Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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Midterm Assignment: Personal Theory of Knowledge

εntropyıng ın-bεtwεεn Camεra▲Obscura . .

Image courtesy of Flickr user Jef Safi

All our knowledge begins with the senses, proceeds then to the understanding, and ends with reason. There is nothing higher than reason.

Immanuel Kant

For credit as well as open-online participants are invited to respond to the following prompts in developing a personal theory of knowledge to be share on the blog by the end of next week (Friday December 5th). 

Purpose

  • To state and support a proposition of personal knowledge;
  • To synthesize and reflect on course topics explore thus far:
    • Philosophical Inquiry
    • Logic
    • Scientific Philosophy
    • Metaphysics
  • To integrate existing epistemological ideas into a unique personal theory.

Components

  • It’s a Blog Post: Each personal theory of epistemology will be posted in the form of a blog entry on the class site.
  • Tell us what you know: Identify a specific aspect or perspective of your view of knowledge ( how, where, and under what conditions it exists, is acquired, communicated).
  • Be Logical: Represent the statements formulating your proposition of knowledge as a syllogism or logical argument.
  • Cite your Sources: Whether the website that originally posted the image at the top of your post or the thinker(s) who informed your own ideas, use links and identify how others’ have influenced your published work.

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Introductory Epistemological Discussion(s)

afraid of knowledge

Image courtesy of Flickr user Olya Afonina

We are embarking on our discussions of epistemology this weekend, having been briefly introduced to foundational concepts such as:

  • rationalism
  • empiricism
  • a priori knowledge
  • a posteriori knowledge
  • justified true belief
  • indirect knowledge
  • direct knowledge
  • knowledge by acquaintance
  • knowledge by description

I am curious to see where our cohort’s interests are shaping up against these introductory thoughts and ideas on the nature of knowledge, though. Because each of us is the owner of a uniquely personal theory of our own knowledge, which supplies us with answers to questions like What do I know? How do I know that I know it? Where does my opinion overlap with what is considered a fact? Where do they diverge? 

How these personal conceptions come together in the present digital age is of special concern to regular open onliner Stephen Downes:

What we ‘know’ is, if you will, a natural development that occurs in the mind, other things being equal, when presented with certain sets of phenomena; present the learner with different phenomena and they will learn different things. Like the Portugese word for ‘snow’, for example. And whether something counts as ‘knowledge’ rather than, say, ‘belief’ or ‘speculation’, depends less on the state of the world, and more on the strength or degree of connectedness between the entities. To ‘know’ something is to not be able to not know. It’s like finding Waldo, or looking at an abstract image. There may be a time when we don’t know where Waldo is, or what the image represents, but once we have an interpretation, it is not possible to look without seeing Waldo, without seeing the image.

So let us begin at the beginning, by relating our own theories of knowledge to what we have encountered in our initial reading.

We brainstormed several questions related to Epistemology in class this morning:

  • How do we know what we know? 
  • What is true? 
  • How we know was is factual? What is opinion? What is belief? 
  • How are senses and reasons different? How are they complimentary? 
  • What is knowledge? How do we acquire it? 
  • Are there things that we’ll never know? 

But now we are looking to continue to the discussion…

There are, naturally, more where that came from, and we might begin our discussion by continuing to list the essential questions of epistemology below in the comments to this post, or on the Twitter hashtag for #philosophy12.

Other items for consideration and discussion may include…

Sensory, Rational, and Objective knowledge

In terms of classifying these questions, which of them would you file under Sensory knowledge?

Which would you deem most closely related to Reason, or rational knowledge?

Which do you feel deal with certainty? 

Rationalism and Empiricism 

Of these two schools of epistemology, which do you feel corresponds to your own approach to learning and knowledge?

Who is considered to be a notable proponent of either of these disciplines? Who has made convincing arguments to introduce a combined process of the two? Or a third (or fourth) new way altogether?

Where do we see examples of rational or empirical perspectives on knowledge in competition (or dominance) in our contemporary society?

Different Types of Knowledge?

How do you distinguish between the various levels and descriptions of knowledge?

How might these distinctions be limited in their scope to a particular perspective on knowledge? How could we fix this bias, if it in fact exists?

By no means exhaustive, the above questions will hopefully serve as an opening salvo in an ongoing exploration of knowledge this weekend. So respond to one of the above, or a few, or pass along these questions to someone who might wish to offer an opinion or refer us to a significant piece of the conversation we may be missing. Don’t hesitate to pose new questions to the community as well!

 

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Metaphysics

 

existence preceeds essence

From Flickr user andrew j. cosgriff

As we have been discussing Metaphysics, I have continually returned to Jean Paul Sartre’s invocation of the meeting of Existence and Essence:

“What is meant here by saying that existence precedes essence? It means first of all, man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and, only afterwards, defines himself. If man, as the existentialist conceives him, is indefinable, it is because at first he is nothing. Only afterward will he be something, and he himself will have made what he will be.”

 Now, Sartre was talking about people through an existential lens; but the concept may come to bear on what we’ve learned this week about learning and knowledge. Whether existence precedes essence, or the other way around, we have been engaged in activities and discussions this week that support either hypothesis.

Some of what we have learned has resolutely existed before we have put it into context for ourselves as essential. And some of what we are learning about existed in our minds as essences before it came into being on the board or the class blog.

Which makes me wonder:

  • What is the essence of your knowledge about metaphysics? What have you discovered, learned or uncovered about the topic? And,
  • How and where does it exist?

In short, these are the two questions of Metaphysics: What is…? And what is it like?

I look forward to hearing your responses, and continuing this discussion into Epistemology.

 
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