Ways of Knowing, Or "How Can I Tell Whether Something is True?"
Let me start off by posting a couple of images.
First, we have this:
The combination of photo and caption suggests that Trump is a cold-hearted slimeball of a man because he left his wife to walk through the door of the Whitehouse all by herself.
Next, we have this:
The combination of photo and caption suggests that Obama is just as much of a slimeball––if not more––than Trump.
Both images are meant to indict these men––to paint them as awful human beings––and the thing about these images is that they both look real. But guess what? Neither of them give a complete picture. Here's what really happened:
But even then, we don't know what really happened because we weren't there ourselves.
People go on and on about how seeing is believing, and observing with our senses means that something is real. Empiricism is THE way to knowing in this day and time, and quite frankly, I'm tired of it.
Epistemology is the study of knowledge, justification, and belief. It allows us to examine how people know, and according to epistemologists, there are several ways of knowing. Here are some:
- Rationalism–the theory that reason is the foundation for certainty in knowledge. Recall Rene Descartes, who said, "I think therefore I am." He didn't say, "I see myself and my surroundings, so I know I exist." He based reality on thought. In other words, "the mind comes pre-stocked with innate ideas." (Nagel 41)
- Empiricism–the theory that sensory experience is the foundation for certainty in knowledge. Our minds are blank until "sensation begins to mark it." (Nagel 41)
- Testimony–the theory that knowledge can come to us second-hand. While testimony involves both rationalism and empiricism in that past experience and reasoning (about a person's reliability) informs the validity of second-hand knowledge, it is seen by some philosophers as a distinct way of knowing because for example, "the way you think when you understand what someone says is different from the way you think when you see something with your own eyes, and different again from the way you think when you are engaged in reasoning or puzzle-solving." (Nagel 80)
I could go on and on about this, and truth be told, I don't understand all of it. (Most of my knowledge about the study of knowledge comes from my Intro. to Philosophy course in college.) I do know this, though: Seeing is not believing. Seeing is seeing, and believing is believing. And it's becoming more and more critical to use lots of different epistemological approaches to truth-finding. Those images at the beginning of this post––those look real. I can see with my eyes that Trump ignored his wife and Obama put his hand on Mrs. Trump's butt. But reason tells me that these images cannot be true!
Conversely, reason tells me that it's daytime right now because I'm wide awake and ready with energy to do something fun. But my senses tell me that it is 8:00pm!
Truth-finding is confusing these days. News is often misleading (from liberal and conservative sources), people are sometimes unreliable, our memories are imperfect, and Photoshop allows people to change what we see. It's critical to use lots of different ways of knowing. Some people pray, and some people read as much as they can. Some people keep updated with social media, and some people listen to podcasts. None of those, though, in my opinion are enough in and of themselves. We've got to work hard to synthesize all of these sources and ways of knowing in order to figure out what is true. To be sure, it's exhausting, but I think it's an obligation.
(Source: Nagel, Jennifer. Knowledge: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, 2014.)
Thing I'm thankful for: modern medicine