Individuals and Societies: Historical Background: The Arrival of the Modern
Take but degree away, untune that string, And, hark, what discord follows: each thing meets In mere oppugnancy; the bounded waters Should lift their bosoms higher than the shores, And make a sop of all this solid globe; Strength should be lord of imbecility,
And the rude son should strike his father dead; Force should be right, or rather, right and wrong (Between whose endless jar, justice resides) Should lose their names, and so should justice too. Then every thing includes itself in power, Power into will, will into appetite, And appetite, an universal wolf, (So doubly seconded with will and power), Must make perforce an universal prey, And last, eat up himself. –Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida Act 1 sc. iii
We have been attempting to explore the origins of the “theoretical viewing” that have determined how what we call the Human Sciences or Individuals and Societies in the West have come about and through this viewing how human beings of the West make their judgements of the other human beings that inhabit our planet. In examining the historical background behind the development of the Human Sciences, we must ask the question: What is the uniqueness, the peculiarity of modernity in the West and the human beings who live within it, and how might it be distinguished from the classical Western world-view of Plato and Aristotle? What we call “ethics” as an area of knowledge is inseparable from what we call the study of the Human Sciences but why have they become separate as two distinct Areas of Knowledge in the IB TOK program? What does this significant fact tell us about who we are and who we think we are and how we view things in the world and our actions within the world?
If we wish to look at how and why ethics has become separate from the Human Sciences we have to understand that modernity in the West is “secularized Biblical faith”; the “other worldly” faith has become “this worldly”: not to hope for life in heaven, but to establish heaven on earth by purely human means. Once again it must be reiterated that what is being said here is that there is no distinction between theory and practice. The theory is the practice. “Globalization” and “international mindedness” are but the latest secularized expressions of this original Biblical faith which had “charity” or caritas as its highest end i.e. the recognition of the “otherness” of the world and of the human beings in it. These modern secularized views find their ultimate realization in the universal, homogeneous state of Hegel.
Today’s Human Sciences find their grounding in positivism so it is necessary to keep this in mind when we examine the historical background of the Human Sciences. The British philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), for example, conceives of human beings as a polarity of “evil pride” and a salutary “fear of death”; this is a secularized version of sinful pride and fear of the Lord. “Secularization” then means that the thoughts, feelings, or habits that were of Biblical origin are retained after the loss or atrophy of Biblical faith. KQs: Could the modern technological project be conceived without the help of these previous ingredients of Biblical faith? Is it possible to speak of the modern technological project as “one” since its chief character is novelty and change?
In the area of knowledge Individuals and Societies, what we mean by modernity is the understanding that a radical modification of pre-modern political philosophy (and, thus, of “the human sciences” of Plato and Aristotle) took place; the modification comes to sight as a rejection of pre-modern political philosophy. In our “shared knowledge” we can see that part of this modification is the very fact that “politics”, the covenants and laws that determine how human beings will live in their communities, is not considered the “queen of the social sciences” in today’s thinking. This rejection of pre-modern political philosophy takes place during that period which we in the West call the Renaissance. We can see how this change occurred by the fixing of the beginning of modernity by means of a non-arbitrary criterion: if modernity begins with a break from the pre-modern view of the world, the great minds who achieved this break must have been aware of what they were doing.
Who is the first philosopher to see pre-modern political philosophy as unsound? Thomas Hobbes. But closer study shows that Hobbes was continuing the thinking of Machiavelli (1459-1527). (Strauss, What is Political Philosophy) We can say that the foundation and genesis of what we know today as the “human sciences” finds it birthing in the thoughts of Machiavelli. Why is this so? Machiavelli claims that true political philosophy (and thus what we call “the social (human) sciences”) begins with him. Machiavelli describes himself as a Christopher Columbus, his contemporary, exploring and discovering new continents and determining new horizons regarding morality and politics. What is Machiavelli’s “new” position?
Machiavelli profoundly disagrees with others regarding how a prince should conduct himself towards his subjects and his friends. The reason for this is that he is concerned with the factual, practical truth and not with fancies. Many (primarily Plato and Augustine) have imagined commonwealths and principalities which never were, because they looked at how men ought to live (virtue) instead of how human beings, in fact, do live. Machiavelli opposes to the idealism of the traditional political philosophy a realistic approach to political things. This is the first part of his approach, his moral, ethical approach. The second part: “Fortuna (chance, necessity, fortune) is a woman who can be controlled by the use of force.”
Classical political philosophy was a quest for the best political order, or the best regime as a regime most conducive to the practice of virtue or how human beings should live within their communities. It was profoundly ethical. According to classical political philosophy, the establishment of the best regime depends necessarily on uncontrollable, elusive Fortuna or chance. According to Plato’s Republic the coming into being of the best regime depends on coincidence: the unlikely coming together of philosophy and political power. Aristotle agrees with Plato: the best regime is the order most conducive to the practice of virtue, and the actualization of the best regime depends on chance; the best regime cannot be established if the proper matter is not available i.e. if the nature of the available territory and the available people is not fit for the best regime. Whether or not that matter is available in no way depends on the art of the founder, but on chance (Plato and Aristotle called politics the “royal art” or the “royal techne”).
Machiavelli seems to agree with Aristotle: one cannot establish the desirable political order if the matter is corrupt i.e. if the people are corrupt; but what for Aristotle is an impossibility is for Machiavelli only a very great difficulty: the difficulty can be overcome by an outstanding man who uses extraordinary means in order to transform corrupt matter into good matter. The obstacle to the establishment of the best regime which is man as matter, the human material, can be overcome because that matter can be transformed. Human beings are infinitely malleable.
The imagined republic of Plato is based on a specific understanding of nature which Machiavelli rejects. According to Plato, all natural beings, at least all living beings, are directed towards an end, a perfection for which they long (the Good); there is a specific perfection which belongs to each specific nature; there is especially the perfection of human being which is determined by the nature of human being as the rational (logos) social animal. The “essence” precedes the “existence” to put it in other words. Nature supplies the standard (the “degree” in the quote from Shakespeare above), a standard wholly independent of human beings’ will; this implies that nature is good. Human beings have a place–a definite place– within the whole. Human beings are the microcosm, but they occupy that place by nature; human beings have their place in an order that they did not originate or create. “Man is the measure of all things”, the famous saying of the sophist Protagoras, is the very opposite of “Man is the master of all things”. (See other postings on Protagoras’ thinking).
Human beings have a place within the whole: human beings’ power is limited; human beings cannot overcome the limitations of their nature. Our nature is ‘enslaved’ (Aristotle) or we are “the playthings of the gods” (Plato). This limitation shows itself in particular in the power of chance/necessity/fortuna. The good life is the life according to nature which means to stay within certain limits, as is suggested by the Pythagoreans (who discovered “degrees” and “music” and thus provide the background for the metaphor used by Shakespeare in the quote that begins this entry). Virtue is essentially moderation or what the Greeks termed sophrosyne or prudence and its knowledge is based on “experience” or what the Greeks called phronesis. Our happiness depends decisively on the limitations of our desires in our knowledge and understanding of ourselves. (cf. the tragic literature in the study of the Language A texts, particularly Oedipus Rex, where the tragic heroes are precisely those who do not know who they are; they “miss the mark”, hamartia, in their actions which exceed the limits in some way. Literature, decidedly, has a moral purpose behind its study).
According to the Western Bible, human beings are created things in the image of God. They are given rule over all terrestrial creatures: human beings are not given rule over the whole. Human beings have been put into a garden to work it and to guard it, to nurture and abet its flowering. Human beings have been assigned a place. Righteousness (justice) is obedience to the divinely established order (just as justice in the Greeks is compliance with the natural order); to the recognition of elusive chance corresponds the recognition of inscrutable Providence (God’s will). (See the discussion on William Blake in imagination as a way of knowing).
According to Machiavelli, traditional views either lead to the consequence that political things are not taken seriously (Plato’s Republic is, finally, a comedy…a discussion of the best regime in speech is undertaken by men who will soon experience the worst regime in deed), or else political things are understood in light of an imaginary perfection, of imagined states or principalities, the most famous being the kingdom of heaven. Machiavelli: one must start from how men live; one must lower one’s sights. Immediate corollary: the reinterpretation of virtue or morality (what has now come to be called “ethics”): virtue must not be understood as that for the sake of which the commonwealth (state) exists, but virtue exists exclusively for the sake of the commonwealth (state). Patriotism is the highest virtue.
According to Machiavelli, political life is not subject to morality. Morality is not possible outside of political society; it presupposes political society. Political society cannot be established and preserved by staying within the limits of morality for the simple reason that the effect or the conditioned cannot precede the cause or condition. The establishment of political society and even of the most desirable political society does not depend on chance, for chance can be conquered or corrupt matter can be transformed into incorrupt matter according to the thinking of Machiavelli.
The solution of the political problem for Machiavelli is guaranteed because: 1: the goal is lower i.e. in harmony with what most human beings desire; and 2. chance can be conquered. The political problem becomes a technical problem (a matter for techniques used by the prince). Nations, states, communities desire four things primarily: freedom from foreign domination; stability or the rule of law; prosperity; and glory or empire. The matter is not corrupt or vicious; there is no evil in human beings that cannot be controlled. What is required is not divine grace, morality, nor the formation of character (ethical education), but laws and institutions with “teeth in them”. Lee Kwan Yew, the founder of modern Singapore, can be said to be an example of a modern “Machiavellian” and the evidence of his successes (and failures) can be seen by anyone who visits the country.
The first result of Machiavelli’s great change occurs with the revolution in the Natural Sciences: the emergence of modern natural science (first with Galileo and further in Newton (1643-1727) and referred to in Leibniz (1646-1717) and the introduction of infinitesimal and finite calculus through the revolutionary role of algebra). This change may be understood as the rejection of final causes: a new understanding of science with a new understanding of nature: knowledge is no longer understood as “receptive”. The initiative in understanding is with human beings, not within the cosmic order. Human beings, literally, become the center of the universe (the rise of humanism). In seeking knowledge, human beings call nature before the judgment of reason; human beings put “nature to the question” and “torture” nature (Bacon: 1561-1626). Knowing is a kind of making; human understanding through the principle of reason prescribes to nature its laws. Human beings’ power is much greater than before believed. Not only can human beings transform corrupt human matter into incorrupt human matter, or conquer chance–all truth and meaning originate in man–they are not inherent in a cosmic order which exists independently of human beings’ activities. Truth and meaning are the “values” that human beings themselves create through their actions. Correspondingly, poetry is not understood as inspired imitation or reproduction, but as creativity. It is with Machiavelli that the age of “humanism” arrives: the view of human beings as autonomous freedom, as “resources” and “disposables”, begins or what we call “social engineering” begins.
The second great effect of Machiavelli’s thinking is that the purpose of science is reinterpreted: it is for the relief of the human condition, for the conquest of nature, for maximum control, the systematic control of the natural conditions of human life and of human beings, the making of corrupt matter less corrupt. From this arises the modern view of justice. The conquest of nature implies that nature is the enemy, a chaos that is to be reduced to order. Everything good is due to human labour rather than nature’s gift: nature supplies only the materials which human beings through their techne bring to perfection. Human communities are in no way natural: the state or regime of a human community is simply an artifact due to covenants (laws). Man’s perfection is not the natural end of human beings as Plato and Aristotle believed, but an ideal freely formed by human beings, a “value” (man’s essence is freedom which finds its realization in action or “existence”). “Existence precedes essence” because human being is the as yet “undetermined animal”.
The Fact/Value Distinction
From what has been said regarding the historical background of the development of the human sciences, we can examine how what is called “the fact/value distinction” in the Human Sciences came about. The fact/value distinction in the Human Sciences is part of the core of its metaphysics or its way of viewing the world. It is based on the need for “objectivity” in its methodology as scientific research in order to gain true knowledge of the object under investigation through the use of logic i.e. a rational view of human beings (individuals) and their communities (societies). It decrees that there is a fundamental difference between judgements of fact (scientific judgements) and judgements of value since “values” are inaccessible to human logic and reason and, therefore, are beyond the ability of science to make any statements about them, of what is good or bad. The social scientist must avoid value judgements altogether. Every textbook and methodology of the human sciences begins with this premise and it is part of its “shared knowledge”, what has been passed on to others who wish to pursue knowledge in this area of knowledge.
“Values” are here defined and understood as the things/outcomes preferred and the principles of preference and if we look to the grounds for the principles of these preferences we will see that they are based on the prevailing views of what a society (in this case Western society) upholds as being good. The Human Sciences as presented to us as an Area of Knowledge are supposedly “value free” or “ethically neutral” as they attempt to base their grounding in the principles of the modern natural sciences. But because the Human Sciences deal with human beings and their communities, what we call “social science” is unable to justify the reasons for its existence, for instance, for to do so would be to make a “value judgement” i.e. to deduce what the purposes or the values of the Human Sciences are, or what their use is for.
Now, presumably, human scientists would say that the purpose of their engagement with their objects of study is the pursuit of “truth” regarding the “what”, the “how” and the “why” of those objects i.e. human beings and their actions in their communities. But the difficulty they have with their “viewing” is that it itself is a product of the very society they are attempting to judge and it is one of the “values” that that society has promulgated prior to the inception of the science itself. All other societies which they view will be judged by those “values” that are inherent in the goals and purposes of the social sciences themselves and these “values” are the baggage that the methodologies of these sciences bring with them and which are greater than those sciences themselves. To attempt to overcome this, the human sciences engage in “cross-cultural research”. In our areas of knowledge we have “Indigenous Knowledge Systems” and “Religious Knowledge Systems” as examples of attempts to get beyond the prejudices of our own viewing. But the very use of the word “system” indicates that the viewing is conceived from a modern western society and this viewing fits best only with that particular society. It is here that historical understanding comes into play. Any answers to knowledge questions using the rules of the principles of reason will depend on the “subjective” viewing or “values” of the viewer and these, in turn, will be based on the “interests” of the viewer, not upon logic. The subjective and objective elements of social science cannot be separated from each other.
From the time of Machiavelli to the present day, the “facts” of “how” human beings actually do live and the “what” and the “why” of those social facts has already been pre-decided. Machiavelli’s assertion states that human beings are completely malleable and as corrupt matter can be made less corrupt through social engineering, the techne of the prince. These are, of course, “value judgements” according to the social scientists. These judgements of value continue to the present day and will continue into the future as the goal of the Human Sciences clarifies itself in cybernetics or the unlimited mastery of an elite of human beings over other human beings. The “good” society or societies will be decided and created by the helmsmen (helmspersons) using human beings as “disposables” and “resources”. What is “good”, the making of “corrupt matter” less “corrupt”, will be determined through the techne of this elite.
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.
Intuition as a Way of Knowing: Historical Background
”The conditions of the possibility of experience in general are at the same time conditions of the possibility of the objects of experience.” Kant (Critique of Pure Reason, A 158, B 197)
Intuition is another difficult, controversial term and its use as a way of knowing in Theory of Knowledge can sometimes be confusing. INTUITION as it is commonly understood may be defined as understanding or knowing without conscious recourse to thought, observation or reason. We shall see how Kant critiques this understanding of intuition in his writings later.
Intuition was traditionally known as “direct vision” or “direct seeing”. Some see this process as somehow mystical while others describe intuition as being a response to unconscious cues or implicitly apprehended prior learning involving memory and imagination as ways of knowing. All these understandings of intuition require re-presenting to let them be ways of knowing as we understand a “way of knowing”. Representation is the way we put ideas and thoughts into images so that they can be seen.
Although intuition has been mentioned in the texts of the philosophers and others from ancient times to the present, its grounding as a concept (or as a way of knowing) in the modern comes to us primarily through the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Kant’s concepts of “transcendental intuition” and “transcendental imagination” describe his understanding of what intuition is. His grounding of intuition has determined how we understand “personal experience” in the present in both the scientific and common sense manners. Kant’s great effort shows us what we are as human beings in our understanding of “experience” and what the things about us are as “things” in the sense of an objective reality.
Sometimes people refer to intuition as ESP or “gut feeling” but these understandings, again, stress the “immediacy” of the “seeing” related to intuition. An examination of the historical background of the term will show why this understanding of intuition has come to be and why the kind of thinking involved in intuition has become denigrated to some degree because it resists calculation. Kant’s understanding is the calculation itself for his work is the grounding of mathematics as a way of knowing the objects of the world. We want to hold with us the commonly held view of what intuition means as immediacy as we try to clarify what it is as a way of knowing. We want to retain the notion of representation when we try to comprehend how intuition is a way of knowing.
Historically, intuition as a way of knowing is related to sense perception as a way of knowing, and what we call sense perception requires intuition if it is to provide “knowledge”. Intuition was considered “direct seeing” in the Middle Ages, and this understanding of intuition was based on the Scholastics interpretations of the Greek philosopher Aristotle. The speculation of philosophers in the Middle Ages was called “Scholasticism”, the speculation of the “schoolmen”. Scholastic thinking gave great importance to deductive reasoning, and this emphasis later found its flowering in the thinking of Rene Descartes where he discusses intuition.
We want to see how Aristotle’s unique term the “bios theoretikos” or “the life of theoretical speculation” is related to what was known as “intuition” and how it gave rise to our understanding of “logic” and the “correspondence theory of truth”. Aristotle’s bios theoretikos is a unique turning in Greek philosophy and we’ll try to show how this turning came about and why this turning came about. We need to remember (and emphasize) that “theory” is the “looking” or the “viewing”, and we need to understand how this “looking” relates to what was understood as knowledge and how that knowledge is related to truth.
Mozart’s apprehension of his music can be called “intuitive”. Many artists experience their insights by intuition. Here is a “supposed” letter of Mozart; its authenticity has been questioned.
“The question is how my art proceeds in writing and working out great and important matters. I can say no more than this, for I know no more and can come upon nothing further. When I am well and have good surroundings, travelling in a carriage, or after a good meal or walk or at night when I cannot sleep, then ideas come to me best and in torrents. Where they come from and how they come I just do not know. I keep in my head those that please me and hum them aloud as others have told me. When I have that all carefully in my head, the rest comes quickly, one thing after another; I see where such fragments could be used to make a composition of them all, by employing the rules of counterpoint and the sound of different instruments etc. My soul is then on fire as long as I am not disturbed; the idea expands, I develop it, all becoming clearer and clearer. The piece becomes almost complete in my head, even if it is a long one, so that afterwards I see it in my spirit all in one look, as one sees a beautiful picture or a beautiful human being. I am saying that in imagination I do not understand the parts one after another, in the order that they ought to follow in music; I understand them altogether at one moment. Delicious moments. When the ideas are discovered and put into a work, all occurs in me as in a beautiful dream which is quite lucid. But the most beautiful is to understand it all at one moment. What has happened I do not easily forget and this is the best gift which our God has given me. When it afterwards comes to writing, I take out of the bag of my mind what had previously gathered into it. Then it gets quickly put down on paper, being strictly, as was said, already perfect, and generally in much the same way as it was in my head before.”
Since most of us are not Mozarts or even artists of any description, Mozart’s experience of his music is difficult to comprehend and may border on the mystical. Clearly, Mozart’s description of his experience is not something that he himself “creates”. It comes to him from outside of himself. Perhaps the key to understanding his experience is the “seeing all in one look”. Mozart’s manuscripts are noted for how few revisions there are in them; their writing was as he said “already perfect”. How is it possible “to see all in one look” and how does this relate to intuition?
This “seeing of all in one look” is to be understood through our use of concepts. Questioning the concepts is the core of the Theory of Knowledge course. (Guide 2015, p.#8) The concepts we use come from our ways of seeing and being in the world, and they come to determine what we call the methodologies in each of the Areas of Knowledge and are embedded in our Ways of Knowing. All of our ways of knowing are manners of “seeing” what is about us in the world. But upon what are these concepts that determine our seeing grounded? It is with this question that we arrive at the philosophy of Kant and his revolutionary book Critique of Pure Reason. Kant grounds what we call intuition in this book and in doing so, the nature of our conceptual thinking. It is from Kant that what we call “theories of knowledge” derives. There are no “theories of knowledge” in the Greeks, for instance. To follow Kant’s understanding of intuition it will be necessary to explore the various manners of how things are perceived and understood and to determine what we call “experience”.
For Kant, experience was composed of three things: intuition, thought and judgement. “In whatever manner and by whatever means a mode of knowledge (a way of knowing) may relate to objects, intuition is that through which it is in immediate relation to them, and to which all thought as a means is directed. But intuition takes place only insofar as the object is given to us. This again is only possible, to man at least, insofar as the mind is affected in a certain way.” (A19 (first edition) B33(second edition) For Kant, human knowledge is the representational (images, “looks”) relating of the mind to objects, what we call the “correspondence theory of truth”.
A great danger that we face in today’s world with the worship of the Self and the social is solipsism: the belief that all reality is just one’s own imagining of reality and that one’s self is the only thing that exists i.e. that all things are “subjective”, and only “opinions” are what our interpretations of our world consist of. This “subjectivism” thinks that the existence of the world depends on the standpoint of the experiencing individual and the time point in which, on the part of the person, the experience of a thing happens to be made. It is what we have come to call ‘personal knowledge’—which, of course, is no “knowledge” at all in its true sense. Kant, in a way, is responsible for this.
What something is does not depend on our caprice or pleasure. Even if the experience of the external world does depend on us, it equally depends upon the existence of the things in the external world that we are ‘experiencing’. The questionableness of the truth of things that we experience in our daily experiences as to whether they are ‘subjective’ or ‘objective’, or both together or neither, stands in our understanding of what the truth of experience itself is. It could be that the distinction between subject-object and with it the subject-object relationship itself is highly questionable and this is the shared knowledge that we have gained in the West from Descartes, Kant and the other philosophers of modern times. There is no information to be gained from experience without knowledge of the kind of truth in which what we call “experience” stands.
In attempting to determine our answers to the questions “How do I know x” and “How do we know y” as they relate to intuition as a way of knowing, we want to keep in mind our commonplace understanding of intuition as “gut feeling” or “fore-sight” and our understanding of what the contents are of what we think we know i.e. the things we think we know and the situations we think we know as “experience”.
Some thing gets its “thingness” from its particular, unique relationship to time and space. It is indicated by a “this”: this computer here; this cup of coffee. Any other computer or coffee would be a “that” and would be located away from us in its time and place; it would be a “there”. If we look at the instrument before us through which we are viewing this writing, we will see that intuition is a “representation”, a bringing and a having before oneself as present a particular “this”: “this computer”, “this tablet”, “this hand phone”. Intuition is that way of knowing that places before some one some particular individual thing from which we can determine the thing’s qualities or categories/predicates: its hardness, its colour, its illumination, etc. We can calculate and measure these qualities as “intensities”. Thought, on the other hand, gives us the universal: computers, tablets and hand phones. Thinking is representing some thing in general in concepts that are “universals”. Intuition is the representing of some thing as a particular thing. Both thinking and intuition are necessary for a thing to be for us.
When we consider intuition as a way of knowing, we need to go to the grounds of what it is that we “know”. To do this requires the distinction between what we “know” as personal knowledge and what we know as shared knowledge. This will involve a brief discussion of the relation of what we know to the “truth” of what we know, how that truth is “shared” in the form of a proposition, in the statements the we make about things, our assertions about things.
The traditional definition of some “thing” is that it is something that is an existing bearer of the existing properties that belong to it. These properties are called “accidents” and are understood philosophically as the “categories” from which the limits of the thing may be determined and the thing defined and, thus, the thing itself. It is the defining of the thing that allows it to be “handed over” and so become part of our shared knowledge. Our defining of things rests in our understanding of what the “truth” of the thing is: the correspondence of our representations and accounts with the fact of the thing that it is an account of. The structure of truth and the structure of the thing of which it is said to be the truth must mirror each other. The “truth” contained in our propositions and assertions must “measure up” to the thing.
We grasp the truth of things in language but a single word, “house” for instance, is neither true nor false. Only a combination of words can be true or false: “The house is painted white”, for instance. Such a combination of words is called an “assertion”. The assertion is either true or false. The assertion is therefore, as Kant says, “the place and seat of truth”. Truths and untruths are assertions. There are no “alternative facts” here; there are only true and untrue assertions about the facts.
An “assertion” is an “account” of some thing or some situation. Assertions “of” some thing is called a “proposition”- a place that is put forward where some thing can stand as constant; assertions “about” some thing is “information” – something communicated to others; assertions “to” is the communication to others (shared knowledge); and self-assertions are expressions given to ourselves (personal knowledge). An assertion is a proposition that gives information when communicated to others. “Truth” is in the predicate’s belonging to the subject.
The concepts of what we think some thing is, the propositions regarding it, the assertions made, and the “correspondence theory of truth” (the judgement) in the account of the things in our Areas of Knowledge all cohere together. The structure of the properties (subject + predicate) regarding a thing as a bearer properties is a pro-jected structure (pro= “forward”; jacio = “to throw”) that we have placed upon things. Historically, we have made a decision that “how I know x” and “how we know y” has been determined by x’s and y’s being constructed as mirror images or “corresponding” images of some thing that is “unconditioned” whether that be the ego of Descartes, or Kant, or the Absolute Self of Hegel, or the God of the Old Testament where things are taken as ens creatum. In the 19th century “positivism” emphasized “facts” where only scientifically demonstrable “truths” were taken as answers to the epistemological questions that we have posed.
It is in our assertions about the categories of the things that we encounter which allows us to classify and delimit (define) them and so place them in our Areas of Knowledge. This addressing of things or giving an account of them was called logos by the Greeks, and this was later translated as ratio by the Latins (word, speech, reason). It is through the assertion that we intend and think things and bring them to presence before us. Our classifications tell us a great deal about how we understand the concepts that we are using today.
We become aware of some thing because we know what they are in advance: the body as bodily, the plant-like of the plant, the animal-like in the animal, the thingness in the thing, etc. This knowing in advance is what the Greeks termed “the mathematical” and it is the true ground of what we call “intuition”. It is what we bring with us to the things themselves. Our concept of number is one of the “things” that we bring to the things because number is not in the things themselves. This is what the word “mathematics” means. It is our basic presupposition of our knowledge of things, “how I know x” and “how we know y”. What is the relation of the mathematical to intuition as a way of knowing?
In speaking about intuition as a way of knowing we must understand its relation to the mathematical. The mathematical rests upon the positing of the determination of things that is not derived by way of experience from the things themselves and that, nonetheless, rests at the basis of all our determinations of things, makes them possible and creates “space” for them in the overlapping area of our Venn diagram. Galileo’s experiment of free falling bodies is an example.
According to Aristotle’s representation, bodies move themselves each according to their nature i.e. the heavy downward, the light upward, Galileo’s insight is the determination that all bodies fall equally quickly and that the differences in the times it takes for a body to fall stem from the resistance of air alone and not from the different inner natures of the bodies and not from their corresponding relations to their own locations i.e. the earthly, the airy, the fiery, the watery. Galileo’s experiment is a precursor to Newton’s first principle or law of motion.
Intuition is a pro-jection of what we think things i.e. “facts” are and allows these “facts” the space to show themselves. The projections posits what the things are to be and what and how they ought to be evaluated in advance. The Greeks called such evaluation axioma. The pre-conceived determinations and assertions in the statements are “axiomatic”. The axioms are prior to the principles or laws which are derived from them. How does intuition become a mode of access to things, a way of knowing things, as axiomatically determined i.e. how is intuition placed within the overlapping portion of our Venn diagram?
In the mathematical projection of intuition, things can only show themselves as relations of places and time points and as measures of mass and work forces. The mathematical projection (intuition) determines the manner of receiving and investigating what shows itself i.e. what we call “experience”, and what we call the “experiment” is derived from this pre-determined in advance. Investigation is pre-determined in advance, and nature must respond to this pre-determined manner of questioning. Our urge toward “facts” is a result of the over-leaping of the facts in the intuitive projection in the first place. This has led to the emphasis on “positivism” in our current understanding of the world: the world can only report to us “mathematically”. The analytical geometry of Descartes, Newton’s calculus, and Leibniz’s differential calculus became possible (and necessary) because of the fundamental character of mathematical thinking itself. But many questions arise from this basic human stance towards things and the world.
In the writings of Descartes, “method” is the manner and mode (way) through which we gain access to “truth” or the manner in which things are to be brought to presence i.e. how we will see them. Method is the way in which we go after things as such and decides in advance what truth we will track down in the things. Method determines what can become an object and how it will become one. The mathematical determines the being of things in advance (what they are) on the basis of the principles inherent in the mathematical itself i.e. the principle of reason: the “I”, the principle of contradiction and the principle of sufficient reason.
Our “knowledge framework” is an example of “method”. It is the ordering and arranging of things so that the “truth” about them can be discovered, so that they can be brought to “light”, so that they can be brought to presence. Intuition is the way of knowing where the axiomatic mathematical projection of things posits the first principles upon which everything further is based in sequential order. This is the “logic” of the principle of reason upon which are based what are popularly known as “algorithms”. It rests primarily upon our understanding of cause-effect. It is Descartes’ ego cogito, “I think” upon which all certainty and truth are grounded.
Intuition: Reason as Higher Ground: Principle of the “I”, Principle of Contradiction
In trying to get a grip on intuition as a way of knowing and to grasp how it has become degraded in our modern “gut feeling” understanding, we need to look more closely at the historical background of the concept. With Descartes’ ego cogito the “I” becomes the essential definition of human being. The human being as the animal rationale becomes the “subject” and the foundation of all knowledge and the determiner of the things that are. In Aristotle’s understanding of human being as the animal rationale, human reason is not singled out as the chief characteristic of the subjectivity of the subject. In our speaking about things, our propositions and assertions, our sayings must not contradict themselves. “I think” means “I avoid contradictions”. This is what is known as “pure reason”.
The basic philosophical axioms of intuition as a way of knowing are the principle of the I, the principle of contradiction, and the principle of sufficient reason. With the shift of human beings to the centre of “created things”, human beings are granted the power of not only naming the animals but all the things that are, and they grant this power to themselves. The philosopher Immanuel Kant grounds this power in his asking the question: “Are synthetic judgements a priori possible?” i.e. are judgements regarding things possible without the “experience” of those things? Our judgements regarding things determines and delimits (defines) what the things are so that they may be classified under the principle of reason.
Synthetic judgements refer to the categories or the predicates of the things i.e. “The house is green”. “Green” is a predicate of the general subject “house” and establishes it in its particularity. We can measure the greenness of the house by its intensity in terms of its colour. By making the assertion “the house is green”, we are making a judgement regarding the house. Judgements are “acts of understanding”, how we know what we know.
In order for intuition to be a way of knowing, it must provide knowledge from principles and it must be a capacity for principles and basic propositions: it must be a “system” within a framework.
If we return to the common understanding of intuition as “gut feeling” or “sense”, what makes the gut feeling or sense of some thing possible? To answer this we must try to say something about how Kant understood “experience”. “Experience” is that which is “possible”. It may be an event that happens “to” a subject or “an act of the subject”. Nature is the object of experience for the subjective “I”; how we understand the “object”. This “thing of nature”, for Kant, can only be understood by means of what is “before and above” all nature. That which is before and above all is “the system of principles”. Time and space are concepts of “pure intuition” for Kant and make possible “the objects of experience”. Kant relates his system of principles to the principle of contradiction, the principle of the I, and the principle of sufficient reason.
For Kant, the capacity to think is the capacity to unite representations in one consciousness. “I think” means “I combine”: “The house is white”. Kant calls this “judgement”. Thinking is the same as judgement or to the making of assertions. The assertions are what are called “synthetic judgements”. They are contrasted with “analytic judgements”.
For Kant, the first principle is “the principle of contradiction”. Our cognitions must be free from contradictions in their judgements. Intuition and thought are two components of cognition. Thought’s relation to intuition is one of servitude. Kant writes: “In whatever way and through whatever means a cognition may relate to objects, that through which it relates immediately to them, and at which all thought as a means is directed as an end, is intuition. But this takes place only insofar as the object is given to us; but this in turn is possible if it affects the mind in a certain way.” (A19/B33). Human cognition is conceptual, judgement forming intuition, a unity of intuition and thought and thus a way of knowing. Kant contradicts Descartes’ “rational cognition”, the cogito ergo sum by placing intuition prior to what we call thinking.
If we look at the instrument before us through which we are reading this writing, we will see that intuition is a “representation”, or a bringing and a having before oneself as present a particular “this”: “this computer”, “this tablet”, “this hand phone”. Intuition is that way of knowing which places before one some particular individual thing from which we can determine its categories/predicates: its hardness, its colour, its illumination, etc. Thought, on the other hand, gives to us the “universal”: computers, tablets, hand phones. Thinking is representing some thing in general in concepts that are “universals”.
Intuition as a way of knowing combines both intuition and thought in order to allow an object to be a possible object of cognition and to allow us to answer the questions “how do I know x” and “how do we know y”. Not just anything can become an object for us; the object must be something that stands “opposed” to us. What we encounter must be “standing” and “constant” for us. The “object” in Kant’s sense is not something merely sensed nor perceived.
What we understand by “subjective” can be determined from how Kant understood intuition and thought and how they both allow us to know objects. Our assertions about things around us are related to our sense perception of those things, but those perceptions are concerning what is given to us alone. This “subjectivity” is overcome when we make a causal relation of the thing to another thing: “if…then…”, or “because…therefore”. Saying such concerns the very thing itself whether I perceive it to be the case or not and is valid for everyone for all time; it is not “subjective” but is valid of the object itself. It is the concepts that give the object its “objectivity”. The intuitively given must be brought under the universality of certain concepts, concepts which are contained in the principle of reason such as the principle of cause/effect. The concept must overcome the intuition and determine what is given in a certain way. Sense perception as a way of knowing i.e. knowing objects “empirically” does not provide us with “experience” as such. “Knowing” only occurs when the given is represented through principles such as “cause and effect” (algorithms, for example) where intuitive perceptions and thought are combined. Our “gut feeling” understanding understanding of intuition is not a way of knowing without “thought” i.e. reason and language as ways of knowing, but thinking is always related to intuition which is given prior to thought.
For Kant, “pure intuition” is “time” and “space”. and these concepts are related to sense perception as a way of knowing. We can now understand Kant’s statement: “The conditions of the possibility of experience in general are at the same time conditions of the possibility of the objects of experience.” These conditions of possibility are time and space. These are prior to reason in human experience. It is time and space that constitutes the overlapping region of our Venn diagram and allows for both our ways of knowing and gives space for those things that we know. Sense perception is insufficient in and of itself as a way of knowing. It requires thought, which for Kant, is “pure reason”.
For Kant, the content of the “what” of our experience however it may be related to the object must not contradict itself in our judgements about that content. Thinking is at the service of intuition. What thinking is must already be decided. Thinking is logic. But how is it related to the judgements we make in our assertions about things?
The relation of the subject to the predicate is thought: “The house is white”. Thought is the combination of relations between several concepts. “Understanding” is the ability to combine representations i.e. to represent this subject-predicate relationship. In this “understanding”, Kant’s definition relates how our judgements about things are established in advance in the relation to the objects and to the cognizing human being. Every judgement is an analysis and a synthesis: “the house” is separate from “is white”; they are then combined to form the judgement. The analytic judgement is made in terms of the concept of “the house is extended” i.e. it is a physical body. A synthetic judgement is made when we say “is white” because there are other possibilities: it could be red or yellow.
In the discoveries of Galileo and Newton, their thinking “leaps ahead” of what verification and experience offer. They are a priori in that all assertions made about courses of motion and their regularity must be in accord with their “highest principles”. The a priori is the essence of things. How the thing is grasped and how its being is understood decides in advance its interpretation and classification, where it will belong in the Areas of Knowledge, for instance. The a priori is that which belongs to the subjectivity of the subject while everything that lies outside the subject is a posteriori.
Kant’s great effort and ultimate discovery was the grounding (and limitation) of synthetic judgements a priori. In doing so, he also grounds intuition as a way of knowing. With intuition, the judgement made is analytical: the truth is given in the concepts of the subject itself. With synthetic judgements, the truth rests in the object itself.
We can relate this to the overlapping region of our Venn diagram regarding personal and shared knowledge. In answering our questions of “how do I know x” and “how do we know y” we are relating that which we claim to know to judgements as assertions that we make with regard to things. When we make a proposition (a “throwing forward of a stand” or a thesis statement for an essay, for example) we are making a statement in which the basis for possible truth is posited, one that suffices to support the truth of a judgement and bring the thing “to light”, to reveal it. The thesis or proposition must be supported with “sufficient reason”.
We take care to express our cognitions and our questions and manners of thinking in propositions. It does not matter which Area of Knowledge we are relating to: the AOKs remain distinct. When we speak of biology, for example, we cannot determine our viewing biologically. It cannot be found under a microscope. The objects within the AOKs are already determined in certain ways in advance. These advance determinations are necessary so that we can stand before the object as such whether it is biology or art history. We must already have a “synthetic judgement a priori” in order for objects to stand before us as such or we could never begin to direct our questions, investigations and come to our proofs regarding them. Synthetic judgements, pre-judgements are already present in all scientific judgements. The notion of “scientific objectivity” without judgement is not tenable. For Kant, truthful things are objects of experience, but the objects only become accessible when we have made synthetic judgements about them. “The conditions of the possibility of experience in general are at the same time conditions of the possibility of the objects of experience.” This statement applies to both personal and shared knowledge and is Kant’s answer to “how do I know x” and “how do we know y”.
Kant’s “understanding” is based on principles. “Logic” defines “judgement” as the relation of subject/predicate representations where combining those representations do not contradict the principles inherent in the objects themselves. This combining is a determinate combining: the universal relation of “cause and effect” for instance helps us to understand many of the relations between objects that we experience. We currently dub these relation “algorithms”. This combining is what the Greeks originally meant by logos as a “gathering together”. This is why the Romans translated logos as ratio. The unities of the combinations are what we call “concepts” and lie in the “categories” or the predicates of some thing. The categories are quantity, quality, relation and modality. The “understanding” is both the “faculty of rules” and the source of rules. An object is a unity that stands or is constant. The presence of the object is made possible by our representing that is a thinking, a combining. The thinking can be of a subjective “I” with its emotions, moods, opinions, or it can be a disciplined “I” in which the rules for combining representations is present (methodology, the “scientific method”, for instance). But why is this combining represented by the mathematical?
Kant defines the thing of nature as a physical body that is in itself “mathematical” in terms of its time and space. What does this mean? Kant speaks of “axioms of intuition”. “All intuitions are extensive magnitudes”. “Appearances” are not illusions but the object itself in its constancy, its presence before us. Things have quantum and quantitas i.e. magnitude, and answer the question “how big?”. Quantum is the size of the whole thing overall; quantitas is the measure and measurement of the parts. Quantity is a pure concept of understanding and does not require experience. Quantum, on the other hand, is the given for an intuiting. Space and time are quanta. Appearances as intuitions must be measurable. Space is a quantum because it exists “as a whole”. Quantitas is possible because space is a quantum: the pieces or parts are within the whole.
Earlier we said that intuition is the immediate representing of a particular thing. Through this representing, the thing is given to us. Intuition is not a making or forming by way of assembly. Space is our representing that gives the possibility of a “where”, “there”, and “here”. In English, our prepositions in our statements express our apprehensions of relations in space. Space, as a quantum, is a “one” and a “this”. The immediate representing of a particular is a “this”. Space is intuited before all appearances of the objects within it. Space is not “sensed”in sensation but is intuited in advance–a priori– and determines everything empirically given to us in advance so that our sensations can be ordered. Space is not a thing at hand in itself (Newton) nor the many relations that result from the relations of things (Leibniz). Space is the unique whole of which all prepositions in our language regarding the things that encounter us are possible. Space determines our sensibility, the way we encounter what encounters us in advance, but it is not that which encounters us.
What Kant justifies here is that because space contains within itself the concept of extension and the thinking forms the various synthesis of the quantities of things (the logos as the “gathering together”) all mathematical principles (such as “the shortest distance between two points is a straight line”) are true because they apply to our experience of the objects themselves. The applicability of mathematics as extension and number can be justified because the conditions of mathematics itself, quantities and quantum, are at the same time the conditions of the appearances to which the mathematics is applied. The condition of experiencing appearances with regard to shape and magnitude (synthesis as quantity) is at the same time the possibility of the object of experience. The specific quantitas of spaces and times makes possible the encountering of the thing, its apprehension, and its coming to stand as an object. Appearances must be extensive magnitudes; it does not matter whether they are inside or outside the self. Objects have extensive magnitudes and this is the synthetic judgement (a “composing”) which is a priori made not on the basis of perception of particular objects but from what we call “experience” in general. The concept of quantum in space is transferred to objects appearing in space. Intuition and thought make this possible: they make possible the being of the object. We understand their outward appearing form.
Kant deals with the other “sensations” besides sight in his second principle. We know that the world is real because the things of the world have an intensity which opposes us. This intensity can be measured by mathematics. The sensations that we experience such as sights and sounds are after (a posteriori) we have apprehended the object a priori. The intensity of colours can be measured by us. These measurings are what we call “data” and are based on the “objectivity” of the objects around us. But when this is done, when we measure extension and resistance such as we do in modern physics, the intuitive perception of the thing is given over to what is given in the sensations, the empirical. The thing as understood in the sciences is based on the reliability of the measuring device but it is, nevertheless, an interpretation–much the same as what the poets do in the Arts. The colour of Van Gogh’s sunflowers, for example, belongs to the sunflowers themselves and to the original unity of our intuition of the kinds of things that they are. It is our relation to the things in the AOKs that is key.
The common perception is that human cognition is based upon sense perception as a way of knowing and that this allowed for the emergence of modern natural science, but if we look more closely we can see that the givens of our everyday experience of the world are determined by a mathematical point of departure which must see things as extensive and movable in space and time. In this mathematical world, the “real world” and our experience of it is forgotten.
Kant’s idea of “reality” differs from what we understand as reality. The common understanding is that reality is “actual” or “existing”. The word “reality” comes from res which in Latin means “the matter, thing, affair”. It is “what” something is. So “extension” is a “reality” of a natural body as well as its weight, density, and resistance. For Kant, reality is the “whatness” of the thing. Things and their opposites constitute reality: blindness is the negation of sight. In Kant, extension and intensity allow themselves to be ordered as numerical quantities or “degrees”. (We can measure the intensity of “hot or cold”, for example).
We take sensing something and perceiving something as the most ordinary, simplest things. But we do not sense a “something” or a “what”. Whatever is sensible must be re-presented in advance and anticipated within the area of knowledge in which they can be received (our “gut feelings”, for instance). Kant calls this “anticipation”. All perceiving is “anticipation”. Kant dismisses our “gut feeling” understanding of intuition: “But the real, which corresponds to sensation in general, in opposition to negation = 0, only represents something whose concepts in itself contains a being (i.e. the presence of something) and does not signify anything except the synthesis of an empirical consciousness in general.” (A 75-6/ B217).
Mathematics is applicable to objects because appearances come to stand as an “againstness” (ob-ject “the thrown against”) in advance in the gathering together of the intuition in the concepts of a unity from the categories of quantity and quality. On the basis of the mathematical construction, it is possible to meet up with something corresponding to the mathematical construction in the object and the construction itself and be able to demonstrate it by way of experiment. The conditions of the appearing of appearances, the specific quantitative determinations of their form and matter, are at the same time conditions of the standing against, the collectedness and constancy of appearances.
The unity of intuition and thought is the essence of experience. In looking at our ways of knowing we can say as A is to B, so C is to D, a correspondence. If the relation between A and B is given along with C, then by “analogy” D can be made available by the mathematical construction itself. This inference to a fourth, of something not given, is an indication of how we have to search for the non-given in light of the given and as what we must encounter it when it does show itself. This methodology is the essence of why the woman in Moscow, Russia can work in collaboration with the man in Moscow, Idaho in their research and why their findings must express themselves mathematically.
This methodology requires that the thing of nature be “present” as constant. In intuition as a way of knowing, time is also a concept of pure intuition for Kant. Time is one and whole. Different times are part of one and the same time, just as different locations in space are parts of one and the same space. Space is where all outward appearances encounter us. Time is both our inner and outer experience of the world and all experience is possible only within time. For Kant, time is “unchangable and lasting” and it is only that which is within time that changes. Time for Kant is the same as it was for Aristotle, a series of “nows” that can be measured as “magnitudes”.
Kant’s thinking regarding time runs: All appearances or what encounters us as human beings encounters us in time and stand, with regard to the unity of their properties, in a unity of a time-determination. Time itself is originally persistent/present because only as long as time persists is constancy as enduring in time possible. This constancy is what lasts in advance of all that encounters us and we call it “substance”.
Time itself cannot be perceived by itself i.e. even though we can only perceive things in time we cannot perceive the essence of time itself. Time requires that the determination of what exists (how we know what we know) exists in space and has constancy in space prior to its being perceived and taken up in any relation or way of knowing.
Kant’s conclusion: the standing and constancy of an object must be perceived on the basis of persistence. The representation of persisting throughout change belongs to the material reality of the object in advance. Change presupposes consistency or constancy. Only what persists can be altered while what is changeable cannot be altered. The constancy of objects is determined on the basis of the relations of the alterations to each other and we call these alterations “forces”. The principles that concern the existence of objects are called “dynamics”. Kant is attempting to ground the views of Newton’s “classical physics”. The standing of objects that encounter us is determined by what he calls persistence, succession, and simultaneity. But since time itself cannot be perceived, the temporary location and relations of an object cannot be understood intuitively a priori but only as a “now”. If we are to be able to see the whole of appearances (nature) in its objectivity then well-founded rules are needed that contain an indication of the time-relations in which our encountering them must stand so that the unity of appearances i.e. nature, an “objective world”, is possible. What Kant does is provide for the first time the foundations of the law of causality as a law of the objects of experience.
Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason illustrates four groups of categories that determine “how do I know x” and “how do we know y”. They are: quantity, quality, relation and modality. The section “Axioms of Intuition” shows in what way quantity as extensive magnitude belongs necessarily to the “whatness” of an object encountering us. In “Anticipations of Perception” quality as reality determines in advance the nature of our encountering as such. Kant calls these “Analogies of Experience”.
Kant uses the word “analogies” in order to illustrate the principles of correspondence of what stands-in-relation and its determination (the ways of knowing and the things to be known). We are speaking about the overlapping region of our Venn diagram here where what stands-in-relation are our ways of knowing and the things we encounter and come to know. Quantity, quality and relation determine in advance what belongs to the object as it encounters us and what is constant in that object. The categories are the realities of the essence of the object. The corresponding principles prove that the categories as realities make an object possible, belong to the object as such, and so have objective reality.
Modality from modus is “a way” and also a “how” so our ways of knowing have inherent in them the methodologies, the “hows”, of how we approach things in general. The categories of modality for Kant are: possibility, actuality or existence, and necessity. These do not belong to the object itself. They assert something about how the concept of the object is related to existence and it modes, and how, according to which way of knowing is chosen, the existence of the object is determined. These categories of modality do not concern the reality of the ways of knowing themselves since they do not belong to the reality of the objects themselves.
For Kant, the necessary is that which cannot be conceived as non-existent (the law of gravity, for example). We cannot know an object in its necessity in itself but only the existence of the state of the object in relation to another. Our awareness of things as thoughtfully intuited is related to the possibility of objects and the powers within the ways of knowing themselves.
Kant shows that we are able to know ourselves as well as know the things that we have not made (nature). The letting encounter of the object occurs through us. This is possible because our “experience” is through space and time as pure intuitions and the possibility of the objects themselves require space and time to be “objective”.
This long writing on intuition as a way of knowing is but an impertinent precis of one of the great texts belonging to our Shared Knowledge: Critique of Pure Reason. Its primary focus has been on the metaphysics within that text and Kant’s revolution in the history and thinking of metaphysics that he carries out there. We remain within the thrall of Kant’s thinking, though unthinkingly.
“It is tempting to explain the plurality of good answers to knowledge questions in terms of a type of truth relativism: “it is just a matter of perspective”. A more likely explanation is that different interpretations of key ideas account for the different conclusions or that the weighting of different factors in the argument differ.”–TOK Guide, 2015
Real Life Situation
In the USA under the governance of the Trump regime (and its latest manifestation in the nomination hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee of Brett Kavanaugh to a lifetime post on the Supreme Court and the Republican conduct of the mid-term election campaign) one sees what appears to be and may be called an “assault on truth”. This assault is not a modern phenomenon nor simply a Western one nor is it simply an American phenomenon. It is not merely the comportments and posings of human beings who are seen to be on the ‘left’ or on the ‘right’. And again, this assault is not merely shown in the promotion of falsehoods which may defy common sense, but is an indication of what happens, and what is happening to, human being-in-the-world as the technological society totters towards its apogee.
In the West, the assault on truth has been present in our “shared knowledge” (History) since the time of Socrates’ life and death struggle with the Sophists and the poets. In that struggle Socrates lost and was put to death. The current assault on truth is grounded in, and finds its origins in, what has come to be interpreted as truth and its understanding as well as its relation to knowledge and common sense or “practical reason” (applied reason). The separation of theory and practice began with Aristotle when he asserted that the highest life was the bios theoretikos the life of the philosopher as he understood it, but the theoretical life proposed by Aristotle made the philosopher the “umpire” who decided the many political interests that different groups within the community propounded.
This current assault illustrates how the theoretical and the practical, the theory and practice, pure reason and practical reason, the ethics (freedom) as actions are interwoven and interconnected. When one reads many of the “perspectivists” views of truth (and our quote from the TOK Guide illustrates the confusion that currently prevails with regard to “truth”), one sees in them a misunderstanding of the writings of the German philosopher Nietzsche (among the best of them) or some of the flimsy interpretations of truth, knowledge and “reality” among the pragmatists that currently dominate the academia and the powerful of our societies.
This writing will attempt to explore what can be called the phenomenon of this assault on truth, its possible causes and its implications. It will begin with brief summaries of the historical background of the predominant theories of truth (correspondence, coherence, pragmatic) and attempt an analysis of why truth is now under assault both in the world of academia and in the societies of which we are members; that is, it will glance at our theory and practice, our ethics and our politics, and illustrate the inadequacies of the common views of truth which are most prevalent today. To do so, it will make statements regarding what the essence of truth is and in doing so must necessarily make statements of what we conceive the essence of knowledge to be.
Historical Background and Key Concepts
Key Concepts: Truth as aletheia (unhiddenness, unconcealment), correspondence theory of truth, coherence theory of truth, pragmatic theory of truth, freedom
Truth as Aletheia (Uncoveredness, unhiddenness):
For the ancient Greeks such as Parmenides, Heraclitus and Plato truth was aletheia, an “unveiling”, an “uncoveredness”, and “unhiddenness” that reveals some thing and gives us our knowledge of what that some thing is by showing us what that some thing is in its presence before us. It rested primarily on sense perception as a way of knowing. “Throwing light” on something prevails in all theories of truth from the time of the ancient Greeks to the quotation above from the TOK guide: the correspondence, coherence and pragmatic theories of truth all retain a grounding in truth as an unveiling, a revealing and a lighting up of some kind which provides “enlightenment” for human being. It is the varying degrees of this “lighting up” that has led to the “perspectival” views expressed by many today.
The overlapping section of the TOK Venn diagram is that “open region” where truth as a “lighting up” can occur. This “lighting up” comes about through what we have called our ways of knowing, the overlapping section of the Venn diagram that shows the contents of what we call our personal and shared knowledge. In is through our ways of knowing that we experience what we call “truth”, our “freedom”, and the essence of what it means to be a human being or what it is about us as human beings that distinguishes us from all other living beings. Truth, knowledge and freedom are inextricably linked.
“Truth” has always been associated with “light”, not in a metaphorical or abstract sense but in a literal sense. It might be compared to those times when you switch on the light the moment you enter your hotel room when you are travelling and what was in darkness is then revealed to you. You will notice that there is no abstraction in this example: it is simply one of our experiences of the world we live in. We know what a hotel room is and should be in advance and we have expectations about it prior to the revealing of it.
This hotel room example illustrates “truth” as an ontological state, how the world about us is revealed to us in our living in it through our ways of knowing and, in the revealing, becomes what we have called our knowledge of our world. This ontology, this being-in-the-world, is coupled with our “metaphysics”, what we think the things are or should be that are ready-to-hand for us in our experiences of our world. The revealing creates our mood: we will either be pleased with our hotel room or we will not. We are pleased with the world in which we dwell or we are not. It need not be the best of all possible hotel rooms, an ideal hotel room, but whether or not it meets our needs will determine how we will evaluate it when we logon to Trip Adviser.
How we “feel” about the world around us is given to us in our experiences of that world, but our experience of the world is prior to our feeling response to it. That is, emotion as a way of knowing the world is posterior to our experience of the world as it is illuminated for us. After the initial revealing, what we believe is revealed will determine our mood towards it. To use a musical analogy, we may view our world in A Major or C Minor and this determines our “attunement” towards it; our experiences of the world will be determined by the need for harmony within the “key” that we have come to view the world. The point of the hotel room example is to show that truth as aletheia is not confined to our explicit assertions or propositions regarding things nor to our discrete mental, primarily theoretical, attitudes such as judgements, beliefs and representations that we arrive at through our ways of knowing. The world as a whole, not just entities within it, is unhidden – unhidden as much by our moods as by our ways of knowing and understanding. Truth is primarily a feature of reality – beings, being and world – not of our thoughts and utterances. Truth is not a human creation or construct; it is given to us and our partaking in it is part of our human nature. Truth itself is not related to “perspectivism” as it is commonly understood for “perspectivism” sees us as the center of this world which is contrary to our knowledge from our sciences and our.religions.
Truth as understood by the Greeks also relates to a human being as one “who does not hide or forget”. It is a person of candor and frankness, someone who does not dissemble or lie when being with others. It is the person who is “free” to be the person that they are. Truth is a product of our world; and falsehood is the product of human being in the world. The world does not lie; it hides.
The best example that we have in English of “truth as light” and how it affects human behaviour when truth is not so is Shakespeare’s Macbeth. When Lady Macbeth says of her husband that “he is too full of the milk of human kindness/ To catch the nearest way”, she is saying something about truth and its relation to what human beings are. She recognizes that to achieve the kingship, Macbeth will have to cease to be human in some essential manner; he must cease to be himself. He must become “unnatural” in order to carry out the act of murder; and so she prays to the spirits of darkness to make her unnatural so that she may “pour her spirits” into Macbeth’s ear so that he will be capable of hearing what she believes must be done. Lady Macbeth recognizes that her husband is “not without ambition/ But without the illness should attend it”. The root of all sin is the sin against the light or not recognizing the light as light.
Macbeth’s tragedy is not due to his ambition and the “illness” that he must receive in order to act in a way that will achieve it, but to his lack of self-knowledge: he does not know who he is; and this lack of self-knowledge is a feature of all tragic heroes. He lacks that most essential light for knowing who he really, truly is. He is a great soldier, courageous and brave, the saviour of his country; but he is not a king for he does not have the qualities that make for a king; he has the qualities that make for a great soldier. Under Macbeth’s rule, Scotland becomes a tyranny and is destroyed as a country and must be renewed at the end of the play. It would appear that lack of self-knowledge for human beings causes them to create wastelands.
Motifs of light and dark, fair and foul, appearance and semblance, illness and health run throughout the play and reinforce its central theme regarding truth and its relation to human beings and their actions. Lady Macbeth’s prayer to be made “unnatural” may be said to be the opposite of Socrates’ prayer at the end of the dialogue Phaedrus which runs: “Dear Pan, and all you other gods who live here, grant that I may become beautiful within, and that whatever outward things I have may be in harmony with the spirit inside me. May I understand that it is only the wise who are rich, and may I have only as much money as a temperate person needs. — Is there anything else that we can ask for, Phaedrus? For me, that prayer is enough.” Socrates’ prayer for the unity and harmony of the inner and outer being of human being and world indicates that what is “natural” is something that human beings must strive for, and that “striving for” is not an easy journey.
The adherence to truth as a “lighting up” can still be seen in the quote from the TOK Guide above where the “unveiling” is to be found in the conclusions and the “factors” and their “weighting” that have been brought forward from the propositions asserted regarding our knowledge of some thing. What we call “knowledge” is inextricably linked to what we call truth and what we believe the truth to be. The “factors” and their “weighting” (the evidence and its “value”) are arrived at through how much they illuminate the thing that is under examination and discussion. When we “evaluate” performances, whether they be essays or oral presentations, we do so in the understanding of how much they illuminate the object or thing that is under discussion. A norm or standard has been pre-established and we illustrate this norm through exemplars and reward our A’s and E’s accordingly.
The Correspondence and Coherence Theories of Truth
“Truth as correspondence” and “truth as coherence” find their origins in the thinking of the Greek philosopher Aristotle. Following Aristotle, these concepts of truth have had three historical phases: 1. their origins in Aristotle; 2. their interpretation by the Latins and the early, medieval Christians; 3. their interpretations by the moderns beginning with Descartes and followed through in the writings of Leibniz and Kant which culminated in the distinction and separation of “subject” and “object”, what could be said to be the opposite direction from that indicated in Socrates’ prayer. Some brief words on these three stages will be mentioned shortly. In examining the historical backgrounds of our accounts of truth, we need to look at how the three phases of what is called truth came about.
First, truth has been considered historically as the “actual” or “the real”, “reality” or what we now call the world of “facts”. We distinguish “true gold” from “false gold”, for instance: “false gold” is not actual; it is a “semblance” of “real” gold. But “false gold”, too, is something actual, something real. Genuine gold is, then, that actual gold the actuality of which accords with what, always and in advance, we “properly” mean by “gold.” Hence, what is in “accord” is what is “as it should be”; in the play Macbeth illness is what is not in accord. Notice that there is no distinction between “fact” and “value” here. We call “true” our statements about the things when the statement is in accord with the matter about which the statement is made. We call this a “true proposition”. Accordingly, the correspondence of a matter with what is supposed in advance regarding it (such as “genuine gold”) and, on the other hand, the accordance of what is meant in the statement with the matter is what has been considered the true historically . (See the connection with the hotel example above.)
