Tok Chap 1-3
Chapter 1: The Problem of Knowledge
- Critical thinking involves asking good questions, using language with care and precision, supporting your ideas with evidence, arguing coherently, and making sound judgements.
- Four ways of acquiring knowledge: perception, language, reason, emotion
- Despite the growth of knowledge, we are confronted by contradictory beliefs.
- The difference in education of the prevailing era supports the fact that knowledge is not static but changes over time.
- Nothing is certain, due to some claims by scientists we have not been trying to make sense of the world for long enough in the cosmic year to guarantee the results.
- Most people trusts knowledge to the point for knowledge to become common sense, yet common sense is based on nothing more than vague and untested beliefs.
- Common sense provides us with a starting point.
- Our mental map of reality provides us with common sense, what our ideas of true and false is, etc.
- Although common sense should not be discarded and considered useless, we should be willing to subject it to scrutiny.
- If we are accustomed to something for a long period of time (ex. Growing up) we may unthinkingly accept the fact as true and unaware of its limitations.
- The fact that people find maps in the opposite direction shows the way habitual thinking affects our minds and how hard it is to break out of it.
- Our ideas and beliefs come from different sources. Ex. Experience, parents, friends, teachers, books and media.
- There are likely to be inaccuracies within our mental maps since we do not have to time to verify the claims of the sources where we obtain our common sense.
- Inaccuracies include: thinking outside the customs familiar to a particular individual, and cultural biases.
- Paradox of cartography: if a map is to be useful, it must be imperfect. For the map to be perfect, every detail would have to been shown yet useless as a map.
- It has been thought that certainty is what distinguishes knowledge from belief.
- Doubts arise when an individual is asked if they are 100% certainty of a certain thing they are sure about.
- Language helps in acquiring knowledge where we have been told them or read them. However, even experts are fallible.
- The majority of knowledge is based on experience but our senses sometimes deceive us. Ex. Colour blindness.
- Some philosophers claimed that reason gives us greater certainty than perception, yet people are not very good at abstract reasoning in that they are liable to make all kinds of mistakes.
- Some things strike us as intuitively obvious yet it varies from individuals. Ex. Capital punishment and abortion.
- Emotions provide us the energy to pursue knowledge but they are not infallible guides to the truth.
- Can existence be doubted?
- Some philosophers have speculated that the whole of life might be a dream.
- Although the idea of having a dream living on Earth does not prove that you do not exist. It suggests that your life might be different from what you thought.
- There is no such thing as absolute truth that exists in an objective way independent of what anyone happens to believe is true.
- Rather than stating whether a fact is true or false, the most we can do is “true for me” or “false for you”.
- All points of view are of equal value.
- Relativism has an attractive position. Rather than insisting on the truth and denying others, it is more attractive to say what is true for me is false for you.
- Despite the attraction, it leads to many difficulties as equating knowledge with certainty. Ex. The Earth is round.
- If it is absolutely true that all truth is relative then there is at least one absolute truth (all truth is relative). It is only relatively true that all truth is relative then someone may say “It is not true for me that all truth is relative”.
What should we believe?
- Common sense, uncertainty, relativism cannot give us a quick solution to the problem of knowledge. Whatever you believe, you should try to support your beliefs with evidence and respond to criticisms.
The role of judgement
- Good judgement is the ability to balance scepticism with open-mindedness.
- Cultivate a healthy scepticism as an antidote to intellectual and financial gullibility.
The danger of gullibility
- No one is willing to believe everything they read.
- We all have limits beyond which we conclude the absurdity of a belief.
The danger of scepticism
- Being too sceptical means closing your mind to new ideas that challenge conventional wisdom. Ex. Existence of meteorites and the theory of continental drift.
- Too sceptical = intellectual progress stops and knowledge stagnate.
This is a preview of the whole essay
- There should be positive evidence in support of it.
- “You can’t prove that there aren’t”, no positive evidence was given to support the belief.
- The fact that you can’t prove something isn’t true does nothing to show it is true. Argument ad ignorantiam.
- We should be open-minded in looking for evidence for and against our belief. Confirmation bias is the tendency to only notice evidence that support our beliefs.
- Whether or not it fits with our current understanding of things.
- We cannot cast doubt on all of our beliefs at once. The best option is to examine them one at a time.
- Although we should be open to new ideas, the more unlikely something is relative to the current state of knowledge, the stronger the evidence in its favour should be before taking it seriously.
- Your beliefs and opinions are important in defining part of who you are as a person.
