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Classical Philosophers Take on Knowledge

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Philosophy 1102

SHU, Spring 2005

The workings of the mind have been the focus of philosophers from the beginnings of humanity. One primary focal point that has been pondered over by numerous thinkers is what exactly constitutes knowledge. At first glance the issue seems to be cut and dry but the question gets more complicated with thought. This can be witnessed by the many different epistemological theories put forward throughout the ages. This can specifically be seen by looking at 4 different classical views on knowledge, those of Plato, Epicurus, the Stoics and the Skeptics.

As it was stated in the opening paragraph of this essay everyone has their own theory of what constitutes knowledge. That is why I think it would be beneficial for me to state what I believe knowledge is. First of all I don't think anyone can ever know anything for certain. I believe that we can sense certain sights, smells, sounds, etc. but our senses could be mistaken. We are let down by our senses all the time we see optical illusions, mirages, mishear people, confuse odors and the like. Also if you think about all of the senses that we are lacking that other species have we are missing out on a great portion of reality. For example bloodhounds have a drastically stronger sense of smell, snakes can see heat, dolphins and bats communicate through high frequency sounds that we can not dream of hearing. Added to all the other things that go on around us daily that we are missing shows me that we are missing out on what is truly reality. We can only hope to experience, or "know" our own very limited reality. So to that end that is one reason I don't think we can ever really know anything. In regards to knowledge of human reality I believe that we may be able to be very confident of certain things but I wouldn't go so far as to say we know them. To me knowledge is having 100% certainty of a fact and that's dangerous in my opinion because nothing we experience is certain. Here I split what has been called knowledge into empirical knowledge, rational knowledge and Knowledge that we hear from others. However I think that each one of these categories has their own shortcomings and I'll deal with them from the most credible source of knowledge to the least. As I explained before the senses can deceive us and there is no reason to believe that anything we see is reality. Even if we take what we sense in human existence what we experience can not be called true knowledge. I have never trusted rational knowledge because it is strictly theoretical and dependent on a single persons mind. Rational knowledge is different from person to person therefore it can not be a true universal fact, which I believe is necessary to be considered knowledge. Hearsay is the least convincing form of knowledge because knowledge has a way of being molded by the one who is telling it. I believe that you can not be confident in something you haven't experienced. One last reason I am skeptical of the word knowledge is because throughout history it has constantly changed. Scientists once knew that the atom was the smallest unit of matter, they knew that the earth was the center of the universe, they knew disease was caused by an imbalance of the humors and so on. How can we be sure that anything that we theorize today is correct and will not be proven wrong. So in summary I believe that perfect truth may exist but it can never be completely grasped by humans. I also believe that we can not truly have knowledge of human existence either.

In regards to the ancient thinkers my view is most closely related to that of the skeptics, however it is not identical. Skeptics believed in constantly never affirming or denying an argument because both sides can be argued equally well. I believe that we shouldn't hold anything as concretely true but we should take sides in certain circumstances due to strong belief. I differ from the theory of Epicurus because I don't believe that even empirical knowledge can be truly trusted. However that is the most trustworthy of all the ways one can acquire knowledge. I agree with the ideas that Plato puts forth in his cave analogy. I believe that what humans sense is like what those chained to the cave walls sensed, shadows and muffled sounds. However, unlike Plato I do not think that through philosophy we can ever know true knowledge. I believe it exists but that humans are incapable of ever experiencing it all. I also agree with the Stoics view that apprehension does not amount to knowledge, it only leads to belief. However they did believe that if you could defend your position with a strong argument then you held knowledge. I disagree with them on that point.

I will know go on to explain the results of the knowledge exercise.



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