The greatest difference between Aristotle’s accounts of truth as correspondence and coherence and the Latin/Medieval accounts is that Aristotle viewed Nature as a permanent thing: for Aristotle, Nature always was and always will be; it is sempiternal. Nature is One and is whole. With the arrival of Christianity, the Latin/Medieval account of Nature sees it as a created thing; rocks and living organisms are things that have been created by God at some point in time. For both Aristotle and the Latins, the effort of thought was to have the mind give an account of the thing where the thing “corresponded” or was in accord with the image or representation, the idea, that was conceived in the mind. An idea or proposition would be true when it correctly refers to what is or what is conceived as reality. The emphasis is on the correctness of the account.
The Christian theological belief of the Medieval period, regarding what is actual and whether it is actual, considered a matter/thing as created, and that the matter or thing is only insofar as it corresponds to the idea preconceived in the mind of God and thus measured up to this ideal (is “correct”) and in this sense is “true”. The human intellect too as a created thing, as a capacity bestowed upon man by God, must satisfy its ideal, that is that human being is the animal rationale and that there is correctness in human beings’ thinking. Human being measures up to the ideal only by accomplishing in its propositions the correspondence of what is thought to the matter/thing which in its turn must be in conformity with the ideal which is reason conceived as “logic”. If all beings are “created”, the possibility of the truth of human knowledge is grounded in the fact that the matter and the proposition measure up to the ideal in the same way and are fitted to each other on the basis of the unity of the divine plan of creation or the world order of creation which is “reasonable”.
The theologically conceived order of creation is later replaced by the idea that the capacity of all objects to be planned by means of a worldly reason (the principle of reason), the reasoning/logic of human beings, which supplies the law for itself was the “ideal” for human being. The principle of reason is something which is self-evident and thus also claims that its procedures are immediately intelligible (what is considered “logical”). It is here where human beings become the center of created things and where “humanism” has its beginnings. This occurs during the period that we call the Renaissance. The disappearance of God is a next logical step as He is no longer needed in this “human centered” world of human reason and calculation.
The correspondence theory of truth uses deductive reasoning proceeding from the general principles to the things to arrive at its “truths” regarding the “facts” as they are contained in its propositions. The coherence theory of truth moves from the empirical observations of perceived “facts” and, through inductive reasoning, attempts to arrive at the general principles of reason to attempt to provide a perceived explanation or account for the “facts”. Each of these is captured in your two assessments for TOK: your essay is to use deductive reasoning to arrive at specific examples (or “facts”) and your oral presentation is to use inductive reasoning to move from a specific “fact” to a general principle regarding that fact. Each approach (methodology) to “truth” relies on logic which in turn relies on the principle of reason. The principle of reason (a 17th century definition first coined by the philosopher Leibniz) states that “Nothing is without reason” or “Nothing is for which a sufficient reason cannot be given”.
Leibniz (1646-1716) created both his finite mathematics (calculus) and also what we today call the “insurance industry” . These two creations are not so far apart as they may seem at first glance. Human beings require “certainty” and “security” as well as permanence with regard to their knowledge of the things and their being. Leibniz was competing with Isaac Newton and his infinitesimal calculus regarding the language that would best be used to ground and give an account of Newton’s discoveries regarding Nature. It was Leibniz’ mathematics which succeeded and which are still being studied today because they are most useful in calculating and commandeering the things of the world.
Leibniz’ effort was to mechanize deductive reasoning and its logic in his mathematics through which he hoped to build a “machine” that would generate all and only truths (notice the connection with the Medieval idea of truth): “How much better will it be to bring under mathematical laws human reasoning which is the most excellent and useful thing we have.” Doing this would enable the mind to “be freed from having to think directly of things themselves, and yet everything will turn out correct.” Leibniz was a contemporary of Newton and their efforts resulted in how human beings currently view the nature of the world we live in. It was Leibniz’ mathematics which determined the algorithms of today’s computer programmers and the language of many practitioners of the natural and human sciences.
This endeavour to mechanize thought by Leibniz captures what essentially happens in modern physical science which must report its findings in mathematical language. It is what allows the man in Moscow, Idaho and the woman in Moscow, Russia to arrive at conclusions regarding the nature of things without any specific object being directly under observation. The “machines” that Leibniz hoped to create are the beings that human beings themselves have now become. The AI machines that are currently being sought after will use the same reason and logic that created them. The “open region” which will give the “space” and allow for the existence of AI machines must first be preceded by the “viewing”, the ways of knowing, of the human beings who will create the open region that will allow the realization, or the space, for these AI machines. This viewing and the machines that will result from it will be a commandeering and commanding viewing, and this viewing has long been accomplished in the history of human being.
Returning to the origins of this viewing, according to Aristotle truth is the accordance (homoiosis) of a statement (logos) with a matter (pragma). A mathematical theory is also a statement regarding things or a matter. With regard to the correctness of the truths of propositions, some account must also be taken of error or falsity. Both the true and the false go hand in hand. Errors and false statements about things occur in the synthetic judgements we make about things, or in the predicates that we assign and relate to the things that are being discussed. Error is the product of human beings, not nature. These errors rest, as such, in the statements that we make about things. But how can statements about things be related to the things in the first place? Certainly, an account of something is not composed of the same elements as the thing of which it is an account. This question led the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) to his great endeavour to answer the question “are synthetic judgements apriori possible”; that is, are the synthetic judgements of reason possible without the experience of the thing or matter with which they are concerned or connected? Notice how Kant’s effort followed Leibniz’s effort regarding the mind and its relation to things/matter. Both found their solutions in the language of mathematics and its symbolic logic which does not require the experience of the things themselves in order to be “correct”.
In order for a statement to relate to a thing or matter (pragma), the thing must be “present” in some way prior to any statement being made about it. But notice that in the example above regarding the two researchers in different Moscows, the thing is not “present” in any way that we conceive of “presence”. But the thing becomes present as an idea in the mind. The thing is not an “object” that we would think of in any normal sense of reference to that word. The things are “present” in the open region that human beings themselves have opened up. In our TOK diagram, the overlapping of the circles of the Venn diagram illustrate this open region where the thing is made present to us and our ways of knowing. These things as they are presented to us are given to us. Our ways of knowing are based on our relatedness to the thing/material and these ways of knowing pre-determine what our relatedness to the thing or our approaches to the thing are going to be. This relatedness in turn pre-determines the nature of the propositional statements which are made about the matter or thing in question.
For example, we do not enter a Group One class with the same view of a tree that we would have in a Group Four class: the tree is present to us in a different way but it, nevertheless, remains a tree. In our AOKs, some thing, the tree for example, must first be opened up as such and such and in such and such a way. The manner of the openness will determine the kinds of statements that can be made about the thing. All performances and their achievements, all actions and calculations, keep within an open region within which things and matters, with regard to what they are and how they are, can properly be present and take their stand and become capable of being talked about. The thing must first be defined and classified. A statement is correct (or true) only within the boundaries and standards (norms) established within the openness of the viewing and a thing or matter can only correspond when this openness has been established. But if the correctness of statements is only possible through the openness of the viewing, what makes correctness possible must be prior to the correspondence as the essence of what truth is.
Pragmatic Theory of Truth
The third theory of truth, the pragmatic theory of truth, came to prominence in the writings and conclusions of three Americans: Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. Their writings were influenced by the British empiricists J. S. Mill and Jeremy Bentham as well as Charles Darwin, for the most part. In the writings of the Americans, the emphasis was on the pragma or the material substance (Nature) that was arrived at through “sense perception as a way of knowing” or what has been called empiricism. The pragmatic theory of truth primarily focuses on the “useful” as what was “true” and it was an attempt to overcome what they believed were the conclusions of the previous metaphysics and philosophy in order to replace those accounts for the why, the how and the what of things that were experienced with a “scientific account” or an account that was explainable in terms of science and the scientific method of inquiry. This misunderstanding of what metaphysics is/was in the history of the West has led to many of the contradictions present in this theory of truth.
The Pragmatic Theory of Truth holds that the “usefulness” of a proposition determines its truth. “Usefulness” is measured by whether or not the truth “works” and provides some “value” to the viewer and to the community of which he or she is a member. The Americans Peirce and James were the pragmatic theory of truth’s principal advocates but its origins can be found in the writings of the Englishmen Jeremy Bentham and his “utilitarianism” and in J. S. Mill’s material philosophy by way of the logic of Aristotle and its historical interpretation (or misinterpretation).
For the pragmatists, utility is the essential mark of truth and utility relates to “pragma” or the “matter at hand”. A pragmatic theory of truth is present in such TOK phrases as “the production of knowledge” or “the measurement” of some result to determine its success in relation to an “ideal” desired. The pragmatic theory of truth strongly relies on belief as a way of knowing, beliefs that lead to the best, most efficient results, or the best justifications of our actions (“the greatest happiness for the greatest number”), or that promote “success” or what is considered to be “valued” as the best outcome.
William James’s version of the pragmatic theory is that “the ‘true’ is only the expedient in our way of thinking, just as the ‘right’ is only the expedient in our way of behaving.” For James, “truth” is a matter of convenience whether in theory or in practice; it is the end that determines all. This becomes the principle of ethical action: truth is a “value” which is justified by its effectiveness when the applied concepts to actual practice “work”. James said that “all true processes must lead to the face of directly verifying sensible experiences somewhere”. For James, “if the hypothesis of God works satisfactorily in the widest sense of the word, then it is ‘true.’ ” Such a statement is the modern equivalent of the Medieval theologians’ questioning of how many angels could fit upon the head of a pin. The good end, the good result, will justify any means, and this principle of action has led to many of the great disasters that have marked the 20th and 21st centuries. It can, perhaps, best be captured in a quote from the scientist Robert Oppenheimer who said: “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and you argue about what to do about it only after you have had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.” “Just do it” is an apt slogan for our age and one of the “principles” which has created its “moral compass” or lack thereof. It is what is today called “ideology” which may be said to be “the imagined existence (or idea/ideal) of things as it relates to the real conditions of existence”.
The pragmatic theory of truth operates where technology as a way of knowing and the principle of reason prevail. Charles Peirce wrote: “This activity of thought by which we are carried, not where we wish, but to a foreordained goal, is like the operation of destiny. No modification of the point of view taken, no selection of other facts for study, no natural bent of mind even, can enable a man to escape the predestinate opinion. This great law is embodied in the conception of truth and reality. The opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate, is what we mean by the truth, and the object represented in this opinion is the real. That is the way I would explain reality.” “Faith”, for Peirce, is “opinion” and it is the opinion of whichever class rules in a society at any particular time. This is quite distinct from the Platonic definition of knowledge as “justified true belief”. The pragmatists argue against the allegory of the Cave of Plato because they believe that there is nothing beyond the Cave that can be known or loved.
There appears to be very little room for freedom in Peirce’s conception of thought and reality, and one can see how the world of “alternative facts” could easily emerge given whatever opinion of the community predominates at the time (through political choices, for example), whatever has been decided upon or deified regardless of whether that community believes that it has arrived at its ends through democratic or fascistic means, whether the community’s choices are rational or irrational. What is decisive is the determinative ethos of the day. Decision is what is most important. It is the opinions of the Cave (to remember Plato’s allegory) which prevail, and the light shone on the things of the cave by the keepers of the fire is that which has been agreed to by the cave-dwellers as the light. For the pragmatists, this light has been shone by scientific research. But as we have seen, science is at a crisis at this point in its history.
John Dewey agrees with Peirce on what can be considered truth: “The best definition of truth from the logical standpoint which is known to me is that by Peirce: “The opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate is what we mean by the truth, and the object represented in this opinion is the real.” For Dewey, truth is the belief best exhibited by the scientists in their inquiries into the nature of what is.
“Truth” comes to be replaced by “ideology”. It is the view that prevails when one accepts Darwin’s account of the being of beings and what “fittedness” has come to mean in modern societies. As the American philosopher Sally Haslanger has said: “The function of ideology is to stabilize and perpetuate dominance through masking or illusion.” It is these masks and illusions that have come to dominate our ethics and our politics in the form of mass movements and ideologies. It is this lack of self-knowledge which illustrates our age as a tragic age.
The “belief” element in the pragmatic theory of truth has led to the position of “alternative facts” where, for the sake of convenience or “usefulness”, the “matter” or the “pragma” being discussed is disputed in its nature. “Usefulness” rests on the proposition’s ability to “empower” someone and this “empowerment” is a matter of convenience for the individual and the community; if it is not convenient, it can easily be cast aside. For example, it may be “useful” to someone to have a belief in a god for psychological reasons while it may not be useful to another to have such a belief. The utility to the individual and the community is the prime determiner of the truth of the thing. This is a common critique of the pragmatic theory of truth for this standpoint is a violation of the principle of contradiction and, therefore, a violation of the principle of reason: a thing cannot be both itself and its opposite at the same time. But this is not to deny the fact that in the pragmatic theory of truth the principle of reason, whether realized through algebraic calculation or through the definitions of algorithms, still prevails. The critique of the pragmatic theory of truth states that, ultimately, the pragmatic theory of truth is irrational. The madness can only be deep in a society which holds forth its opposite when rationality is coupled with idolatry and the blasphemy of thinking that the god’s will is scrutable. The rational and the irrational belong together.
One can see an example of where ideology overrules science in the recent rejections of the notion of “climate change” by certain individuals and groups. Because the scientific findings or “facts” are not “convenient” to certain individuals or groups within the community (fossil fuel promoters for example), the scientific facts are rejected for the sake of the benefits of their short term gains or “empowerment”. Al Gore’s film entitled An Inconvenient Truth is aptly named. But at the bottom of the climate change deniers’ view is a much more worrisome and deadly viewing of the world and that viewing is nihilism.
Freedom in the Age of the Dimming Truth
Truth, and our relation to it, occurs in the overlapping region of the Venn diagram that we use to describe the TOK course and is present in what we refer to as our ways of knowing. Truth, knowledge and freedom are interconnected and how we conceive them determines how we conceive of ourselves as human beings.
It is in the overlapping region of the Venn diagram, that area intersecting our personal and shared knowledge, that the things which we know come to presence for us. To presence here means to let the thing stand opposed to us as object. When the thing is placed in this way, the thing that stands opposed must traverse that open region of opposedness and yet must maintain its stand as a thing and show itself as something standing opposed. This appearing of the thing in the open region of opposedness takes place within the open region, the openness of which is not first created by the presencing of the thing but rather is entered into and taken over as a domain of relatedness or what we have come to call an area of knowledge, how we have come to define the things. The relation of the presentative statement (the proposition) to the thing, what we say about the thing, is accomplished through that way of knowing which originally and always comes to prevail as our comportment toward the thing. We have already indicated that, today, this comportment is Reason or a type of reason that is distinguished by “logic” and the concepts that are derived from logic. But all of our ways of knowing and our comportments towards the things are distinguished by the fact that, standing in the open region, they adhere to something already opened up as such. What is opened up in this way was experienced early in Western thinking by the Greeks as “what is present” and for a long time has been named “being.” What, then, is the relation of freedom to knowledge and to truth?
Freedom is not to be understood as human caprice, nor does it rest on or in what is considered to be “convenient” within the social contexts predominating at any time. The essence of freedom is truth; and truth’s essence is freedom. Paradoxically, both involve an “owingness” and an “indebtedness“; and at times what is owed and what we are indebted to is not “convenient” for us in any way. This is what the Greeks referred to as “justice”; it is what we are “fitted for” as full human beings. To make a simple statement about it: we “owe” it to our children to leave the earth as a habitable planet for them and so we must take action against climate change and the threat of nuclear war. This “owingness” is an example of our indebtedness to the “otherness” that is other human beings (and potential human beings) as individuals and as a species, and to the earth and what is upon it, since the earth is “good” for us and to us in some way even if we believe only for our survival as a species.
To understand our human freedom it is necessary to rethink the ordinary concept of truth that is given in the correctness of statements arrived at through logic and reason and to think it back to what was originally meant by truth for the Greeks. Today, to engage oneself with the unconcealment of beings in the open region is not to lose oneself in them, not to search and create more “novelty” in our experiences of beings and in our discourses about them; rather, our engagement should be a withdrawal in the face of beings in order that they might reveal themselves with respect to what and how they are in order for the presentative correspondence (that which brings the things to “presence”) can take its standard from them, not from ourselves. This letting-be of beings, the things that are, our comportment toward them, exposes itself to beings as such and transposes or changes all comportments or ways of knowing that we stand in within the open region. Letting-be, i. e., freedom, is intrinsically exposing, an opening and opening up of our world and speaking about beings and our comportment towards them. Considered in regard to the essence of truth, the essence of freedom manifests itself as our exposure to the unconcealment of the beings themselves as we find them in our areas of knowledge.
Freedom is not merely what our common sense is content to allow, our freedom of choices based on whims in whatever direction whatsoever. It is not the mere absence of constraints or restraints on our choosing with respect to what we can and cannot do, our supposed ethical actions. It is not what is conceived when “the open society and its enemies” is spoken about.
If we look at what is written here and relate it back to the thinking of Aristotle as the origin of the understanding of the notions of truth as correspondence and coherence, we can say that “logic” is not the origin of the notion of “truth” but a precursor or prelude to what was understood, by the Greeks, as “truth”. “Logic” is a comportment or mode of being in the world, one possible among many.
This is what primarily distinguishes Aristotle from Plato. “Science” for Aristotle was both “theoretical” and “practical”: theoretical science was composed of physics (natural science), mathematics and metaphysics; practical science was composed of ethics, economics and political science in the narrower sense of how we understand that term. Science’s foundation was based on the science of science: logic. The victory of science over metaphysics that occurs in the 17th century with Newton’s overturning of Aristotle’s physics through the logic of modern mathematics led to a “metaphysically neutral” physics. This “metaphysically neutral” physics is what allows the woman in Moscow, Russia and the man in Moscow, Idaho to conceive of their ideas regarding the what and the how of things interdependently. This interdependence became the opinion regarding the nature of things that is the foundation of the “pragmatic” theory of truth and the overcoming of the interconnection between “truth” and ethical or political action. Ethics and prudence as the height of political action are “values”, not facts.
This separation of science from metaphysics, occurring in the 17th century, led to what we call the “fact-value” distinction which in turn led to the creation and separation of an economics which was distinct from ethical actions, and for a sociology that did not distinguish between which hierarchies of associations are worthy to be studied i.e. whether political associations are higher than non-political associations and therefore more worthy of study.
What distinguishes Aristotle from the moderns is that for Aristotle human actions have principles of their own which are not derived from the theoretical or physical sciences. Today, of course, the principles of human actions that are in any way to be conceived of as “knowledge” of those actions are based on the discoveries of the bio-sciences. The “lower” determines what truth is considered to be and not the “higher” and this viewing has brought about a “vulgarity” in our politics in the 20th and 21st centuries not seen in centuries prior. Fascism as a political phenomenon is a modern political phenomenon. The theories of the bio-sciences are the manner of viewing which rests on a dogmatic atheism which presents itself as merely methodological or hypothetical or as “objective” rather than “subjective”.
Human actions were seen by Aristotle to be guided by prudence which must constantly be defended from theoretical attacks (which is the goal of this particular blog) and these defenses must be based on theory of some kind; the theory in itself is not the ground of prudence. Prudence presupposes an awareness of political things (ethical things) based on pre-scientific observations and thoughts. Prudence is based on the idea that there is a common good for societies that can be perceived and understood. The common good in its fullness is the good society and what is required for the good society. By teaching and promoting the equality of literally all desires through our views of “freedom” with the rationale of the “fact/value” distinction, we teach that there is nothing of which a human being ought to be ashamed; by destroying the possibility of self-contempt, we destroy with the best of intentions the possibility of self-respect. By teaching the equality of all values, by denying that there are things which are intrinsically high and others which are intrinsically low, as well as by denying that there is an essential difference between human beings and brutes, we have unwittingly contributed to the victory of the gutter.
