Is it possible to justify the different ways of knowing?

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TOK Essay 1/2011

Question: Is it possible to justify a hierarchy of different ways of knowing and, if so, on what basis?

Name: Valerie Ng Suying

TOK group: P1b (Mr Eric Lau)

Index Number: 21

For many generations, humans have learnt to attain knowledge through many different ways including reason, sense perception and emotion. Reason is the way in which truth can be ascertained by thinking and the process of reflection alone (SOTA TOK Lecture 1). Sense perception is the awareness or apprehension of things by sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) and emotion, is any of the natural instinctive affections of the mind which come and go according to one’s personality, experiences and bodily state: a mental feeling (New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary). These ways of knowing have their own advantages and shortcomings and often lead to different new knowledge for a given environment or data set being considered or examined.

Over time, humans have come to realize that the acquisition of knowledge can be made more efficient and effective if these ways of knowing are applied in a more structured manner. This seems to suggest that in the pursuit of knowledge, humans use some form of hierarchy when applying the ways of knowing and that it is possible to justify this hierarchy. To have a hierarchy would mean to arrange or classify the different Ways of Knowing according to their relative importance or inclusiveness in giving us knowledge (Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary). For this to be possible, we need to find a set of common basis that can be used to judge each Way of Knowing against its ability to deliver knowledge. Personally, I believe that there is a hierarchy among the ways of knowledge, in which the criteria underlying the hierarchy is based on reliability and accuracy. Knowledge delivered though the ways of knowing must be firstly reliable, where it can be trusted and defined by its ability to remove any form of bias or uncertainty. Secondly, it must be accurate, where it is defined by the state of being correct or precise. Reason fulfills the above criteria to a large extent, thus placing it at the top of the hierarchy, with sense perception and emotion positioned below it respectively.

Reason should be placed at the top of the hierarchy when it comes to giving us more accurate and reliable knowledge as compared to sense perception because it involves conscious and logical processing, thinking and reflection when evaluating a knowledge claim. In most cases, reasoning starts with premises that are true. Therefore, the arguments are valid and conclusions are often true (Alchin 76). Additionally, when one receives data or information in the different areas of knowledge, the brain processes them and seeks to find linkages between sets of data. Through reasoning, people are able to make sense of both their thoughts and experiences, identifying problems and the factors influencing these problems. As such, we are able to achieve plausible and logical conclusion. For example, through observations and experiments in the natural sciences, we can prove, within reason, whether a hypothesis is true or not. In the areas of Arts and Ethics, though emotion is considered by many to be the most important Way of Knowing, reason nevertheless plays a fundamental and essential role in these two areas of knowledge. In the Arts, reasoning is needed to allow us to make sense of the subject matters we perceive in the physical world and find relationships and patterns in the objects and sounds we identify in visual arts and music. More importantly, reason is required in the process of deriving at an artistic concept. On the other hand, in sense perception, conclusions are drawn solely on what one derives from the five human senses. No logical reasoning is taking place in the process. As a result, imprecise perceptions or mistaken interpretations may surface. This can be illustrated with a science experiment where a color-blind person sees colors differently from one who has perfect eyesight: the normal person may see that the color has changed from orange to blue. On the contrary, the one who is color-blind may see that the color has changed to say, purple instead of blue. Therefore, knowledge derived from sense perception is often not as precise.

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In spite of reason giving us a plausible and logical conclusion, there is a problem of induction where it is based on assumptions and sometimes prone to fallacies like hasty generalization. For example, in the area of mathematics (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy),

Premise 1: 0 has the property F.

Premise 2: For every number n, if n has the property F then n+1 has the property F.

Conclusion: Every number has the property F.

The conclusion in the above example may not necessarily be true, but it nevertheless illustrates that the inductive reasoning process requires ...

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