Knowledge and epistemology


21st September 2020

Knowledge can be considered as the problem of Philosophy. It’s impossible to argue about Philosophy without arguing about knowledge, since they’re strictly connected.

  • How do we know what we know
  • What are the conditions for knowledge

There are different kinds of epistemology, depending from the discipline. Every philosopher discussed the problem of knowledge, but everyone gave a different answer.

Descartes and Hume interpreted knowledge as one of the primary problems of Philosophy also because they lived in the Scientific Revolution era, a time when it was questioned and knowledge became the center of the discussion in every field.
Philosophy couldn’t avoid dealing with the issue of knowledge since it is a tool to build a new society and a new political structure.

René Descartes based all of his philosophy upon the argument of knowledge.
According to some philosophers, first among them Hegel, starting from Descartes Philosophy was identified with Epistemology. For this reason Descartes’ arguments are the key to approach Epistemology and they offer a revolutionary point of view in the history of Philosophy.

René Descartes is a bold spirit who recommenced the whole subject from the very beginning and constituted afresh the groundwork on which Philosophy is based, and to which, after a thousand years had passed, it once more returned. The extent of the influence which this man exercised upon his times and the culture of Philosophy generally, cannot be sufficiently expressed; it rests mainly in his setting aside all former pre-suppositions and beginning in a free, simple, and likewise popular way, with popular modes of thought and quite simple propositions, in his leading to thought and extension or Being, and so to speak setting up this before thought as its opposite. This simple thought appeared in the form of the determinate, clear understanding.

Hegel’s Lectures on the History of Philosophy, §2, ch.1

Plato: the allegory of the cave

Plato is the first philosopher to systematically address the problem of knowledge, even though he didn’t consider it the main problem of Philosophy.
To address it, he used the tool of allegory, inventing the famous allegory of the cave, in the 7th book of the Republic: he considered it strictly connected with the political problem of building a true new and just society.

  1. Plato shows that we can firmly believe in reality, even if this is deceitful and not true. We describe reality as we are used to conceive it. The way we are used to perceive things influences the way we will see things in the future, too.
  2. Even in a world of appearances there are hierarchies: awards and the world upon which they are built are illusory. A whole society its political structure is based on appearances. In this world of shadows, prisoners have a hierarchy (like in Versailles during the reign of Louis XIV) and being the fastest at pointing out shadows would make someone better than another.
  3. We can become aware of those perceptions. Education, traditions, etc. influence our conception of life and of the world.
    Hannah Arendt: we build our conjectures and our ideas of people based on appearances
    In a society where everything isn’t real, it becomes impossible even to distinguish what is fake-real from what is fake-fake.
    Understanding social media is crucial since in every society there is something like the social media we have now.\
  4. Knowledge can be painful, it needs effort, yet knowledge is worth to be reached, and who reaches it have a duty towards other people, it makes him responsible to share the “enlightened” vision
    • Habits and customs influence our notion of reality
    • Societies are grounded on appearances (see What’s on your mind)
    • Although many times “Ignorance is bliss”, knowledge must be shared

22nd September 2020

Brains in a vat vs Descartes’ arguments +++

!René Descartes

and !First Meditation

!David Hume

Next topic: The Mind-Body problem



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