Technology and the Human Sciences Pt. 1


(This post has been updated with a list of suggested readings.)

The following writing attempts to direct itself to the new TOK guidelines for May, 2022. The guidelines centre on a core theme (which is obligatory) and two of five choices of optional themes. The Core Themes are: CT 1 Me as a knower and a thinker; CT 2 My perspectives, biases, and assumptions; CT 3 The origins of our values; CT 4 Navigating the world; CT 5 Detecting manipulative information or ‘spin’. In addition to the core theme, the two out of five optional themes are: OT 1 knowledge and technology, OT 2 knowledge and language, OT 3 knowledge and politics, OT 4. knowledge and religion, and OT 5. knowledge and indigenous societies. How these themes are relevant to our world today and shape our perspectives and identities will be the efforts of these reflections.  Your understanding of these themes will be demonstrated and assessed through the TOK Exhibition and the Prescribed Essay. 

Overview: Scope


The following writing focuses on CT 2 and CT 3: the origins of our perspectives, biases, and assumptions and the origins of our “values” while at the same time addressing that area of knowledge called The Human Sciences, particularly political philosophy and political science (OT 1, OT 3). Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, called human being the ‘religious animal’ by which he meant that human beings in societies need systems of belief, whether true or false, that will bind together the lives of their members and give them some consistency of purpose. What systems of belief are currently operational in our societies and what binds our lives together in terms of our perspectives, biases and assumptions? In education today, the issue is not the teaching of religion but the content of the religion to be taught since we, as human beings, will have a religion whether we like it or not or whether we are aware of it or not. As stated in the other blogs, here religion is understood as that which we look up to or bow down to, not the view that “religion” is one of the five great traditional religions in communities around the world. Our religion, the religion that determines our way of-being-in-the-world, the religion which we teach and learn, is technology. We do not teach Darwin’s theory of evolution and modification, for example, as “theory” but as “fact”. Our religion today transcends the atheisms of the political right and the political left, those who call themselves socialists or communists or capitalists, and it creates fundamental existential problems and questions for those who believe they adhere to one of the more traditional religions. In this blog, “the religion of progress” is understood as being a religion just as much as the traditional theological religions.

The most sacred doctrine of our technological religion is our understanding of ourselves, our essence, as “freedom”, the priority of our wills over our reason or any of the other ways that we know and encounter our world (CT 2); and this belief in our understanding of ourselves as “radical freedom”, “subjectivity”, is in direct conflict with what has come to be handed down and known through the traditional religions. As the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, noted: “The greatest care must be fostered upon the ethical bond at a time when technological man, delivered over to mass society, can be kept reliably on call only by gathering and ordering all his plans and activities in a way that corresponds to technology” (Heidegger, “Letter on Humanism”) (OT 3). “The ethical bond” of which Heidegger speaks is our politics, our actions in the world, both as individuals and as groups.

In this writing  we will explore how this “freedom”, this subjectivity, that we use to define ourselves is expressed and has been expressed in how we have organized ourselves socially i.e. in our politics. We will explore how “freedom” is associated with our understanding of “will” and how this predominance of will, associated with emotion and passion, came to the fore during that period which we call the Renaissance and flourished during those historical periods we call “The Age of Reason” and “The Age of Enlightenment”.

It may be said that two of the overarching political systems within which we have come to express our religion, the religion of technology or the religion of progress, are communism and capitalism or how we view and relate to Nature as property, its ownership, and so its disposability. Communism and capitalism are predicates of the subject technology. In saying this we are not saying that technology is founded on, and driven by, capitalism and communism but the reverse: communism and capitalism are the products of the way of being-in-the- world that came into being with the arrival of technology as a way of knowing and viewing the world and the objects within it, and these systems rival one another in what they believe is the best manner of keeping that technology dynamic, the “ordering and the gathering”. In fact we could say that all “isms” are products or predicates of the subject technology, that is, they are all ways of “ordering and gathering”; and this shall be shown as we move forward.

An “-ism” may be understood as a representation in thought, an idea; it is representational thinking. All “representational thinking” rests on “ideas” and is key to what we call knowledge and the knower, what we call “knowledge” and how we understand ourselves as “knowers”. (CT 1) As a suffix  “-ism” arrives on the scene through language in 1680, but its origins are in Greek, Latin and French. Our use is closely associated with its French derivative, not the least because of the thinking of the French philosophers Rene Descartes and Jean Jacques Rousseau. It is not a coincidence that the arrival of “-isms” is coeval with the arrival of algebra in mathematics as calculus, and with the thinking of the French philosopher Descartes and, through him, the development of modern mathematical science in Newton. We also have the “co-incidental” development of art understood as “aestheticism” at this time. These roots of “ism’s” origins should always be kept in mind when trying to understand the great paradigm shift that occurs in human beings’ being-in-the-world and their relations or stances to that area of knowledge that is called The Human Sciences. “-Isms” express themselves in “ideologies”, systems of ideas and ideals, “the ordering and the gathering”, especially ones which form the basis of economic or political theory and policy.

The societies and communities developed from these politics and economics are based on the “subjectivism” of our interpretation of ourselves as freedom. “Freedom”, through the modern efforts of thought, came to replace “virtue” as understood by the ancients as constituting the essence of what human beings are i.e. what human beings are “fitted for”, what “fittedness” is, and what human beings are most “fitted”.  The world becomes related to as “objects”, and in The Human Sciences it is we, as human beings, who are the objects of study. One can see how the “ethics”, the actions that we take, are already understood in this viewing to begin with. The distinctions and the gaps between facts and values may not be so wide as we have been led to believe, nor that between theory and practice.

Freedom and Technology (OT 1)

We have discussed the common assumption that technology can be understood as simply a collection of practical techniques and tools (“know how”) in other writings in this blog and we have attempted to show how this understanding, while true, is inadequate because it does not get to the essence of what technology is. We see technology as a set of instruments, procedures, devices or tools that we can use in our freedom to achieve the ends that we choose. We see technology as something outside of ourselves that we, in our choices, can use well or badly. But, as we have tried to show, technology is not just a tool or instrument the use of which leaves the user unchanged. It is our way of being-in-the- world, a way of knowing and of relating to the world and to the other inhabitants and beings in it. Technology is our ‘objective’ way of grasping our environment as objects as something outside of ourselves as “subjects”, and technology determines our command, control and commandeering of nature’s “energy” for our own uses. (We sometimes forget that “money”, capital,  is really a form of ‘congealed energy’, and this is also the title of Marx’s greatest work Das Kapital). This determination of what Nature is or is going to be and our judgements of its ‘uses’ is what we call our ‘freedom’ and it relates to what we think the ‘good’ of something is, its potential for use, its “value”. This “freedom” becomes the determiner of the new delimitation or definition of what it means to be human. (CT 3)

Technology as our way of being- in-the-world (as all our ways of knowing are “ways of being-in-the-world”) directs us to and in a world of objects whose laws we can create and discover and whose processes we can more easily adopt and adapt to our own advantage. It turns us away from focusing on our own minds/souls or our human subjectivity, and in this turning away we have become lost in this world that we view though the lens of subject/object, in this world that we ourselves have created. We have become alienated (to use a modern concept). Technology, for instance, leads us to deal with other human beings as objects to be manipulated through careful calculation whether in our politics, our social networking, or in the more personal aspects of our personal relationships, our sexuality.

Freedom, that concept which has come to define what we think we are as human beings, becomes our ability to change the world through mastery; we lose sight of anything worthy of knowing that we cannot change but our belief is such that we can change anything if our wills are strong enough. Our activities that have less and less to do with changing the world are in decay. Students engage in those studies that lead to the power to affect change. Our personal relations serve ends beyond themselves; our art becomes mere entertainment.

Historical Background:

With the coming to be of modern philosophy and modern science through the thinking of men like Rene Descartes and Isaac Newton, human beings’ essence came to be defined as their primordial freedom prior to any relationship to the community and to the state. Dualisms such as “subject” and “object”, individuals and societies, personal and shared knowledge arose in how we understood and interpreted our world. The fusion of  theoretical knowledge with the practical knowledge, of pure reason with practical reason, of “science” and its “applications”, of viewing the world and the “know how” of being-in-the-world, what is referred to as technology in these writings, came to the fore as the ‘what’, the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of human beings’ understanding of themselves and their world. (CT 5) We will explore how this “know how” historically determined the relationships of human beings to the world and why these determinations came about and how they have brought about the societies which we see about us today. “Moral and ethical principles” are already embedded in this viewing of the world, and we will try to understand how our understanding of morals and ethics unfolded from our “theoretical viewing”.

Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527)

We will begin our discussions of the historical background of Individuals and Societies or The Human Sciences with a statement which some will find controversial: the modern Human Sciences find their origins in the thinking of the Florentine political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli. Historically, Machiavelli was seen as an “evil” man by many, not the least of which was William Shakespeare.

When we speak of the word “virtue”, we are usually speaking about “quality of life”, the “ethical”, “the great society”, etc. But do we know what “virtue” is? What does Machiavelli have to say about “virtue”? How did this word which originally meant “the manliness of a man” come to be understood as “the chastity of a woman”?

The beginnings of the West find their origins in two great traditions: 1. the writings of Greece and Rome, and 2. the Judaeo-Christian Bible, or the two great cities where many of these thoughts originated, Athens and Jerusalem (one might include a third city, Rome, in this list). From these communities and their writings come quite different understandings of what “virtue” is.

The Greek philosopher Socrates, for example, stated that “virtue” is that which was “most fitting” for human beings i.e. to live within communities and to make everyday speeches through dialectic (conversations with friends) about virtue; we could say that this is piety since the end of these conversations is to lead toward the Good. This was most fitting for human beings as the human being was defined as the zoon logon echon, the animal capable of speech, and this defined what human beings were. This was also equated with justice: the rendering to other human beings what was due to them, and this rendering or action was understood as “ethics”. For Aristotle in his Ethics, the virtue of the first order was “magnanimity”, which may be defined as the habit of claiming high honours for oneself with the understanding that one was worthy of them. This became understood as “recognition” (which needs to be “public recognition” within the community one inhabits). In Aristotle’s Ethics we also find that “shame” is not a virtue. Shame is appropriate for the young who, due to their immaturity, cannot help making mistakes but it is not an appropriate for well-bred, educated human beings who always do the right and proper thing. Aristotle assumes that educated human beings know what the right and proper thing is.

