Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

This is the blog area for the Evangelical Philosophical Society and its journal, Philosophia Christi.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ontology of Knowledge: An Introductory Inquiry

Lately, I have been giving a good deal of thought to what is needed to exist in order for us to know reality. For it seems that how I can know something depends at least upon what that thing is. How I would know the truth of the law of non-contradiction, say, is different than how I would know how a Starbuck’s Vivano chocolate smoothie tastes, due to what kinds of things they are. It also seems to depend upon what kind(s) of things I am.

Of course, this topic also raises the issues about the mind-world “nexus,” and how we could know reality. I have been studying a long history of constructivist thought, starting with Descartes and following, & there are interesting ontological themes that keep surfacing, ones that play into the debate about the “myth of the given” & also about the “taken.” Can we know reality if we only have access to what we take to be the case? And, what are the ontological issues associated with this debate?

When I had a class in grad school with Dallas Willard on phenomenology & constructivism, I found it interesting that we ended with John Searle, a leading naturalist. That fascinated me, because to me, one of philosophical naturalism’s greatest perceived strengths is that on the basis of what it says is real, we can know truth. After all, that seems to be part of the philosophical basis behind the present fact-value split – on science (and not just any science, but naturalistic science), we uniquely have knowledge of truth.

I am exploring these ontological issues for epistemology in a new philosophy of religion book coming out in early 2012 with Ashgate, Naturalism and Our Knowledge of Reality: Testing Religious Truth-claims. I also have been probing that topic in my two recent essays in Philosophia Christi (in 12:2 & 13:1).

For now, I’d like to kick around a question: what is needed ontologically for us to know reality? What do you think?

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Blogger adamryan said:

An able mind and a discernible external event?

By Blogger adamryan, at November 5, 2011 at 8:40 AM  

Blogger R Scott Smith said:

For sure, we need a mind. :) But, what is a mind? Could it be, e.g., something that supervenes (& depends for its existence) upon the physical? Or, could it be a physical thing, just a different way of describing the brain, perhaps? Or does it need to be a range of capacities in a substance, an immaterial one at that?

I don't think that the first 2 options will work. It seems that to follow through on a process of knowing something (say, doing a series of scientific experiments, analyzing results, making correlations, coming to hold a belief) requires a literal sameness of the knowing person.

But how can we, if 'we' are but physical beings, whose identity constantly changes as the parts of my body (& brain) change?

And, it requires that we as knowers can use the data obtained via physical processes (e.g., making empirical observations, which require, e.g., a physical causal series of events that stimulate my optic nerve, which causes brain states). But, this process requires that I can have experiences, compare them with one another, even with memories of past ones, notice what is in common amongst them, & then form a concept. Plus, I can then take that concept & adjust it based upon further observations, or from the findings of others. But all this requires a deep noetic unity in me, the knower, which does not seem possible on either of these first 2 views.

Even more, somehow being able to experience something, or have a thought, desire, or belief all seem to require that these are "of" or "about" their objects, whether those objects obtain in the real world or not (like, my laptop vs. Pegasus, respectively). This is commonly called "intentionality." But, what kind of thing is it? Can it be accounted for by any ontology?

By Blogger R Scott Smith, at January 19, 2012 at 3:03 PM  

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