- It would make no sense to constantly examining your beliefs but if you never examine them you end up leading a fabricated life.
- People’s beliefs affect their actions.
- “People who believe absurdities will commit atrocities.” A society in which “anything goes” is a place that gives rise to fanatics and extremists.
- It is difficult to form a coherent picture of reality in the world we live in. The way we see the reality is influenced by our history, culture and psychology.
- Three possible solutions to the problem of knowledge: common sense, certainty, and relativism. Since none of them is entirely accurate, we must use our judgments to decide our beliefs.
- There are a vast variety of different opinions in the world.
- Our sense of reality contains inaccuracies and bias that we are not aware of.
- We acquire knowledge through language, perception reason, and emotion but none of them can give us certainty.
- Good judgment is finding the right balance between skeptics and open-mindedness.
- Criteria to determine whether or not a claim is plausible: evidence and coherence.
- We should occasionally subject our beliefs to critical scrutiny if we want to be authentic and responsible.
Chapter 2: The Nature of Knowledge
- Knowledge might be described as a concept in that it is not exhausted by a short definition and can only be understood through experience and reflection.
- Starting point in the definition of knowledge = justified true belief.
Knowledge as a justified true belief
- Truth is independent of what anyone happens to believe is true, and simply believing something is true does not make it true.
- Even if the majority believes in the fact that something is true, it can still be false.
- If you know something, then what you claim to know must not only be true, but you must also believe it to be true.
- Belief is a subjective requirement for truth.
- Vague belief: a belief with no evidence and readily abandoned with argument.
- Well-supported belief: Belief supported by some evidence but lacking certainty.
- Belief beyond reasonable doubt: Having a firm belief in claims supporting one side while believing the counter argument to be insufficient. Having certainty in the statement.
- The important thing is to try to develop as reasonable and well-supported a set of beliefs as possible.
- True belief is a sufficient condition and if you believe something while your belief is true, then you can be said to know it. However, your belief must also be justified in the right kind of way.
- In order to be able to say you know something, you must be able to justify your belief and the justification must be of the right kind.
- The key thing that distinguishes acceptable from unacceptable justification seems to be reliability.
- Perception is generally reliable although not infallible.
- Whether or not you are justified in saying you know something also depends on context.
- When you say you know something you are taking responsibility for its being true.
Levels of Knowledge
- Much of what we claim to “know” is second-hand knowledge that we have acquired from other people and do not understand in any great detail.
- Children who ask “why?” are irritating because they bring to light the superficial nature of our understanding.
Knowledge and information
- Drilling random facts into someone’s mind may be good for quiz shows but it does not lead to genuine understanding.
- A person with genuine knowledge does not merely have information about it but understands how the carious parts are related to one another to form a meaningful whole.
- While you cannot have knowledge without information, an area of knowledge is more than just a heap of information.
- Acquiring information about something is not enough to understand it, one need to think about the information and how it hangs together.
- You can sometimes require knowledge simply by reflecting on the information you already have at your disposal rather than by looking for more information.
- We are able to know a great deal more about the world than if we had to rely on our resources because we can share our experiences through language.
- Rather than reinventing the wheel, culture allows us to make progress by building on the achievements of past generations.
- Authority worship: Blindly accepting what we are told without thinking about it.
- Second hand knowledge is also known as knowledge by authority or knowledge by testimony. Among the main sources of such knowledge are: cultural tradition, school, internet, expert opinion, news media. They are not infallible and we should be aware of their limitations.
- The culture we grew up in has a strong influence on how we see the world.
- Cultural tradition embodies “the inherited wisdom of the community”
- Living traditions change and develop over time, we do not have to be restricted by our inheritance in the past
- We need to find the balance between respecting traditional thinking and be willing to question them to make progress in knowledge.
- Schools play a key role in the passing of knowledge through generations.
- It is impossible to teach everything. School curriculums will be selective and cover a limited range. This raises the question between what should be included in the curriculum and the difference between education and indoctrination.
- Some argue that the hallmark of a good school is one that encourages you to question things and think for yourself.
- Advantage: speed and accessibility
- Disadvantage: Lack of quality control. It can be a source of not only information but also disinformation.
- A consequence of the growth of knowledge in our society is that it is no longer possible for a bright person to know everything.
- Despite relying on expert opinion, we should keep in mind two things:
- Experts are fallible and sometimes get it wrong
- Experts have a limited range of competence.
- We are all aware that there is some bias in both the selection and presentation of news stories.