In the Judaeo-Christian Bible, however, the sense of “shame” is one of the primary “virtues” when one attempts to recognize what human being is. The Bible is replete with examples of where the recognition of shame is appropriate for human beings in their recognition of what they are, beginning with the “Book of Genesis” and Adam and Eve’s recognition of their ‘nakedness’ after the Fall, through the Prophets (particularly Isaiah), through to the New Testament with its Gospels and Epistles. For the Greeks, there is no “holy God” or “God of Hosts”, although there is a god who “sometimes wishes and sometimes does not wish to go by the name of Zeus”. In the Bible, the sense of shame arises in human beings from their recognition of their “sinful pride” which distinguishes them from the ‘perfection’ of their “holy God”.

So who is right: Athens or Jerusalem? Must we concede that human wisdom and reason is unable to give us an answer to this question and that every answer is based on an act of faith? A philosophy based on faith is no longer philosophy and here we must distinguish between faith and trust. Perhaps it is our inability to answer this question and resolve this conflict that has prevented Western thinking from ever coming to rest, although in our modern age this question and conflict is simply overlooked.

It is in trying to understand our modern philosophy that we come across the figure of Machiavelli. Machiavelli’s politics or political teaching exists and will continue to exist even though the politics are not directly associated with him. It is a politics guided by expediency where “the good end justifies any means”, where the “good end” is conceived as one’s “fatherland” or country, but also the use of the country for the self-aggrandizement of the politician or statesman or one’s political party. One finds Machiavelli’s thinking providing much of the ground for Karl Marx’s communism as we shall later demonstrate, but it is a thinking and its subsequent actions which have also motivated demagogues throughout Western history.

For Plato and Aristotle, the actualization of the “best regime” or society is based upon “chance”, what Machiavelli called Fortuna, and is something beyond human control. According to Machiavelli, however, Fortuna is a woman who must be whipped and beaten to be kept under control. Fortuna or chance can be conquered by the right kind of man. (Obviously, Machiavelli does not sit well with most women’s movements in the modern age, but his techniques based as they are on the principle of reason’s understanding of causality “if this…then this” are quite gender neutral i.e. they transcend gender). Machiavelli looks towards achieving the best political order possible by not looking at how human beings ought to live, but how in fact they actually do live. The ideal and the actual can be made to converge. This convergence of the ideal and the actual, of the theoretical and the practical, is but one aspect of what is understood as technology in these writings.

Machiavelli uses History to derive his examples to illustrate his intentions. His primary intention is that on the basis of the knowledge of how human beings actually do live, he can teach princes and rulers how they ought to rule and how they ought to live i.e. their “ethics”. He re-writes Aristotle’s Ethics. For Machiavelli, for example, it is better to be loved than feared for a ruler, but if one has to choose between the two, it is better to be feared. One is reminded of the Marlon Brando character, Don Corleone, in the film The Godfather and many of his lines regarding those who he perceives as his “enemies”. The “Italian Mafioso” is today’s “prince”. Other examples in our entertainments and our arts abound. In American politics, one has no doubt that were it possible, Donald Trump would follow the example of Russia’s Vladimir Putin and have reporters and journalists who he perceives as his “enemies” assassinated.

Machiavelli’s examples from history include Hannibal who was to be admired for his “inhuman cruelty”, a virtue in the eyes of Machiavelli, and Cesare Borgia who used his henchman Ramirro d’Órco to commit atrocities to pacify a rebellion, and who Borgia proceeded to tell his people that the cruelties were not committed by himself but by overzealous followers. We can see and hear such rationales echoed in any news of the day today. Machiavelli’s new “ought” was the requirement of the use of both virtue and vice according to the requirements of the circumstances. He also shows in his Discourses on Livy that one rises from a low or abject position to an exalted one through “fraud” rather than through “force”.

Machiavelli compares himself to Columbus in that he believes he has discovered new modes and orders, that he has taken a path never walked by anyone before. He believes he is the Columbus of the moral-political world. He believed that there is something fundamentally wrong with approaching a politics which culminates in a utopia, in the description of a regime whose actualization is highly improbable. Machiavelli shifts the highest objective which a society might choose to pursue and lowers the standards to what societies actually do choose. Machiavelli consciously lowers the standards of human action. This lowering of the standards is meant to lead to a higher probability of the actualization of the best regime possible. The scheme, the plan is constructed in accordance with the lower standards, and the dependency upon chance is reduced; chance will be conquered.

The traditional approach was that morality was something substantial; it is a force in the soul of human beings however ineffective it may be in the affairs of human beings. For Machiavelli, virtue in a society is a product of vice and the passions and virtue is only possible within societies. Human beings are educated to virtue through customs, laws, etc. Morality is possible only within a context which creates morality, for morality cannot create itself i.e. it is not something permanent. The context for morality is immorality; justice is grounded in injustice. Human beings are not, by nature, directed towards virtue but are motivated by vice and the passions. Machiavelli concludes that human beings are bad and must be compelled to be good. This is done through institutions, the right kind of institutions, institutions with “teeth in them”.  This shift from concern with the morality of human beings to institutions is based on Machiavelli’s first principle: one must lower the standards in order to make probable, if not certain, the actualization of the right or desirable social order or in order to conquer chance.

Human beings are not, by nature, ordered toward virtue or perfection. There is no natural end or purpose for human being. Human beings are free to set for themselves any end they desire. According to Machiavelli, human beings are infinitely malleable. The power of human beings is much greater, and the power of nature much smaller, than the ancients thought.

The “wholly new prince” of the highest kind, the founder of new states, is animated by nothing but “selfish ambition” and his public tasks are only done to further his designs and enhance his desire for glory. He is distinguished from the great criminals merely by the fact that the criminal lacks a defensible opportunity; the moral motivation is the same.

The “technology of the helmsman”, of the “wholly new prince”, represents an amazing contraction of the definition of human being from that proposed by the classics. Machiavelli saw that the aspirations of Christianity in its “charity” to desire the salvation of human beings’ “immortal souls” required actions that were “inhuman and cruel”. Their “aiming too high” unintentionally increased the inhumane actions of human beings towards their fellow human beings. (See Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “The Grand Inquisitor” for a brilliant literary elucidation of this principle.) The “aiming too high” that was Christian “charity” was to be replaced by “calculation”, by a utilitarianism that will control human beings’ bestiality and preserve the state. The passion behind Machiavelli’s teaching is grounded in anti-theological anger which continues to show itself in various guises today.

Machiavelli’s teaching required that he demonstrate that no knowledge can be had of human beings’ “natural ends” i.e. that there is no “natural purpose” or purposes in nature itself, or in other words, there are no essences of things. The proof for this belief was thought to be supplied in the discoveries in the Natural Sciences in the 17th century. But Machiavelli’s scheme had to be modified because of its revolting character. The man who mitigated Machiavelli’s scheme but retained his primary intention and principle was Thomas Hobbes.

Suggested Readings:

Machiavelli, Nicollo The Prince:

Thomas Hobbes
Thomas Hobbes

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)

If we are to arrive at any clear understanding of who we are as thinkers and knowers, then we must understand that what are called “modern ideas” in the Human Sciences are of British origin and, therefore, of English-speaking origin. Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) attempted to create a moral and political philosophy based on “scientific principles” which he thought would contribute to the establishment of civic peace and friendship among human beings by showing how human beings could attain peace by fulfilling their duties to society. In Hobbes, we see the development and growth of what today are called the Human Sciences from their original germination in the thinking of Machiavelli where the theoretical and the practical are interconnected. Hobbes agreed with the Machiavellian account of nature, that nature is to be viewed as a product of necessity and chance which can be overcome and conquered. Hobbes spent many hours in conversations with Bacon and Galileo, and from them came away with the belief that everything could be explained in terms of motion, what we will refer to as “energy” here.

For Hobbes, the “state of nature” is not an historical “fact” but a philosophical necessity i.e. it is a “metaphysical” proposition. The geometry of Galileo was the theoretical key to arriving at an inductive and deductive method of reasoning that could be applied to human beings and their lives both in nature and in societies. Human passions and motives, their wills, could be explained ‘mechanistically’ like the actions of a watch. For Hobbes, “mechanistic psychology” was seen as the primal force moving human beings to motion, and the chief motivator was ‘fear of violent death’ and the need for ‘self-preservation’. (See his book Leviathan where the first Five chapters deal with the “metaphysics” upon which he illustrates how human beings operate and behave. For Hobbes, “thoughts” and “passions” correspond to Descartes’ and Locke’s “ideas” and these will later become the grounds of the principles of pleasure/pain adopted by the utilitarians. Chapter Six deals with the impulsions or Appetites and Aversions that come from “behind” and push human beings ‘forward’ into action (what we today call the “instincts”), and the next Five Chapters set out the mechanisms by which human beings must operate or behave if they are to ensure peace and comfortable living in a society. Hobbes found the oneness of human beings in the body, not in the “consciousness” as “perceptions of the mind” as David Hume did).

Hobbes was a great revolutionary in that he sought to overturn the views of what was traditional natural law as given to the West by Plato and Aristotle. Traditional natural law is primarily and mainly an objective rule and measure, a binding order prior to, and independent of, the human will and was best discerned through reason, while modern natural law is, or tends to be, primarily a series of ‘rights’ of subjective claims originating in the human will. For the ancients, natural law was not something which we measure, but something by which we are measured. The notion of “rights” originates with the Romans and was primarily related to their possession of slaves and what legal controls they had over them i.e. of human beings as commodities. Nature as hierarchy and order as understood by the ancients was dismissed. Hobbes asserted the priority and superiority of emotion/passion over reason as a way of knowing and as a means of understanding what is “natural law”.

The violating of the traditional natural law resulted in the outcomes one sees in the great Greek tragedies, and this violation is what the Greeks called hubris which we have generally determined to be “pride” or “vanity”, but the term refers to much more than this. Hobbes sees pride and vanity as the great causes of strife among human beings because human beings are “competitive’ by nature. The rules of traditional natural law were what later came to be called “categorical imperatives” by the German philosopher Kant, but more on this later.

For Hobbes, “scientific” was mathematical or geometrical knowledge–calculation. Philosophy as science proceeds either deductively from “synthetic” reasoning (reasoning that is not based on “experience”) of the first causes to apparent effects, and “analytically” through reasoning from perceived effects or facts to possible causes of their generation. The first principles are body/matter and motion or change of place. In accordance with the deductive or synthetic method, one would begin with the laws of physics in general and from them deduce the causes of the behaviour of individual human beings, and from the passions deduce the laws of social and political life. However, it is through the analytic means, the analysis based on “sense experience” that one arrives at what Hobbes considered were adequate definitions of the first principles themselves. Hobbes indicates that his understanding is based on “pre-scientific knowledge” or what we would call “common sense experience” i.e. what every human being already knows. This common sense “know how” furnishes Hobbes with the system he needs to construct his political philosophy.

Hobbes, like his predecessor Machiavelli, believed that the classical writings of the Greeks and Romans had failed human beings because they “aimed too high”. They had based their doctrines on human beings’ highest aspirations (“virtue”) which rendered the societies they recommended ineffective in dealing with the “realism” of human beings as they actually are in the “real” world. The study of philosophy came to take second place to the study of history in the 16th century. The precepts of philosophy were “too high” for the ordinary human being, while the “experience” of the real deeds of real men were felt to provide the concrete examples by which human beings would come to learn of the importance of prudence in their actions. This shift from physics and metaphysics occurs, according to Aristotle, as soon as human being is considered the highest being in the world, ‘the most excellent work of nature’. With this shift, what we call The Human Sciences begin and we find this extrapolated in the philosophy of the English scientist and philosopher Francis Bacon. (In literature, one may find an extraordinary parallel in Dostoevsky’s “The Grand Inquisitor” chapters in his novel The Brothers Karamazov). Hobbes, like Machiavelli and Bacon before him, separated “natural law” from the idea of the moral perfection of human beings or from that to which they are “most fitted” as the ancients understood it. Justice comes to be understood as a matter of laws. Hobbes arrived at his conclusion by deducing that what is most powerful in human beings is not reason but passion. The origin of human beings’ appetites is not perception but vanity.

Hobbes sees human beings as capable of being understood according to a “mechanistic psychology” of the passions (Leviathan Chap. vi.) as those forces which push us from “behind”. This mechanistic psychology is not to be understood as those things which attract from “in front” i.e. the ends of human beings or the objects of desire of the passions. The objects of the passions vary with each individual and depend on that human being’s constitution or education. Good and evil are relative to the human being using those terms and good and evil characterize the individual’s desires and aversions. Thinking understood as reason is a “spy” or a tool which is used to attempt to find the way to the thing desired. (Leviathan Chap. vi.). Thinking as technology or the “know how” derived from experience should be kept in mind here.

Hobbes asserts that human beings are not inclined to live in communities “by nature”. Hobbes deduces the “state of nature” from the passions of human beings. The state of nature provides the reasons, the purposes, or the ends for the sake of which political societies are born. It is the passions which will ground the forming of human communities, the chief of which is the desire for power and property in order to secure the individual’s self-preservation. Hobbes asserts that all human beings are equal in their capacity to kill each other. Self-preservation based on the passion of fear of violent death is the most powerful passion. What human beings seek is the security to continually progress towards one object of desire or another: “…in the first place, I put a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death”. (Leviathan ix.). This seeking for the assurance of security makes it necessary that human beings control necessity and chance through the knowledge they obtain through the sciences. With the influence of Christianity, greed and vanity become emancipated while human sexuality and relationships become enchained.

Another problem facing human beings in civil society is the love of “glory”, pride or vanity. “Glorifying” is based on the good opinion a person has or receives of themselves based on their power. These self-opinions are always based on comparisons with others. According to Hobbes, the three great causes of war among human beings are competition, distrust, and glory which create a state of every person against every other person or conditions where “the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” (Leviathan Chap. viii.). The state of nature, for Hobbes, is good only for the possibility of getting out of it. It is not far from Hobbes’ writings to the idea of the “conquest of nature”. By understanding human nature mechanistically, we become capable of manipulating and overcoming it so that our fear of death and the desire for comfort can be realized through a state of peace. This can be done by overcoming the desire for glory or human pride. The rules of reason are the Laws of Nature, and the Moral Law are the dictates of reason. In Hobbes one sees the secularization of what was originally Biblical language and this may account for one of the reasons why his view of Nature became acceptable to Protestant Christians.

For Hobbes, the right to self-preservation is realized in the overcoming of the primary fear of violent death. Individual rights are derived from the selfish passions and desires of human beings, the desire for a comfortable living founded on the fear of violent death. Human selfishness is legitimized in his thinking. He prepares the ground for the later coming into being of liberalism and today’s cybernetics. For Hobbes, intelligent calculation of self-interest is all that is required for a human being to be just.

Suggested Readings:

Hobbes, Thomas Leviathan Chaps. xiii-xv, xvii-xviii, xxi, xxiv, xxvi-xxx, xlvi.

Click to access Leviathan.pdf

John Locke
               John Locke

 John Locke (1632-1704)

If Hobbes may be said to be the political philosopher of power relations established between the individuals and the societies in which they live, John Locke (1632-1704) may be said to be the political philosopher of money and property and their relation to labour, and how these concepts establish the relations between individuals and their societies. Locke’s influence is very much with us today as it was he who wrote: “…no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions…”. This statement in truncated form is, of course, re-echoed in the beginning of the American constitution where “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” were held as “self-evident truths” by the founding fathers of the USA being under the influence of Locke, the French philosopher Rousseau, and Rousseau’s student Thomas Paine. Other ideas and concepts of Locke permeate the lives of US citizens today and are to be found in the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

For Locke as it was for Hobbes, self-preservation is the primary motivator among human beings: “For the desire, strong desire of preserving his life and being, having been planted in (man) as a principle of action by God himself, reason, which was the voice of God in him, could not but teach him and assure him that, pursuing that natural inclination he had to preserve his being, he followed the will of his Maker…” Conduct which is directed towards self-preservation is not only in accord with reason, which is the law of nature, but it is the very definition of “reasonable behaviour” or of the animal rationale and is the will of God. For Locke, God’s will is scrutable. God’s favour is shown in the possession of property that leads to the life of comfortable self-preservation. We will not go into the connection between Locke’s “materialism” and labour and the new Protestant Christianity which was beginning to flourish in Europe at that time. Suffice it to say that Locke himself was an atheist, but his thinking found wide acceptance among those English-speaking Protestants. For Locke, freedom or individual liberty is necessary for the pursuit of acquisitiveness. Machiavelli’s discovery or invention of the need for an immoral or amoral substitute for morality becomes victorious in Locke’s discovery that that substitute is acquisitiveness. A totally selfish passion, whose satisfaction does not require the spilling of any blood and whose effect is the improvement of the lot of all provides the solution to the political problem by economic means. Machiavelli comes of age.

The two chief texts for understanding Locke are his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Two Treatises of Government. In his “Human Understanding” essay, Locke outlines his metaphysics; in the second treatise of the “Two Treatises”, he outlines his political philosophy which is founded upon those “metaphysics” and how the idea of money and property are related to those metaphysics. We will try to give an impertinent precis of some of the ideas contained in those writings here.

Locke begins the laying out of his “representational thinking” with the concept of the “idea”, something that exists in the mind which gives it the ability to perceive and think. He contrasts thinking with will or volition which are based on the appetites or instincts. Locke’s “ideas” are not to be confused with the ideas of Plato because, for Locke, the “ideas” only exist in the mind of the thinker/perceiver, the “beholder”, while the Platonic ideas are not the creations of human beings but have an existence of their own outside of human beings. Locke’s “ideas” are Descartes'”ideas”; having ideas and perception are the same thing i.e. human cognition and ideas are the same thing. Thinking follows from the existence of these ideas. The “object” of the thinking is that which the thought is about, and there is no thought without an object.

For Locke, our “experience” of life is key, for the human mind is a tabula rasa, a blank slate upon which any thing may be written, again informing us that human beings are infinitely malleable. Memory as a way of knowing, with the aid of language as a way of knowing, assists the mind in creating the visual contents that are stored in the memory. Real ideas “have a Foundation in Nature; have a Conformity with the real. Being, and Existence of Things, or with their Archetypes”. “Real ideas” are distinguished from “Fantasies” which have no real being. Real ideas perfectly represent those “Archetypes” while those that do not are considered “inadequate”. Truth and falsehood are not considered properties of the ideas themselves but exist only in the propositions or judgements that human beings make; they are the products of logic and reason. Real ideas are “simple ideas” and our ability to call an idea true is what gives it reality. The real ideas are the properties of things, those things that can be calculated mathematically and constantly produce the same results. The real ideas are mathematical entities or algebraic calculation based on logic’s steps.

Locke’s discussion of property combines the modern critique of ancient philosophy’s view of science and nature with the Judaeo-Christian view of nature (although the word “nature” and the concept of nature are not to be found in the Bible). Human beings are given the created world as an object to exploit by God i.e. nature is not perceived as a “garden” to be tended, but as a wasteland to be exploited, a wasteland that is “useless” without human endeavour to make it fulfill our needs. The original condition or “state of nature” was an abundance of almost worthless provisions, not an actual plenty, but made a potential plenty that becomes actual by human labour and invention through human ingenuity. Initially, human beings have this created world in “common”, and from it Locke elaborates how private property came into being.

Locke separates the fruits of the “common” from the common itself. While human beings have equal right to every part of what is “common”, every human being does not have a share of ownership of what is common. In the state of nature, there is no property: the only property that anyone has a right to is that of his own body and person and the labour and work that are produced from it. All other property is derived from this original property in the state of nature. Nature’s plenty was available to all. If someone wanted the fruits that you had gathered, that someone was after your labour not the fruits themselves. And they do not have any right to that labour, according to Locke.

The combination of what is common and what is private is dominated by what is private because it is “labour” that puts the “value” in everything and distinguishes the “worth” of some thing. Labour constitutes the entire value of the thing, and land without labour would scarcely be worth anything. It is labour that makes the land “one’s own”. Nature, for its part, without labour is worthless; it is Nature’s “use” to human beings that gives it its value.

The ready-to-hand oversupply that is Nature also contributes to its “worthlessness” as Locke arrives at a “supply/demand” notion of value. The state of nature is not one of actual plenty but only potential plenty. The poverty of the Native Peoples of America, which Locke alludes to in his writings, is their lack of labour, such as it is, in relation to the labour of Locke’s native England. Locke’s view of property and ‘civilized society’ and its contrast with the Native Peoples of North America was certainly a contributing factor that led to the genocide of the Native Peoples by the European settlers: they were considered “sub-human” because they lacked any European notion of “civilization” and could therefore be killed without any qualms.

