Saturday, February 21, 2009

This is not a cheese sandwich

In the end, epistemology is just another game. An intellectually demanding game, a fun game, a game that can, on occasions, be important, but a game nonetheless. Donald Rumsfeld was censured by these idiots (and other idiots) for stating something true, cogent, succinct, and, in the circumstances, worth saying. Many people seem to think that anything they don’t understand is gobbledygook. What Rumsfeld pointed out to a group of people who didn’t want to know was that it is precisely the things we don’t realize we don’t know that cause us to be mistaken as to what we do know.

Phillweb defines epistemology this way:

“I use the term Epistemology (from the Greek episteme [knowledge] and logos [word, speech or study]) to refer to the use of logical and scientific methods to explain the nature, origin, and scope of knowledge. In a nutshell, epistemology addresses the questions, "Do you really know what you think you know?" and, if so, "How do you know what you know?" Much of the debate in this field has focused on analyzing the nature of knowledge, the nature of justification, and how it relates to similar notions such as truth, and belief. Epistemologists analyze the standards of justification for knowledge claims, that is, the grounds on which one can claim to know a particular fact.

Methodology refers to the rationale and the philosophical assumptions that inform a particular procedure for the production of knowledge. More specifically, it is (1) a body of methods, rules, and postulates employed by a discipline or field of inquiry; (2) a particular procedure or set of procedures; and / or (3) the analysis of the principles or procedures of inquiry in a particular field.”

It is easy to give examples of unknown unknowns; most people assume that humans have not evolved much recently, but it is likely that the most obvious racial characteristics evolved in the last 40,000 years, lactose tolerance has evolved independently in different populations in the last 15,000 years and there have been significant changes in oxygen transport in the blood in the last 2,000 years. There are doubtless many more details to be learned, some of which will alter dramatically the understanding have of recent evolution.

I am interested in the nature of truth. This is connected to the nature of knowledge. It is not a question of definition, but a reality which is, undoubtedly, hard to ascertain, but much more worthwhile than playing with words.

It is very difficult to agree a definition of truth or knowledge, and in any particular case, even such a definition would be worthless. You do not know what you think you know. There will be more of this.

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