[Western Oregon University]


SPRING 1998 (CRN 8391)
MWF 10 AM (MOD 102)
Email:  cannodw@wou.edu
Office Hours:  MWF 11-12, TTh 2-3, and by appointment.


I.  The Nature of Knowledge

     1. Types of Knowledge

     2. Knowledge Seems to Require Three Necessary Components: II.  Theories of Knowledge
     (Major Schools of Thought, Groupings of Theories)

     1. Rationalism

     2. Empiricism (Opposed to Rationalism)      3. Combinations or fusions of Rationalism and Empiricism are possible
         (e.g., Aristotle, Kant).

III.  Plato's Theory of Knowledge (Epistemology)

 1. Sense Perception (aisthesis, not knowledge or episteme in the strict sense). 2. Theoretical Knowledge (episteme, knowledge in the strict sense).
IV. Aristotle's (and Aquinas') Theory of Knowledge

     1. All knowledge begins with sense perception of concrete, particular,
         changeable, physical things.

     2. Natural kinds (the true, unchanging essences of things, the forms of
         things, necessary, universal, and certain), and all other basic categories
         with which we think and comprehend things, are abstracted from, or
         inferred and elaborated on the basis of, the images (phantasms) which
         in sense experience we receive from particular things.

     3. The forms (not even the so-called transcendental forms) do not exist
          apart from particular things (which are always a combination of matter
          and form).  In consequence, the mind has no internal intellectual access
          to them apart from abstracting them from sense perception.

     4.  Complete knowledge or knowledge in the fullest sense ( = systematic,
          scientific knowledge) involves the construction of a systematic
          hierarachy of valid syllogisms which demonstrate (prove beyond a
          reasonable doubt) and explain the truth of its conclusions on the basis
          of general premises (primary premises) known to be true.

V.  Descartes' Theory of Knowledge

     1. Descartes is a rationalist who set out to refute radical skepticism on its
         own turf.

     2. Descartes' procedure is to withhold his belief from anything that is not
         entirely certain and indubitable.      3. The one thing Descartes finds to be absolutely certain in the midst of
         radical doubt and possible deception is that thinking (especially in the
         mode of doubt) exists, that he as a thinking thing exists.       4. From there Descartes investigates, solely on the basis of dialectical
          reasoning apart from reliance upon what has proved to be doubtable,
          and concludes       5. Descartes goes on to extend his foundation for knowledge and show
          how it can provide a basis for the general trustworthiness of sense
          perception, memory, and intellectual calculation, among other things,
          by offering what he believes to be proof of the existence and goodness
          of an infinitely powerful, wise, and good creator of himself (as a finite
          and fallible mind), a creator whose goodness would never allow his
          creature to be comprehensively deceived.

     6. Thus Descartes believes he has provided a foundation, on the one
          hand, for knowledge in morality and religion (in the mind's or soul's
          givenness to itself) and, on the other hand, for knowledge in the natural
          sciences (in the nature of physical bodies to which the senses give us

VI.  Some Problems with Descartes' Method

     1. Insistence upon a standard of absolute certainty eliminates the middle
         ground of reasonable evidence.  It suggests that if you don't have
         complete certainty you have no evidence at all.

     2. Insistence upon absolute clarity and distinctness to the skeptical
         reflecting mind eliminates consideration of any respect in which reality
         transcends full and determinate representation.

     3. Proposing to rebuild one's knowledge from the ground up because a
         number of things that once seemed true have become doubtful or false,
         as Descartes does, is a lot like being in a boat out on the ocean and
         proposing to abandon ship in order to rebuild the boat from the keel up
         just because it has developed a few leaks.

     4. Descartes' working method of radical doubt may create more problems
         than he supposes.  In particular, it seems to put one in a very peculiar,
         abstracted state of mind where the usual clues on which we rely to
         orient ourselves and make sense of things are no longer available.  In
         other words, it may serve to cut us off from reality rather than put us
         more closely in touch with reality.