In Locke’s view, a limiting of accumulation is required only in the case where there is a scarcity of goods. There cannot be “natural property” in the state of nature if there is a scarcity of goods. In this scarcity, the right to property becomes the “might” of the holder to retain that property. Natural scarcity or “spoiling” of perishable goods can be altered only by a change in the prevailing conditions or the natural order of things. Agriculture is the beginning of this change. Land in nature is “waste land”. From these beginnings, money came into being according to Locke because it was made of metal and not perishable. Through the invention of money human beings solved the problems of perishability and scarcity. Money came into being before civil society.

It was money or “capital” that made possible the owning of large tracts of land. Locke shows the origins of private property and justifies the inequality of possessions: “…it is plain that men have agreed to a disproportionate and unequal possession of the earth, they having, by a tacit and voluntary consent, found a way how a man may fairly possess more land than he himself can use the product of…” (italics added). This is done through the invention of money and through the agreement of its use. This is, of course, unfair. Locke’s solution is increase. 

In his Two Treatises, Locke solves the problem of increase. Human beings by their labour, invention and arts (i.e. through the applications of technology) make “increase” possible and thereby solve the problem of scarcity and perishability found in the original natural condition; but they make the original condition of nature impossible to continue. They are driven to civil society for the protection of their property. The possessions of the “industrious and rational” must be protected from the “fancy or covetousness of the quarrelsome and contentious”. Locke’s theory of property and increase is the foundation for his theories of society and government and its structures and became the foundations of the American Constitution. The protection of the rights to property became the 2nd Amendment to that Constitution.

From these initial seeds we can see how “empiricism” and “materialism” began to find its form in English thinking. The “essence of materialism” does not consist in the assertion that everything is simply matter but in a metaphysical assertion and determination where every thing or being appears as the material of labour. The modern metaphysical essence of labour as it was stated by the German philosopher Hegel is the “self-establishing process of unconditioned production, or the objectivization of the actual through human beings’ definition and understanding of themselves as “subjectivity”. The essence of materialism is hidden in the essence of technology. Technology as a way of knowing rests in the manner in which it makes things become manifest or appear, and their appearance or presence is that of object. We shall follow the thread of this thinking through the work of the English philosopher David Hume.

Suggested Readings

Locke, John Second Treatise

David Hume

David Hume (1711-1776)

David Hume (1711-1776) is best known as a skeptic and is considered the founder of what has come to be known as the “fact/value” distinction in The Human Sciences where rational judgements of “value” were not tenable as opposed to judgements of “fact” based on the “rationalism” of mathematical analysis. Hume stressed sense perception as a way of knowing where a “perception” is whatever is present to the mind; and nothing is present to the mind but its perceptions. Hume does not consider these perceptions as the products of reason.

Hume distinguished between two kinds of perceptions: the first are impressions of what is in our minds “when we hear, or see, or feel, or love, or hate, or desire, or will”; the second is ideas about what is in our minds, “when we reflect on a passion or an object which is not present”. The difference between the two is that impressions are much stronger and “lively” than ideas. All ideas are derived from impressions. “We can never think of anything which we have not seen (or in some way sensed) without us or felt in our own minds.”

According to Hume, we cannot have knowledge with full and absolute certainty concerning matters of fact and real existence, but only concerning “the relations of ideas”. The realm of necessity binds the imagination, the way of knowing of the realm of the “possible”. “Whatever is conceivable is possible”. We can only have knowledge of the world of ideas but not knowledge of the “world of realities” i.e. facts. For example, it is a fact that all that is mortal must die. Hume conceives of all matters of fact as parts of a system of universal necessity. There is a distinction between the realm of the possible and the realm of the necessary.

Hume asserts that all of our reasoning about matters of fact is based on the relation of the ideas of cause and effect, the principle of reason. Without our concept of causation we cannot go beyond our sense perception and memory of those sense perceptions as ways of knowing the things. Through the concept of causation we are able to infer the existence of objects and occurrences beyond our experience: “probability” rests in causation. Hume’s most famous example of his critique of causation is of a billiard ball moving across a table and striking another. We conclude from “experience” that the second ball will be set in motion. But a problem is present: how can we learn from experience the very principle that makes it possible to learn from experience? The answer for Hume: reason and experience are “forms of habit”. These habits or judgements are formed in the imagination and strengthened by belief as a way of knowing. They feel different from ideas that one does not believe in. It is the belief that gives to us what we conceive our notion of reality to be. It would take nothing less than Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and his discussion of synthetic judgements a priori as possible and necessary to overcome Hume’s radical skepticism regarding reason’s judgements.

From the billiard ball example, Hume contended that our notion of cause is purely an impression in the mind and nothing in the objects themselves; the necessity lies not in the objects but in ourselves. How does one, then, justify correct reasoning? How does one arrive at normative judgements or standards of judgement? Hume’s suggestions on reasoning at first appear to be the foundation of false reasoning and prejudices; many examples could be used to support this with regard to bias, racism, etc. where one makes judgements regarding things or human beings based on the “experiences” they have had in the past, or one might look to the current “alternative facts” movement present among those who perceive themselves on the political right. But, contrary to these examples, Hume says that the “rules of logic” are stronger than those established by habit or “experience” since these habits and experiences are based on emotions or sentiments. Hume’s metaphysics is intended to explain not only the “reasoning” of animals, but also to justify the science of Newton. But how can this be done with simply habit and emotion? To put it another way, Hume uses the principle of reason to critique that principle and this gives rise to many contradictions in his thought.

Our ways of knowing construct relations of ideas through inductive reasoning and inference between our understanding of the objects that exist outside ourselves, but these relations are driven by our own necessities and are not necessities in the objects themselves. Hume challenges what has been traditionally known as the “correspondence theory of truth”. We shall see in Part II how Kant responded to this challenge.

Hume’s critique of reason as a way of knowing is extrapolated to his critique of morality: good and evil, virtue and vice. Good and evil are not relations or “matters of fact”. They are not objects of the understanding, and because of this, the sense of morality does not help us in understanding and discovering what they are.  The objects about us are calculable in terms of their presence in time and space and are “matters of fact”. Through making comparisons (identity and difference) or what the Greeks called “diaeretic knowledge”, the relations between the objects themselves could be discovered in order to establish inferences of “matters of fact”, something you will be attempting to do in your Exhibition. For Hume, reason is an instrument, a tool of the passions: “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them”. Reason cannot teach us what we ought to do or should do; it can only make predictions through calculations about what the outcomes will be if we do do it. Morality itself cannot be found out through reason.

Hume sees morality as what we are “forced” to do and this “forcibleness” is determinable through reason and its calculations. But reason is unable to determine whether this “force” is “fitting” or “virtuous”.  For Hume, the human imagination is the ground of science and human emotions; likes and dislikes are made the ground of morality. Virtue is virtue because it is approved, either individually or collectively; there is no virtue in itself i.e. there is no “good in itself”. 

For Hume, emotion provides us with a moral sense; virtue and vice are not discovered by reason. The ‘fact’ is that we feel in our hearts that something is good or bad, but these are not objects accessible to reason. “Morality is felt, not judged of”–to paraphrase Hume. Good and bad are discovered by emotion and are constituted by emotion. Virtue is virtue because it is approved. By being approved, it is a “value”. It is so because it is habitually united in the imagination. “To have a sense of virtue is nothing but to feel a satisfaction of a particular kind…” Morality is rooted in pleasure and pain: the “good” is identified with the pleasant, the “bad” is associated with the painful.

In requiring that morality be related to the passions or emotions, Hume is following Locke and Hobbes. Hume differs from Hobbes and Locke in that they both asserted that “self-interest” was the dominant passion; and the greatest self-interest is security from violent death i.e. survival. Hume felt that this exaggerated the power of reason. Hobbes, for example, finds that self-preservation or fear of death is the strongest, most fundamental of passions. Virtue was obedience to the laws of nature which are the dictates of reason for avoiding death and preserving life. Locke finds the best solution to the fear of death in the unlimited acquisition of “property” i.e. food, energy. Hume contends that the passions provide no incontrovertible axiom to reason and, hence, reason can furnish no authoritative guidance to conduct. The standards of moral judgements are not “dictates of reason” derived from the passions; they are themselves “passions” i.e. moral sentiments or feelings. For Hume, morals are matters of taste, but there are right and wrong tastes.

For Hume, morality is determined and distinguished by sentiment or feeling based on the experience of pleasure or pain: an action is virtuous or vicious, considered good or evil whether it results in pleasure or pain. Since we can never be mistaken about what gives us pleasure or pain, moral judgements are “perfectly infallible”. However, our sentiments vary according to our situations and our feelings may be quite different from others faced with the same situation. 

But how do judgements about “matters of fact” stand on different grounds than those regarding the passions? For Hume, reason gives knowledge concerning truth and falsehood and this differs from taste which is the source of moral sentiments. Reason “discovers objects as they really stand in nature, without addition and diminution”, whereas taste “has a productive faculty and gilding or staining all natural objects with the colors, borrowed from internal sentiment, [which] raises in a manner a new creation”. The standard of reason is “eternal and inflexible” whereas the standard of taste arises from the “frame and constitution of animals” or is instinctual. But as Hume recognizes, if “morality is more properly felt than judged of”, in the same way “all probable reasoning is nothing but a species of sensation. ‘Tis not solely in poetry and music we must follow our taste and sentiment”, but in the experimental sciences as well. Virtue and vice are not matters of fact, or rather they are internal matters of fact i.e. our tastes of moral approval or disapproval. But the same is true of the connection between cause and effect. “Objects have no discovererable connection together…” The causal relation is nothing in the object but something in the mind. 

Hume recognizes the contradictions that his thinking faces here for to salvage causal reasoning and logic, he must distinguish it from fantasy and prejudice. He must also do the same to distinguish “correct taste” in morality from “incorrect taste”.

The “state of nature” is for Hume a fiction of the philosophers. Because human beings are the “needing” beings and weak, only in society can their wants and needs be met, including those which society itself engenders. Hume sees sexuality and families giving rise to societies; social problems are engendered from this, however. Human beings love “their own” more than others in their communities. The scarcity and instability of external goods which are of insufficient quantity to satisfy everyone’s needs and desires produce the chief impediment to society: the “insatiable, perpetual, universal” desire of acquiring possessions for ourselves and those near to us. The other passions are necessarily restrained and are not so disruptive to social order, but human greed is a difficult nut to crack. Vanity, for example, is not so difficult as it is a social passion and “a bond of union among men”. (Think of our modern social media here.)

The passionate drive for the acquisition of goods cannot be controlled by our natural moral sentiments: it, rather, reinforces these sentiments. An artifice constructed by reason is necessary: “…a convention entered into by all the members of the society to bestow stability on the possession of those external goods, and leave everyone in the peaceable enjoyment of what he may acquire by his fortune and industry.” According to Hume this is the first law of Nature: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s goods”. The origins of capitalism and greed in the thinking of Locke and others are found to have a strange compatibility with the new Protestant Christianity emerging simultaneously in Europe and this has contributed to our propensity “to want to have it both ways” i.e. morally and politically.

The ideas of justice and injustice, human beings’ relations to and with each other, arise from the recognition of the common sense of common interests. This is a gradual, habitual process and the ideas of property, rights and obligations come from this recognition. The fundamental purpose of justice is the stability of property. The question of who owns what requires the transfer of property by consent. This is Hume’s second law and it is quite in keeping with the notion of a “progress” in the moral improvement of human beings through the individual’s being in a society i.e. the need to honour contracts or promises.

His third law of nature extends the obligation of promises or the rule of contracts, the penalty for the breaking of which is “mistrust” so it is in one’s self-interest to honour them. (Think of concern for “the brand” here).But why is justice a virtue and injustice a vice? The answer is that we recognize that justice is beneficial to society. We may not always act justly ourselves, but when we see the injustice of others we feel that we will suffer the consequences of their actions. The sentiment of “moral blame” teaches us to regard justice as honourable and to care for our reputations. The establishment of justice is based on self-interest and the moral sentiments against injustice are based on “a sympathy with the public interest”. It is government’s purpose to administer justice in the protection of property and the enforcement of contracts. 

Obedience to the government and the observance of the rules of justice are “artificial virtues” as distinguished from “natural virtues”. The “natural virtues” are those to which human beings are impelled and compelled by instinct or natural impulse. If left unchecked, these will lead to all kinds of social problems. The “artificial virtues” are those created by human beings after some thought and reflection. The “artificial virtues” are the product of reason and they arise out of human beings’ situations. Since reason is as much of human beings’ nature as the passions, Hume speaks of them as “laws of nature”. The “artificial virtues” are not contrary to the passions but are only so to their “heedless and impetuous movement”. The passions are better satisfied by being controlled and directed. 

In the creation of political institutions, “every man must be supposed a knave” in seeking their own self-interest. The “good will” of rulers is to be relied on for the security of property and liberty i.e. a reliance on chance. Hume felt that “the world is still too young” for it to be fully known what human nature is capable of or what the effects of changes in “education, customs or principles” will be brought about. Hume sees the aim of political society as the ordering of the ends that are served by the natural actions of the passions without excessive reliance on “extraordinary goodness” i.e. chance. As he says: “All plans of governments which suppose a great reformation in the manners of mankind are plainly imaginary”. Human beings, in their “badness”, may not be as malleable as first thought. 

Every government is founded on opinion. For Hume, “custom” or habit is what preserves governments. Hume is “conservative” in that he believes the “oldest is best” and will get better as it is refined in time. He thus represents the “conservative” side of the “age of progress”.

Suggested Readings

Hume, David Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Secs. 2,3,4,5,6,7

Hume, David Treatise of Human Nature. Bk. III, parts i and ii.

Hume, David Essays. V.Of the Origin of Government”, IV “Of the First Principles of Government”, XII “Of the Original Contract”, XVI “Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth”.

 Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)

Bentham is known for his principle of “utilitarianism”. In his work An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, he writes: “Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure.” The Utilitarianism Principle places its emphasis on what human nature is understood to be actually rather than potentially, and what human beings are everywhere rather than what human beings are under changing circumstances and conditions in which varying groups may find themselves. Pain and pleasure not only determine the psychological causes behind human beings’ ethical actions, they also provide the basis for what human beings ought to do.

Since human beings are motivated by pain and pleasure, Bentham writes: “By the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever, according to the tendency which it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question.” Bentham’s principle applies to all actions of human beings: those actions are right which promote the happiness of those concerned (pleasure) and wrong which promote unhappiness. In politics, those actions are right which further the happiness of the community and wrong which further the unhappiness of the community. The community itself is a fictitious body composed of individuals; the interest of the community is the sum of interests of the individuals who compose it. Since the purpose of government is the happiness of those who compose it, this is the only end that legislators should have in view.

Bentham classifies the sources of pleasure and pain into four categories: 1. physical (from nature); 2. political; 3. moral or popular (from public opinion); 4. religious. Bentham uses a calculus of pleasure and pain: pleasures and pains are all homogeneous and thus comparable and measurable in terms of their intensity, duration, certainty or uncertainty, the numbers affected by them, etc. This system, this calculus, gives the legislator (and the individual) a technique for determining the best course of action in terms of the utility-value of alternative choices. Bentham believed that human psychology is identical in human beings under all conditions and at all times.

Like Hume, Bentham believed that the state of nature and the social contract were fictions and unnecessary. Bentham agrees with Hume in seeing the so-called “state of nature” as family groupings. This he called “natural society”. The second stage was “political society” where the habit of obedience was acquired. The “social contract” is a fiction because fictions are no longer necessary as the basis of rights and obligations. The promises made between the governors and the governed are that the governors promise to promote happiness and the governed promise to obey. Bentham further agrees with Hume in that the answer to the political question is the principle of utility. Once this is recognized, the social contract is superfluous. We can appeal to the principle of utility to justify the rights and obligations of kings and subjects. The social contract does not help solve practical problems whereas the principle of utility does, or so Bentham thought. It was left to John Stuart Mill to resolve some of the contentions which the Utilitarians brought about.

Suggested Readings

Bentham, Jeremy. A Fragment on Government. Chaps. i, ii. Bentham, Jeremy. An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation Chaps. i-iv

JS Mill.jpg

  John Stuart Mill (1806-1875)

Mill was a utilitarian following in the footsteps of his father, James Mill. Attacks against the Utilitarians (and therefore his father) were based on a criticism of their approach to politics being grounded in the pleasure/pain principle of political philosophy and political action using the deductive approach i.e. from the general to the particular. The utilitarians deduced their principles from simple laws of human nature i.e. psychological axioms. These “psychological axioms” were a priori.

In his Science of Logic, Mill distinguishes between three types of deduction: direct, concrete and inverse. The “inverse deduction method” is what could be termed the “Historical” method. The procedure is to develop empirical laws of society on the basis of induction and then to “verify” those laws by deducing them from the a priori laws of human nature. Mill attempts to bring “human progress” within the scope of science. Social conditions which constantly change must be made compatible with History: the data of the changes for legislative proposals and the historical method when considering the effects of particular proposals on the progress of society to the next stage. 

Mill must be taken seriously because his thinking was the most popular at that moment when Britain had achieved its peak as an empire resulting in his thinking influencing, in some fashion, all English-speaking peoples throughout the globe. Mill’s thinking continues on today in the very IB program of which TOK is a part, and this influence should become clear as we proceed. Because of British imperial success at the time of Mill’s writing, the view of which societies were “civilized” and which were not led to some of the most crass and shameful remarks that we English-speakers today blush to recount. On a much more serious note, it also led to the genocides of a number of those “less civilized” peoples of which the Native Peoples of North America are but one example.

Mill’s philosophy of History was strongly influenced by the French philosopher Rousseau and his subsequent followers. Mill believed in the possibility and desirability of social progress, but not in its inevitability. Human beings, as we know from History, are capable of moving from barbarism to civilization, and this “progress” takes different forms and occurs at various speeds in different societies. There is a “rational order” to human progress and by the proper use of the historical method we can determine the stages through which any society must pass in its progress. This philosophy of history is understood as the as the philosophy of the progress of society and is basic for the practical science of politics. 

Mill’s theory is somewhat satisfactory if we are looking from the point of view of more advanced societies on lesser advanced societies. But what is the next stage for the advanced civilized societies? Mill attempts to fill the gap in a deductive fashion from a theory of human nature and a theory of ethics i.e. the ontological determines the ethical. 

Mill is not clear on what is the cause of social progress. He believes that progress is produced by the ideas, the examples, and the moral and intellectual leadership of superior individuals. He notes that superior individuals flourish under conditions of liberty, so liberty becomes a necessary condition for progress. The novelty required for the development of the sciences and the technological society requires liberty, freedom. The signs of civilization for Mill were the existence of responsible government and the emergence of scientific knowledge (technology). Progress was tied to the continued development of science (technology), particularly social science since he believed the natural sciences were on the verge of becoming complete. This is, of course, not the only error in thought which Mill made. He knew that further progress remained to be achieved and this could be done through a social science which aided political thinking. Scientific (technological) progress would promote equality, but equality carried too far would interfere with justice or what was due to those of intellectual and moral excellence who are responsible for progress overall.

Mill’s philosophy of history required a revision of the ethical theory of utilitarianism as it applied to politics. The pleasure/pain principle was inadequate, Mill felt, because it did not distinguish between lesser and superior pleasures. The idea of the utilitarians that pleasures and pains were homogeneous was not correct. Mill felt that the pleasures of the mind and intellect were superior to mere physical pleasures (this coming from a man who, some claim, remained a virgin throughout his life). Mill, as an empiricist, needed to claim that moral principles could not be known a priori and that the fundamental principle of morality could only be known through experience. But by wanting at the same time both the teaching about higher and lower pleasures and his empiricism, he becomes inconsistent. His secularism is in direct conflict with his Protestant ethical recommendations, the ethics of the society of which he was a member. 

For Mill, the individual is prior to the state, but not the individual as he or she is, but rather the individual that they may become with a proper education in a well-organized society. Human being as the perfectly malleable animal has a great variety of possible potentials, and society should provide the conditions in which each person can develop his or her special talents and make them available to the community. This can be done by promoting “the active life” of individuals as citizens. Mill felt that this was morally superior to one of passive obedience to the commands of a ruling group whatever the morality and justice of those demands.

