What is knowable?

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What is knowable?

Postby Horatius Piscinus on Sun Oct 06, 2002 2:25 pm

Salvete philosophi

As long as you wish to visit old questions of philosophy, what can we say is truly knowable? Where is knowledge?

I run into this problem often, on different levels, because in dealing with history there is always that problem of what can we really know about a different age, the rest is interpretation or opinion. Then there is the more specific question in the Religio Romana as whether one may "know" the gods, and then too which gods?

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Postby Gnaeus Dionysius Draco on Tue Oct 08, 2002 7:26 pm

Salve mi Piscine!

Well, that's one of the problems philosophy has been trying to tackle for years.

In a strictly rational sense, if you consider knowledge as something that is absolutely true, no knowledge can exist because of our own limitations (which may in turn just be concepts that are limited by our limitations... arg :shock:).

I mainly think of "knowledge" as something scientifical, something that has been tested adequately and although may not be 100% correct, works (like Newton's gravity laws, for example). Perhaps the only domain in which this vagueness is absent is mathematics. But surely on an ethical and religious level, knowledge beyond the actual facts is very hard to debate about (and sometimes dangerous).

With regards to history, what qualifies as "facts" and knowledge depends on one's sources. For the largest part of historical facts, sources are absent. For some, we only have one source and if we're lucky we have more sources. The more the merrier, I'd like to think. However, in this cyber-age there's an almost cancerous growth of websites, so much that for many facts there may be a myriad of sources contradicting one another.

But I'm digressing. In a lot of articles I've read, some authors appear to confuse facts with opinions, or present opnions as facts. A classic example is Caligula's rule. Sources indicate that after a severe illness, his rule went downhill. Most think that he was barking mad. But there is no factual evidence for this (even though I don't believe the counter-theory that Caligula wanted to establish a hellenistic monarchy). We go by what people like Suetonius and Tacitus write.

Literary sources are not unreliable, but I personally think that in dealing with raw facts in antiquity, archeology and economic reports may be a good supporting source on historical facts and events. Although again economic reports can be false or missing. The best way to go may just be to do some own research and try to apply (scientific) logic. Sources may indicate some things, but I think they should be treated carefully. In order to do serious research on this, the researcher should also be familiar with possible tricks and traps. But then again... these may also be perceived.

I think our greatest problem is that the past is dead!

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Knowledge ?

Postby Quintus Pomponius Atticus on Sun Oct 20, 2002 6:20 pm

Salvete,

I'm afraid dealing with "knowledge" in itself is like dealing with a Platonic form : we must strive for it ardently, knowing that, at best, we'll get a dim reflection of what might perhaps be true. We must dare to question the truthfulness of our truths ...

One millenium ago, Christian theologians were sure they knew all about the Creation. One century ago, positivists were just as sure of their being fundamentally right about their Universe....

Today, both the Christian myth and the positivist myth are kindly brushed aside to make place for ever more exotic physical theories (string theory, the 11 dimension universe etc.) .

While the contrareformation was at its worst, Newton discovered a New Universe. While the positivists were shouting "victory is ours", Einstein's relativity theory, the upcoming science of quantum physics and Heisenberg's uncertainty principle completely wiped out the myth of a mechanical, law-obeying Universe (a myth that is nevertheless quite persistent in atheist circles).

"What myth's next", a sceptical observer like myself is tempted to ask from the sideline... Hoping to elicit reactions ...

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Hard question...

Postby Q. C. Locatus Barbatus on Mon Oct 21, 2002 9:21 pm

Oh ow, this is a though one...


All what is written below are my own convictions, I haven't read anything on it...

What can we know?

Let's start by defining the word 'know'. Do you mean, what can be learned? What can be done? What can we think? What can be incorporated (litteraly 'in corpus')?


Important answers, amici...



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Postby Gnaeus Dionysius Draco on Wed Oct 23, 2002 9:34 pm

"To know" is "to have knowledge". "To think" is not an equivalent to that, and actually I'm afraid that my defintion returns to the earlier question ;).

Something you "know" is something you are convinced of. Today this is usually associated with proven facts, but this isn't the case in all societies or with all people. Some claim to "know" that the Earth was created 4000 years ago.

Beware of those who "know" more than those who "believe"!

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knowing

Postby Q. C. Locatus Barbatus on Thu Oct 24, 2002 7:27 pm

Salve scorp,


If you concider 'knowing' as being convinced of than is only knowable what you consider to be true.

So if you think that e.g. zero tolerance is no solution, than you cannot know this. True I think, as things that are not proven, cannot be convincing and thus not knowable. A god has never been proven, and you cannot know that there is a god. You can believe it, yes, but not KNOW it.

So what is knowable. Only things that are proven to be, things that exist. AYou can 'know' a computer, because you are in front of it now. But it is hard to explain why you can 'know' abstract things, because the thing is not in front of you. How can we know this?



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Postby Horatius Piscinus on Fri Oct 25, 2002 11:34 am

Salvete

Socrates: Scio me nihil scire: I know that I know nothing.

The Platonists held that what forms our convictions are only opinions, not knowledge. I think that is a healthy approach to what we believe to be factual, for reasons offered by Atticus. Personally I am a little uncertain about this computer in front of me being factually proven to exist. My senses have been mistaken before.

The distinction being drawn in our discussion is between knowledge and opinion. What we believe to be true comes from our senses, our thoughts, our experience, and these all result in forming our opinions. How do we then attain knowledge?

