Knowledge Question (Aug 2001)

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What is Knowledge? 

The goal of this section is to spread out the large tableau of different views and aspects of knowledge in order to widen the focus as large as possible to the above question. Moreover, it will explore where the concept intrudes into other fields or social problems in order to better see the concept from its borders.

The odd thing that one first notices about knowledge is that it is a seemingly obvious and ubiquitous phenomenon but that it is fuzzily defined if at all. Traditional epistemology takes the view that knowledge by acquaintance (e.g., knowing Rudolph) or by competence (how to peel bananas) are incidental compared to knowledge of propositions (that the Eiffel Tower is made of steel). And there follows endless writings about true knowledge while conceding that the skeptical view that there is no guarantee of truth just might itself be true. If you havenít heard much news about epistemology lately, itís because this circular frustration has kept things quiet on the epistemological front for quite a while.

The story of our understanding of knowledge is parallel to our understanding of the mind. Both were essentially made to disappear from intellectual view when materialism took over the stage. Knowledge disappeared into facts and objects while mind was subsumed into the brainís mechanics or chemistry. Now mind has already made somewhat of a comeback as researchers have stumbled with their mechanical assumptions and as the sheer existence of conscious awareness continues to mock a reductionist only program.

But knowledge has yet to emerge from its materialistic hiding place of fact. In everyday usage this translates as knowing is oneís getting it or not getting it where ďitĒ is somewhere between the obvious and principled truths. To know is to turn the lights on and avoid the evils of ignorance, stupidity or suckerdom. Leaving justification to epistemologists, everyday knowers spend their time making sure they have consumed a lot of facts and trashing othersí inability to keep up. Knowledge then has become something like a status game and not anything in its own right.

So much for current ignobility of a concept that is keystone to much of our everyday, theoretical and religious life. However, as will be seen in the web pages below there is a very wide array of attributes given to knowledge beyond the narrow epistemological focus on true propositions. The gathering of attributes is intended to give a fresh look at the concept in order to foster renewed dialogue about the concept.

The list of attributes assembled here of course suffers from the usual problems including the limitation of who does the gathering. Suggestions and critiques are definitely wished and appreciated.

In characterizing knowledge the following schema has been used. All general attributes of knowledge are listed under General Attributes except for biological ones which are listed separately under Biological Formulations. There is no justification for this other than this author is taking special care to include biologistsí views and research into consideration even when there is low interest in epistemological issues.

In addition to attributes of knowledge there is a listing of the ways that the assumption of knowledge as truth and its use impact our lives. The assumption is that the concept of knowledge as truth has repercussions in society and that these repercussions from the use of the current concept give insights into how knowledge functions. These consequences of the use of heavily veridical, unique and transparent knowledge are listed in the Social Aspects section. Most of these are in the form of critique and are examined from the light of social problems that allegedly derive at least part of the problematic from the current knowledge conception. From this vantage the issue of what is knowledge is as much a concern for social reformers as for philosophers. And it is to be hoped that an exploration of the consequences of knowledge use will offer motivation as well as insight into that question. Separated out from social aspects of knowledge were the Spiritual Aspects for the only reason that religious and secular values are conventionally separated even if they are both joined here under the effects of how knowledge is used.

Finishing up the appraisal of the concept of knowledge is a simple listing of the various ways we conceive of knowledge from the Metaphors that we employ about it.


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