A few notes of warning and guidance before we begin:
The TOK essay provides you with an opportunity to become engaged in thinking and reflection. What are outlined below are strategies for deconstructing the TOK titles as they have been given.
The notes here are intended to guide you towards a thoughtful, personal response to the prescribed titles posed. They are not to be considered as the answer and they should only be used to help you provide another perspective to the ones given to you in the titles and from your TOK class discussions. You need to remember that most of your examiners have been educated in the logical positivist schools of Anglo-America and this education pre-determines their predilection to view the world as they do and to understand the concepts as they do. The TOK course itself is a product of this logical positivism.
There is no substitute for your own personal thought and reflection, and these notes are not intended as a cut and paste substitute to the hard work that thinking requires. Some of the comments on one title may be useful to you in the approach you are taking in the title that you have personally chosen, so it may be useful to read all the comments and give them some reflection.
My experience has been that candidates whose examples match those to be found on TOK “help” sites (and this is another of those TOK help sites) struggle to demonstrate a mastery of the knowledge claims and knowledge questions contained in the examples. The best essays carry a trace of a struggle that is the journey on the path to thinking. Many examiners state that in the very best essays they read, they can visualize the individual who has thought through them sitting opposite to them. To reflect this struggle in your essay is your goal.
Remember to include sufficient TOK content in your essay. When you have completed your essay, ask yourself if it could have been written by someone who had not participated in the TOK course. If the answer to that question is “yes”, then you do not have sufficient TOK content in your essay. Personal and shared knowledge, the knowledge framework, the ways of knowing and the areas of knowledge are terms that you need to reference in your discussions.
Here is a link to a PowerPoint that contains recommendations and a flow chart outlining the steps to writing a TOK essay. Comments, observations and discussions are welcome.
1. “The quality of knowledge is best measured by how many peopleaccept it.” Discuss this claim with reference to two areas of knowledge.
The knowledge questions that arise from within title #1 are in its use of the concepts of “quality”, “knowledge”, “measured”, “how many people”, and “accept”. Reflection shows us that these are all related to “value” determinations of what “knowledge” is and how its “quality” may be measured. The “quality of knowledge”, historically, has been measured by its “usefulness” towards the achievement of the ends that human beings have determined and have in mind.
For example, in the IB itself the “quality of knowledge” which has been determined to be the most “useful” is that given to us through the sciences. Views of which subjects are chosen by students and their parents illustrate this. This may be contrasted with the quality and value of knowledge which may be gotten through the Arts. Our acceptance of the value of the knowledge to be gained in the sciences is seen in our societies’ rewarding of positions of money and power to those who have knowledge in these areas.
Knowledge that arises from the sciences and the mastering of this knowledge is what is held as “valuable” today and has been held as valuable for the past two hundred years or so . This “usefulness” is due to the fact that this “knowledge” “empowers” us in meeting our ends which, at bottom, are the controlling and commandeering of beings/things towards what is determined to be “useful” for us. Whether this be in the health sciences or the social sciences, this “empowerment” to achieve “useful ends” in the aim of the hard work that is required to master these areas of knowledge. Our “production of knowledge” is the desire to control “chance” and necessity and the power that arises through this control and mastery. The world and its resources viewed as “disposable” to our ends is our “empowerment”, and the value of this “empowerment” is recognized by our communities through our “shared knowledge” in the construction of what our curriculums will be in our education and in the awarding of the variety of positions of power within our communities for those who have mastered those curriculums or those who have gained the theoretical and practical knowledge that is to be found through those curriculums or our “shared knowledge”.
In order for something to be considered “knowledge”, an account must be rendered of what that “something” is. In TOK, we call this account our WOKs or our ways of knowing. Our ways of knowing are our renderings of the accounts of things: the ‘what’, the ‘why’, and the ‘how’ of some thing. That which we call “personal knowledge”, knowledge which may, perhaps, be most important to us as individuals, is quite “useless” without its being rendered or given over to others. We render this knowledge in our accounts of things through language, reason, emotion, etc.
What is the knowledge that allows or drives an individual to chose to become a member of Medicins Sans Frontieres rather than choosing the more ‘powerful’ other options which are available to that individual, for instance? Clearly, this is a ‘knowledge’ of some thing which the majority do not accept, but is it the knowledge of the art of medicine itself or the knowledge that brings one to make such a choice the knowledge that is most important? And which knowledge has more ‘quality’? One can see here the ‘value’ estimations which we use when we think of what knowledge is and these value estimations are part of the “shared knowledge” that we have in our possession and that has been given over to us.
The account of the knowledge of things held to be most “robust” or “useful” for us is that which is given through the mathematical in the form of algebraic calculation. This account of the knowledge of things is the “language as a way of knowing” that allows us to “measure” things whether through statistics (“how many people”) or through some other calculation that renders the “reasons” for things being as they are and allows us to make judgements about them (their ‘truth’). The rendering of reasons is based on the principle of reason as a way of knowing (“nothing is without reason” or “nothing is without a reason or a cause”). The rendering of reasons is what we call “evidence”. Such a rendering of the account of things is shown, for example, in the algorithms which dominate our sciences and information technologies and communications in today’s world. This rendering of accounts through the principle of reason may be metaphorically compared to a fish and its surrounding by water: the fish is entirely unaware of the water which surrounds it but that water nevertheless sustains its life. So, too, the rendering of our accounts of things through the principle of reason is “useful” for sustaining our lives.
In contrast to the quality of knowledge found in the sciences is the quality of knowledge found in the Arts. In advanced technological societies, the Arts are what we do in our leisure time and thus are relegated to being of secondary importance. This is quite distinct from the place of the Arts in other societies at other times and places in the histories of the West and the East. The knowledge to be gained through and from the Arts is secondary to that knowledge which we gain through the sciences because of our reliance on the rendering of accounts through the principle of reason. The empowering that is to be gained through the Arts is held to be of less value than that which can be gained through the calculative sciences since we consider the ‘truth’ of the Arts to be ‘subjective’ personal knowledge and not the concrete objective knowledge given to us through our employment of the scientific method. The Arts are seen as “valuable” through their ability to create for us “aesthetic experiences” deepening our personal knowledge, and our views of the arts are primarily through sense perception as a way of knowing.
2. “The production of knowledge is always a collaborative task and never solely a product of the individual.” Discuss this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.
Title #2 allows you to explore the relationship between ‘personal’ and ‘shared’ knowledge and its impact on the Areas of Knowledge. It also allows you to explore the relationship between ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ and whether these two concepts are separable or not. “Collaboration” as the workings of “shared knowledge” in the present through the past might also allow some exploration of memory as a way of knowing and its relation to the AOKs. Remember that memory is both a personal WOK as well as a collective WOK.
A collaborative task is only possible where the vision of the members of the collaboration are unified, and this unification comes about through an acceptance of the “truth” of the original viewing or the “theory”. To paraphrase the philosopher Hegel, “A single mind is enough for a million hands” and this involves that the truth of the viewing must be accepted in advance before any progress towards an outcome or “product” can take place.
The use of the terms “always” and “never” bring about some points of contention in this title as these “value judgements” always do. These visions or viewings of the collaborators may be unified by the end in view, the goal of the collaboration such as the ‘bottom line’ in business or corporate enterprises (the need to bring about results), or by the view driving the tasks that are being conducted, how one is to best achieve improvements in the ‘bottom line’ in the most efficient manner. You are using such a ‘view’ in reading this blog in the hope that it will help you to achieve the best result possible in your goal of writing the essay within the collaboration that is called an “IB education”. Astrophysicists, for example, collaborate on exploring the meaning of the data given to them by recent revelations brought about by the findings of the new telescopes in outer space. Their viewing of this data, how this data will be viewed, has already been pre-determined for them.
When we speak of the “production of knowledge” or knowledge as a “product” we are looking at knowledge as the outcome of a “making” or a “manufacturing” so that it will come to stand before us as an “object”. It is a process involving the use of materials and ideas that will “bring forth” (from the Latin producere) some thing that will be of “use” or of some “value” for us. We might call this process “experiment” in the sciences, and in the other writings in this blog it is referred to as “technology as a way of knowing” involving logos as the “knowing” and techne as the “making”. When this knowing and making involves many individuals, it may be contrasted with the “knowing” of the single individual who discovers or invents the “theory” that provides the viewing for the many. The single individual also works in a “collaboration” of a kind with the “shared knowledge” that has been given over to him or her. The discoveries of modern physics are not possible without the initial discoveries of Newton.
In the Arts, the relation of the individual to the tradition or of the individual’s personal to the shared knowledge of the community of which he or she is a member is a possibility for exploration and discussion. While many “products” of the Arts are spoken of as “productions” (i.e. theatre, film, dance), and must certainly be seen as collaborations, many artistic works are clearly the products of single individuals (i.e. novels, paintings, etc.), but these individuals must work within a collaboration with the tradition and their audience in order for their works to communicate with the societies around them. The question of what “knowledge” is and what knowledge is “produced” in the Arts can also provide some fruitful areas for exploration.
3. Do good explanations have to be true?
Title #3 asks us to consider what makes for a “good explanation” and whether or not “truth” is necessary when giving an account of some thing. The rendering of an account of something is related to language and reason as ways of knowing primarily, and the account may be rendered through words or through numbers and symbols. An “explanation” provides an account of the “what”, the “how” and the “why” some thing is as it is and encompasses all phenomena.
Any attempt to render an explanation of something involves some “knowledge” of some kind of that thing, and to have knowledge of some thing involves having made some judgement regarding the “truth” of the “what” (definition), the “how’ or the “why” of the thing beforehand. One cannot begin an “explanation” without first having some notion of “truth” regarding the thing that one is trying to explain. This prior “knowledge” of some thing is what we call “understanding” and we “understand” something when we believe we have the “reasons” for its being as it is. When someone in authority says to you “You better have a good explanation for this” when you have made a mistake of some kind, they are looking for your account of the what, the contexts (the how) and the consequences for the error which you may have made. “Explanations” require “evidence” which corresponds to the reality of what is present. When the explanation and the evidence do not correspond with the reality (the correspondence theory of truth), what is given in the account of the thing is mere fantasy. There are many examples that you can find and use to discuss this point.
This title can be approached by looking at it from discussions of at least two WOKs or ways of knowing or how the ways of knowing account for the explanations that occur in two AOKs or areas of knowledge. Discussions of language as a WOK and reason as a WOK would be fruitful in approaching the title. Any account of things in the Natural Sciences must be given in “numbers” or in “symbols” for we believe that it is through calculation that we can be “certain” of what some thing is and we are able to make accurate predictive calculations of how and why it will behave in the way it does through these calculations. These calculations give us mastery and control over the thing even though they may lack an “explanation” for the “why” and the “what” of the thing.
For an explanation to be considered “good”, belief as a way of knowing might also be considered since “belief” deals with the phenomena of “facts” and what we believe those “facts” to be or how we account for those facts. Today, much silly ink is being spouted regarding “alternative facts”, but the fact is that the alternatives being spoken about are, really, the accounts of or for the facts or the “explanations” of the facts. These accounts may be true or false. When they are “true”, they bring the thing being spoken about “to light” so that it can be seen for what it is; when they are “false”, the account covers or hides the thing. Disputes over how things are accounted for have been with human beings since the beginning: the contest between Socrates and the Sophists in ancient Greece is one example of this ongoing discussion in the history of the West. The current persistent attack on truth in politics bodes ill for the future of human beings as human beings are the animals that require truth in order to be human beings (if Plato, Aristotle and others in both the West and the East are to be believed).
Your essay might consider the importance of “truth” and its relation to “good explanations”. There are three predominant theories of truth present today: the correspondence theory of truth, the coherence theory of truth, and the pragmatic theory of truth. These theories of truth arise from an interpretation (whether correct or not) of the Greek philosopher Aristotle’s logic. The principle of reason as a way of knowing is what is operative in Aristotle’s account of things. When the thing being studied corresponds to the ideas in the mind then the “truth” of the thing is present and with it knowledge and understanding of the thing. The “be-cause” is answered. When we make errors regarding a thing, these errors are the results of mistakes in the synthesis of our accounts of the categories of the things (i.e. its color, size, location, etc., the “coherence” of the synthesis of our accounts) not the presence of the thing itself that is being considered (or what we consider a “fact” to be). Our account of gravity, for instance, is incomplete but not “untrue”. Elements of truth are present in it to account for our knowledge and understanding of it and, thus, our “explanations” of it. Without “truth” we have no knowledge or understanding of the things that we are addressing and cannot “give over” to others an account of the thing, and it is this giving or handing over of the accounts that is essential. It is, if you like, what you are attempting to do in your essay.
4. “Disinterestedness is essential in the pursuit of knowledge.” Discuss this claim with reference to two areas of knowledge.
“Disinterestedness” is the key concept in title #4 and warrants some careful reflection. Is “disinterestedness” possible given the conditions of the existence of human beings and the existence of their world? We would like to think that the “scientific method”, for instance, has a “disinterestedness” that must be inherent in it in order to avoid the errors that might arise from emotions or biases in order for its results to be “objective”. Is “objectivity” possible is one knowledge question that arises from this position. Two AOKs where this can be examined and explored are the Natural and the Human Sciences. Given the cost of research in the sciences, is it possible for those engaged in it to be “disinterested”? Isn’t most research today in the natural and human sciences “vested interests”? How does the concept of “disinterestedness” relate to our concepts of personal and shared knowledge? Do the majority of students who study the sciences in the IB do so out of a “disinterestedness” in terms of what they hope to learn and in their pursuit of knowledge? In our age of “empowerment”, is “disinterestedness” just another name for “indifference” as long as the thing being interrogated is under our command and control?
The historical background of the notion of “disinterestedness” begins with Aristotle’s unique coining of the term “bios theoretikos” or the “theoretical life”. This mode of being in the world was the goal of the philosopher for Aristotle. It was later understood by the Latins and the monks of the early Christian Church to be the “contemplative” life as opposed to the life of engagement in caritas or charity. This conflict in many of its permutations is still present with us today when we consider the “usefulness” of what we discover and why we study what we study and to what ends the results will be used.
Our own view of the importance of “disinterestedness” in the pursuit of knowledge is the result of the emphasis we place on Cartesianism, the separation of subject and object, in our approach to how we view (the theoretical) the world. This separation was grounded in the great writings of the German philosopher Kant in his critiques of pure reason, practical reason and judgement. We are still living out the works of Kant, and his thinking is being eroded by the later thinking of Darwin and Nietzsche . For Descartes, in order for some thing “to be”, then that thing must be “represented” by the mind of the subject. The two central features of modernity are that human beings are the centre of beings as a whole, the subject to which they are all referred, and that ‘the beingness of beings as a whole is conceived as the being-represented of the producible and explainable. This manner of thinking that we call “conceptual thinking”, determines beforehand the nature of our ways of knowing: reason, imagination, language, etc. Descartes’s view was that whenever I think about anything I also think that I think. In the representing, that which is represented and the representer are always co-represented at the same time. What we call “humanism” finds its grounding in the thinking of Descartes.
The findings of Kant and his thinking have been brought into question by the discoveries of modern physics in the 20th century. For example, the German physicist Werner Heisenberg has stated: “What we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning. Our scientific work in physics consists in asking questions about nature in the language that we possess and trying to get an answer from experiment by the means that are at our disposal.” The language that Heisenberg is referring to here is mathematics, and the answers to the questions that we pose are in the certainty of our calculations regarding the outcomes or results which gives us the ability to predict the behaviours of the objects that are under study and, thus, give us control over them so that they may be applied to our ends. But it is not “nature” that is being “known” here. Is this end of our knowledge, the mastery of nature in the sciences, really “disinterested”? What is the purpose of this “mastery”? How does this relate to the Human Sciences where the object of study is human beings and the development of techniques for their mastery and control? These are just some of the knowledge questions that might be used when choosing examples to explore this title.
5. “The production of knowledge requires accepting conclusions that go beyond the evidence for them.” Discuss this claim.
When we speak about the “production” of some thing such as “knowledge”, we are speaking about knowledge as a “project”, an entity or thing that relates to our conceptual, representational thinking and the “correspondence theory of truth” of what we call our “shared knowledge” in our TOK language. To “produce” something means to bring it forth out of hiding whether that something is a peach in an orchard and is the product of Nature (and thus relates to our word “produce” when referring to things such as fruits and vegetables) or the latest tech gadget from Apple which is the “produce” of human beings. “Production” is a “bringing forth”. “Production” is related to the Greek word techne which is the “knowing” and the “know how” that guides our relations to the things that are produced by Nature and to Nature itself as well as our knowing that is related to the things produced or made by human beings. It is a kind of “knowing” that allows for the “making” of such things as hand phones and computers and we call this knowing and making “technology”.
“Conclusions” relate to our judgements of what some thing is. Our judgements are the definitions that we give to things thus providing the limits to the things so that we may classify them as such and such a thing and place them in our Areas of Knowledge. For example, while we accept the existence of atoms, we have no appropriate models to “represent” them given the “evidence” that we have regarding their nature and behaviour. Atoms are symbolic entities represented by an algebraic formula, and their physical “existence” is “skipped over” in order that we may “produce” knowledge based on the conclusions that we have already arrived at regarding the atom’s nature and what it is. In this skipping over, we “go beyond” the issue of our lack of knowledge of what the thing such as an atom might be. The Rutherford model that is sometimes used to describe an atom is simply a piece of fantasy and does not relate to the reality of the atom.
Because the mathematics of atoms or of anything else works in producing the outcomes that we desire, we do not care what the nature of the atom really is as long as we are able to produce reliable results or conclusions and can make use of those results or conclusions. This is the crisis of modern science when we consider that the word “science” means “knowledge”. Science does not and cannot reflect or question its own beginnings because this would stop it from “producing” the kind of knowledge that we are speaking about here. Science cannot conduct an experiment to provide the evidence that shows what science itself is; that is, it cannot give an “account” of itself scientifically. “Evidence” is what we call the “account of something”. It is the answer to the question of “why” and begins with “be-cause”. It is the rendering of reasons.
We have much greater knowledge of the things which we have “produced” or made than we do of the things that we have not produced or made or the things that are the products of Nature. The results or accounts of science must be reported in the language of mathematics for this is the only language adequate for the thinking that allows the space for the “production” of this type of knowledge to occur. When we speak of this kind of knowledge it must be acknowledged that it is a knowledge that operates within a limited horizon regarding its understanding of “what”, “why” and “how” things are, but again, this does not really matter to us as long as we can make “use” of the results that are gathered. Again, this is the crisis of science in our era.
In the Arts one can discuss our general lack of knowledge regarding the mysteries of imagination, language, the work of art and Art itself. To produce or bring forth the work of art whether as a “production” or an object of art does not require that we know or are certain of what “art” is, or what “language” is, or what the “imagination” is. The work “speaks for itself” and is its own account. We may discuss whether something is or is not art or whether a production is “good” or “bad” but these are secondary to the work itself. The artist is originated by the work of art. The point is not simply that no one is an artist until he or she creates a work, but that the artist is not in control of his or her own creativity. Art is a sort of impersonal force that uses the artist for its own purposes and in this way the artist must accept “conclusions” (the work) over which they have no or limited “control” or “evidence”. This may be the reason why artists find it so difficult to account for their art; they simply do not know.
