Epistemology

the pattern that connects
Gregory Bateson

Epistemology:

a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature,
methods, and limits of human knowledge

Random House Unabridged

Epistemology has been my hobby ever since my Sunday School teacher offered us “reasons” for our beliefs.

We know that Jesus is our Savior because of all the Witnesses: Thomas put his finger through the hole in Jesus’ hand. “Doubting” Thomas told so-and-so who told so-and-so et cetera: who told the pope … who told Luther … who told the king … who told my grandfather, who told my father, who told me …

As a note to my biographical narrative states, it’s not very sound epistemology, but it is epistemology.

I know he loves me because he told me so.
Epistemology is not popular. It’s rarely taught or even mentioned under that name. My Sunday School teacher certainly didn’t mention the word. I doubt that he knew the word. At sixty, still trying to save us from ourselves, still utterly without any discernible success, popularity is the last thing I can worry about. I call it by it’s name because I see our chances of continuing to survive without a conscious and critical apprehension of epistemology as vanishing toward zero.

Philosophy should be divided in two:
epistemology and all else.
Epistemology should be studied
with all diligence.
The rest should be classified with
the history of human pathology.

Alfred Korzybski (paraphrase)

Development of this most important directory (Epistemology, Thinking Tools …) has been scanted while I simultaneously develop the rest of my home page, my writing, my biography, and my commentaries making one picture. The whole of the home page has been in turn scanted while I’ve concentrated on developing my Theory of Macroinformation. You’ll find epistemological concerns and comments throughout my work.

The system’s not in the parts, it’s in the pattern.
Denis Wood

Epistemology is very hard to think or write about directly. Yet anyone with a developed epistemological sense will readily see that it is the core subject underlying this home page. Yet I didn’t mount so much as a scrap of this module till a few months ago after scribbling a few words to my son via email. Today isn’t the day either except to note a point the proper essay will eventually develop:

Epistemology isn’t a subject to be learned and then you’ve got it, then you have authority. There’s no simple “answer” that once you’ve got it, you’ve got it. Epistemology offers no algorithm that can be learned mechanically. Epistemology studies ways of “knowing.” That is, it studies ways of believing about knowledge. Epistemology can show how some ways are primitive, inadequate, immature. Epistemology can not say: this way is right. Now you’ll be infallible.

As my Truth and Reason module argues, epistemology, like science, like reason, can expose faulty reasoning but cannot prove its own reasoning to be valid. Epistemology is not a tautology. Tautologies like geometry have methods of reasoning. The scientific process offers methods of procedure, methods of reasoning. The methods of both are part of epistemology. Epistemology is not a sub-set of science; science is a sub-set of epistemology.

Epistemology is thought of as a sub-set of philosophy. I follow Korzybski: all philosophy which is not epistemology is so much cant.

There is something fascinating about science.
One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.

Mark Twain

Epistemologies can be compared the way Gamow infinities can be compared. We can say one is “stronger” but cannot specify the entire contents of either. Unlike infinities, what can be estimated with confidence about epistemologies are their comparative limits. Jean Piaget showed that children “know” their world differently than do adults. People who have studied biology know the world differently than do people who haven’t. Jared Diamond points out that physiologists know biology differently than do evolutionary theorists. People who have studied Korzybskian semantics know semantics differently than do people who use the word only to wriggle away from responsible speech.

Do we want a child’s way of knowing while supervising a white water raft trip on the Colorado? Do we want a physiologist’s expertise on cellular mechanisms when tying to explain the evolutionary function of death? Do we want the “wisdom” of the marketplace (a place which includes the White House as well as Madison Avenue) to determine the fate of the biosphere?

My work I keep emphasizing flows from Korzybski. My connection to Korzybski was made through Gregory Bateson. Now I discover that others have been doing excellent work on semiotics and epistemology: Timothy Leary, Robert Anton Wilson, the folks at
deoxy.org

from 1996


Notes

Epistemology not Popular:
My lawyer recently told me with regard to a civil suit that if I mentioned epistemology, the jury would see to it that I didn’t get any money. How else was I to establish my character? The bully had attacked me, left me in my blood and broken teeth, then called the police to say I had attacked him. The philosopher, saint, and reformer attacks the redneck? Physically?

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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2 Responses to Epistemology

  1. Pingback: Epistemology -Philosophy and Exercise Pt. 1 « Killsession Musings

  2. Pingback: Epistemology -Philosophy and Exercise Pt. 2. « Killsession Musings

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