- Bad news: gives people an unduly pessimistic view of the state of the planet, create and sustain a climate of fear.
- Extraordinary news: Gradual changes that may have a significance effect on people’s lives tend to get little coverage.
- Relevant news: Concerns domestic citizens of the same country.
- Most people who follow current affairs choose outlets that reflect their pre-existing prejudices.
- We should occasionally select a news outlet that has a different opinion than our own to encourage us to question our assumptions and not take our way of looking at things for granted.
The limitations of second-hand knowledge
- Second hand knowledge can never be an original source of knowledge.
- Authority is not an original source of knowledge, our knowledge claims must ultimately be justified by perception, reason and intuition.
- Problems can arise if you rely only on judgment to determine the truth.
- Talking to people with different opinions may help us to improve our self-knowledge and develop a more balanced picture of the world
- The difference between knowledge and belief is one of degree rather than kind.
- It consists of more than a jumble of isolated facts.
- In order to gain a deeper understanding of an area of knowledge, you need a mixture of details and context.
- If you are never willing to test your ideas against those of other people, you may end up with a distorted and fantasy-ridden picture of the world.
Chapter 3: Language
- Language is something that completely surrounds us that we rarely think about yet it has a central function in our lives.
- We use language to describe things, express our feelings, persuade people, tell jokes, write literature, and speculate about the meaning of life.
- It is one of the main ways in which we acquire knowledge about the world.
- Language is not a perfect medium of communication. Ex. Difference in comprehension between individuals.
- Language is sometimes used to deliberately deceive and manipulate people.
What is language?
- Language is rule-governed
- Language is intended
- Language is creative and open-ended.
Language is rule-governed
- Grammar gives the rules for how to combine words in the correct order and determines the meaning of a sentence.
- Vocabulary is also governed by arbitrary rules.
- For communication to work, it does not matter what we correlate the objects with, so long as there is general agreement within the community.
Language is intended
- A key thing that distinguishes the subset of communication that is language from other forms of communication is that the former is intended and the latter is not.
- There are situations where information is communicated but one would describe it as language.
Language is creative and open-ended
- Rules of grammar and vocabulary allow us to create and understand sentences that have never been written or said before.
- Languages are not static entities but change and develop over time, new words can be invented or can be borrowed from one another.
- Although we usually associate language with meaningful sounds, it could in principle express itself in any medium.
The problem of meaning
- We need to be clear about the meanings of words if we are to understand the information that is being communicated.
- If you do not know what the key words are in a passage, you will not understand it.
- You must know what a sentence means before you can decide whether it is true or false.
- Problem: words are often ambiguous and open to a variety of interpretations.
Theories of meaning
- Definition theory: The most obvious way of trying to resolve confusions about what a word means is to consult a dictionary. The only words we are able to define in a clear and unambiguous way are mathematical ones, ex “triangle”.
- The main problem with the definition theory is that the meaning of a word is explained by using other words.
- Denotation theory: What distinguishes a meaningful word from a meaningless one is that the former stands for something.
- Denotation theory does not stand for anything in the case of abstract words such as multiplication, freedom, and wisdom. Also, the meaning of a name cannot be a person since the word would have become meaningless when the person referred died.
- Image theory: the meaning of a word is the mental image it stands for. You know the meaning of the word when you have the appropriate concepts in your mind.
- Criticism: We can never be sure that someone else understands the meaning of a word in the same way that we do.
Meaning as know-how
- It would be better to say that you know the meaning of a word when you know how to use it. It is hard to resist the idea that there must be something appropriate going on in our heads when we mean and understand things.
- Robert Frost: “we rarely say exactly what we mean, we like to talk in parables and in hints and in indirections”
- Five kinds of problematic meaning that can be found in everyday language: vagueness, ambiguity, secondary meanings, metaphor and irony.
- Vagueness: Meaning of words that depends on context. It may fail in pinning things down but it can be useful in pointing us in the right direction.
- Ambiguity: Words can have two different meanings. While it is sometimes amusing, it can also be used to mislead people. Context, however, can help us to determine the meaning of an ambiguous sentence.
- Secondary meaning: A connotation of the web of associations that surrounds it. Its meaning vary from person to person and we sometimes use euphemisms for harsh words because they have more acceptable connotation.
- Metaphor: Despite being literally false, metaphoric sentences might still be true. In practice in can be difficult to determine where literal meanings ends and metaphorical meanings begin.