The aesthetic view of art so prevalent today stems from the human-centred metaphysic of modernity or what we call humanism, and coheres with the conception of beings as what is ‘objectively representable’. My own states, the way I feel in the presence of something, determines my view of everything I encounter. Art is thus “subjective”. Hence art has become a device for the provision of ‘experience and part of our “personal knowledge”. This view is abetted by the view that a work of art is a thing, a crafted thing, with aesthetic value superimposed on it by us. Despite the Greek use of techne for both ‘craft’ and ‘art’ (since techne means bringing forth beings through “know how”), this “production” is present both in human beings and in Nature. The “ends”, the conclusions, are accepted even though we have no “knowledge” of the whats, the hows and the whys of the things.
6. “One way to assure the health of a discipline is to nurturecontrasting perspectives.” Discuss this claim.
Using the metaphor of “health” when speaking about a “discipline” indicates that the discipline is considered a “living being” or a living thing. We do not speak of the “health” of rocks, for instance. To be capable of living implies, concurrently, the capability of dying so the “knowledge” that is present in the discipline is not permanent but historical.
The statement implies an historical approach to knowledge. This statement is very much a “modern” viewpoint or “perspective”. The great thinker of perspectivism in the West was Friedrich Nietzsche. Plato, by contrast, saw knowledge as being contained in the Ideas and in the beholding of the Ideas and was thus “permanent” or eternal. Title #6 implies that the “methodology”, the “discipline” of any area of knowledge for how the things within that area of knowledge are to be beheld and accounted for, is contained in the “perspective” or the “viewing”, the theory and the concepts resulting from the theory, which drives the methodology forward. “Contrasting perspectives” are not from within the “viewing” itself, the “theory”, but in the accounts that result from this viewing. The viewing is but one possible way of viewing; many others are possible.
We see various accounts in the various disciplines in the experiments that are performed by scientists, for instance, or in the papers that are required to be written by the learned professors in their academic disciplines. Some of these accounts are quite silly and I’m sure that many of you will be able to find ample examples of these academic inanities for your papers. Some are merely “putting old wine into new wine skins” where concepts and ideas that were much better thought out by our predecessors in our shared knowledge are renamed to give them, what the unthinking moderns believe is some modern relevance.
Thinking involves asking questions. A question is distinct from a knowledge problem. A knowledge problem (such as the freewill problem) is an objectified timeless entity, extracted by philosophers from the works of Plato, Kant, etc. It is something studied in the Group 3 course on philosophy and its history of philosophical ideas. A question is a concrete, situated event and it is something you are asked to do in both your oral presentations and in your essays through arriving at the questions in the examples that you have chosen. Questions, unlike problems, are not restricted to a traditional menu or historical account that has become part of our shared knowledge. Does the “health” of a discipline imply the kind of thinking that is within it and the kinds of questions which are asked in that discipline? Is the horizon of the thinking within a discipline quite limited in the possibilities of its “various perspectives”? Does science “think” and is it capable of thinking? Is there any perspective in the arts that goes beyond the viewing of the arts as an “aesthetic experience” i.e. art as an object?
In exploring title #6, using the knowledge framework to explore the key concepts of the AOKs chosen and the WOKs within those AOKs might be a fruitful approach. Arriving at some statements regarding the “health” of an AOK, and providing an account for the making of those statements could result in a good paper.
“The answer to the question “What is called thinking?” is, of course, a statement, but not a proposition that could be formed into a sentence with which the question can be put aside as settled…The question cannot be settled, now or ever…Thinking itself is a way. We respond to the way only by remaining underway.” (Heidegger: What is Called Thinking?)
“Just as it is with bats’ eyes in respect of daylight, so it is with our mental vision in respect of those things which are by nature most apparent.” Aristotle (Metaphysics Ch. I, Bk 2, 993b)
”The conditions of the possibility of experience in general are at the same time conditions of the possibility of the objects of experience.” Kant (Critique of Pure Reason, A 158, B 197)
“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says ‘morning, boys. How’s the water?’ and the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes ‘what the hell is water?'”- David Foster Wallace. Kenyon. 2005.
Thinking and TOK
This writing on Thinking attempts to show how thinking is not so much an “act” or “activity” as it is a way of living or dwelling or, as North Americans would say, “a way of life” or “lifestyle”. It is a remembering of who and what we are as human beings and where we belong. It builds on what has been discovered in the reading of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and attempts to continue on the path to understanding the relationship between “education” and “truth”.
To begin with, thinking is not “having an opinion” or a notion about something. It is not representing or having an idea about something or about some state of affairs. Thinking is not “ratiocination”, developing a chain of premises which lead to a valid conclusion. Lastly, it is not conceptual or systematic. It is not algorithmic.
“We come to know what thinking means when we ourselves try to think” (Heidegger). Thinking involves a questioning and a putting ourselves in question as much as the cherished opinions and doctrines we have inherited through our education or our shared knowledge. Putting in question is not a “method” that proceeds from “doubt” as it was for Descartes. The questioning or inquiring is a “clearing of the path” (and anyone who has had to ‘clear a path’ through dense jungle in this part of the world knows the difficulty of “clearing a path”) with no destination in mind. Questioning and thinking are not a means to an end; they are self-justifying. But the paths of thinking often become “dead-ends”: and our age abhors “dead ends”. The approach to thinking that is thought here is to bring to light what is currently called thinking and to “awaken” a new approach to “what calls for thinking” which is the essence of what you are asked to do in the TOK course. But how can you go about doing this?
How is thinking to be distinguished from “method” or from following a method such as algorithmic thinking? What is the relationship between memory as a way of knowing and thinking? Does any “thinking” take place in the areas of knowledge of TOK? Is there room for thinking in TOK i.e. an openness to thinking?
The great work of literature on the relationship between thinking, method and memory is Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Polonius’ observation of Hamlet: “Tho’ this be madness yet there is method in it” could be used as an opening or a way into an analysis of our times. “Rationality” as method may not necessarily be sane…
What is thinking? What Calls for Thinking?
“We all still need an education in thinking, and first of all, before that, knowledge of what being educated and uneducated in thinking means. In this respect Aristotle gives us a hint in Book IV of his Metaphysics (1006a if.): . . – “For it is uneducated not to have an eye for when it is necessary to look for a proof and when this is not necessary.”—Martin Heidegger “The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking”
To examine what thinking is and to ask the further question of what calls for thinking, we shall examine what is called thinking and what the philosophers have thought on thinking. We shall try to stay mindful of how the understanding of thinking’s essence and what is called thinking today is a result of the manner in which Plato’s allegory of the cave came to be interpreted, primarily by the Greek philosopher Aristotle. When we are exhorted to think “outside of the box”, the manner of the thinking that we are exhorted towards still remains within the “box” in which thinking has been traditionally framed. This thinking remains an “active doing” upon the objects that present themselves before us.
The 20th century’s great philosopher, Martin Heidegger, said: “Most thought-provoking is that we are still not thinking – not even yet, although the state of the world is becoming constantly more thought-provoking.” (What is Called Thinking? p. 4) For us, thinking is traditionally thought to be “rationality”, “reason”, “judgement”. Heidegger, somewhat provocatively, says: “[M]an today is in flight from thinking.” (Discourse on Thinking p. 45) Not only do we not think; human beings are actively avoiding thinking. For Heidegger, all the scientific work today, all the research and development, all the political machinations and posings, even contemporary philosophy, represents a flight from thinking. “[P]art of this flight is that man will neither see nor admit it. Man today will even flatly deny this flight from thinking. He will assert the opposite. He will say – and quite rightly – that there were at no time such far-reaching plans, so many inquiries in so many areas, research carried on as passionately as today. Of course.” (Discourse on Thinking 45)
But for Heidegger, science does not think: and this is its blessing. “This situation is grounded in the fact that science itself does not think, and cannot think – which is its good fortune, here meaning the assurance of its own appointed course.” (What is Called Thinking? p. 8) What Heidegger is saying is that if science actually thought, we would cease to have science as we know it. And if this should happen, we would no longer have clean toilets, penicillin, and all of the wonderful discoveries of science. Science does not think because the grounding of science is in a faith: its belief is that what is real is what it reveals.
We shall never learn “what is called swimming”, for example, or “what calls for swimming” by reading a book on swimming. Only a leap into the deep end of the pool will tell us what is called swimming and what calls for swimming. The question of “what is called thinking?” can never be answered by proposing a definition of the concept “thinking”.
In the West, thought about thinking has been called “logic” which we have associated with “reason as a way of knowing” based on the principle of reason. This “logic” has received its flowering in the natural and human sciences under the term “logistics”. Logistics, today, is considered the only legitimate form or way of knowing because its results and procedures ensure the construction of the technological world. Logistics is an interesting word in that its use as a noun implies “symbolic logic” (mathematical algebraic calculation) and it is also related to the conduct of warfare. Its use as mathematical calculation is found in what is called logical positivism which is a new branch of the branch of philosophy that was previously known as empiricism. The thinking in logical positivism is the thinking expressed as algebraic calculation: only that which can be calculated can be known and is worth knowing.To elaborate how this has come to be the case would require an analysis of 17th century philosophy and mathematics beyond what we intend in this writing. Suffice it to say that this is part of our inherited shared knowledge that we have received from the philosopher Rene Descartes. It is called Cartesianism.
Today we think that thought is the mind working to solve problems. We can see this in many of the quotes that are looked to as words of inspiration for young people. Thought is the mind analyzing what the senses bring in and acting upon it. Thought is understanding circumstances or the premises of a situation and reasoning out conclusions, actions to be taken. This is thinking, working through from A to B in a situation. Thoughts are representations of the world (real or not doesn’t matter, only the mind’s action does), or considerations about claims or representations (knowledge issues or questions), and the conclusions or judgements that are made. We think we know exactly what thought is because it is what we think we do. And as the animal rationale, the “rational animal”, how is it possible for thinking to be something we can fly from as it is our nature? Any examination of materials for approaching TOK illustrates, rather clearly, that we assume we already know what thinking is, what knowledge is. That is why so many of the posed questions can begin with “To what extent…” There is a pre-conceived hierarchy against which a response can be measured.
When we use the word ‘thinking’, our thought immediately goes back to a well-known set of definitions that we have learnt in our life or in our studies, what we have inherited from our shared knowledge. Definitions provide the limits to things, their horizons so that they can be known to us. These limits we call “meaning”. To us thinking is a mental activity that helps us to solve problems, to deal with situations, to understand circumstances and, according to this understanding, to take action in order to move forward. It is algorithmic. Thinking for us also means to have an opinion, to have an impression that something is in a certain way. Thinking means reasoning, the process of reaching certain conclusions through a series of statements. Thinking is “a means of mastery” or control over the ‘problems’ which confront us and stand as obstacles in our achieving our ends.
On the special kind of thinking that occurs in science, Heidegger says that it is true that “[s]uch thought remains indispensable. But – it also remains true that it is thinking of a special kind.” (Discourse on Thinking 45) That is reasoning, rationalization, analysis by concept, logical operation are all part of a particular form of thought, one with presuppositions and operational rules. This is, and has been called, “method”. It operates within a system. It is the thinking that you are required to do in order to be successful in the TOK course. It is not, however, a universal way of thought. Nor is it the oldest means of thought; human beings of the past did not approach the world in the manner given by Aristotle, but rather human beings (Aristotle, specifically) had to think in this manner after reaching certain conclusions about the world and human nature. For Aristotle, this view came from his understanding and critique of the Greek philosopher Plato.
The kind of thinking we are probably accustomed to is what Heidegger names “calculative thinking”, and it is the thinking proper to the sciences and economics, which we, belonging to the technological age, mainly — if not solely — employ. Calculative thinking, says Heidegger, “calculates,” “plans and investigates” (1966b, p. 46); it sets goals and wants to obtain them. It “serves specific purposes” (ibid., p. 46); it considers and works out many new and always different possibilities to develop. Despite this productivity of a thinking that “races from one aspect to the next”; despite the richness in thinking activities proper to our age, and testified by the many results obtained; despite our age’s extreme reach in research activities and inquiries in many areas; despite all this, nevertheless, Heidegger states that a “growing thoughtlessness” (1966b, p. 45) is in place and needs to be addressed. This thoughtlessness depends on the fact that man is “in flight from thinking” (ibid., p. 45).
“Thoughtlessness”, Heidegger states, “is an uncanny visitor who comes and goes everywhere in today’s world. For nowadays we take in everything in the quickest and cheapest way, only to forget it just as quickly, instantly. Thus one gathering follows on the heels of another. Commemorative celebrations grow poorer and poorer in thought. Commemoration and thoughtlessness are found side by side. (1966b, p. 45)
In the writing on Technology as a Way of Knowing, I have tried to show an example of this by comparing the “making” of the Japanese tea ceremony cup with the ubiquitous Styrofoam cup. The ‘creator’ of the Styrofoam cup, the patent holder, is Dow Chemical, the provider of the funds for Harvard’s “Project Zero”, and they, in turn, provide a number of IB educational institutions with their expertise on “what is called thinking” and are giving the techniques of thinking that will be used in the classrooms of those institutions. What and how are the ends of Dow Chemical, as a corporation, in alignment with the ends of Harvard University and the student learner outcomes in the IB Learner Profile? How do these relate to what is called thinking today?
Calculative thinking, despite being of great importance in our technological world, is a thinking “of a special kind.” It deals, in fact, with circumstances that are already given, and which we take into consideration, to carry out projects or to reach goals that we want to achieve. Calculative thinking does not pause to consider the meaning inherent in “everything that is”. It is always on the move, is restless and it “never collects itself” (Heidegger 1966b, p. 46). This fact, paradoxically, hides and shows that humanity is actually “in flight from thinking.” Now, if it is not a question of calculative thinking, then what kind of thinking does Heidegger refer to when he speaks of another way of thinking that might be possible for human beings? And why, if at all, is there a need for it? A possible answer might be that because we have no problem in understanding the importance of calculative thinking, we probably are not so clear about the need, in our existence, for a different kind of thinking.
What Heidegger is saying, however, is something else. His thesis is that “reasoning” is not what thought really is. It is not the essence that defines thought. This is not to say that scientific thought is faulty, as Heidegger reiterates again and again. “The significance of science here (in the modern) is ranked higher here than in the traditional views which see in science merely a phenomenon of human civilization.” (What is Called Thinking? 22) How did science come to have this higher ranking?
Another Way of Thinking: “Poetically Man Dwells…”
Heidegger distinguishes from the traditional concept of thought (what he calls calculative thinking) a second form of thinking, ‘poetic’ thinking (meditative, contemplative thinking). Contrary to what it is commonly thought of, ‘poetic’ thinking is not a kind of thinking that is to be found “floating unaware above reality”, losing touch with reality. Nevertheless, the thinking he is proposing “is worthless for dealing with current business. It profits nothing in carrying out practical affairs.” (Discourse on Thinking 46) In other writings on this blog I have referred to Simone Weil’s term of “attention” as the form of contemplative thinking that Heidegger has in mind.
In the “Memorial Address,” Heidegger speaks of two kinds of thinking: the above mentioned “calculative thinking” and “‘poetic’ thinking” (1966b, p. 46). ‘Poetic’ thinking is a kind of thinking man is capable of, it is part of his nature; but nevertheless it is a way of thinking that needs to be awoken. When Heidegger states that man is “in flight from thinking” (1966b, p. 45), he means flight from ‘poetic’ thinking. What distinguishes ‘poetic’ thinking from calculative thinking? What does ‘poetic’ thinking mean? It means to notice, to observe, to ponder, to awaken an awareness of what is actually taking place around us and in us. It is a way of being quite different from that which I have described in “Understanding the Shadows in Plato’s Cave” as well as “Darwin/Nietzsche Part IX B” in other areas of this blog.
‘Poetic’ thinking does not mean being detached from reality or, as Heidegger says, “floating unaware above reality” (1966b, p. 46). It is also inappropriate to consider it as a useless kind of thinking by stating that it is of no use in practical affairs or in business. These considerations, Heidegger states, are just “excuses” that, if on the one hand appear to legitimize avoiding any engagement with this kind of thinking, on the other hand attests that ‘poetic’ thinking “does not just happen by itself any more than does calculative thinking” (1966b, p. 46-47). ‘Poetic’ thinking requires effort, commitment, determination, care, practice, but at the same time, it must “be able to bide its time, to await as does the farmer, whether the seed will come up and ripen” (Heidegger 1966b, p. 47).
‘Poetic’ thinking does not estrange us from reality. On the contrary, it keeps us extremely focused on our reality, on the essentials of our being, ‘existence’. To enact ‘poetic’ thinking, Heidegger says that we need to:
dwell on what lies close and meditate on what is closest; upon that which concerns us, each one of us, here and now; here, on this patch of home ground; now, in the present hour of history. (1966b, p. 47)
Even though “man is a thinking, that is, a meditating being” we need to train (“educate”) ourselves in the ability to think ‘poetically’, to look at reality, and thus ourselves, in a ‘poetic’ way. The cost of not doing so would be, Heidegger states, to remain a “defenseless and perplexed victim at the mercy of the irresistible superior power of technology” (ibid., p. 52-53). We would be – and today, more so than sixty years ago, when Heidegger gave this speech – victims of “radio and television,” “picture magazines” and “movies”; we would be “chained” to the imaginary world proposed by these mediums, and thus homeless in our own home. It is fairly clear that Heidegger has Plato’s allegory of the Cave in mind here. Heidegger further states:
all that with which modern techniques of communication stimulate, assail, and drive man – all that is already much closer to man today than his fields around his farmstead, closer than the sky over the earth, closer than the change from night to day… (Heidegger 1966b, p. 48)
It is very easy to see how much further from the openness around us we are when we are dwellers in our cities or see ourselves as avatars in virtual worlds on our computers given the pastoral description that Heidegger provides here.
If we view our current thinking in the light of Plato’s Cave, we can see that the risk for humanity in our current approach to thinking is to be uprooted not only from our reality, from our world, but also from ourselves and from our natures as human beings. If we think ‘poetically’, however, we allow ourselves to be aware of the risk implied in the technological age and its usefulness and we can, hence, act upon it. We can experience some of the freedom which is spoken about in Plato’s allegory when we are brought out into the Open where the light of the Sun shines and things are shown to us in their own being as they really are.
When we think ‘poetically’ we do not project an idea, planning a goal towards which we move, we do not “run down a one-track course of ideas” (ibid., p. 53). When we think ‘poetically’, we need to “engage ourselves with what at first sight does not go together at all” (ibid, p.53). In order to understand what this means, think of the comportment (disposition) we have towards technological devices. We recognize that in today’s world technological machineries and devices are indispensable. We need just think of computers and hand phones and their usage in our daily life’s activities to be convinced, beyond any doubt, that “we depend on technical devices” (Heidegger 1966 b, p.53). By thinking calculatively, we use these machineries and devices at our own convenience; we also let ourselves be challenged by them, so as to develop new devices that would be more suitable for a certain project or more accurate in the carrying out of certain research. (Think of the “madness” that usually occurs regarding the release of Apple’s latest IPhone or IPod.) We even allow our language to be determined by the machines and devices that we use (see Language as a WOK).
If calculative thinking does not think beyond the usefulness of what it engages with, ‘poetic’ thinking, on the other hand, would notice and become aware of the fact that these devices are not just extremely useful to us. It would also notice that they, by being so extremely useful, are at the same time “shackling” us: “suddenly and unaware we find ourselves so firmly shackled to these technical devices that we fall into bondage to them” (ibid., p. 53-54). If human beings, not being aware of this, are in a situation of being chained to their technological devices and tools, then by becoming conscious of this they find themselves in a different relation to them. They can become free of them. With this awareness human beings can utilize these instruments just as instruments, being at the same time free to “let go of them at any time” (ibid., p. 54). And this is so because once we acknowledge that their usefulness implies the possibility for us to be chained to them, we deal with them differently; we “deny them the right to dominate us, and so to wrap, confuse, and lay waste our nature” (ibid., p.54). It is a matter of a different comportment (disposition) towards them; it is a different disposition to which Heidegger gives the name “releasement toward things” or “detachment” from the things (ibid, p.54). This “releasement” and “detachment” means an “openness” or “availability” to what-is so as to allow that which is to be present in its mystery and uncertainty. (See Plato’s Cave and the “openness” required to view the beauty of the forms and ideas in their “outward appearance” on the outside of the Cave.)
“Releasement” toward things is an expression of a change in thinking and, like Plato’s prisoners in the Cave, a change in their being in the world. Thinking is not just calculation, but ponders the meaning involved and hidden behind what we are related to and engaged with. This hiddenness, even if it remains obscure, is nevertheless detected – by a meditating thinking – in its presence, a presence that “hides itself.” But, as Heidegger states:
if we explicitly and continuously heed the fact that such hidden meaning touches us everywhere in the world of technology, we stand at once within the realm of that which hides itself from us, and hides itself just in approaching us. That which shows itself and at the same time withdraws is the essential trait of what we call the mystery. I call the comportment which enables us to keep open to the meaning hidden in technology, openness to the mystery. (1966b, p. 55)
“Releasement towards things” and “openness to the mystery” are two aspects of the same disposition, a disposition that allows us to inhabit the world “in a totally different way.” But as we already mentioned, this disposition does not just happen to us. It develops through a “persistent courageous thinking” (ibid., p. 56), which is ‘poetic’ thinking.
The traditional concept of thinking intends thinking as a representing, and therefore as belonging to the context of willing (action). It is still involved with a subjectivism. Subjectivism is “setting up the thinking ‘subject’ as the highest principle of Being, and subordinating everything to the dictates and demands of the subject” (See Reason as a WOK, particularly the thoughts on Descartes). It is what we have come to call “humanism”.
Probably when we hear the word “acting” we immediately relate it to a familiar concept of action, such as the one that thinks of action as that which produces some kind of result, which means that we understand action in terms of cause and effect. To understand what Heidegger means by “higher acting,” we need to refer to the essential meaning that, according to Heidegger, pertains to ‘action’.
In the “Letter on Humanism” (1998b), Heidegger defines the essence of action as “accomplishment”, and he unfolds the meaning of accomplishment as “to unfold something into the fullness of its essence, to lead it forth into this fullness – producere” (1998b, p. 239). “Higher acting” is not, therefore, an undertaking towards a practical doing, but is a ‘higher’ acting as accomplishment, in the sense of leading forth of some thing into the fullness of its essence.
Releasement itself is what makes this available to man. For Heidegger, “higher acting” remains a techne, but it is “making”, a producing or accomplishing, that is more of a poiesis (poetry, for lack of better word) than the cheap, quick making of our production lines such as we find in the production of the Styrofoam cup. In poiesis, human beings allow something to be in its mystery while at the same time bringing forth of that ‘some thing’ from out of the hiddenness in which it once resided.
Heidegger’s ‘poetic’ thinking is contrasted with the thinking that is present in Aristotle’s four causes: the material cause, the formal cause, the final cause and the sufficient cause.
The conventional view of perception is what is called “representational”. Representation “places before us what is typical of a tree, of a pitcher, of a bowl . . . as that view into which we look when one thing confronts us in the appearance of a tree, . . .” (Discourse on Thinking 63) Objects are there; they are perceived in both their form and idea (the mathematical as something which can be known).
Heidegger does not think of perception in this manner. Heidegger also includes something called horizon (time), which is, in keeping with the definition, the horizon or limits of that which we perceive (space). Objects are within a horizon, but we do not place them there; rather they “come out of this (openness of the horizon) to meet us.” (Discourse on Thinking 64) For Heidegger, “the Open” that we discussed as outside of Plato’s Cave is that area or realm in which objects can be perceived.
Rather than actively search out objects to represent, or passively allowing things to enter into our sense experience, Heidegger believes that we have a sort of “active reception,” where that which is present “comes out to meet us.” The proper state towards that which is perceived is called “unconcealment”; thinking is “in-dwelling in unconcealment to that-which-regions.” (Discourse on Thinking 82) For Heidegger, this thinking is not a “grasping” or an “apprehending” but a “releasement” that allows the thing to be in its being as what it is in the “Openness” of the horizon of its being. If we think of Heidegger’s “Open” as the region outside of the Cave, we will be close to what Heidegger means by this term (but it should be remembered that for Heidegger, the Cave is our “home”). Whereas Plato emphasizes the “open” as that region outside of the Cave, and thus focuses on “space”, Heidegger’s focus is more on Time as the region where the “Being of beings” is “sighted”.
Our conventional thinking is an “active doing” whose purpose is to “change” or to “apprehend” what is in being and to make it a part of our “standing reserve” or as some thing disposable for our use at a later time. Heidegger’s thinking is more related to the Vedanta ananda or “bliss” as being in thinking itself.
What Calls for Thinking:
We cannot properly address the question What Is Called Thinking? without answering the question What Calls For thinking? This distinction between the two questions and the priority given to “what calls for thinking” over “what is called thinking” will be the focus of these discussions on thinking, and this will focus on “rationality” as what has come to be called thinking.
According to Heidegger, one is not thinking if one does not rank the objects of thought in terms of thought-worthiness. This point flies in the face of many contemporary accounts of rationality, for they suggest that one can be thinking well as long as one is following the right method. The emphasis today is on the method of what is called thinking. What one thinks about does not provide the standard for the role of such “ratio-inspired” accounts of thinking (see below for the contrast to legein-inspired or language-inspired models); indeed, critical thinking has come to mean critical whatever method-following thinking instead of critical whatever essential thinking. Heidegger’s point is that such means-end accounts involve and indeed propagate a distortion; a life spent rationally researching the history of administrative memos and emails is not a thoughtful life. In rationally pursuing anything and everything we are not thinking.
Meta-analysis, meta-cognition, meta-linguistics and all other “meta”-prefixed approaches to thinking remain in the realm of “method” thinking and need to be contrasted with “logos” thinking. This is because these “meta” forms of thinking remain in the realm of the traditional thinking of Western “metaphysics”.
You will notice in many of your classes that you are encouraged to become “inquirers”. This is an attempt to re-introduce philosophy of some kind into the curriculum. The philosopher differs from the chess player, biologist, and politician in that the philosopher’s calling is to think about thinking as such. Moreover, to think philosophically about thinking, is to come to a confrontation with a mode of existing–“being-thoughtful”–and thereby with Being and how you stand in Being.
The Greek experience of thinking was grounded on a link between thinking and Being. This link is present in the earliest Greek thinking and carries over into the works of Plato and Aristotle. With Socrates in particular one catches the notion that built into thinking was a directedness towards order (particularly order within one’s self), goodness, beauty, truth, and Being. Aristotle’s remarks on God and nature also underline this link. It is more revealing, Aristotle holds, to consider the relation between God and the world in terms of God as idea rather than God as creator or cause. God as idea can explain the striving of natural substances; the acorn seeks to become an oak, and thereby reproduce, and thereby the acorn mimics God’s eternality. In the same way, the human infant is on its way to becoming a thinking being, and so the human’s telos (purpose) is to mimic the highest being’s thinking. Moreover, Aristotle wonders what God would think about, and concludes that thought thinking thought is the only befitting topic for the most divine activity. The philosopher par excellence thus mimics the highest being (God) not only by thinking, but also by thinking about thinking.
What calls for thinking in our time? What is it that you should think about to be “educated”? The present age is the technological age, the age in which brain currents are recorded but the beauty of a tree in bloom is forgotten. What is thought-provoking about our time? Heidegger claims that what is thought-provoking about our time is that we are still not thinking. But what is it about our time that explains why we are still not thinking?
Heidegger diagnoses this age as the time of nihilism. The dominant characteristic of our time, then, is the forgetting or withdrawal of Being, and it is this that explains why we are still not thinking–even as we attempt to mimic intelligence via computer programs or connectionist (social) networks. We call to mind that in the allegory of Plato’s cave, “beauty” and “truth” must be “apprehended” as they will slip into “forgetfulness” or “forgottenness”. Our focus is on a “beauty” that withdraws (the physical appearance; the beauty in the “eye of the beholder”) the beauty that is “subjective” and belongs to the “subject” rather than on the Beauty that presences right before our very eyes in all that is in Being.
We are more distant from Being because the experience of thinking–in our technological age–has been shrunk to that of using a tool to operate within an already-fixed network of ends. This age, in other words, is more thought-provoking because in it ratio has triumphed over legein; thinking has become so severed from the being-thoughtful that the thoughtful being is in danger of being entirely eclipsed. This triumph of ratiocination is discussed further in imagination as a way of knowing.
We are still not thinking–despite Plato’s directive–because we have missed the object and source of thinking—Being, that thinking which occurs in the region of the “Open” outside of the Cave. We will continue to miss this thinking as long as we merely use thinking and do not dwell as thoughtful. All genuine thinking arises from and returns back to thoughtful existence; “thinking” that is not so anchored is homeless “thinking”, e.g., calculating, computing, or even reasoning, or all of the “meta” approaches to thinking that were mentioned earlier. This thinking floats on a great sea of nihilism. Thoughtful dwelling in the region of the “Open” is the existential ground of thinking; in such a mode we can hear what calls for thought.
The loss of thoughtful dwelling can be “remembered” by looking back to the Greek thinking experience in order to recover that which has been lost in the translation of the Greek legein into the Latin ratio. Legein carries with it two significations that are not preserved by the Latin ratio: thinking as speaking and thinking as gathering. Thinking moved from that which is bound in sense perception as a way of knowing to thinking that thinks in language as a way of knowing is the direction for thought. But how is this change in direction to be achieved?
Thinking as speaking, as language. Being calls for thinking, i.e., for articulation, and thus to let Being be in language is thinking. William Blake’s Songs of Innocence, for example, houses the carefree Being of playing children. The language of thinking plays a crucial role. That we are not thinking because we are not “mindful” of the language of thinking can be seen in how our technology is taking over the role of language in our being. A full elaboration of this idea is impossible here, but the claim, roughly, is that to be thoughtful is to exist as authentically immersed in language.
To begin, “the language of thinking”… all of these phrases can be taken either in the subjective or objective genitive, and those are possibilities on which we should reflect in our thinking. The phrase, “the idea of God”, for example, can mean “God’s idea” in the subjective genitive and “the idea about God” in the objective genitive. In like manner the phrase “the language of thinking” means “thinking’s language” or “the language found in thinking” in the subjective genitive and “language about thinking” in the objective genitive. The difference, then, is between the language found in thinking generally and the language found in thinking about thinking.
Thinking as gathering. Legein signifies gathering and the gathered. Thinking demands…that we engage ourselves with what at first sight does not go together at all.
Thinking is the gathering of that which calls to be gathered–the modes of our existence and Being as such. Thinking can begin when we hear that which calls for thinking:
Joyful things, too, and beautiful and mysterious and gracious things give us food for thought…if only we do not reject the gift by regarding everything that is joyful, beautiful, and gracious as the kind of thing which should be left to feeling and experience, and kept out of the winds of thought. Only after we have let ourselves become involved with the mysterious and gracious things as those which properly give food for thought, only then can we take thought also of how we should regard the malice of evil. (Heidegger: What is Called Thinking? P. 31)
Thinking, then, is not so much a matter of being an expert or technician in a field–even if the field be philosophy–as it is being responsive to the various ways of being of who we are, and this points to the disposition of “being thoughtful” as the ground of thinking.
We may now state some conclusions about thinking:
Those who take as the object of their theories a purely mental activity, “thinking”, are missing the richest part of the phenomenon: being-thoughtful.
Being-thoughtful is not essentially a mental activity; it is rather the encounter with Being (the manifesting of meaning which occurs in the ‘showing’ through the beautiful).
Means-end analyses sever thinking from its existential ground; one can be “means-end” rational and yet not thoughtful (and this is the thinking which occurs in the technological world view of logical positivism, the language of algorithms).
Receptivity is the distinguishing mark of thoughtful being; the mastering thinking of the human sciences and the natural sciences in their demanding stance towards being and beings do not think; Nietzsche, who stated that what characterizes contemporary science is the victory of scientific method over science, the victory of method over thought.
Thinking and Language:
What is it that is named in “thinking”, “think”, “thought”? The Old English thencan, to think, and thancian, to thank, are closely related; the Old English noun for thought is thanc or thonc–a thought, a grateful thought, and the expression of such a thought; today it survives in the plural “thanks”. The “thanc”, that which is thought; the thought implies thanks.
Is thinking a giving of thanks? Or do the thanks consist in thinking? What does thinking mean here? “Thought” to us today usually means an idea, a view, an opinion or a notion. Pascal, the French mathematician and contemporary of Descartes, in his journals given to us as Pensees, searched for a type of “thinking of the heart” that was in conscious opposition to the mathematical thinking prevalent in his day. Thought, in the sense of logical-rational representations (concepts), was thought to be a reduction and impoverishment of the word “thinking”. Thinking is the giving of thanks for the lasting gift which is given to us: our essential nature as human beings, which we are gifted through and by thinking for being what we essentially are. I have called this love in other sections of this blog.
“The gathering of thinking back into what must be thought is what we call the memory”. (Heidegger).
Today, some perceive that the task facing thinking is the overcoming of what is now described as its weaknesses:
Thinking does not bring knowledge as do the sciences;
Thinking does not produce usable practical wisdom;
Thinking solves no cosmic riddles;
Thinking does not endow (or empower) us directly with the power to act.
These observations of thinking’s weaknesses overrate and overtax thinking.
The question “What is called thinking?” can be asked in four ways:
What is designated by the word “thinking”?
What does the prevailing theory of thought, namely logic, understand by thinking?
What are the prerequisites we need to perform thinking rightly?
What is it that commands us to think?
A Brief History of What is called thinking:
We can begin to answer question #2 above, what and why the prevailing theory of thought has determined thinking to be logic, by examining the titles of the major works of Rene Descartes. His first work is entitled Rules for the Direction of Mind; the second is entitled Meditations on First Philosophy; and the third is called Discourse on Method. These works describe the path of the grounding of what is called thinking today. Further discussion is available on What is Knowledge?
—— (1966a). Conversation on a Country Path about Thinking. In: Martin Heidegger, Discourse on Thinking. Trans. John M. Anderson and E. Hans Freund. New York: Harper and Row.
—— (1966b). Discourse on Thinking. Trans. John M. Anderson and E. Hans Freund. New York: Harper and Row.
——(1968). What is Called Thinking?. Trans. J. Glenn Gray. New York. Harper and Row.
“Now I am tempted to say that the right expression in language for the miracle of the existence of the world, though it is not any proposition in language, is the existence of language itself.”—Wittgenstein
“Language is the house of Being. In its home humans dwell.”—Heidegger “Letter on Humanism”
“‘En arche ‘en ‘o Logos” (“In the beginning was the Word”)—John 1:1
“…we ourselves no longer have the power to trust that the word is the essential foundation of all relations to beings as such.”—Heidegger: “Aristotle’s Physics”
Language is probably the most important theme of 20th century philosophy and will be of the philosophy that moves into the 21st century. Why this has come to be the case will be the outline of these writings on language as a WOK.
The very essence of what we are as human beings, our ontology, our being-in-the-world is contained in our language and in our relation to and understanding of language. To understand language is to contrast instruction with teaching; and to do so is to recognize that the teaching in TOK is to be characterized as “useless” and it must be “useless” in order to allow true learning and teaching to happen. To reflect on the issue of “uselessness” and “usefulness” is to connect these seemingly irrelevant themes to the status of education in our modern technological age and what we think education is today. In order to begin this reflection, we must think upon language and rethink language.
The rethinking of language takes place from and within the rethinking of technology. The relation between technology and language is crucial for a rethinking of language in our modern technological age. It is therefore necessary to talk about the technological language, which defines “a language that is technologically determined by what is most peculiar to technology,” that is, by framing (or “positioning” or enframing). It is imperative that we ask what is language and in what special way it remains exposed to the dictates of technology. Such imperatives to our thinking about language are only met in the rethinking of the current conception of language that we might characterize in the following way:
Personal/Shared Knowledge Background:
Today we think speech is: (1) a faculty, an activity and achievement of humans. It is: (2) the operation of the instruments for communication and hearing. Speech is: (3) the expression and communication of emotions accompanied by thoughts (dispositions) in the service of “information”. Speech is: (4) a representing and portraying (picturing, the making of pictures) of the real and unreal.
The traditional metaphysical connection of subject “the things” + predicate “the qualities of the things”, the categories, between language and thinking that we have seen in our discussions of Reason as a Way of Knowing defines language in terms of thinking. Thinking is the human activity of representing objects in this view, and thus language has been seen as a means for conveying information about objects. “In-form-ation” results from our providing a “form” in order to “inform” regarding what we call “data”. This is what we call “classification”, a providing of definitions or the limits and horizons of things. Traditional metaphysics places thinking as “reason” (reason, “logic” which has its root in “logos”) as the determining factor (the “-ation” or “atia” in Greek, “that which is responsible for”) in the relation between language and thinking. Reason provides the “form” so that the data (the content) can be structured so that it may “inform”. This is shown in our current conception of language as an “instrument of expression” in the “service of thinking”. The common view believes that thought uses language merely as its “medium” or a means of expression. Thought is seen as logic, reason in this view.
We assume that language is a tool used by human beings to communicate information. We think that the same fact can be expressed in many different languages. We think a competent speaker is in control of language and can use it efficiently to convey data to his/her audience. In the quest for efficiency in communication, we have devised artificial languages that give us more control over language. Symbolic logic, computer programming languages, and the technical languages of the sciences are set up as systems in which each sign can be interpreted in only one way. Each sign points clearly to what it represents so that the sign itself becomes completely unobtrusive. The perfect language in this view is a technique for perfect representation.
There are two major schools of thought on language as a WOK: the “structuralist” or “analytical” school which has been described up to now, and the “continental” school. The “continental” school’s foremost representative is Martin Heidegger: “Language is the house of being. In its home humans dwell” is a quote that captures Heidegger’s understanding of language. But what does the quote mean? How is language a “house” and how through its use does it create a “home”?
The conception of language as a mere means of exchange of information undergoes an extreme transformation in our modern technological age that is expressed in the definition of language as “information”. The analytic school of thought on language offers a prime example of a “metaphysical-technological explanation” of language stemming from the “calculative frame of mind.” This view believes that thinking and speaking are “exhausted by theoretical and natural-scientific representation and statements,” and that they “refer to objects and only to objects.” Language, as a tool of “scientific-technological knowing”–which “must establish its theme (thesis, theory) in advance as a calculable, causally explicable framework”– is “only an instrument that we employ to manipulate objects.” We refer to this as an algorithm: the world is looked upon as a calculable, causal framework that gives us a problem that must be solved.
Think of this in terms of our computers and our other tools of “information technology”, particularly the speed reading technologies and applications that are becoming available: the principle of reason must establish the “frame” or “position” in advance so that data can be controlled through calculation in order to inform. This frame transform the manner in which things are approached.
