Is it possible to justify a hierarchy of different Ways of Knowing and, if so, on what basis? The process of justifying a hierarchy in the Ways of Knowing seeks to find the means with the highest validity in terms of ascertaining the truth. Plato argues that knowledge is the object of what exists, with its function of seeking reality. The objective and the pursuit in acquiring knowledge to justify or oppose the existing knowledge is a means of gaining a step closer to the absolute truth. The Ways of Knowing that will be raised are – reason, perception and emotion. These three differs in the degree of subjectivity. Reason, being the most objective, and emotions the least in terms of ascertaining the truth, is the justification for its present hierarchy. Reason will be explored through the rationalist’s point of view where one chooses to ascertain the truth through the thought process of logical reflection viewed as a single entity. Perception follows the theory of empiricism that is derived through the sensory perceptions. Emotions are experiential, subjective, and are “natural instinctive affections of the mind” (New shorter Oxford English Dictionary)
I stand by the current justification of hierarchy ranking reason first, and emotions last. This essay will bring up instances of the hierarchy displayed as such. The truth at the core of the subject differs; hence the three Areas of Knowledge will be selected as the basis of comparison – Mathematics, The Arts and Ethics. These three yardsticks are selected to increase the reliability of this argument.
Chosen from the basis of subjectivity across the spectrum between constant intervals, this is built upon the idea that the Ways of Knowing are situational and circumstantially dependent.
Objectivism is “the view that there is a reality or ontological realm of objects and facts that exists independent of the mind.” An objectivist would employ this idea to ascertain the truth, solely through the means of reasoning. This would cast off subjective ideas such as myths and superstitions. A major subset of the idea of an absolute truth is mathematics. Hence, objectivists would tend to approach the realm of mathematics through reasoning and logic as they can be acquired solely through the process of thought and reflection.
The general consensus is that of the Ways of Knowing, reasoning at the top of the hierarchy in terms of knowledge acquisition, as they tend to ascertain more concrete, tangible, reliable and absolute truths. However, when it comes to Areas of Knowledge with a higher subjectivity such as ethics and the arts, the thought process of logic would not be the best means of interpretation as reasoning is an objective approach, and the ideas would not fit. This can be analogized as a “square peg in a round hole”.
For example, a contingent truth states “we know that the sky is blue but it could have been yellow if the atmosphere had been made of different gases.” Such truth requires not the aspect of logic; hence the approach on the physical world from an objectivist alone would fail. Also, although the existence of reason as a single entity unravels necessary truths, its limitations would be the physical truth that will not do without the use of perception.
However, when truths other than absolute truth are dealt with, a factor of subjectivity will undoubtedly be introduced. This would work in reasoning’s benefit, as they are most reliable in terms of objectivity.
Logic has two distinctive subsets – induction and deduction. Deduction begins with an abstract and moves towards concrete empirical evidences, i.e. mathematics. Induction goes in the opposite direction, heading from detailed observations towards a general extract of details and ideas, i.e. sciences. Induction is more exploratory, with an increasing credibility with an increasing value of data obtained if they are diverse and unbiased. However, induction’s flaw is that regardless the depth or amount of justification given, a piece of contrary evidence is all that is needed to falsify a claim. An example would be the case of black swans. The general believe by Europeans of swans being white is shattered by the knowledge that black swans exists in Australia. Although so, they still carry out a rigor of experimentation, and are thus still better than luck. Deduction is more explanatory, with a higher certainty as if an “argument contains true premises and is valid, it is absolutely certain.” However, deduction can also face the problem if their first premise is ascertained through induction. Hence, escaping this subjectivity would require the first premise not to be obtained through induction.
Although reasoning may have its own setbacks due to its rigor solely based on the process of thought and reflection, it has proven to be strongest in acquiring knowledge in mathematics, a major subset of the absolute truth.
The phrase “use your common sense” is widely adopted with ‘common sense’ being directly translated as a ‘shared schema’ can mean the awareness governed by the integration of all the individual’s perceptive awareness given as a general consensus in a community.