- Irony: The saying of one thing in order to mean the opposite that is found in all cultures. Irony means that we cannot necessarily take a statement at face value and adds another layer of ambiguity to language.
Language and Interpretation
- Language is ambiguous. The implication in vagueness is that there is an element of interpretation built in all communication.
- Although language is governed by rules, many of the rules are quite loose and there is often more than one way of interpreting a sentence.
- Rather than think of meaning as all or nothing, it might make sense to think in terms of levels of meaning.
Why should we care about the meaning of words?
- The difference in meaning of words such as “murder” and “manslaughter” may be a matter of life and death for a person.
- B. R. Forer: “People tend to accept vague and general personality descriptions as uniquely applicable to themselves without realizing that the same description could be applied to just about everyone.”
Language and Translation
- Each individual has a privileged relation to their native language and tends to unthinkingly assume that it fits like a glove and illustrates the dangers of unthinking linguistic chauvinism.
- A benefit of learning a second language is that it gives you a perspective on your own.
- When learning a second language, one of the things you will discover is that different languages divide the world up in different ways.
Problem of Translation
- Context: The meaning of a word in a language is partly determined by its relation to other words. When we move from language to language, such differences can easily get lost.
- Untranslatable words: Every language contains words that have no equivalent in other languages. Translation problems can even arise at a relatively simple level.
- Idioms: A colloquial expression whose meaning cannot be worked out from the meanings of the words it contains.
Lost in translation
- Most linguists would say that there is no such thing as a perfect translation and that something is always lost when we move from one language to another.
- Faithfulness: the translation should be faithful to the original text.
- Comprehensibility: The translation should be comprehensible
- Back translation: When we retranslate a translation back to its original language, it should approximate to the original.
- The more faithful you are to the letter or literal meaning of the text, the stranger the translation is likely to sound in the target language.
- The more natural the translation sounds in the target language, the more likely you are to have strayed from the literal meaning of the original text
Labels and stereotypes
- Language consists of two main kinds of words: proper names and general words.
- We give proper names to such things as people, places, and pets but general words does not describe one unique thing, characteristic or action, and are general in nature.
- A good label enables you to predict how the object in question will behave.
- Labeling creates the danger that you mislabel things. If you treat similar things as if they were different or different things as if they were similar, you are likely to run into trouble.
- Since it is always possible to find similarities or differences between things, there are in fact many different ways of labeling or classifying a group of objects.
- One view on labels is that they reflect natural classes of things that exist “out there”.
- Another view on labels is that they are social constructions that we impose on the world.
- One danger with putting labels on people is that the labels can easily harden into stereotypes.
- Stereotypes arise when we make assumptions about a group of people purely on the basis on their membership of that group.
- Despite the danger of stereotypes, some generalizations contain an element of truth in them.
- Stereotype exaggerates the negative features of a group and assumes that they are possessed by all members of the group. It is usually based on prejudice rather than fact and is difficult to change in light of contrary evidence.
- Despite their obvious value, labels can trap us into one particular way of looking at things.
The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
- Language determines our experience of reality, and we can see and think only what our language allows us to see and think.
- Language determines the way we think, it can be described as a form of linguistic determinism.
Testing the hypothesis
- The fact that groups of people have many different words for snow does not show that language determines reality, but instead suggests that reality determines language.
- It might be hard to have various abstract ideas if you did not have the appropriate vocabulary where we sometimes think in images and struggle to find the appropriate words.
- While language may not determine though, it might be said to predispose it.
Language and values
- We use language to describe the world, to persuade and influence one another.
Using language to influence and persuade
- Emotionally laden language: Emotive meaning can be defined as “the aura of favorable feeling that hovers about a word”.
- Euphemism substitutes mild or neutral sounding words for a negative sounding one.
- Weasel words: Words such as many, should, and probably that people slip into sentences to give themselves an escape route.
- Grammar: Grammar can affect the way people see things.
- Revealing and concealing: Language can be used not only to reveal certain aspects of reality, but also to conceal other aspects by diverting attention away from them. Each description carries with it a different set of connotations, but it is possible that they all refer to the same person.
Language at war
- Language is not innocent and can be used to manipulate the way we see things
Language is power
- The seductive eloquence of the use of language reminds us that language can be used not only to educate and enlighten, but also to fuel the flames of hatred.
- Language is not as simple or straightforward as we first thought.
- Some people claim that in order to know something you must be able to put it into words.
- Other people insist that some of our knowledge lies beyond words.
- Mystics in all great world religions have held that the deepest truths cannot be expressed in language.