Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Infants Can Cry and I Can Write a Midterm – And Nothing May Be True

The mind gains knowledge through processing information in stimuli and internally rationalizing it. This I know to be true, but it cannot stand alone. Therefore, the following propositions must also be taken into account for us to all take this statement as true:

If the brain is a blank slate aside from instinctual qualities

And if those qualities include rational thought

And if knowledge does not have to be true to be known

As long as those statements are all true, then our final statement on how we gain knowledge also applies. Therefore, rather than prove my statement, we can prove the propositions that come before it, as the statement would logically follow as true.

The brain is a blank slate, aside from instinctual qualities.

This statement serves as two ideas in one, two ideas that would at face value contradict each other, but that can live in a balanced harmony to explain the brain and how it is. First, we can define what the blank slate is. Although cited in history many times, the theory was popularized in John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

The idea behind the Blank Slate theory is that at birth, an infant emerges with a mind blank of anything – thoughts, personality, instincts, and even the ability to process information. From there, processing, personality, thoughts, and all other basic brain functions are learned through sensory experience.

This theory obviously stands as undeniable pure empiricism, and because my statement does not, we are simply going to modify Locke’s theory as so many others have. Locke wrote his Essay Concerning Human Understanding in the late 1600’s, and by the late 1800’s Wilhelm Wundt had characterized all repeated human behaviour as human instinct, the most basic definition. From there, many psychologists and philosophers alike have toyed with the idea of instincts. For this statement, we’re going to use the criteria outlined in the book Instinct: An Enduring Problem in Psychology. The criteria go as followed:

To be considered instinctual, a behavior must:

a) be automatic
b) be irresistible
c) occur at some point in development
d) be triggered by some event in the environment
e) occur in every member of the species
f) be unmodifiable
g) govern behavior for which the organism needs no training (although the organism may profit from experience and to that degree the behavior is modifiable)

Warning for Baby Nudity

In layman’s terms, an instinct must be a behaviour that can occur in every human being when stimulated in a certain way, and it must be a behaviour that overrides reason and rational thought, therefore requiring no prior skill. Think fight or flight, a popularly cited and discussed human instinct. As for infant instincts, there are quite a few recorded that are cited by psychologists and parenting websites alike.

The instinctual qualities we are born with include rational thought

Once again, to answer this we must address and answer two things. The first is to define what rational thought is (and the purpose it plays in this statement on epistemology), and the second is to state that we are born with that rational thought.

Due to the nature of the word rational an the amount of people who have studied, defined, and warped it’s definition. this case, rational thought is the ability to process information, eg. rationalism, the theory that reasoning is the main source of our knowledge. Of course, because of our reliance on empiricism for the blank slate theory, we’ve reached a point here where rationalism and empiricism play an equal part in the gaining of knowledge.

With our definition of rational thought defined as the ability to process information through reasoning, we can safely assume infants are born with the ability to reason at the most basic levels. It’s undeniable that infants cry when they require attention, and in this case we can assume that the following basic reasoning is occurring.

“I’m hungry, so I will call for my mother.”
“My diaper is soiled, I will call for an adult.”
“Something has startled me, I will call for help.”

We can also apply the instinctual qualities earlier defined to rationalizing, further cementing the idea. Infant rationalizing is instant. For example, an infant will cry immediately after being started. It’s irresistible, babies cannot resist crying when they need help, unless serious trauma has rendered them silent. It occurs immediately at birth, a point in development. It is triggered by stimuli in the environment, such as fear, discomfort, and hunger. It occurs in all infants who are born healthy. It does not vary or change. And, finally, it does not need any prior training. In fact, quite the opposite, as most healthy infants come out into the world screaming.

Knowledge does not have to be true to be known.

This is perhaps the hardest statement to prove, if only because once we define knowledge and truth, we are left with something that still must be believed with perhaps a little bit of faith. Or, perhaps not, because even if it’s untrue it is known.

Either way, let us use the most literal dictionary definition of knowledge.

noun knowl·edge \ˈnä-lij\
: information, understanding, or skill that you get from experience or education
Although the dictionary is often not the best source for defining words in depth, in this case I’ve chosen the most basic definition for a very basic reason – this definition is the one most people recognize and ascribe to. Since humans have created language, humans can define language, and in this case knowledge is understood as information, understanding, and skills that are gained through experience.

As for truth… Well, truth is unknown. That is to say, there is no giant checklist that will say whether what we know is really a truth or not, and when so many things are either subjective or wholly based on perspective, we may never know. Because of that, humans have the potential to be knowledgeless if knowledge MUST be true to be known, so we will simply say that knowledge as potentially untrue is fair.