X.  Empiricism

     1. All knowledge -- indeed, all ideas -- are supposed to derive from and are
         based upon sense perception.

     2. To be meaningful as well as to be true, an idea or statement must be
         traceable back to sense perception for validation (as meaningful) and

     3. Nominalism (= concepts are names only)

     4. Sense perception (at least for empiricists following Descartes) is usually
         conceived as "sense impressions" or "sense data" internal to the mind,
         not as direct acquaintance with things in the world.

         It is conceived as passive, without depth, and atomistic (non-integrated),
         but representative of things outside the mind that have produced (or
         caused) sense impressions within us.

XI.  Instead of Absolute Certainty as Criterion

     1. If absolute certainty is not the standard or criterion of knowledge, then
         what is the standard?

     2. But that won't convince the skeptic, will it? XII.  Sources of Knowledge of the Forms By Means of Which We
         Comprehend, Order, and Deal with the World

     They are of four kinds (at least):

     Not every one of the following answers purports to account for all four

     1. Platonic Rationalist Answer:

     2. Empiricist (or Nominalist) Answer:       3. Aristotelian Answer:      4. Kantian Answer:      5. Other Possible Answers? XIII.  Analytic Statements vs. Synthetic Statements

     1. Analytic Statements (what Hume called "relations of ideas")

     2. Synthetic Statements(what Hume called "matters of fact") XIV. A Priori Truths vs. A Posteriori Truths XV.  Locke's Empiricism

     1. All knowledge derives from and is based on sense experience.

     2. The mind is a "blank tablet" until sense experience writes upon it.
          All content of our mind comes ultimately from this source and from
          internal reflection on what is in our minds.

     3. Sense experience is made up of sensory impressions produced in our
         minds by things in the external world (i.e., caused by them) through their
         direct or indirect impact upon the sense organs of our bodies.  (Note:
         this means that we do not directly encounter these things them-selves,
         but only the impressions they produce in us.)

     4. The qualities of things conveyed to us through sense impressions are
         held to be of two kinds: XVI.  Problems with Locke's Empiricism

     1. Locke's very assumptions (and Hume's, for that matter), seem not to be
         directly derivable from sense perception.  Among other things, they
         purport to establish absolute limits to the mind and what it can and
         cannot know.

     2. Locke's understanding of sense impressions being causally produced
         in our minds by things outside our minds appear not be verifiable in
         sense experience, for on his terms we never directly experience (know
         by acquaintance) anything outside our minds.  According to him, we
         never experience anything but sense impressions internal to our minds.

     3. Locke's theory of experience (and Hume's) appears to rule out vast
         ranges of our experience, notably our experience of other persons
         experiencing the same things we are experiencing.  Like Descartes, it
         assumes the mind to be outside of the external world it experiences,
         rather than situated within it alongside other persons.

     4. Locke's distinction between primary and secondary qualities doesn't
         seem to hold up well on close inspection.

XVII.  Hume's Empiricism

     1. All of our ideas ("more feeble perceptions") are copies of our
         impressions ("more lively perceptions"), either directly or indirectly by
         the mixture and composition of them by the mind and will.

     2. All objects of human reason or inquiry may be divided into two kinds:
         relations of ideas and matters of fact.       3. Induction
          (Induction, as Hume understands it, involves drawing inferences from
          past and present experience to reach conclusions about future
          experience.  It is involved in virtually all inferences based on cause and
          effect.)       4. Causation (the relation of cause and effect)
           (This is the relation on which all of our reasoning concerning matters
           of fact beyond the present testimony of our senses or the records of
           our memory depends, indeed on which all of scientific knowledge and
           explanation depends):       5. Substance or the External World
          (Substance is the idea of a real existing thing -- e.g., a white table --
          which possesses certain qualities and about which we make true
          assertions, independently of our idea about it.  In principle, this idea
          includes both material objects and non-material objects.)       6. The Self
          (The constant, identical subject of all of my thoughts and experiences,
          i.e., what I am talking about when I say "I"):       7. The Problem of Skepticism and Hume's Solution XVIII.  Problems with Hume's Empiricism

     1. Hume's skeptical conclusions say as much or more about the
         limitations and possible inadequacy of his criterion of meaning and
         truth as they say about the "fictional" status of the ideas of "self,"
         "substance," and "the relation of cause and effect."

