Can you be More Specific?

In lieu of a satisfactory solution to some academic enquiry, be specific.

Take epistemology - the theory of knowledge. A key question is: what is knowledge?

These are steps you could take to define knowledge: couch it out into relevant concepts; polarise the extremes of what could be said to constitute knowledge; argue the cases for or against various theoretical stances…

…and specify - identify the relevant area of study so as to set the scope of the investigation.

I’m being philosophical in the first instance.

* * *

A description of knowledge might refer to the following concepts:


‘Thought’ and ‘certainty’ are extremes of what could be taken to count as knowledge - where thought is whatever pops into your head, and certainty is cognition with no room for error.

‘Thought’ might not at first reckoning be considered to count as an example of knowledge in any respect, but the proposition ‘I think…[such and such]’ could readily be an assertion of knowledge. If you think something, you might not know it to be the case. Whereas if you know something, you surely think it is true.

Thought is necessary but not sufficient for knowledge.

On the other hand, to be certain is to know for sure, but is idealistic.

Can anyone truly believe anything with 100% certainty when their faculties of memory and understanding are more or less fractionally fallible?

Intuition is a foothold of knowledge, but over time deteriorates in consciousness. Is it possible to be certain for a moment, while a truth and its cognition are fresh in the understanding? I don’t know…I can conceive of a dream in which I am momentarily convinced that one and one is three…until I awaken to the stark reality.

Surely certainty has to endure to be valid.

Although something may be the case for certain, can a mortal being be said to ‘know’ it as such? Not in the face of the highest standards of critical evaluation. - Not for a philosopher in the throes of Cartesian doubt. Neither, perhaps, for a scientist entangled in the quantum physical.

Certainty is sufficient but not necessary for knowledge.

Knowledge involves a degree of agency on the part of a sentient being; for the one extreme where the assertion needs to be thought to be a case of knowledge, and the other extreme where it may only aspire to the ideal of certainty.

As a conscious agent, understanding the content of what you claim to know is elementary, and the shortcomings of human perception are reflected in the term ‘belief’. What is known is also believed. Belief is a working model for what we consider ourselves to be correct about.

The extent to which we are probably correct might be ascertained through formal logical evaluation, where the merely probable may be separable from the guaranteed.

‘It is light outside’ is drawn from the premise that ‘the sun is out’.

There is a deductive and an inductive facet to the structure of this set of propositions.

Deductively, there is a core argument based on the fact the sun shines, and x entails x.

Inductively, the primary assumption might be false, and all the details included in a picture of the state of affairs ‘the sun is out’ are up for grabs.

On top of which, I might know the sun has got his hat on, but do you trust me to tell the truth? What if you read this at night? Where are you on the globe - and how does this affect the statement’s veracity? It’s light out here, but is it light out there? I mean, it’s light out now, but I’m fairly certain it won’t be light out later. Where is ‘out’ anyway?

* * *

Specificity is key. The search may be for a mathematical theory of knowledge, moving the enquiry towards particular criteria; standards of knowledge are considered to be highly rigorous in mathematics, where a small calculation can be remembered, demonstrated, intuited, proven and confirmed mechanically beyond a shred of doubt.

Scientifically speaking.

- Compare with the ontological nature of physics; epistemic realism can be upwards of 99.9% precise in explanation of the behaviour of physical entities, however similar ratings to the field of mathematics are unattainable. The knowledge is no less powerful, it pertains to a (specifiable) disciplinal frontier - that of inductive, rather than deductive science, because physics refers to the contingencies of the empirical (real world occurrences e.g. the sun will set), rather than the inferences of the rational (theoretical truths e.g. 5 + 5 = 10).

- Contrast with the fine arts. An astute knowledge of artistry could involve familiarity with styles; media; genre; subject; technique. On what grounds are the figures measured? Could a strong consensus of opinion be gained if realism was pitched against cubism in a contest for representation of the subject? Not only would opinion be divided on the answer, there would be the critical issue of whether there is a right or wrong answer.

This is far from suggesting there is nothing substantial in the evaluation of artistic merit. It is, however, to say that aesthetic appreciation exists in a world abstract from other domains so far as ‘what is known’ might be established.

Whether a photographic likeness of an image is ‘thoughtful’ or ‘lazy’ in the eyes of an impressionist painter might be a subject for debate.

The same query is simply not an issue for an astrophysicist.

Specifically, she wants to know if the camera’s resolution is suitable for the subject in hand.

I could just as readily need to be literary in my reply, for the purposes of obtaining a definition…in which case a dictionary might be an advisable starting (or ending) point.

I know, I know, but you’ve got a dictionary too right?



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