Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Epistemology- Starting to unravel

In my first assignment I briefly touched upon on Socrates idea that all he knew was that he knew nothing. I tend to agree with him in the sense that I believe there is so much knowledge out there, new things being discovered and even things that we can only truly understand by going through them, that we will never be “all-knowing.”

In my English class we just finished reading the play “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller. In one of our class discussions we talked about how each decision that we make leads our live in a certain direction, but it also closes all the other “parallel lives” that we could have had. I thought it was a sad way to look at it. Most of us make the best decisions we can at the time they come to us, sometimes we are not even aware that we are making a decision that will have a big impact.

I view knowledge in a similar way. It is all around us, but it is up to us to choose what we absorb and keep and what is thrown to the back of our minds and eventually fades. However how exactly we did that I didn’t know. In my psychology class we were taught that there is no known limit to how much information our brain can hold. I thought them how unfair it was then, that I had such difficulty remembering all the different names of the parts of our brain for the unit test. It was not something I wanted on the back of my mind, yet that is where it seemed to keep going.

As I kept reading I discovered that we need to “exercise” the connections to that knowledge for it to be easy to access, otherwise we may need something to spark it. Which why I think so many people like multiple choice questions, because they provide that spark that reminds us of the knowledge that we have forgotten that we have. It also made sense then those things that we do every day, knowledge passed to us by our parents such as table manners is in such frequent use and the connections must be so fast that we don’t even realize we are thinking about it. Yet it seemed a waste how much knowledge I may have and simply not be aware of it anymore.

In the midst of that thought how many things I learned when I was little that I do not remember. That lead to me think about Locke’s blank slate, and Plato/Descartes innate ideas. At first I thought blank slate made more sense, as you experience different events it adds to your knowledge. The only part that threw me off was when I thought about instincts. When babies are born they know to look for their mother’s nipples, as well as even have basic attempts to swim when under water, and know to not breathe in the water. Can that not be considered knowledge? They also know to try and copy what they see around them. No one has told them that they should do so. Babies copy facial expressions, eventually sounds. Some parts of us such as our heartbeat we cannot control but to look for a mother’s nipple as soon as we are born, to me seems much more complex.

Still, I do not think I have reached my final conclusion on this matter but something that I have come now to believe is that even though perhaps we may not be born with much knowledge, I think we are at least born with the bases to extend it.

As my father said at the dinner table “We build upon what is already there.” That is how humans further their knowledge, we take what our ancestors discovered and build upon it.


One Response to Epistemology- Starting to unravel

  1. Good discussion, and I like the way you’re bringing in examples from other disciplines. One of the things philosophy teaches us is that we can learn about our basic concepts – like knowledge, language, reasoning – anywhere, and not just in a philosophy class. And that these concepts are rather more complex than they appear at first glance.

    I see you discovering this about knowledge. Looks at the different ways you’ve represented knowledge in this post – as decisions we make, as things we remember, as objects we seek out, as something that needs practice. Whatever knowledge is, it must be something that underlies all these different forms. It’s more than just memorizing facts. It’s deep, and it integrates with everything we do. It is (to my mind) the structure of the brain itself.


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