A Reflective Christian

All for God’s Kingdom

My seminary paper on “knowledge and validation” for Christian philosophy class

First off, I believe there is a need to distinguish epistemological study of how humans know (the psychological aspect) and how knowledge can be validly obtained. Distinguishing between the two is important in that how people generally come to “know” may or may not be conducive to actually obtaining proper knowledge. Although, one can not divorce the impersonal aspect from the human knower, as we perceive the world in a certain way and as a result affect how it is best to obtain knowledge. But in the epistemological quest, we must recognize that understanding how humans come to “know” may not tells us little about how we can come to correctly know. The rest of this paper is focused more upon the latter, although the psychology of knowing is necessary to a certain degree.

There are three assumptions I make that serve as “foundational” that can neither be proven or disproven: that there is a reality that is independent of our perception (however that might be defined) and that our perception can be a generally reliable indicator of reality, although not necessarily generally reliable at all times. Neither of these ideas are falsifiable, because it would require proving reality independent of perception, but we can not cease to perceive. In the end, all our knowledge of reality, whether correct or not, is a perception. Finally, I assume that there are an infinite possible explanations for everything, which is not falsifiable itself because it would require conscious recognition of an infinite number of possibilities, which is not humanly possible

Perceptions in themselves are the combinations of experience of “reality” with associations with other experiences that are associated with something else. In other words, perceptions are the interpretations of our experience, founded upon previous experiences that have also been interpreted. This leads me to say that all our understanding is essentially “theoretical.” However, this does not say that people’s knowledge is wrong. Only that there is no way to independently verify our perceptions on our own.

It also says that all knowledge is based upon other knowledge, but not necessarily is a linear fashion. As we come to evaluate previously held beliefs (or interpretations) we look at them in light of our more newly formed interpretations, and so beliefs begin to become “web-like”. The psychology of knowledge is in many ways more foundational, especially earlier on. But with time it progressively becomes more holistic. This process varies for individuals because it is based upon the reflection of beliefs one has previously had, which is a more common habit in some than others.

Going back to the fact that knowledge is based upon perception,.this leads the pursuit of knowledge to then need the combination of perspectives from multiple to verify or invalidate certain ideas. But for the individual, even what another person can ably communicates requires an interpretation by the individual, so one may “bias” other person’s perceptions. Furthermore, the other’s interpretation is still a perception. Perhaps their “web of beliefs” are so similar to the “knower” that it would naturally “lead” to same interpretation. However, if the two individual interpretations are the same and yet their “web of beliefs” are more divergent, this is a more independent verification. It still suffers from the problem of perception. The person also can not reliably know the divergence of the two web of beliefs so as to be able to draw more confidence on the basis of one person, so one needs multiple people, a community of “knowers.” Even then, the divergence can not be known for sure. But nevertheless, this provides a pragmatic method to deal with the problem of perception (although not sufficient on its own).

So what else can the individual appeal to? If the belief is essentially predictive of occurrences that were, at the time of the formulation of the belief, unknown, then that provides more validity to the interpretation. Validation is not as dependent upon interpretation, because “reality” fulfilled the predictions. It was not based upon the person predicting what he had already experienced.

The validation must be dependent upon occurrences that were otherwise unknown, or we are back we are started. There are presumably an infinite number of possible explanations for everything (although practically speaking, it might be more limited), but not all of them can be true unless we deny mutual exclusivity. If thats the case, then what stops a person from explaining everything one experiences based with an interpretation that can handle everything observable, but yet is in fact wrong?

And even if a belief predicting something previously unknown or unaccounted for, who is to say that it is in fact the correct interpretation. If there are an infinite number of explanation that can account for everything, then maybe the person happened upon one of the ones that could explain what they saw and what they did not see. All one has really done is narrowed the possibilities. But taking a portion of an infinite possibilities still leaves infinite possibilities. Although, pragmatically, one has reduced the set of beliefs.

So pragmatically, we can hope to develop a practical understanding of reality, but it requires the passage of time within the community to progressively develop and narrow the possibilities. But, in reality, we can not be sure that our pragmatic explanation is in fact reality, since there are truly infinite possibilities. In which case, we can never truly come down to one possibility.

If there is to be hope of correct knowledge, and not merely pragmatic knowledge, we can not obtain it on our own. It must be given to us by a source of knowledge that doesn’t have the problem of perception, if such an independent source or being with such knowledge does indeed exists. This naturally leads to the question of revelation in religion. But even then, our acceptance such knowledge must go through our own interpretations as to whether the source is reliable or not. The problem of knowing, in the end, can not be solved by people in the end, even with revelation. At the least the possibility of someone can obtain precise is obtainable, even if we can not be absolutely certain the source itself is correct.


October 8, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment