When we view the diagram of the TOK course, we see two overlapping circles identified as Personal Knowledge and Shared Knowledge. The diagram is what is known as a Venn diagram. The word “knowledge” has been traditionally understood as “science” or episteme, from which comes our word “epistemology” or “theory of knowledge”, the “science of knowledge”, “the knowledge of knowledge”, “how do I know X” or “how do we know Y”. The “science of…” something is considered to be the grounded knowledge that has come to constitute those specific things that are within each AOK as a unique area of knowledge and so they become part of the “shared knowledge” that we have which has been “given over” or handed over to us. But from where does this classification of the things within the AOKs stem? We can see from the circles that we believe our knowledge comes from the rendering of an account of some thing based on the principle of reason: “I know be-cause”, the cause “is”, the cause “being”. We believe we attain the truth of some thing, knowledge of it, through the principle of reason, primarily through one of its sub-principles, cause and effect, and the logic upon which it is based.
Individuals and Societies, the Human Sciences, could be called “The Science of Humans”, the knowledge that we have already grounded with regard to what human being is and what human beings are, the starting points from which we can begin our journey towards understanding human being and human beings. This “science” originates in, has its grounds in, what we now call “biology”, “the science of” (logy) “life” (bios) or living things. The Human Sciences, Individuals and Societies, must take as their starting point the findings of the Natural Sciences. In order for the Human Sciences to begin their study, what human beings are and how they are must already be defined in some preliminary way through the findings of the Natural Sciences. This way of viewing is Western in origin. Traditionally, it was known as psychology.
Two opposing views are present today and are related to the religions or faiths of both camps: human beings are either the products of modification and chance (evolution) or human beings are “created” beings that have a purpose and destiny for their being. This clash shows itself in the views of human beings as “ids” (“things”, “it”s) or “Selves”, or that human beings are not “their own” as Socrates expresses so beautifully in the Platonic dialogue Phaedo and elsewhere.
The Human Sciences consider not only what human beings are, but how they act or behave. Again, if we remember what the sciences attempt to do in the modern age, it is to domineer and control those objects which they investigate in order to have predictive knowledge of the behaviours of those objects. The application of this knowledge toward the objects of study (in this case human beings), the enfolding of the “logos” into the “techne”, or the “knowing” into the “making” (the application), is what we have called technology. We have elsewhere called “technology” a way of knowing. It is one possible comportment of human beings towards beings/things that pre-determines what those beings/things are and how they are to be dealt with. It is one mode of apprehension in the overlapping section of our Venn diagram, albeit the dominating mode as it combines reason, language and intuition as ways of knowing into one.
What we call the human sciences was called by the Greeks episteme ethika or ethos, the science of human behaviour, the comportment of human beings towards each other and towards the world which human beings inhabit. Human behaviour or “action” is “ethics”. The Greeks did not separate “theory” from “practice” as we do. “Theory” was one’s way of being in the world for it provided the comportment for how one “viewed” the world. The deliberations we make about what course of action we are to take are not ethics; the actions themselves are the ethics. This confusion has created a lot of useless spilt ink and windy chat over the understanding of ethics and its relation to “values”. (For an understanding of the word “values” and its origins see the writings on Nietzsche, particularly the relation of values to will and action.)
The Greeks divided up the sciences into three categories: Λόγος is the science of speaking, as opposed to ε͗πιστήμη φυσική the science of the cosmos and ε͗πστήμη η͗θική, the science of comportment towards others or ethics . However, for the Greeks, speaking is to be conceived neither as vocal utterance nor as an incidental property of human beings. Rather it encompasses ‘language, speaking, thinking’ as ‘the way in which we reveal and illumine (both for ourselves and for others) the world and our own human existence’ so that ‘we gain insight into ourselves and an outlook on, and a practical insight into, the world’. We call this our personal and shared knowledge in TOK currently. This emphasis on speech is the reason the poets were held in such high regard in ancient Greece.
Brief Historical Background
Historically, as mentioned above, the sciences were divided into three broad areas and were understood as the science of physics (the natural world), the science of ethics (the human sciences of human beings and their actions) and the science of “speech” or the logos. The science of “speech” might be considered as the overlapping section of our Venn diagram in TOK; it is how our personal and shared knowledge come together, how our knowledge is “handed over” and so becomes knowledge for us as individuals and as societies. It is the science of our “relatedness” to the world and the things of the world. So we have “the world” (physics) and “human beings” (ethics) and the “science of speech” (logos) which overlaps the two. This “science of speech” is what we refer to as our “ways of knowing” although this is not a clear definition of what the “science of speech” is. We could sum up the “science of speech” in the word “rhetoric”, but this word has too much derogatory historical baggage brought about by misunderstandings of what “rhetoric” originally meant. From this brief discussion, we can see that the AOK Ethics and the AOK the Human Sciences are inextricably linked and that this linkage has been forgotten; and in our forgetfulness, we have come to classify them as two distinct AOKs. But why has this distinction become necessary? One of the causes for this is the “fact-value” distinction that is central to the methodology of the Human Sciences and we shall discuss this distinction in more detail later (although the “fact/value” distinction is more of a consequence rather than a cause).
