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Individual Development of Knowledge

Philosophy class is like an amusement park. This park is full of different kinds of games, different kinds of puzzles, different kinds of rides. We have now reached one of the most exciting roller coasters of all – epistemology.

As a stimulus in this unit, Mr. Jackson asked us, each individual, to create our own epistemological statement. Daunting as this was, the only difficulty was starting. In the first week of study, Mr. Jackson has already begun on his own epistemological journey – and had put out an example of what, in a general sense, we were aiming for. Now, on to my opinions.

The development of one’s own epistemological statement requires a basis of knowledge in the subject (ironically enough). In reading a booklet provided to us, everything seemed to overlap. Each subject, each idea seemed to reach into another’s pocket for help, without containing any formal connection.

One idea that repeated itself more times than others was priori knowledge – the knowledge gained without any sensory medium, but rather, with reason and mind. In response to this, I do believe that knowledge can be found independent of empiricism, but it seems illogical that any knowledge can exist ‘completely’ independent of sense. This is because in order for reason to be a creator of knowledge, it must first have a basis of knowledge to work off of. For reason is the ability to use existing information to find new information – essentially, deduction or induction. In thinking about this, I questioned where the basis of knowledge really is? Can all knowledge be based in reason, or empiricism? Or is there an order that must follow? Trying to go deeper, I created a system, which I believe is how individuals accumulate knowledge.

This system of knowledge is simple, but has several layers/components to it. The basic idea is that there are 4 stages of knowledge development, ability and accumulation.

A quick run through of the different stages of knowledge

Instinctive Knowledge (Built In You)

This is self-explanatory. Any knowledge (or knowledge as an ability) that is natural to you, requiring nothing else to exist, is instinctive. This can commonly include bodily functions, ‘fight or flee’ instincts, and natural instincts that may be contained in your culture, race or demographic (for example, an asian child may have a basic aptitude for math, prior to teaching or sensory based information taken in).

Posteriori Knowledge (Built by Senses)

Literally means “derived from observed facts”. This knowledge is gained through sensory-based experiences, observations, etc. For example, any of your five senses may be included here. Empirical knowledge  an also be categorized here. In addition, ‘knowledge by acquaintance’ fits well too – abilities and/or skills gained by experience (competence knowledge).

Knowledge by Description (Built by Others)

This is all knowledge taught by another. Word of mouth, school, books all are examples of this knowledge. This knowledge can be passed on without the help of sensory based experience or reason.

Propositional Knowledge (Built by You)

Propositional knowledge, priori knowledge, knowledge by reason are all the same thing. It is knowledge that is created using primarily reason, the mind, thought. This can be making connections between other existing knowledge, or using induction or deduction or create entirely new knowledge (without the assistance of other forms of gaining knowledge).

Now, I believe that all of the above, all of these different forms of knowledge, are built upon the previous form of knowledge (in a general sense). Truly, I believe this is the path of knowledge today that we support. For the majority of reason based knowledge we create is based upon previous knowledge, given to us by others, or unconsciously discovered by our senses. My belief is that this is how we accumulate our knowledge over time.

In the diagram to the left, I also tried to make the amount of knowledge accumulated proportional to the knowledge we gain – after all, instinctive knowledge only makes us a very small percentage of the knowledge we yield. Depending on your demographic, the era you live in, and the environment that surrounds you, I believe that this triangle could look very different in terms of distribution. For example, if you lived in 1500 AD, you likely had a larger portion of knowledge by experience (posteriori knowledge), and had a much smaller category of propositional knowledge. In a later post, I will (hopefully) be covering the differences in reason over different time eras.

Though accumulation of knowledge is important, I found that it is minimal in the knowledge spectrum. As we accumulate knowledge over time, I also believe that we develop abilities to gain these different types of knowledge too. For example, as a child, you likely had little to do with propositional knowledge, and depended heavily on posteriori knowledge, or even knowledge by description, which your teachers at school provided you with. Over time, (in today’s era) our ability to reason grows over our life time, and our reliance on sensory knowledge decreases significantly. Hence, in a later age, our ‘greater ability to reason’ would cause our accumulation of knowledge to grow exponentially, because the rate at which we are able to determine knowledge by ourselves is much greater than the rate at which we can be educated. For this reason, we develop our abilities to take in these different types of knowledge over time,  as well. This would occur in the order shown – as a child, you develop your ability to see, feel, hear. As an adolescence, you develop your ability to learn, listen, and take information. As an adult, you are expected to come up with your own conclusions, based on your existing information.

All of the above stated is little in my mind. For in each stage, there are inaccuracies in the knowledge we gain. For this reason, I feel the system shown above is useful as a tool to determine one’s accumulation of knowledge, but in unimportant in the question: why do we allow accuracies in knowledge to exist? For there are inaccuracies, lies, and false teachings in each of the stages of knowledge shown above. This question is addressed here, in the next blog post.

As an alternative, if you would like to look into the truth and accuracy of knowledge when comparing beliefs, statements, and opinions, Jen’s post on Santa does an excellent job of this.



6 thoughts on “Individual Development of Knowledge

  1. This is an excellent synthesis of the discussion in class last week, Jonathan. Clearly articulated and laid out in definitions, examples and visual aids. Thanks for putting it together!

    Posted by bryanjack | November 13, 2012, 1:22 am


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