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When should we trust our senses to give us truth?

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Introduction

Sense perception is one of the four ways of knowing. It is our senses that give us the ability to smell, hear, touch, see and taste. As we use these abilities to perceive the world around us, how much can we rely on them to give us the truth? This also begs the question, when should we trust our senses to give us truth? Epistemology is one of the main branches of philosophy1 which attempts to answer these questions. We identify an epistemological problem; our knowledge of the external world that may be misguided by our senses. When we speak of 'trusting' our senses, it is referred to whether we may 'rely' on our senses, and use our senses as valid measures of our existing world. Our senses are used so often since they are the most immediate forms of the ways of knowing. But our senses can be fallible. To explore these issues, we will look into the arts and the natural sciences. G. E. Moore (1941) asserts that "a thing can't be certain unless it is known". He believes that this differentiates the word 'certain' from the word 'true'. ...read more.

Middle

Since we are in doubt of our senses of both sight and touch for the previous example, we must use other ways of knowing. We may use reason to justify that the stick is straight both in and out of water. Descartes' law3, the law of refraction, must be used to draw a conclusion and support the sense of touch that the stick never bends. Thus when we are in doubt about the accuracy of our senses, it is difficult to trust them to give us truth. Although we have seen that our senses may not be reliable during different circumstances, they are important to us when speaking of safety and danger. What one feels, the experience of emotion, is important to each individual. Emotion, the way of knowing, is interrelated with perception. For example, if I touch a working stove, I will feel pain and associate the emotion of fear when I see a working stove in the future, thus avoid touching it. Thus a posteriori knowledge, knowledge that is dependent on experience4, has been acquired from both perception and emotion. However, combining emotion with perception may create error in the knowledge acquired and our understanding of reality. ...read more.

Conclusion

This shows how language can aid our senses to give us truth. Our senses give us information of the external world. Since perception is a selective process, this information is not a mirror of reality. What constructs the selectivity of perception are all other ways of knowing. From this, our understanding of reality can therefore be distorted. Thus, our senses alone cannot be trusted to obtain truth. On the contrary, reason, emotion and language can all be used to aid our senses to give us truth. This is because all other ways of knowing help to understand reality, and using senses alone, no meaning can be made from reality. For example, as our sight is limited to the size of an object, we can't trust it in identifying a type of micro organism with the naked eye. By using reason from the use of manmade instruments to aid our senses, truth can be acquired. Thus clearly, our senses are most definitely limited. However, we do trust our senses most of the time. This is because they are our most immediate way of knowing the world and perhaps because most of the time they seem to work. Furthermore, when in doubt of all other ways of knowing, we should trust our senses to give us truth as they are the only available form of the ways of knowing. ...read more.

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