The mind gains knowledge through processing information in stimuli and internally rationalizing it.
Finally, we’ve gone through our propositional statements and defined them to the point where we can say that this statement is true.
The mind gains knowledge, (which does not need to be true,) through processing information in stimuli, (empiricism,) and internally rationalizing, (and instinct all humans are born with, and also rationalism) it.
With this statement, many (if not all,) schools of epistemology can argue their case. After all, as long as the stimuli is there and as long as the brain is functional enough to rationalize it, then it can be known. It can be known as competence and acquaintance, it can be argued as a true belief or not, it can serve itself to foundationalism or anti-foundationalism, and it can do almost any conceivable mixture of these schools.


Individual Development of Knowledge

Philosophy class is like an amusement park. This park is full of different kinds of games, different kinds of puzzles, different kinds of rides. We have now reached one of the most exciting roller coasters of all – epistemology.

As a stimulus in this unit, Mr. Jackson asked us, each individual, to create our own epistemological statement. Daunting as this was, the only difficulty was starting. In the first week of study, Mr. Jackson has already begun on his own epistemological journey – and had put out an example of what, in a general sense, we were aiming for. Now, on to my opinions.

The development of one’s own epistemological statement requires a basis of knowledge in the subject (ironically enough). In reading a booklet provided to us, everything seemed to overlap. Each subject, each idea seemed to reach into another’s pocket for help, without containing any formal connection.

One idea that repeated itself more times than others was priori knowledge – the knowledge gained without any sensory medium, but rather, with reason and mind. In response to this, I do believe that knowledge can be found independent of empiricism, but it seems illogical that any knowledge can exist ‘completely’ independent of sense. This is because in order for reason to be a creator of knowledge, it must first have a basis of knowledge to work off of. For reason is the ability to use existing information to find new information – essentially, deduction or induction. In thinking about this, I questioned where the basis of knowledge really is? Can all knowledge be based in reason, or empiricism? Or is there an order that must follow? Trying to go deeper, I created a system, which I believe is how individuals accumulate knowledge.

This system of knowledge is simple, but has several layers/components to it. The basic idea is that there are 4 stages of knowledge development, ability and accumulation.

A quick run through of the different stages of knowledge

Instinctive Knowledge (Built In You)

This is self-explanatory. Any knowledge (or knowledge as an ability) that is natural to you, requiring nothing else to exist, is instinctive. This can commonly include bodily functions, ‘fight or flee’ instincts, and natural instincts that may be contained in your culture, race or demographic (for example, an asian child may have a basic aptitude for math, prior to teaching or sensory based information taken in).

Posteriori Knowledge (Built by Senses)

Literally means “derived from observed facts”. This knowledge is gained through sensory-based experiences, observations, etc. For example, any of your five senses may be included here. Empirical knowledge  an also be categorized here. In addition, ‘knowledge by acquaintance’ fits well too – abilities and/or skills gained by experience (competence knowledge).

Knowledge by Description (Built by Others)

This is all knowledge taught by another. Word of mouth, school, books all are examples of this knowledge. This knowledge can be passed on without the help of sensory based experience or reason.

Propositional Knowledge (Built by You)

Propositional knowledge, priori knowledge, knowledge by reason are all the same thing. It is knowledge that is created using primarily reason, the mind, thought. This can be making connections between other existing knowledge, or using induction or deduction or create entirely new knowledge (without the assistance of other forms of gaining knowledge).

Now, I believe that all of the above, all of these different forms of knowledge, are built upon the previous form of knowledge (in a general sense). Truly, I believe this is the path of knowledge today that we support. For the majority of reason based knowledge we create is based upon previous knowledge, given to us by others, or unconsciously discovered by our senses. My belief is that this is how we accumulate our knowledge over time.

In the diagram to the left, I also tried to make the amount of knowledge accumulated proportional to the knowledge we gain – after all, instinctive knowledge only makes us a very small percentage of the knowledge we yield. Depending on your demographic, the era you live in, and the environment that surrounds you, I believe that this triangle could look very different in terms of distribution. For example, if you lived in 1500 AD, you likely had a larger portion of knowledge by experience (posteriori knowledge), and had a much smaller category of propositional knowledge. In a later post, I will (hopefully) be covering the differences in reason over different time eras.

Though accumulation of knowledge is important, I found that it is minimal in the knowledge spectrum. As we accumulate knowledge over time, I also believe that we develop abilities to gain these different types of knowledge too. For example, as a child, you likely had little to do with propositional knowledge, and depended heavily on posteriori knowledge, or even knowledge by description, which your teachers at school provided you with. Over time, (in today’s era) our ability to reason grows over our life time, and our reliance on sensory knowledge decreases significantly. Hence, in a later age, our ‘greater ability to reason’ would cause our accumulation of knowledge to grow exponentially, because the rate at which we are able to determine knowledge by ourselves is much greater than the rate at which we can be educated. For this reason, we develop our abilities to take in these different types of knowledge over time,  as well. This would occur in the order shown – as a child, you develop your ability to see, feel, hear. As an adolescence, you develop your ability to learn, listen, and take information. As an adult, you are expected to come up with your own conclusions, based on your existing information.