     2. Hume's presupposed conception of sense experience

     3. The ideas of causally explanatory entities in contemporary science
         (e.g., the use of models to "picture" atoms or subatomic particles which
         are themselves held to be unobservable in any direct sense) would
         seem to involve, in important respects at least, more of a rationalist idea
         of cause and effect than Hume would allow.

XIX.  Kant's Reconciliation of Rationalism and Empiricism

     1. Kant agrees with empiricism that all knowledge arises with perceptual
         experience.  But the fact that it arises with perceptual experience does
         not entail that all knowledge derives from perceptual experience.

     2. Kant agrees with rationalism that we do have some knowledge --
         specifically knowledge of universal and necessary truths -- that does
         not and cannot possibly derive from perceptual experience.  E.g., "5 + 7
         = 12."  "All events are caused." "All things in the external world exist
         within time and space."

     3. The main problem that concerned him was what made the latter sorts
          of truths, "a priori synthetic truths" possible.  He concluded that they
          are possible only if both our knowledge and our perceptual experience
          are actively constructed by our minds (largely unconsciously) in
          accordance with these categories and principles ("forms").

     4. But this implies that we can know and understand only what our minds
         have constructed out of the "intuitions of sense perception" (i.e., sense
         data).  In other words, we can know things only as they "appear to us"
         and not as they "are in themselves" (apart from what our minds have
         made of them).

        (Sometimes Interpreted as Critical Realism)

    1. Kant's way of reconciling rationalism and empiricism came at a certain
        price.  Specifically, a priori synthetic truths (the truths of reason) are not
        extra-mental truths, not truths about reality beyond the mind, but truths
        about the mind -- specifically, truths about how the mind makes sense
        of and comprehends experience.  This makes Kant a critical idealist.

    2. Knowledge and experience (phenomena) for Kant are not, however,
        created by the mind.  Their content comes from raw sense impressions
        that come from without, but its form comes from the active sense-making
        and conceptualizing power of the rational mind.  Raw sense impressions,
        he believed, come from things in themselves  beyond the mind
        (noumena), which we can never know.  This makes Kant, in certain
        respects, a critical realist.

    3. We get in trouble, Kant believed, when we extrapolate the categories
        and principles with which we make sense of and comprehend our
        experience to make inferences about matters that lie beyond any
        possible human experience -- including, of course, things in themselves
        (noumena).  Strictly speaking, he argued, this leads us into drawing
        unjustifiable, controversial, and sometimes contradictory conclusions.

    4. Nevertheless, some such ideas have a legitimate role as "regulative
        ideas," that orient us and make sense of our passions to know, to
        understand, to aspire, and to appreciate things.  But these ideas, in
        which we may be said to have faith, have no objective reference that
        we can ever be said to know.  They include, among other things, the
        idea of the world as a whole, the idea of God, the idea of a final or
        absolute justice, the idea of beauty, and even, possibly (?) the idea
        of the self as freely acting.

XXI.  Kant's Idea of Rationality

    1. Kant emphasized the active nature of thought.  What we find in nature
        and experience generally depends on what questions we ask, what
        hypotheses we propose, and what experimental tests we perform.

    2. Kant emphasized autonomy in thinking: no rules or claims should be
        adopted without critically evaluating them.  To have philosophical
        knowledge, a person must have understanding that has arisen out of
        his or her own use of reason.

    3. Kant emphasized that, to be truly reasonable, we need to come up with
        ideas and principles that human reason in general can support as if they
        were universal laws that anyone anywhere (who sought to think
        rationally) would find it reasonable to accept -- i.e., that we should think
        from the standpoint of anyone indifferently, and not allow ourselves or
        anyone else be treated as an exception.