Perception, also known as an empirical knowledge, uses our five senses as a means of ascertaining the truth. A flaw in this Way of Knowing is that the schema of the preexisting notions or paradigms formed in our head is inevitably tinted by individual’s beliefs and prejudices. The filtering and interpretation of our sensory perceptions is identified in the brain, in a manner that allows the coherence with our preexisting paradigms, creating this real world inside our head. This in itself already forbids the full and raw view of reality as our perceptions are subjected to an individual’s senses and interpretations.
Unlike reasoning, perception cannot exist as a single entity as it in itself is a form of induction – a subset of reasoning. This though, will allow accessibility to the realm of relative truth, with the arts as a major subset, which reason alone cannot tackle the unknown.
Perceptions are subject to complications with the interpretation of our senses, and also due to the prevalence of brain filters. These factors are the limitations to the credibility through the use of perceptions, regardless if done passively or actively.
An example would be inappropriate filtering, which is an occurrence where our minds cut off important knowledge and does selective hearing. In this case, the information filtered has its intention of molding and harmonizing the information with our preexisting schemas, to ‘make sense’ of what one perceives. This if done consciously is the result of involving our emotions as a Way of Knowing, manifested to deform the truth.
However inextricably tied with our sensory perceptions are to interpretations, having it itself be a means of induction would increase the objectivity in seek of the truth, which would be better than done with no rationalizing at all. An Area of Knowledge that requires our perception as a major factor in acquiring knowledge is through the arts. The truth at the cure of this subject is the idea of relativism.
A relativist would argue, “Different cultures of communities believe different things to be true”.
An example would be the maturing of the new aspect of research – the bioethics. Sets of guidelines are to be formulated to base the new system on. The relativism approach would base their judgment on what works for one specific community.
Hence, we see that although relativism may seem to have no standards in which to judge upon, they are still structured with a set of guidelines acquired through the conjoining of both reasoning and perceiving seen as induction. However, when perception is interlinked with the use of emotions, the increasing subjectivity would result in the decreasing reliability in ascertaining the truth.
The general consensus is that our emotions must be put aside, and that we should “listen to the voice of reason”. Because of reason, which is generally accepted to be the domain of intellect, emotions are lowly regarded upon as a means of acquiring knowledge, and are merely regarded as a passive experience that occurs in passing. Regardless, we “need to accept emotion as a significant factor in the acquisition of knowledge, and understanding of knowledge.”
Emotions are experiential, falls closest within the truth of pragmatism. Pragmatists often look to the world of ethics as a template for their theory as they seek for practicality, basing truth as a “matter of usefulness of the beliefs”. Emotions, although are highly subjective, work on the basis of acquiring truth that is objective, that “helps us accomplish our objectives in the world”. Hence, guidelines are set as perimeters to the extent of emotions as a means of acquiring the truth.
The use of emotions as a Way of Knowing can tie up with reasoning which will allow the advancement of pragmatic truths, that reason alone is unable to tackle. This form of truth works on the basis of what works best for a particular community.
Ethics as a way of knowing is subjective in terms of the distinction of right from wrong and good from bad. The truth at the core of ethics being the pragmatic theory which argues that “we should consider beliefs to be true if using those beliefs allows us to accomplish our objectives in the world and to get where we want.” Although pragmatic truths are subjective, it is also objective in the sense that when interpreting information acquired, they should conform to the certain standards before a particular community accepts it.
The problem in the use of pragmatic truth of knowledge acquisition is the extent and subjectivity of how something is useful. Hence, in this aspect of emotions, although it is subjective, an objective and a set of guidelines would increase its reliability, and also allow the acquisition of knowledge in areas such as ethics, that through reasoning alone cannot tackle.
Similarly, when one should decide on whether to use reason, perception or emotion as a Way of Knowing to ascertaining the truth is contextual. However, reason although can exist as a single entity, also conjoins with the other Ways of Knowing to increase the objectivity in them. Being so, I would justify reason to be at the top of the hierarchy, followed by perception, and lastly emotions, in terms of subjectivity.