Heidegger notes the influence and understanding of language by analytic philosophy in our modern technological age in the following way:
Of late, the scientific and philosophical investigation of languages is aiming more resolutely at the production of what is called “metalanguage.” Analytic philosophy, which is set on producing this super-language, is quite consistent when it considers itself metalinguistics. That sounds like metaphysics -not only sounds like it, it is metaphysics. Metalinguistics is the thoroughgoing technicalization of all languages into the sole operative instrument of interplanetary information. Metalanguage and sputnik, metalinguistics and rocketry are the Same.
Heidegger is speaking this in the late 1950s, but the connection to today’s information technology illustrates the truth of his statement. Given the logical bent of analytical philosophy, the modern mathematical and symbolic logic or “Logistik” is metaphysics. Logistics was for Heidegger the “unbroken rule of metaphysics” establishing itself everywhere; and modern epistemology (theories of knowledge) acquire a “decisive position of dominance.” It was a matter of grave concern for Heidegger to see that logistics was being considered everywhere “the only possible form of strict philosophy” on the grounds that its procedures and results are deemed productive for what he called “the construction of the technological universe.” (Have a look at the etymological roots of “logistics” on dictionary.com). This must be thought about in relation to what we understand as “artificial intelligence” of AI: how does or will our understanding of what reason and language are determine the nature of what is called “artificial intelligence” and of the machines that will use it?
Heidegger’s negative characterizations of logistics abound: It is a “logical degeneration” of traditional categorical logic of Aristotle, and its development is a sign of the “decay of philosophy,” an indication of its “dissolution” and “completion.” At another point, Heidegger states: “Technique is the metaphysic of the age.”
Language and Concepts:
How does language determine what we call our “key concepts”, the manner in which we are to approach our personal and shared knowledge? If we think about what we call “dead” languages for a moment, we will notice that they are called “dead” because they are no longer subject to changes in meaning. Any “living” language will have changes in meaning and interpretation according to the historical time in which it occurs. As the poet T. S. Eliot wrote:
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still.”
Our modern attempts to fixate language into an unambiguous tool for communicating information and representing beings/things illustrates our desire to fulfill the revealing of truth as representation, to follow the correspondence theory of truth and the principle of reason. There is “truth” (according to Heidegger), but how we understand what this truth is is relative to the historical situation in which it occurs; it is not a “subjective” truth, but a communal truth: that is, it is not based on personal knowledge but is the knowledge that we all share. In our current situation, this is the global “revealing” through technology and this revealing drives us to realize the “global village” or “internationalism”. The “system” which results from the “framing” that is the technological requires no individual thinker or thinking. In science, time and place are not important and scientists from disparate locations can carry out their work with the certainty that their “accounts” will be correct when properly following the method established within the framing. This is because the language which they use is fixated.
If Heidegger is correct, the same fact cannot be expressed in many different languages because beings and “information” present themselves differently according to different cultural contexts. The quest for a universal, unambiguous language can only succeed in creating stillborn languages. These languages are locked into a particular interpretation of the world and the things in it (representational revealing) and are incapable of responding creatively to new experiences. Artificial languages (and one might say artificial intelligence since it will be based on these languages) are not more “objective” than natural languages—they are just narrower and more rigid because their goal is certainty and efficiency.
Language cannot be merely a tool that we use because we can control it: we owe our own Human Being to language. Language is fundamental to the revelation of the world; it is an essential part of what enables us to be someone, to be a human being and notice things in the world in the first place. Language has the power to reveal our world and transform our existence. But the lucid and creative moments are few both in individuals and in societies; the rest is inauthentic and derivative. Everyday “idle talk” is a pale, dull reflection of “creative meanings” that are first revealed and achieved in poetry.
Language as Representation:
Where does the understanding of language as representation come from? As the “doctrine of the logos” in Aristotle is interpreted as assertion or statement, logic is the doctrine of thinking and the science of statement (or the making of statements—propositions, the creation of “pictures”), that is, logic (the principle of reason) provides the authoritative interpretations of thinking and speaking that rule throughout the technological. More specifically, logistics has as its basis the modern interpretation of the statement or assertion as the “connection of representations” (the correspondence and coherence theories of truth). It is in this sense that Heidegger regards it as another manifestation of the “unchecked power of modern thinking” itself. Heidegger depicts the connections between logic and modern technology in very dramatic tones:
Without the legein (the saying) of [Western] logic, modern man would have to make do without his automobile. There would be no airplanes, no turbines, no Atomic Energy Commission. Without the logos, of logic, the world would look different.
The general form of modern metaphysical thinking is thus a “scientific-technological manner of thinking.” This thinking, this world-picture, threatens to “spread to all realms” thereby magnifying the “deceptive appearance which makes all thinking and speaking seem objectifying.” This thinking and speaking finds its full realization in algebraic calculation. It is this form of objectifying thinking that strives to “represent everything henceforth only technologically-scientifically as an object of possible control and manipulation.” With it, language itself takes a corresponding form: it becomes “deformed into an instrument of reportage and calculable information”. However, while the form that language takes is thus instrumental, in such a form of thinking, language itself exerts its own influence insofar as it is “treated like a manipulable object to which our manner of thinking must conform.” Language itself allows itself to be treated in such a way. Language and reason as WOKs are, in the end, inseparable. They allow themselves to create our box, what we call our “mindset”.
The traditional metaphysical manner of thinking in our age is a “one-track thinking,” (in Heidegger’s words) and this ‘one track’ can be understood and associated with technology. It is a “one-sided thinking” that tends towards a “one-sided uniform view” in which “[everything] is leveled to one level,” and “[our] minds hold views on all and everything, and view all things in the same way.” Our manner of thinking is the box. (*A link can be made to the uniformity of our understanding of number and its correspondence to Newton’s view of the uniformity of matter in the AOKs Mathematics and Natural Sciences.)
There is a kind of language that, as the expression of this form of thinking, is itself one-tracked and one-sided. One “symptom” of the growing power of the technological form of thinking is in our increased use of designations consisting of abbreviations of words or combinations of their initials. Our text messaging and our love of acronyms is a technological form of language in the sense that these herald the ordering in which everything is reduced to the univocity of concepts and precise specifications. This reduction and ordering also leads us to view all activities we engage in to be leveled to one level: the student who is asked to create a work of art either in words or other media, sees their activity as nothing more than their being in a shopping mall or at a supermarket. The activity ceases to have any priority in importance. In this view, “speed reading” will come to flourish since we cannot learn from texts anything other than “information” and this learning must be done as “efficiently” as possible.
Such interpretations are the “technological”; they are a given only “insofar as technology is itself understood as a means and everything is conceived only according to this respect (technology understood as “tools”).” If our way of thinking is one that values only that which is immediately useful, then language is only conceived and appreciated from this perspective of its usefulness for us. More importantly, this suggests it is the essence of technology as framing that somehow determines the “transformation of language into mere information.” We refer to this framing of information as “the box” that inhibits our thinking.
If the essence of modern technology is framing, then there is also a “language of framing.” (See the unit on Technology as a WOK for an understanding of the concept of “framing”).
[All] ordering finds itself channeled into calculative thinking and therefore speaks the language of framing. Speaking is challenged to correspond in every respect to framing in which all present beings can be commandeered. –Heidegger
It is within framing (the “form”, the “position”), then, that “speaking turns into information.”
We can look at the computer as one manner in which modern technology controls the mode and the world of language as such. We can infer that the computer is one crucial way in which this language of framing speaks.
“To compute”, obviously, means to calculate. With the construction of artificial intelligence, calculating, thinking and translating machines, speed reading applications, the computer is made possible insofar as its activities take place in the element of language. The term “computer” should not be taken as merely talking about calculators and computers. Machine technology itself is “the most visible outgrowth of the essence of modern technology” (Heidegger) and that ours is the age of the machine (and the Age of Information) is due to the fact that it is the technological age, and not vice versa. More importantly, framing (the form) itself is not anything technological in the sense of mechanical parts and their assembly. In TOK we wish to explore our “key concepts” and language within a “knowledge framework”. Thus, the language of framing cannot itself be reduced to anything technological in this narrow sense. The computer intrudes by regulating and adjusting through its hardware and software and their functions how we can and do use language. Think of our smart phones and other assemblages that are linked to our computers and the manner of their linkages and how they assemble information and how this information must be assembled if it is to be communicated.
If there is a transformation of language in the computer that speaks the language of framing, then the question is what is the essence of language itself that it allows for its transformation into a technological language, into information? The essence of language is defined from the essence of language: It is a Saying that shows, in the sense of letting-appear. The possibility of a technological language lies here, for it is itself a Saying-Showing that is limited to the mere making of signs for the communication of information. Let us now examine some of the historical background for this development of language.
Historical Background of Language as Representation:
St. Augustine in his autobiography Confessions gives us the common understanding of how language comes about:
When they [my elders] named some object, and accordingly moved towards something, I saw this and I grasped that the thing was called by the sound they uttered when they meant to point it out. Their intention was shown by their bodily movements, as it were the natural language of all peoples: the expression of the face, the play of the eyes, the movement of other parts of the body, and the tone of voice which expresses our state of mind in seeking, having, rejecting, or avoiding something. Thus, as I heard words repeatedly used in their proper places in various sentences, I gradually learnt to understand what objects they signified; and after I had trained my mouth to form these signs, I used them to express my own desires. (Augustine, Confessions, I. 8)
Here, Augustine speaks of language as “signs”. They are a “pointing out”, a “directing of the gaze or glance” and from them, the thing that is pointed out comes to stand for us as what it is in the saying so given and becomes “grasped” or “captured” by us. But notice that in Augustine’s description there are a number of steps involved in the “grasping” of the thing that is “pointed out”. First there is the pointing, then there is the bodily movement, then there is the sound uttered, then there is the notice of the “disposition” made when the sound is uttered, and all of this occurs within a social context; there is the “dialogue”. From this follows the “grammatical” structure of language, “the placing of the signs in their proper places in various sentences” which allows one to “express their own desires”.
Augustine is speaking of language as “representational”: the picture created is a word or a sign that stands for or represents a thing by virtue of that word or sign’s meaning. Each word means just one thing, and it does so by virtue of a meaning that we can think of or understand. Language is, then, the communication of meanings from one person to another in the package of a sign: to communicate with you, I “frame” my intended meaning within the appropriate sign, and then give you the sign in speech or writing, whereupon you “decode” (interpret) it again, supplying the meaning for the sign I have given from within the same frame. To speak language, then, is to imbue dead signs with life, to breathe air into the otherwise mute forms of signs. Language is thought of as the breath of life animating lifeless form; language is the soul of meaning infusing and animating the bodies of signs. Hence Aristotle discusses language as the “showing” of the soul’s “dispositions”:
Now, whatever it is [that transpires] in the creation of sound by the voice is a showing of whatever dispositions there may be in the soul, and the written is a showing of the sounds of the voice. Hence, just as writing is not identical among all [human beings], so too the sounds of the voice are not identical. However, that of which these [sounds and writing] are in the first place a showing are among all [human beings] the identical dispositions of the soul; and the matters of which these [dispositions] form approximating presentations (pictures) are likewise identical.
Aristotle construes language as a kind of showing (in pictures), but taken in the view of the history of Western metaphysics that we have outlined in our writing on “Reason as a Way of Knowing”, Aristotle’s pictures imply that language is a mere instrument (tool) for the expression of inner intentions or thoughts (dispositions). Within the tradition of Western thinking, this picture will imply that the relationship between signs and the thoughts they express is purely arbitrary, or to use the term favored by logical positivist philosophers, “conventional”; language is a system of arbitrary correlations (conventions) of signs to common meanings. Notice, though, that Aristotle insists that the “dispositions” themselves are the identical common meanings.
It is important to note here that Plato wrote “dialogues”; Aristotle wrote treatises. If one reads Plato’s dialogues in the same manner as one reads an Aristotelian treatise, one will fail to understand the dialogue. This reading of Plato in the same manner that we read Aristotle is one of the fates that have befallen us within the English-speaking community. British and American thinkers of previous generations read Plato as if they were reading a treatise of Aristotle.
The traditional picture of language found in Augustine, Aristotle, and the logical positivists, also has deep connections with the metaphysics of “subjectivity” (Descartes, Kant) that we have discussed in our understanding of “Reason as a Way of Knowing”. In this traditional picture, the sign stands for an object (subjectum), but it is also the sign for a concept or image in the speaker’s mind (the frame). The concept, or mental image, is a representation in the speaker’s mind or brain. Even though we can exchange signs in communication, we can never be sure, in the traditional picture, that we are successful in communicating the mental representations, concepts, or images that go with them (the predicates). The connection between a particular sign and the mental image that it evokes is the connection (or lack thereof) between something public and communicable, and something essentially private and incommunicable. Mathematics as “symbolic language” or “signs” overcomes this sense of arbitrariness in the public realm and is one of the reasons for its dominance in the realm of what can be called “knowledge”.
How can we rethink language and meaning, outside the traditional picture, in a way that reveals its essence as a showing (aletheia), rather than portraying it as a conventional correlation of signs to meanings, a mere instrument for the expression and communication of thoughts and dispositions? To rethink the essence of language, we must attempt to “bring language as language to language.” But how is this to be done?
To recapitulate: in the traditional view, language turns out to be “the eternally self-repeating labor of spirit to make articulated sound capable of being an expression of thought.” Language is what humans do to make sound able to express thought: it is the infusion of articulated sound with the spirit of meaning or intention. It is an action. This way of “bringing language to language,” this labor of the spirit, the infusing of sound with meaning, has been the intellectual development of mankind. But because it construes language as a human doing, as a labor of soul upon body, this traditional way of thinking of language remains trapped within the metaphysics of our age and fails to reveal the essence of language. According to Heidegger: “[this] way to language goes in the direction of man, passing though language on its way to something else: the demonstration and depiction of the intellectual development of the human race.” Heidegger continues:
“However, the essence of language conceived in terms of such a view does not of itself show language in its essence: it does not show the way in which language essentially unfolds as language; that is, the way it comes to stand; that is, the way it remains gathered in what it grants itself on its own as language.”
To determine what language is, we need to determine what pertains to language as language.
We list what pertains to language in order to understand what is essential to language, what is at the root of everything that happens in, and through, language. One of the things that pertains to language as language is the speaker. “To speech belong the speakers.” In speaking, we presence things; we make present the objects of our concern and our common interest by “pointing them out”.
“In speech, the speakers have their presencing. Where to? Presencing to the wherewithal (purpose) of their speech, to that by which they linger (the “things” that are present-at-hand), that which in any given situation already matters to them. Which is to say, their fellow human beings and the things, each in its own way; everything that makes a thing a thing and everything that sets the tone for our relations with our fellows. All this is referred to, always and everywhere, sometimes in one way, at other times in another.” (Heidegger “The Way to Language”).
What else belongs to the essence of language? We can run through the things that belong to language – the speaker, what is spoken, also the unspoken – but we do not thereby think their unity. Their unity, the unity of the essence of language, remains hidden to us. What we are saying here becomes obvious, though hardly pondered in its full scope, when we indicate the following. To speak to one another means to say something to one another; it implies a mutual showing of something, each person in turn devoting himself or herself to what is shown. To speak with one another means that together we say something about something, showing one another the sorts of things that are suggested by what is addressed in our discussion, showing one another what the addressed allows to radiate of itself.” To speak, then, is not to talk to someone else; it is to participate in the “saying” (logos) that is a showing.
This “showing”, according to Heidegger, is older and more essential than the definition of language as a system of signs. “What unfolds essentially in language is saying as pointing. Its showing does not culminate in a system of signs. Rather, all signs arise from a showing in whose realm and for whose purposes they can be signs.” This showing (aletheia) is not simply something that we do, but a self-showing of that which shows (a revealing of what we are as human beings), a manifesting in which language itself speaks. When we think of language as this self-showing, we can begin to understand it as something to which we ourselves belong and with which we ourselves may come into a more or less direct relationship:
“If speech as listening to language lets itself be told the saying, such letting can be given only insofar – and so near – as our own essence is granted entry into the saying. We hear it only because we belong to it. However, the saying grants those who belong to it their listening to language and hence their speech. Such granting comes-to-stand in the saying; it lets us attain the capacity of speech. What unfolds essentially in language depends on the saying that grants in this way.” (Heidegger “The Way to Language”).
When we think language essentially, as a self-manifesting showing that points, we are well on the way to bringing language as language to language. We experience language, then, as a possibility or a granting, an essence that allows manifestation (aletheia), rather than as something we do, make, or control. Thus, language as the saying (legein, logos) holds its own in the realm of truth. Think of this from your own experiences of when you are in a country in which you have no knowledge of the language. How does the experience of language show itself?
In a world in which language and speaking has become the mere exchange of information,
“the framing…sets upon human beings – that is, challenges them – to order everything that comes to presence into a technical inventory (standing reserve, resources or “disposable”), [and] unfolds essentially after the manner of appropriation (a “grasping” and an “owning”); at the same time, it distorts appropriation, inasmuch as all ordering sees itself committed to calculative thinking and so speaks the language of framing. Speech is challenged to correspond to the ubiquitous orderability of what is present. Speech, when posed in this fashion, becomes information.” (Heidegger “The Way to Language).
All that remains of language in information is “the abstract form of writing that is transcribed into the formulae of a logic calculus” whose clarity “ensures the possibility of a secure and rapid communication” (our text messaging and our public discourse as media bytes). The principles transforming language are technological-calculative. It is from the technological possibilities of the computer that the instruction (command) is set out as to how language can and shall still be language. Such instruction (command) spells out the absolute and overriding need for the clarity of signs and their sequences; the algorithm dominates. The fact that the computer’s structure conforms to linguistic tasks such as translating (i.e. whether the command/instruction is in Chinese or English does not matter) does not mean that the reverse holds true. For these commands are “in advance and fundamentally bound up” with the computer. With the “inexorability of the limitless reign” of technology, the insatiable technological demand for a technological language, its power increases to the point that the technological language comes to threaten the very essence of language as Saying-Showing. It is “the severest and most menacing attack on what is peculiar to language,” for language is “atrophied” into the mere transmission of signals according to Heidegger.
Moreover, when information (in the form of command) is held as highest form of language on account of its univocity, certainty and speed, then, we have a “corresponding conception” of the human being and of human life. Norbert Wiener, a founder of Cybernetics, said that language “is not an exclusive attribute of man but is one he may share to a certain degree with the machines he has constructed.” This view is itself possible only when we presuppose that language is merely a means of information. This understanding of language as information represents, at the same time, a “threat to the human being’s ownmost essence.” (Heidegger) The fact that language is interpreted and used as an instrument has lead us into believing that we are the masters of the computer, but the truth of the matter might well be that the computer takes language into its management and masters the essence of the human being creating a fundamental change in human ontology (human being-there-in-the-world).
These assessments of the metaphysical-technological interpretation and form of language are indisputably critical. Why? What is at stake? Why should this be important for us?
The gripping, mastering effect technological language has over our very essence (ontology) makes “the step back out of metaphysics difficult.” (Heidegger) Language itself “denies us its essence” and instead “surrenders itself” to us as our “instrument of domination over beings.” (Heidegger) It is extremely difficult for us in the modern age to even understand a non-instrumental concept of language. The interpretation and form of “language as information” and of “information as language” is, in this sense, a circle determined by language and in language, within “the web of language.” (Heidegger) Hence, Heidegger has referred to language as “the danger of all dangers” that “necessarily conceals in itself a continual danger for itself.” In fact, “we are the stakes” in the “dangerous game and gamble” that the essence of language plays with us.