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Topic: Knowing and Being Right


by Darrel Cline

Epistemology. If you do not know what that word means, and you applied yourself in school, you should get you a good lawyer and sue whatever school district failed you. If you do know what that word means, you may want to send your favorite teacher a bouquet of roses, or a new cordless drill.

Op ed pages in the local newspaper are a good place to begin to gather your evidence for your day in court. It is there that you will find the proof of the failure of the educational system, because there you will find plenty of proof that the system has not made "thinking" a part of the curriculum.

That brings us to our word: epistemology. Epistemology is the study of how we know what we think we know and what we pontificate to others as truth. It is the foundation for our determination of whether we are being fed a line of bunk, or if we are being told truth.

There are three valid root sources for knowledge. The first is what has been built in by genetic coding. This is a given and there is nothing we can do about it except recognize it.

The second is empiricism (need that lawyer, yet?). Empiricism is what we can know by the valid inputs of our five senses. If we can see, hear, taste, touch, and/or smell, we have legitimate information at our disposal. Anyone who denies empiricism as a root of knowledge will have to do so to his own empty head because the denial will have to go out to others by way of writing (which requires confidence in sight) or speech (which requires confidence in hearing). So the denial of empiricism is a logical fallacy. You can trust your five senses to tell you the truth. That does not mean that you cannot be deceived by false signals, but it does mean that if you apply yourself in looking, listening, tasting, touching, and smelling, you can find the garbage dump, or a local eatery (whichever you prefer).

The other valid root source for knowledge is testimony that is based on the empirical experiences of others. Here one needs to be very careful because "others" have proven in experience to be notoriously willing to promote lies in the guise of "testimony" to promote a dishonest agenda. Nonetheless, one can gain valuable knowledge by the testimony of others who gained that knowledge through their five senses if they are willing to pass it on in a truthful manner. We just have to be careful.

This is where the op ed pages come into play. On those pages we find multitudes of people who have a point of view to express. But, the one question that every opinion should have to answer is this: How do you know that? What is your epistemological basis for your claim? When someone makes a viewpoint claim, he/she ought to have to answer the question: How do you know that the claim you are making is true?

There are three major blockages to the discovery of truth through empiricism and testimony. The first is blind prejudice. Blind prejudice is simply making claims that one wants to be true. This is the castle of dreams where most irreligious people live.

The second is blind faith. Blind faith is simply making claims that are based upon the testimony of others without making any effort to check that testimony to see if it squares with one's own experiences. This is the castle of dreams where most of our religious people live.

The third is illogical reasoning. Illogical reasoning is the use of reason in ways that are self-defeating, but the self-defeating mechanisms slip by unnoticed because we were not trained to be logical (why weren't we? should I get that lawyer yet?). This is the castle of dreams where most of us live, whether irreligious or religious.

So, as you read the opinions of all those who write for these pages, ask yourself over and over: how does this person know this is true? If you cannot find an answer, be careful before you buy. The answer will either have to be found in experiential reality, or in validated testimony of experiential reality. There are a lot of hucksters out there and most of them have a line to sell you. You can save yourself a lot of frustration if you just approach truth claims from the vantage point of epistemology.

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This is article #304.
If you wish, you may contact Darrel as darrelcline at this site.