Mill believed that his essay On Liberty was his best work because it combined his philosophy of history with his theory of government. Mill’s belief in progress from lower to higher stages of civilization culminated in the emergence of representative democracy as the best regime at the final stage. This final stage regime might be defined as the disappearance of the opposition between the government and the governed for the government would represent the interests of the governed. Mill’s theory of liberty is not applicable to all governments and to all human beings but only to those where society has become more important than the state. Progress towards civilization requires curbs on individual liberty while progress within civilization requires the emancipation of the individual from those curbs.

Mill grounds his principle of liberty in his moral theory: the only thing of ultimate value is the happiness of individuals, and individuals can best achieve their happiness in a civilized society when they are left free to pursue their own interests with their own talents as these have come to be understood and developed by them under an adequate system of education. The civilized human being is one who acts on what he understands and who exerts every effort to understand. 

How can society progress towards this goal? The principle condition is self-restraint. It requires as a foundation that each individual, groups of individuals, the government, and the mass of people refrain from interfering with the thought, expression, and actions of any individual. This is the basic principle of liberty. As Mill states in the introductory chapter to his essay:

The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action
of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. 

What Mill is attempting to say is that while thought must be free, the freedom of actions of individuals (the ethics, if you like) must be limited for the safety and security of society. The individual belongs to herself and is subject to social control only for the purpose of preventing her from harming others. We can see that we have not gone far from Hobbes here, and in the society whose foundations are based on commerce, the inadequacy of these ethics is demonstrated in our daily news.

The public expression of one’s private thoughts fall into the category of action. Mill believes the expression of thoughts requires the same freedom as thought itself since thought and its expression are so closely linked. The claim to limit the right to freedom of expression, Mill thought, the claim to limit the expression of opinions, presupposes “infallibility” on the part of those making the claim; and so no one can presuppose the right to make the claim and suppress opinion. Mill’s view of discussion in society assumes a mature public carrying on its discussion in a restrained, civilized way. Actions must be limited in that they can cause harm to others. Mill thought that the mere expression of opinion was not an action, but depended on the contexts and situations in which it was expressed. We can forgive Mill in his thinking here since he did not live in the age of social media where expressions of opinion do cause harm to others. All discussion is “political” in the widest sense of that word. Mill returns to the Protestant ethos of his society when the applications of restrictions to some individual actions (such as gambling, polygamy, etc.) are necessary; however, in our technological age mass conformism is required for the “ordering and the gathering” that has become the individual’s and the state’s purpose for being.

The problem that we have with Mill is that he is inconsistent, something which is tolerable in a politician but not in a philosopher. If we take Mill’s philosophy as a whole, there is nowhere within it an answer to the question of why it is good for human beings to be just. Mill is part of a long tradition of English empiricism that affirms that a pleasant life in space and time is what matters. He affirms that justice is right, yet at the same time rejects that Protestant morality theoretically that is the bulwark of that morality and that justice. The morality or “values” proposed are straw men in the conflict against the avarice and greed that a-re the hallmarks of the society based on commerce.

Suggested Readings

Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty, in Utilitarianism, Liberty, and Representative Government.

Mill, John Stuart. Representative Government. Chaps. i-vii.

Concluding Remarks to Part I

In concluding this section on technology and The Human Sciences, we must make a distinction between “shared knowledge” and “personal knowledge”. By “shared knowledge” is meant the philosophic and scientific knowledge which we as individuals take over from former generations, or from others. By “personal knowledge” is meant the philosophic or scientific knowledge that a mature scholar acquires in her unbiased discussions with others in the various areas of knowledge after knowing the origins, horizons and presuppositions of those various domains. Preparation for proper “personal knowledge” is what TOK’s purpose is, what it is all about. On the basis of the belief in progress, this distinction between personal and shared knowledge loses its significance. When we speak of a “body of knowledge” or the results of research, we assign to them the same cognitive status i.e. that personal and shared knowledge are not much different from each other. One is entitled to the “infallibility” of one’s opinion since it is “one’s own” whether it is what one “thinks” or what one “feels”. 

A special kind of effort is required to transform shared knowledge into genuine knowledge and to be able to discriminate between the genuine and the spurious elements of what claims to be shared knowledge (CT 5). The evident “panic” that appears to be present in the new TOK Guidelines with regard to the current state of political and ethical affairs is evidence for this. But we may sum this up by saying that the god who sometimes wishes and sometimes does not wish to go by the name of Zeus demands payment in blood for the worship of false gods or, in other words, believing the Good to be the Necessary or that which it is not. Scholarship and research are not thought but the enemies of thought because they are used as a substitute for thought. But scholarship can act as a prompt or propaedeutic to thought and this is the primary intention of this blog.

In Part I we have attempted to give a very brief history of English-speaking philosophy focusing on the political thinking of that philosophy since political thinking is the height of The Human Sciences. In The Natural Sciences, Charles Darwin was the great “biological” scientist. Darwin’s fate was to be born English, and there is a strong connection between Darwin’s science and the philosophy of his fellow English-speakers. This is found in his belief in “progress”: that all adaptations and modifications tend towards the “better” and ultimately to “perfection”. This is their “fittedness”, their ability in bringing about survival or preservation from death.

In Part II we will look at the “Continental” philosophers. The great discoveries of modern physics in The Natural Sciences are those of Einstein and Heisenberg. Both are German. There are some silly people who would like to claim that Einstein was an American, but if he had been, we would not have “Einstein’s theory of relativity”. We would have had the theory of relativity by someone else, in all likelihood a German. American education (English-speaking shared knowledge) simply could not have produced an Einstein, and Einstein’s genius was not solely and merely an act of his own creative imagination.

In saying this we also need to point out that politically the experiences of the 20th century’s worst regimes i.e. communism and national socialism, were also the products and results of German political thought. The French political philosopher, Montesquieu, felt that Athens and England had given us the best political regimes, and he pointed out that the English had wisely substituted the pursuit of commerce for the pursuit of honour as the core of their political regimes, thus indicating the superiority of the modern regime to the ancient. He believed that the pursuit of commerce was the best foundation of a free political order. We have seen the inadequacy of the ethics and the “values” that emerge from such regimes based on commerce, and we are suffering through this inadequacy at the present time as the technological society totters towards its apogee.

As we watch the slow disintegration and view the contradictions (our desire to have it both ways) of current English-speaking regimes due to their “technological fate”, it remains good for us who are English-speaking to remember that liberal principles are the only political principles we’ve got, and their defense is our duty in these times. Technology itself does not wish to “have it both ways”; it is consistent in its ordering and gathering. Though our defense may seem futile in the face of the blossoming forth of the technological, the true task of thinking is to understand and persevere in the hope and the efforts that an alternative may be possible.


CT: The Exhibition: A Glossary of Prompts

TOKQuestionYour TOK exhibition is worth 35% of the grade. It is assessed internally, that is by your own teachers, but moderated externally by IB examiners. The “exhibition”, understood as both a noun and a verb, aims to assess how you can apply TOK concepts to the real world by requiring that you bring to presence, bring out of “hiding” and to “hold out”, ex-hibit, evidence of your ability to discourse on the subject matter that you have been studying and questioning in the course. Your discussion requires that you use representational thinking (thinking in images) and inductive reasoning to move from the particular images or objects you have chosen, establish their relation to one another through analogy or metaphor, and then proceed to the general principles and key concepts contained in the prompt that you have chosen to demonstrate your knowledge of those principles and concepts. Your first step is to ensure that you understand what principles and key concepts are involved in the prompt you have chosen.

Your Exhibition is a rendering that is handed over to others i.e. it is public. You have to complete the exhibition individually (no more groups) and make sure no one in your TOK class or school uses the same objects or images in their exhibition. In short, your TOK exhibition is a “holding forth” by you demonstrating how you understand some of the key TOK terms and how you are able to apply them to the “real world”. You are required to choose one prompt from the list below, and it must be exactly from this list and you cannot change the wording. You will then find three objects or images of objects that relate to this prompt and develop your interpretation accordingly.

It is very important that your exhibition is based on one of the prescribed prompts. If not, you will get a 0. You also create a document with the title of your IA prompt, images of the three objects, and you will also provide a commentary on each object that identifies each object and its specific real-world context. The comment should also justify the inclusion of the object in the exhibition and explain its links to the IA prompt (i.e. why these three objects or images from an almost infinite possibility?). Finally, you should also include appropriate citations and references. Perhaps the greatest challenge you will face is that the total word count for this document is 950 words (excluding references).

The purpose for this writing on these prompts is to provoke thought regarding our understanding of what the key concepts contained in the prompts might mean. Our interpretations of things may be complex requiring very specialized language from various areas of knowledge or it may be simple and be provided by what we might call “sound common sense”. It may be useful to you to determine which prompts belong to the same sub-group in terms of their main theme. Whatever prompt you choose, it is important for you to develop your arguments so that they are clear to your listeners and readers. In your analysis of your chosen prompt, you need to determine whether or not it is a “first-order question” and therefore a description or explanation, or whether or not it is a “second order question” and therefore involves the nature of knowledge, the type of knowledge involved, and how we know. The intention of this writing is to provoke thought on your part so that you are mindful of your choices and, hopefully, gain greater knowledge of who you are so that you will be able to make more aware judgements in the future about academic and ethical questions.

The Prompts 

You have to choose one of the following prompts and your choice of prompt will determine the methodology or the pathway as well as the design or plan that you will follow to arrive at your interpretation of the images or objects you have chosen. The choice of the prompt is crucial for the outcome or product that you will produce or “bring forth” and “hold forth” upon. Just as Artificial Intelligence machines arrive at their conclusions that are held in their programming (producing a haiku, for example), you too will also produce an outcome based on your chosen prompt in the manner of how you will examine your three images or objects; and like an Artificial Intelligence machine (to use a metaphor), you will produce a pre-programmed response though you may not be consciously aware of this. Bringing this pre-programmed response to light will help you in your search for self-knowledge in that how you interpret things i.e. your cognition of the things, should come to  a greater light or understanding through this exercise. Again, the interpretation of the prompts provided here is an interpretation only and its purpose is to provoke thought on your part as to why you have chosen the images that you have chosen and what these choices provide your audience regarding your understanding of the world.