Once again, a few words regarding Plato’s allegory of the Cave will illustrate the problematic that is in question here. Some may find my repeated references to Plato’s allegory of the Cave tedious, but in the philosophy and history of the West this writing of Plato’s is crucial for our understanding (or misunderstanding) of ourselves and our actions. Since technology as a way of knowing has and will come to dominate the future of our comportment towards the world and the other beings and human beings in it, it is crucial to try to gain an understanding of who and what we are since we of the West have delivered this fate to the rest of humanity. If the subject matter of Individuals and Societies as an AOK is human beings, and if it is human beings that are in themselves being questioned by other human beings, then how those questioners understand themselves must be understood in order to gain any insight into the findings that will come about from the Human Sciences. It is quite clear from the many examples present today that graduates of the Human Sciences will use their knowledge to do ill rather than good to other human beings in the future, and this is but one example of how and why Ethics and the Human Sciences are inseparable.
In Plato’s allegory, human beings understand themselves (personal knowledge) only in terms of what they encounter, only in terms of the world. The enchained ones see themselves only as shadows. How does a transition to a higher level of truth come about? Where do we find what is essential to the differences in the levels of truth, what has come to be perceived (erroneously) as “truth relativism”? We are not speaking about a “truth relativism” here; our speaking about things will either bring things to a greater light or leave them in the shadows. There is no “alternative truth” or “alternative reality” here; things are either revealed as they truly are or they are not. It is the same “reality” that is being spoken about and that prevails.
Gaining more “experiences” by way of the old cognitions, having a greater variety and novelty of “uncovered things”, does not achieve the transition to a greater light because our mode of being or comportment is only one of shadows. This is explained in much more depth in the writing “Understanding Plato’s Shadows” which is linked on this page. The enchained human being must be released so that they can see in the light itself, and in this light they can release the things which they behold. As we have written elsewhere, the light in Plato is a metaphor for Love and human being must gain knowledge of this light and its nature. This requires a change in the way human beings are in the world so that in their seeing, in their comportment towards the things that are, they will see the things as they really are.
Such a transition to a comportment moved by Love is not easily accomplished and the allegory speaks of a pain-filled journey to this state of comportment towards the things that are. It is nothing less than the de-construction of the ego, the Self, so that things may be viewed in the light of their otherness and consented to in their otherness so that they may be released. Shakespeare’s King Lear is the best example of this journey that we have in our language.
For Plato what we call our “freedom” is only our recognition of the light as light i.e. truth. We are advised in the TOK Guide (2015) to avoid any discussions of truth; but the connection of what we call “knowledge” to what we conceive the truth to be is unavoidable; they cannot be separated nor avoided. Truth, the light, is not “relative”. The light is light. Human beings are not the creators of the light; one could say that they are more in the nature of abettors allowing the light to act and to bring things to light. The question is: how much does the light reveal of what the things are? Why do things resist their revealing?The TOK Guide concedes that this must be recognized for how else are we to get “better” answers in our essays and presentations unless a norm has already been pre-established and aimed at. The silly talk of the relativity of truth in our public domain is brought about by those who would choose to hide or obfuscate the truth for reasons which are, usually, less than savoury. One is reminded of Shakespeare’s play Macbeth.
According to Plato, truth or the light is that which is given to us by the highest Idea, the Idea of the Good. This highest Idea is the completion of our understanding of the things that are and it prescribes the “limit” to our understanding of those things i.e. it allows us to state what the things are. The Idea of the Good is what gives to things their “fittedness” and beauty. It is the ground and origin of all beings and of Being itself. As the French philosopher Simone Weil wrote: “Faith is experience that the intelligence is illuminated by Love.” For Weil and Plato, Love is higher than Reason or logic if we wish to understand the truth of the being of beings. Both Love and Reason as ways of knowing are prior to philosophy; they are not philosophy itself.
In our comportment to other human beings in the Human Sciences, we remain within the shadows of our caves, our “shared knowledge”. We are called upon to journey to understand the nature of the light itself so that we may see the things as they really are (see the discussion on Hegel in Part 2 of this blog and how this understanding differs from that of Plato).
The TOK has found that the definition of knowledge as “justified true belief” which was provided in Plato’s Theatetus is inadequate for our understanding of what knowledge is. Plato’s Theatetus is part of a trilogy of dialogues, the others being Sophist and Statesman. There is a connection or linkage between the three dialogues and they relate to the three disciplines that were outlined above as encompassing all knowledge areas for the Greeks.
Plato’s Theatetus deals with aisthesis or what we call “sense perception” as a way of knowing, doxa or “opinion”, “language”, and episteme or “knowledge”. These concepts are all concerned with our modes of “apprehension” and our modes of knowledge or what we consider knowledge to be. They are our comportments to the things when Love is not present; and they are our knowledge of the things and the “statements” that are made about the things which give us the knowledge that is to be gained when Love is not present. For Plato, these comportments and their knowledge are “the shadows” or things that “are not”. But how can some thing both be and not be at the same time?
