beliefs, or what I will call from here on a worldview.

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