Each of the prompts is discussed in turn below:

1. What counts as knowledge?

This is a useful prompt in that one may be able to respond to it in the simplest of terms or one may proceed to the very abyss of what thinking is in one’s response to it. “To count” is to “reckon on” or “reckon up”, to provide the sum of something, its total. “To count on” means that the knowledge produced can be relied upon with certainty to be that which is said about it. In your discussion, defining “counts” and “knowledge” will be crucial as well as demonstrating how the images you have chosen illustrate your interpretations of these key terms. A discussion of the various types of knowledge is given here:

When we ask “what counts as knowledge”, the language of the question should surprise us. Do we really know what we mean when we say “counts”? “To count” comes from the Latin reor and it is directly related to the Latin word ratio. We as human beings define ourselves as the animal rationale, that animal that is capable of reason or the animal that is capable of ratio or of “counting”, the animal capable of language. Ratio and reor can mean “to take something as something”, such as the leafiness of the plant, the stone as stone, etc. It also means to “put something in its place”, or “putting something in order for something else” such as gathering together the things that are required of a recipe so that we may later prepare it, the step-by-step process involved in preparing to bring about a desirable end. We can see its relation to what is now called “algorithms”. This will be discussed in relation to “calculation” and calculus a little later. Other connotations of the word imply some thing’s importance or value such as a disputed goal in football where we say the “goal counts” i.e. it is the point of something, the purpose or end goal of something from which we can add up the parts to make a whole.

“To count” can be understood as what is a priori in the “project”, such as your Exhibition itself. That things are exactly measurable: this is a priori for mathematical physics, and this is what “counts” for mathematical physics. That human beings ‘exist’: this is a priori for all knowledge, including the knowledge you will “uncover” in your Exhibition. ‘A priori’ comes from the Latin for ‘what comes before, earlier’; the a priori is ‘the earlier’. The a priori is not true or ‘correct’ beyond the project which it helps to define: The a priori is the title for what we believe is the essence of things i.e. how reality is conceived. The a priori and its priority will be interpreted by you in accordance with your conception of the thinghood of the things or images you have chosen and your understanding of the being of beings or things in general. What counts in a project is more like a decision than a discovery; it cannot be correct or incorrect: correctness, and criteria for it, only apply within the light shed by the project i.e. what will be claimed and becomes “knowledge”.

What the light of a project reveals are possibilities captured in the interpretation. They should also be applicable for other dealings with things, the things understood and delimited and defined by the project: from your three images or objects, it should be possible to expand the application of your interpretation to many other images or objects not included in the Exhibition. Thus in pro-jecting, what counts as knowledge is that human being always projects itself on its possibilities, though the range of possibilities varies with the thing chosen. In doing this, you as a human being will understand yourself in terms of the possibilities open to you through your thinking. Human being projects itself in its own project. Human being does not have a constant, project-independent understanding of itself: it first understands itself, or understands itself anew, after the projection. Thus, the choices of image or objects for this prompt, and the conclusions to be arrived at, are almost unlimited.  

2. Are some types of knowledge more useful than others?

This prompt is one that many students will opt for as it will not be too difficult to define the types of knowledge and their use through objects or images. “Useful to/for whom”? and “For what purpose”? are the questions that can be explored in the Exhibition.  One may wish to take the journey down the path which discusses techne as that type of knowledge which is “in another” and “for another” and provide examples of various products of human endeavours that provide human beings with some “good end” or “usefulness”. Any image of medicinal healing of any type can answer the questions of “for whom” (human beings) and “for what purposes” (health) because “health” is determined to be “a good end or purpose” and it has “value” for us. You will notice, though, that human beings do not “cause” the health: health itself is an outcome of nature. Procuring health is the setting up of conditions and abetting the properties that are already present in nature and allowing those conditions and properties to flourish. The discussion of how knowledge’s applications are esteemed to have higher value than theoretical knowledge or phronetic knowledge are apropos here, although this was not the case in other cultures at other times. Also, the concept of “added value” in economics etc. are also objects that could come under consideration with this prompt. Notice the relation to prompt #1 and prompt #3: “usefulness” is that knowledge which may be “counted on” and “relied” on and, thus, may be found in our mathematical physics, etc. The “counting on” and “relying on” are the metaphysics that undergird what is the essence of technology as it is defined in these writings.

3. What features of knowledge have an impact on its reliability?

“Reliability” is that which can be “counted on” in any situation that we are concerned with from the choosing of snow tires to the choosing of the surgeon for our next operation, so in many respects this prompt is similar to Prompt #1 in that both the end and “use” and the characteristics of the knowledge with which we wish to engage and use are at play here. The “features” or characteristics of that knowledge which can be relied upon are those that provide “surety” and “certainty”. They are the “predications” of the subject that we call “knowledge”. We find such certainty and surety in the knowledge that results from mathematical calculation; that is, mathematical calculation is a predication of the subject knowledge i.e. a description of the features of that knowledge, for it is through such knowledge that we believe we have “truth”.

“To reckon” on something or “rely on something” means that we can expect it and to see it as something upon which we can build. Originally it did not have any connection with numbers, per se. This “reckoning” is the procedure of doctors making their diagnoses regarding what is required in restoring health to a patient. She does not have the power within herself to restore health itself, but she can establish the conditions where nature restores the health required for the patient i.e. the doctor’s knowledge is that of abetting what is true of nature in regard to the health of human beings. She can help bring that health out into the open.

With the knowledge that we gain from algebraic calculation, it should come as no surprise that what is called “finite calculus” was established by the founder of the principle of reason Gottfried Leibniz. About calculus, Leibniz once wrote: “When God reckons, a world comes into being”; with the death of God it is, of course, human beings who do the reckoning that bring “worlds into being”, what we call “perspectivism”. Leibniz was also the inventor of what we call the “insurance industry” today. Thoughtful connections can be made here.

Requiring “surety” and “certainty” are the consequences of the approach to life that we have inherited from Cartesianism: cogito ergo sum. We wish to possess knowledge that is beyond any doubt.The techne of both the engineers who designed the snow tire and of the surgeon who will perform the surgery are features of the kind of knowledge that we “rely” on when we have a desired end in view, be it our own safety while driving on the road or our own health. An examination of the characteristics of the types of knowledge has been undertaken in greater depth on this prompt in this blog:

4. On what grounds might we doubt a claim?

We doubt a claim when we are lacking certainty and reliability regarding those who are making the claim, the sources of the claim, or when the things about which the claim is being made are not sufficiently justified, that is sufficient reasons have not been supplied for the claim. We cannot “count on” them because they are not “grounded” and the principle of sufficient reason supplies the grounds. See prompts #19, #31.When we speak of “grounds”, we are speaking about whether the “evidence” or the “explanation” regarding the thing which is being spoken about is “adequate” or justified. This evidence or explanation will find its “grounds” in the principle of sufficient reason. Reasons must be given for the claims being made. If sufficient reasons are not given, we doubt the truth of the claim being made. The reasons provide both the evidence and the explanation. But as Aristotle once said: “For as the eyes of bats are to the blaze of day, so is the reason in our soul to the things which are by nature most evident of all.”

On a shop which sells Antique Hand Bags near here is a sign which reads: “The Shop is not Open because it is Closed”. Such a sign speaks the truth in that the fact is that the shop is closed. However, it does not supply a sufficient reason for the shop’s being closed. The sign is what is referred to as a tautology. No reason is given for the shop’s being closed i.e. it is after hours, the owner is away on holidays, the owner is observing a religious festival, etc. Tautologies are prominent in modern day computer language. We “skip over” knowing the reasons for the things being as they are because we, in fact, already know them for being what they are and as they are.The Greeks began their journey to thought by first “trusting” in that which they were seeking, but they also “doubted”. Doubt was a requisite for thought for it inspired “wonder”. Both doubt and skepticism were requirements for beginning thinking. But the end for the Greeks was to demonstrate why their trust was an appropriate response to the things that are and this trust overcame the doubt and skepticism that initiated their search for knowledge. Our doubt and skepticism, on the other hand, is spurred by the requirement of giving sufficient reasons for a thing’s being what and how it is, and should these not be given, then the thing is not. It becomes something “subjective”.

5. What counts as good evidence for a claim?

What “counts” as “good evidence” for a knowledge claim is demonstrated by the manner in which that claim is grounded i.e. how the questions of “what”, “how” and “why” are sufficiently answered and the thing about which the claim is being made is sufficiently brought to light and handed over to others. The most common evidence is given through mathematical calculation i.e.. the thing is measured against something that is already known or something that is already taken for granted as known. This is done in the modern physical sciences. The “experience”, the “experiment” upon which the claim is based must be replicable and the results proven by others.This is what, in fact, you are attempting to do in your Exhibition in that you are attempting to sufficiently ground your choices for the images/objects you have chosen and how they will demonstrate the key concepts inherent in the prompt you have chosen.

If you should chose this prompt, the manner in which you establish the relations that you believe exist between the three objects you have chosen will require the need to provide evidence for that relation. This is usually done through reason as logic, through analogy or metaphor i.e. image/object #1 is “like” or “as” image/object #2, and so on. The projecting of analogies or models is part of the erecting of a framework from which you will demonstrate how you have “viewed” the objects/images present and show them in a new light (possibly) to others. Your rationale for establishing the relations between the objects/images will be based on the principle of sufficient reason and will demonstrate and answer the questions “what”, “why”, and “how’.

6. How does the way that we organize or classify knowledge affect what we know?

In TOK we are asked to put questions to what we think we know and how we think we know. This putting of questions to things is our inquiring into and about the nature of the things that we know and how we know them. In order to put these questions to the things, the things must already be present and be presented to us in some way. Every posing of every question takes place within that which is granted to us, our legacy, in its very presence in who and what we think we are. It is this that we call understanding. Understanding is prior to interpretation. The organisation and classification of things is based on what we know of the things to begin with: the plant-like of the plant, the animation of the animal, the thingness of the thing, etc. Our delimitations and definitions of the things are arrived at prior to their placement in various domains of knowledge and these horizons of the things are arrived at through the use of the principle of reason in our cognitions.

The noun logos and the verb legein from the Greek mean “to gather together”, “to lay one beside the other”. This is what you are doing with the images and objects of your Exhibition. One is laid beside the other so that the one is orientated and conforms to the other by means of a relationship that you will establish. This gathering and laying is a reciprocal relationship, a two-fold back and forth relationship involving both you as knower and the things that you know, the images or objects you have chosen. The Latin words reor and ratio represent the sort of orienting and conforming that is a “reckoning”, “a counting on”, and this is why the Roman word ratio came to translate the Greek word. Logos is a “reckoning” that orients ourselves to some other thing i.e. “relates” some thing to some other thing. To “reckon” means to “orient something in terms of something”, “to represent something as something”. What some thing is determined to be in its representation is determined as what it is.

