Friday, March 30, 2012

Epistemological Lenses vs. Epistemological Eyes

I am skeptical of the idea that we can come to the 'truth.' Not because I do not believe that there is a truth – I do believe that things are the way things are. I am skeptical because I think that the way we make sense of the world is based upon particular epistemologies rather than general epistemologies. The difference being that a general epistemology would do what we intuitively expect from an epistemology: tell us how the world is and what the facts are and how to make an unknown known by inferring from our present body of knowledge, building facts upon other facts until all of the facts are assembled; a particular epistemology, however, takes a certain point of view in that it chooses its first principles or its epistemic foundations relative to a certain goal or task that it is employed in service of.

The most basic and near example of a particular epistemology is the common sense we use to navigate our everyday lives. It is not a very rigorous system, we generally accept something as true as long as it works, in areas that cannot easily be tested to see if something works we accept whatever seems to account for the greatest number of circumstances while favoring those things that lend themselves to a certain level of life-affirming emotional comfort. The way of looking at things for navigating through life is not the same way of looking at things scientifically, which tries to distill the world down to matter, energy, quantity, and law. Still again, these two things are not the same as looking at the world romantically, which seeks to view the world through emotions and general, human themes.

It may be objected that there are epistemologies which seek the truth, and could therefore fulfill the role of a general epistemology, perhaps the scientific epistemology or an epistemology that tries to only look at facts while discarding anything that is not a plain, public, objective fact. My response would be that their axioms are not and can not be justified, and that this means that they exist not as a description of the world according to the eye of the facts, but rather as a way of looking at the world through a certain kind of lens.

When someone says that some proposition is 'true,' we typically know what they mean because we implicitly understand the context in which they are speaking. Like someone who says that it's true that their father was a bad man – we understand in what sense they think he was bad and what evidence would be necessary to say that their father did indeed fulfill the criteria of being a bad man. But if someone says that something is 'true' absolutely, I would say that they probably do not really understand the way that human knowledge is dependent upon context and framework for making truth judgments.

No comments:

Post a Comment