XXII. Problems with Kant's Reconciliation

    1. Kant continues to assume the representational conception of
        perceptual experience and seems to have no notion whatsoever of
        an alternative, relational conception.  So the problems connected with
        the representational conception apply to Kant as well.

    2. What appears to save Kant's idea from subjectivism is his assumption
        that the forms of our rational apprehension of the world are the same for
        all persons.     3. No less than Descartes and Hume, Kant seems stuck in the egocentric
        predicament with a conception of the mind as a closed container, not a
        mind actively embodied in the world and exploring its environment.      4. Kant's valuable distinction between the thing in itself (noumenon) and
         the thing as we have conceived and understood it (phenomenon) may
        be alternatively and perhaps better understood in terms of the distinction
       between territory and map.     5. Many questions have been raised since Kant about how universal and
        essential for our knowledge of things some of the categories and
        principles Kant identified.

XXIII.  Experience as Representational

    Object-in-itself [in the world] - > causes - > Sense data [in the mind]

Object    - >     Sense data     - >     "Experience"      - >        Understanding
(= Object-in-itself)                         (= Apparent object)               (= Object as
                                                                                                        understood by us) XXIV.  Experience as Relational

Knowing person [in the world] < - > experiences < - > Object [in the world]

XXV.  Psychological vs. Philosophical Inquiry

     1.  Psychology looks at what typically happens in people's experiences,
          behavior, reactions, and development.

     2.  In contrast, philosophy, by its very nature, is concerned with reasoned
          justification and critical assessment. XXVI.  William Perry's Stages of Knowing

     1.  "Duality" -- knowledge is clear and unambiguous, with a right and
          wrong answer for every question.  These "facts" are external, known
          by authorities and experts.

     2.  "Unacceptable Multiplicity" -- Where authorities are seen to disagree
          but differences from the accepted authority are rejected.  Only one
          authority is right and all others are frauds or incompetent.      3.  "Acceptable Multiplicity" -- where there is no one "right" answer.
          Everyone has a right to his or her own opinion, and all opinions are
          equally good ("right for oneself").      4.  "Relativism" -- where truth and knowledge are not absolutes "out
          there" that some authority hands down or that we discover on our
          own.  Some opinions are better than others, depending on the reasons
          that back them.  Knowledge is not a "given" but is "constructed" in
          accordance with a particular point of view or intellectual approach. XXVII.  Belenky et al.'s Stages of Knowing

     1.  "Received Knowledge" -- where knowlege is what some authority
           says it is.

     2.  "Subjective Knowledge" -- where truth (at least some truth) is seen to
          be personal, private, subjective, and especially intuitive.  Right answers
          are ones a person reaches for herself.  Suspicious of the judgment of
          other persons.      3.  "Procedural Knowledge" -- a more objective and rational kind of
          knowledge, resulting form certain procedures and techniques of inquiry.      4.  "Constructed Knowledge" -- where both separate knowledge and
          connected knowledge are combined or integrated in a conception of
          knowledge as "constructed."  Thus the knower is seen to be an intimate
          part of what is known.  All knowledge is contextual and to some extent
          at least "fashioned" by the knower.  No fact (even the most obvious)
          exists outside of a specific frame of reference.

XXVIII.  "Female" vs. "Male" Knowing?

     Is there a difference?  How much is due to nature and how much to

     1.  Intuition vs. "Sticking with the Facts"

     2.  Emotional Involvement vs. Emotional Detachment      3.  Methodological Faith (or Believing) vs. Methodological Doubt      4.  Synthesis (Putting Together or Integration) vs. Analysis (Taking Apart)      5.  Knowledge for Appreciation vs. Knowledge for Manipulative Power      6.  Interdependence (Cooperation, Teamwork) vs. Autonomy
          (Independence of Judgment, Thinking for Oneself)

Western Oregon University
Copyright © 1997 Western Oregon University
Direct suggestions, comments, and questions about this page to Dale Cannon.
Last Modified 5/25/99