All of the above stated is little in my mind. For in each stage, there are inaccuracies in the knowledge we gain. For this reason, I feel the system shown above is useful as a tool to determine one’s accumulation of knowledge, but in unimportant in the question: why do we allow accuracies in knowledge to exist? For there are inaccuracies, lies, and false teachings in each of the stages of knowledge shown above. This question is addressed here, in the next blog post.

As an alternative, if you would like to look into the truth and accuracy of knowledge when comparing beliefs, statements, and opinions, Jen’s post on Santa does an excellent job of this.



Story Part 2 of 4 – Iris

“Take a seat.”
“Yes sir.”
I look him up and down. Seemed only yesterday when his mother brought him to see me for the first time. All bundled in his soft blue wool blanket, and looking as small as a peanut, I’d known he’d grow into a fine man. And grow he did. Now he’s moving to the big city and make a name for himself.
“Your father’s a good man. He’s taught you well. Your mother’s a good girl. She’s always been. And you’ve been a good son to them, and a good grandson to me. But soon you’ll be gone to the big city. Today I’m going to tell you something important. You listen, now.”
He nods.
“I brought up your mother and her brothers and sisters on our farm all those years back, and kept them healthy and happy and safe from harm. You mother and aunts and uncles all grew into fine people and married and brought up their families the same way I did: hard work and a good attitude. But there was one thing I did that I’ll never forgive myself for doing. And promise me you’ll never, ever, repeat what I had done.”
He nods again.
“There was one woman besides your grandmother that I ever looked at. She was a fine looking woman, and her name was Melissa. All those years ago I had fallen for her, and nearly spent our farm’s worth of money on her. She was a lie, a gosh darn scam. I doubt she even ever cared about me, or ever thought about me besides what my money could bring her. But I had fallen for that woman, and I had fallen for her hard.
“I met her one night at the old man’s pub that I always went to. This time I went to blow-off some steam. Money was getting tight, but that’s how everything was back then. I was sitting a table, waiting for my drink, when she walked by. I had never seen her before; she was from some town far away. But even for a beat-up, lonesome girl, she looked good. There was something about her that made me keep my eyes on her. She seemed out of luck, and out of money, but the way she moved, the way she looked around the room, she seemed smart, and refined, almost. Before I knew it, I had gotten her a drink and we were laughing the night away. That was a good night, a good first night that led to many more.
“For months I saw her every Friday and Saturday at the old man’s pub. Just looking at her made me so happy. So I wanted to make her happy. I bought her the best, even better than I ever got for your grandmother. Necklaces with stones that cost me hundreds and clothes that only city people wore.”
And for a second I stop. Her eyes and the way they brightened when I brought her something new now rush before me. The jewelry, the clothes, she was always so happy when I gave them to her. But she probably didn’t care. She only wanted to know how much they were worth, how rich she’d look with them on. She probably sold them a few months later.
“The last time I ever saw her was the day I nearly left your grandmother. We had been arguing all day long and I nearly hadn’t noticed it was time to go the old man’s pub. Money was running really low from all my spending on Melissa. She was suspicious, but I left anyways. When I met Melissa, my troubles just faded all away. I told her I wanted her to stay forever, never leave this town, and never leave me. I told her I’d choose her over anyone else. I had hoped so hard she would stay. She smiled at me, warm and ready. But for a moment her eyes filled with sudden fear. Was she was afraid because staying meant time for me to find her lies? Or had I said what her heart most feared? Was she afraid of love? When I looked again she was back to wearing that same charming look that made me want her so much more. In the end she told me that I would see her tomorrow, at the old man’s pub, as I always had. That’s all she said. No warning that she would run off and never come back. No warning that it was the last time I would ever see her. That night, as I walked home, I reached for my wallet, but it was gone. She had stolen it, and it was then that I finally began to realize what she was doing to me.”
“Must have hurt. The day you realized you lost her.”
Craig looked back at me with cautious eyes. How did he know? How did he know that the day I finally understood she was gone forever, I knew she had stolen a part of my heart and was never going to give it back. I had loved her. And I did more than love her. I gave her everything she wanted. I made the terrible, lost woman feel like she was beautiful. She was beautiful. But she hurt me more than I could have ever thought possible. Could Craig see it in this old man’s eyes? Maybe. But would I tell him?
“No. The only thing I hurt was my family. You’re grandmother was the sweetest little lady in the world and I nearly left her. As long as a live I shall never again commit such a crime as letting her down. And one day when you meet the right girl, you go on and marry her. But don’t you go looking at the other pretty ladies. That’ll only bring us trouble. Got it, boy?”
“Got it.”
“Never trust anyone but us. Only family.”