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Cynism

Postby Q. C. Locatus Barbatus on Sat Oct 26, 2002 2:01 pm

Salve Marce,


I don't believe your (neo)platonist view. As being a cynic, I rather believe that all our sensations are right, as they are given to us by nature.

Our senses are the only reliable source to get information, thus knowledge.

How do we get knowledge? By collecting information with our senses. Than one has to consider if this information is true for him. If it isn't, he will reject it. If it is, he will incorporate that information and alternate it until it reaches his thoughts. When having done this, he will be able to express this information and from this point on it can be named "knowledge".

This simple explanation :shock: shows that there are many types of knowledge. The information you have gathered may be visual, corporal, etc. Thus there are many types of experiences that lead to knowledge, but knowledge is universal, no matter how it is attained.


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Re: Cynism

Postby Horatius Piscinus on Sat Oct 26, 2002 4:05 pm

Salve Locate

Quintus Claudius Locatus wrote:Salve Marce,


I don't believe your (neo)platonist view. As being a cynic, I rather believe that all our sensations are right, as they are given to us by nature.

So a rather accepting cynic then? This would be an impossible position to defend, as was well known in Greek philosophy. A simple demonstration of the unreliability of one's sight is to place a pencil in a glass of water. Or you might refer to mirages or hallucinations. Your senses of smell and taste are interdependent and again are easily deceived; the old trick of placing an orange under the nose of a blindfolded person and giving them an apple to taste. Aural perception is totally unreliable. those strange bumps in the night one hears cannot be identified without first being familiar with what the sounds might be. And touch as well can be deceptive. The five blind guru's coming upon an elephant, each with a different explanation, or a similar story from Buddhism used to illustrate the unreliability of one's senses.

Our senses are the only reliable source to get information, thus knowledge.

How do we get knowledge? By collecting information with our senses. Than one has to consider if this information is true for him. If it isn't, he will reject it. If it is, he will incorporate that information and alternate it until it reaches his thoughts. When having done this, he will be able to express this information and from this point on it can be named "knowledge".

Well, our senses being an unreliable source of information, we do not gain knowledge by them. What you describe here is discerning from the information gathered by our sense, consistent with other information we have stored away, to determine an opinion, not knowledge.

This simple explanation :shock: shows that there are many types of knowledge. The information you have gathered may be visual, corporal, etc. Thus there are many types of experiences that lead to knowledge, but knowledge is universal, no matter how it is attained.

Loc


You are confusing many types of information, gained through various means, processed by our minds, assuming they are working sufficiently well, that is then incorporated with other bits of information. Our stored bits of information do come from our experiences, but what we may think those show can only be our personal opinion. Their are "universal opinions" in that a large segment of people may hold the same opinion about the universe. That is not the same as a universal truth. The question is whether we are capable of really having knowledge of a universal truth, and how we would come by such knowledge, since our senses are so unreliable? Is there some other means by which we attain knowledge?

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Postby Gnaeus Dionysius Draco on Sat Oct 26, 2002 11:08 pm

Okay, here's my take on this epistemologic debate. I'm presenting a few of my opinions here for discussion...

(1) Nothing can be proven without axioms. You can freely change axioms but at one point your system will inevitably come down on them at at given points contradict itself. Best is, as the old golden rule of mathematics says, to have as few axioms as possible.

(2) Seperate facts from concepts. There are facts. Mathematical facts, physical facts, astronomical facts (in reality they aren't because they too, are based on axioms, but if you read my second point you'll know what I'm hinting at); in other words, everything natural science can reliably discover and test. It works. Concepts are things that occur in literary science, psychology, law, ethical philosophy and other more mind-oriented branches of science and knowledge. Some are at a crossroads between both types, like history. Concepts are harder to prove and possibly rely more on empirical research than hard, cold facts. But there's no clear border between both worlds (grey zone?).

(3) Induction doesn't exist. If you say Sokrates will die because Sokrates is a human being, and all human beings are mortal, that is because you have first deducted it so. In other words, you might still encounter a man who is immortal.

More to follow ;)

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Postby Quintus Aurelius Orcus on Sun Oct 27, 2002 11:28 am

Salvete
Although i do agree that there is a difference between what is to know and to what somebody believes. In the 17th and 18th century the western world had known some great philosophers who had their own opinions on what is knoweledge and i'm inclined to go with the Empirists who(if not mistaken) wanted to test their knoweledge, their theories. I'm inclined to go with this. But one can test their theories for so long: what i mean is that it hard to test your theory one might have about a black hole. Mayby a half a century ago nobody thought that there was a black hole and its existence has been proven but the theories about black holes can only be theorized since we have no way of testing it
But i'm also inclined to go with the Platonists as our forms of convictions are only opinions but if we test it in the real world than we can know. Locate, our senses can fool us too you know. Our senses tell us the world is flat and that the sun revolves around us but its not. Its through our senses that humans can to this conclusion and yet we test it through study and we found out that the world revolves around the sun along with 8 other planets. This is knoweledge but the hardest part in any religion is trying to prove the existence of (a) god(s). We can't tough nor test the metaphysical world but we can theorize about it. The Egyptians thought and believed that their gods were half human and half animal. The Greeks and Romans believed their gods to be antropomorphic while the Germans and Vikings thought and believed that their gods were not only antropomorphic but also kind of mortal. In a way we have this too in the Religio Romano and Hellenismos. In the Trojan War Aphrite mingles with it to protect her son and is wounded, thus this mean that she is mortal too since only mortals can bleed. We don't know and so far i can tell we have no way of testing this but we can speculate and believe what we want to so long as the answer hasn't been provided.
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