Our speaking with each other and to each other is not something that goes on all the time, but speech itself—λόγoς—is always going on—whether we’re repeating what others have said, or telling stories, or even just silently speaking to ourselves or explaining things to ourselves or taking responsibility for ourselves. In this broad and natural sense, speech and speaking is a way that human beings behave, one that reveals a natural, pre-scientific view, such as when we are young. It indicates what the difference is between human beings and other living things in the world. Our specific being as human beings is revealed by our speech. And what is essential about speaking is that it is experienced as speaking to others about something. It is a behaviour which makes us stand out as human beings. Through speech we learn how to guide all our other behaviours toward other human beings and things and this, in the most general way, is what we call our “education” and “experience”.
Personal knowledge and shared knowledge along with our speaking about them deals with all the things that can be called beings or that have existence. The things that have existence “change” or “become” something else; they are what is referred to as “becoming” and have been referred to as such since Plato. For Plato (and others after him) what does not change is the “idea” or the “outward appearance” of the thing that presents itself as what it is: the treeness of a tree, etc. Though the tree itself changes through the seasons and there are many varieties of trees, the “idea” of the tree is permanent; the ideas are unchanging; they are the “essence” of what a thing is. They delimit and define what the thing is so that it may be classified as some thing.
So how does the permanent relate to what is “changing”? This has been one of the most challenging knowledge questions for human beings. The German philosopher Nietzsche once wrote: “Only that which has no history can be defined”. The ideas, being timeless, have no history but the things that they define do. This is a contradiction for Nietzsche and one of the principles of reason is the avoidance of contradiction or non-contradiction. The French philosopher Sartre’s statement that “Existence precedes essence” is a response to this apparent contradiction. Plato, however, states that “Time is the moving image of eternity”, which when reflected on, is a very complex manner of attempting to resolve the conflict within the contradiction (one must remember that for the Greeks Nature itself is sempiternal).
What we give to the things that gives things their presence is the logos or “speech” in any of its many forms. From this word for speech and speaking, “logos”, we get the word logic and this word derives from the Latin understanding of what the Greeks meant by “speech”. The Greeks distinguished human beings from all other beings as the “zoon logon echon”, the “living being that can speak and defines its being through speech”. The Latins defined human being as the animale rationale, the animal that is capable of speech, logic and reason and who defines its being through this speech, logic and reason. What we call “logic” after Aristotle, primarily develops through grammar, through speech. If we follow what is being said, “logic” is thus the science of the originary truth of our worldly existence as human beings. Consideration of this ‘naive beginning of logic’ (from out of which comes our current understanding and application of “algorithms”) raises the simple and far reaching question of whether, as the discipline of logic typically assumes, ‘theoretical cognitive truth, or even the truth of statements, is the basic form of truth in general’. We cannot speak of ‘knowledge’ in any “theory of knowledge” without discussing the relation of what we call truth to what we call knowledge.
In our primary, natural experience of how human beings live together with each other, we understand speech as the revealing of something by speaking about it, and as a thinking that determines and orders it, defines and classifies it, and by doing so renders an account of it. Language, speaking, thinking coincide as the human way of being in the world. They are the way we reveal and illuminate (both for ourselves and for others) the world and our own human existence so that in this illumination we gain “sight”, the human insight into ourselves and an outlook on, and a practical insight into, the world. Logic as the science of speaking studies speech in terms of what it properly is: the revealing of something. The subject matter of logic is speech viewed with regard to its basic meaning, namely, allowing the world, human existence, and things in general to be seen and, thus, known.
This allowing to be seen is what the Greeks referred to as “truth”, but concurrent with it was the tendency to “hide”. As ways of knowing, language and reason dominate our understanding of what we are as human beings and what we think the world is and of what and how the world is seen and defined as what it is. Language and reason, along with intuition as a way of knowing, account for what we call “sense perception as a way of knowing”.
Aristotle begins his Metaphysics with the famous statement “All human beings by nature desire to see”. “To see” is usually translated (in the popular W.D. Ross translation, for instance) as “to know”, so we can see the close association of “seeing” to “knowing”. The fact that our existence has and understands and strives for this basic form of revealing by seeing implies that, for the most part, much of the world stands in need of “illumination” and “revelation”, of being un-covered from the darkness and made known to ourselves and to each other. In other words, much of the world and much of human existence is, by and large, not un-covered. So beings can be drawn out of their “not-un-covered-ness”, their hiddenness. They can be un-covered or un-hidden. This uncoveredness or unhiddenness of beings and things is what we call “truth”. What is the relation between “truth” and “logic” and how does “logic” illuminate for us all the areas of knowledge that we come to study as well as ourselves? We shall find the answer to these questions in what we call the proposition.
When we speak of Personal knowledge, we are usually referring to those “experiences” which we consider unique to ourselves as individuals, our individual “cognitions”, and these “cognitions” are primarily “pre-scientific’ or prior to what we would consider as “knowledge”. They do not become knowledge until they are “handed over” to others. But what makes or allows these cognitions, these “experiences” to become knowledge capable of being handed over? How do these “experiences” become “true” or contain “truth”? How do they “reveal” or “illuminate” and what is it that they reveal and illuminate? We shall attempt to answer these questions in Part II.