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The Meeting Point of Experience and Universal Truths – Kelly

Epistemology, like metaphysics, is deeply rooted in all aspects of philosophy.  How can we look at ethics, what we know to be right or wrong, or aesthetics, what we know to be attractive, without studying epistemology, what we know about what we know?  The introductory chapter of our textbook is even called ‘An Introduction to Human Thought,’ which shows just how critical the understanding of thought and knowledge is to the understanding of any other aspect of Philosophy.  So with that in mind, the entire course of Philosophy 12 could be seen as Philosophy through the lens of epistemology.

So, what is my view on human thought, the essential foundation for and understanding of the beast that is Philosophy?  I believe that what we believe and deem as Truth comes from past experiences and connections, as well as singular, powerful experiences.

Albert Einstein once said, “The only source of knowledge is experience.”  As I wrote about earlier in my first post of Philosophy 12, things that we have not experienced cannot be fully justified by each individual person.  As I stated, I have never seen a polar bear.  My direct knowledge does not know that a polar bear would eat me.  It is not something I have personally and directly experienced, so, by Mr. Einstein’s logic, that cannot be something I know to be true.  So, by the logic of Mr. Einstein, there would be no reason for which I would hesitate to approach a polar bear and try to pet him, as if he were a teddy bear.

Conversely, the same statement could be made for the opposite side of the idea.  One could believe that experiences alone are not valuable sources of Truthful knowledge, as they have no other information to back them up.  For argument’s sake, I will maintain the same example.  If I was to see a polar bear and stupidly go up to it and pet it, and it were to case me and attack me, what knowledge would I gain from this singular experience?  I would learn that polar bears are not soft, fluffy animals, but instead vicious and dangerous killers.  From this singular experience, I would learn not to repeat that same mistake and attempt to pet any more polar bears.  By this logic, it is possible for one to learn a piece of direct knowledge and have enough knowledge, just from that singular event, to learn from it for future instances.

I believe that the truth of the matter lies somewhere in the middle.  While I disagree with Einstein’s belief of experience as the only valid source of knowledge, I also do not believe that indirect knowledge is the only valid source of knowledge.  I believe that it is a mixture of the two.

I think that there are some universal facts that are not falsifiable, and are as close to being True as our world can allow.  There will always be that tiny speck of doubt, as nothing can be proven to be one hundred percent true one hundred percent of the time.  This bank of universal knowledge, however, is justifiable believable.  We are justified in believing that polar bears will attack us, whether or not we have witnessed it firsthand.

I do, however, also believe that direct, sensory experiences, without any background awareness, can create vast, direct knowledge.  If we look back to the caveman days, we can see that this is an inborn attribute.  The first time you touch fire, you burn yourself.  From then on you avoid touching fire in fear of repeating that level of pain.  Powerful experiences which ignite the senses to an extreme degree create knowledge of situations that do not require background information.

From this, we see that humans and knowledge are not meant to sit on any sort of extreme.  We sit somewhere in the middle, our knowledge made up of both universal, justifiable truths and personal direct experiences.  And I believe it is in the differences of justifications and experiences that we find our own personal knowledge and truths.



One thought on “The Meeting Point of Experience and Universal Truths – Kelly

  1. Really nice work here, Kelly. You do a great and thorough job characterizing the gap between our sensory and rational understanding that I think Kant is getting at in the opening lines of his Critique of Pure Reason:

    “That all our knowledge begins with experience there can be no doubt. For how is it possible that the faculty of cognition should be awakened into exercise otherwise than by means of objects which affect our senses, and partly of themselves produce representations, partly rouse our powers of understanding into activity, to compare to connect, or to separate these, and so to convert the raw material of our sensuous impressions into a knowledge of objects, which is called experience? In respect of time, therefore, no knowledge of ours is antecedent to experience, but begins with it.”

    Not all knowledge is experiential, but all knowledge *begins* with experience (which then informs our reason). Would you agree with this characterization?

    Posted by bryanjack | November 14, 2012, 6:01 pm

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