What we understand by our word “calculus” is also determined from this understanding. Calculus arises from the need to be secure about what some thing is; it is a ‘counting on’ something. This need for the surety of what some thing is gives rise to our preference for mathematical calculus as that which represents knowledge in modernity. This calculus or “reckoning” is not only present in mathematics; it is the foundation or ground of the utilitarian principles of ethics. This calculus also determines how we view a work of art and gives rise simultaneously, during the 17th and 18th centuries, to the theory of aesthetics, how we view, define and subsequently speak about art and beauty. When infinitesimal and finite calculus come to the fore, so does the theory of aesthetics as applied to the experience of a work of art. The principle to render sufficient reasons becomes the unconditional demand to render mathematically technically computable grounds for all that is: total rationalization. Because not all of a work of art or a poem, for instance, can be accounted for through these calculations, we refer to our responses to them as “subjective” and we strive to give an “account” of the work which will overcome this “subjectivity” and will conform to the principle of sufficient reason, a giving of an adequate account with the evidence for such an account.Our ‘mode of access’ to a type of thing, e.g. atoms or historical figures, varies with our prior conception of their being, how we have “defined” and “classified” them. Our methodological approach has been determined prior to our access to the thing which determines what the being of the thing is in the first place. These multivarious approaches or methodologies are determined a priori by the principle of reason. “The truth of a principle can never be proved from its result. For the interpretation of a result as a result is conducted with the help of the principle {the principle of reason}, presupposed, but not grounded”. Technology, understood as the principle of sufficient reason, is the guideline that governs all our relations to beings including our practical relations. Technology is the beholding of the essence of all things in advance (a priori) in the light of which human beings make and produce things and allows human beings to take a stand towards the things that are in the first place. Technology is theoretical; the practical applications, its instrumentality, is secondary to this primary theoretical viewing.

7. What are the implications of having, or not having, knowledge?

One of the possible approaches to this prompt is to distinguish between the implications of having or not having “self-knowledge” and of having or not having “shared knowledge”.  “Implication” is the act of implying, the state of being implied. It is a logical relation between two propositions that fails to hold only if the first is true and the second is false; or it can be a logical relationship between two propositions in which if the first is true, the second must also be true. It can also be a statement exhibiting a relation of implication i.e. a cause-effect relation.

Not having a complete “personal knowledge” of how the computer or hand phone functions is not really necessary unless they do not “work” and we must consult the experts to find out what has gone wrong. Such a lack of knowledge is not crucial to our well-being or survival. Our tragic literature, on the other hand, demonstrates the implications of the lack of “self-knowledge” in its heroes’ actions which ultimately lead to their demise in most cases. A central feature of tragic literature in the West is that it gives us a view of the implications of what results when knowledge is lacking, particularly self-knowledge. From Oedipus to Hamlet and King Lear to Willy Loman, tragic heroes meet their demise, their nemesis, their “just desserts”, due to their lack of knowledge of who they are and the actions they must take, or not take, because of who they are. This lack of self-knowledge elicits pity and fear from us: pity for “the waste of the good” that is the goodness of the tragic hero as a human being, and fear that such a lack of self-knowledge may be present in ourselves.

Our tragic literature and our art, generally, demonstrate that there might not be as great a separation between theory and practice as we have been led to believe.Socrates once said that the “opposite of knowledge is not ignorance, but madness” and he demonstrated this in the figure of the tyrant for whom and in whom all sense of otherness has disappeared. When we consider our world and the beings in it as “objects” we, too, experience the disappearance of “otherness” for it is our cognition which makes or creates those things that we consider beings in our world and the things themselves lack any kind of independent status. Clearly, not knowing how a hand phone works is not an indication of “madness” on our part, but then what is the knowledge that is being spoken about by Socrates?  What is the knowledge the lack of which is an indication of our “madness”? What is the “truth” that we are lacking in what we hold up as “knowledge”? Obviously, the societies of which we are members determine what knowledge is and what types of knowledge will be considered “valuable”. The choices made by parents and students indicate what we consider to be knowledge of value. What do these choices indicate? What do your choices of objects or images for this prompt indicate about you and the society of which you are a member?

8. To what extent is certainty attainable?

Our modern scientific knowledge in the form of quantum physics demonstrates that what has been traditionally understood as “certainty” regarding knowledge of nature and inquiries into nature is not possible. We do not have “certainty” regarding our knowledge of nature, but we do have “dependability” and we can “count on” the results we achieve through our inquiring and experimentation. This quote from one of quantum physics’ founders, Werner Heisenberg, assures us of this: “We [physicists] have resigned ourselves to the situation just described, since it turned out that we could represent mathematically and say in every case, dependably and without fear of logical contradiction, what the result of an experiment would be. Thus we resigned ourselves to the new situation the moment we could make dependable predictions. Admittedly, our mathematical formulas no longer picture nature but merely represent our own grasp of nature. To that extent, we have renounced the type of description of nature that was customary for centuries and that had been valid as the self-evident goal of all exact natural science. Even provisionally, we cannot say more than that in the field of modern atomic physics we have resigned ourselves, and we have done so because our representations are dependable.” (Werner Heisenberg, “The Picture of Nature in Contemporary Physics”) The Natural Sciences as an Area of Knowledge

Quantum physics challenges what we have understood historically as causality and the role of reason in understanding the world about us, but because its results are reliable and dependable we can count on those results as giving us all that we need to know. That we do not “know” in the traditional sense does not matter: what matters is the reliability of the results. 

9. Are some types of knowledge less open to interpretation than others?

The various types of knowledge that were understood by the Greeks and which are outlined in the link CT 1: Introduction to Theory of Knowledge: Knowledge and the Knower indicate that “interpretation” is linked to “doubt” and “skepticism” in our modern understanding of what knowledge is. In today’s philosophical language this interpretative method is called hermeneutics, and it derives its authority from the premise that all knowledge is historical i.e. no knowledge is “permanent”, and this is quite contrary to how the Greeks understood knowledge as in sophia and episteme; they understood that some things are permanent.

In establishing the framework for what can be considered knowledge in our age, axioms or archai, principles, rules, laws, etc. are established so that there is little room to discuss the objects and their being that are under scrutiny. The ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of the object is already pre-determined and the inquiry is to find an understanding of the ‘why’. If the first principle is the principle of reason, then the rest of one’s discourse must be logically derived and the conclusions drawn from that principle. If one accepts the premises, one must also accept the conclusions that are drawn from them. There may be some dispute over the language used to communicate these conclusions, but this is avoided when the language used is mathematical calculus. Since discussions about art begin with questions of what the works are as ‘objects’, they are ‘interpretations’ of the ‘what’, the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of the work that is present before us. Understanding what the purpose of a great work of art is remains for us a mystery since they appear to be purpose itself. Art’s purpose is to change the manner in which we see or view the world. Since this is its concern, it is subject to interpretation. The axioms, principles, rules, laws, etc. of mathematics and the sciences begin with the permanent things, the unchanging things and therefore are less subject to interpretation. They are either accepted or rejected and no further discourse is possible about them. What knowledge itself is does not change, and all knowledge is based on an interpretation. This is the contradiction we live within.

CT 1: Introduction to Theory of Knowledge: Knowledge and the Knower;

CT 1: Perspectives (WOKs)

10. What challenges are raised by the dissemination and/or communication of knowledge?

For knowledge to be knowledge, it must be shared or handed over to others and confirmed and affirmed (See prompt #26). The handing over of knowledge is done through language and this language may be in the form of speech, numbers, or images/representations. To “disseminate” means ‘to spread something widely’ so that it is available for public viewing; it is a ‘bringing to presence’ of some thing so that others may be able to view it. All dissemination of knowledge is, in one form or another, political since it deals with the “community” or the polis. The ‘political  as understood here is not what we commonly think of as political parties etc. These are subsets of the ‘political’ in its essence. OT 3: Knowledge and Politics Part 1.

For knowledge to be accumulated and disseminated there must be both a communicator of the knowledge and an audience of hearers. For Plato, the true logos is silent to the soul which does not have the possibility of hearing it i.e. the soul that is not prepared for it and does not possess genuine education. The soul, when properly ordered, is given to us by Socrates in his prayer to Pan at the end of the dialogue Phaedrus: “O dear Pan and all you gods here, grant it to me to become beautiful, to come into the correct condition in relation to what is in myself, what comes from inside, and grant that whatever I possess on the outside may be a friend to what is inner, and grant that I repute as rich the one who is wise, and grant that to me the amount of gold I possess in this world will have as much value for me and that I will claim for it only as much value as a man of understanding should claim.” Socrates’ prayer is that his soul will become “beautiful”, and this means having its proper relation to the things themselves and for their correct limits; nothing in excess. When the soul is not beautiful, it is “ugly” and “deformed”.

From Plato’s dialectic or that conversation that is conducted among friends, we have inductive and deductive logic, from diaeresis and dianoia, the separation and the bringing together. Dialectic is discussion conducted in “friendship”, among two or three, whereas the logos of the “disseminator of knowledge” is directed towards the multitude, the many. It is directed by what is called rhetoric, and rhetoric has its own techniques. Diaeresis is the separation that allows something to be set in relief, juxtaposed and thus brought forward, a setting off and distinguishing of something from something else. Dianoia is that thinking which brings separate things together and allows those things to be seen as units, ones or monads. This is the process that you are attempting in your Exhibition, and your report to the IB on your Exhibition will demonstrate this. Although dialectic is now considered a complex philosophical term, in its original sense it could mean nothing more than a discussion among friends at Starbucks over coffee. Listen closely to your conversations among yourselves.

In order to know the audience so that one’s knowledge can be communicated, the “speaker” of such “knowledge” must understand the human beings who are the hearers. Knowing the audience is the recognition that we are beings in bodies. Plato examines the relation of the body to the soul under the themes of “illness” and “deformity” in his dialogue Sophist. “Sickness” in the soul is determined to be an “insurrection” that results when the mode of comportment of the soul comes into conflict with another mode of comportment; we might call this “a conflict of conscience”. One finds the best example of this metaphor in Shakespeare’s Macbeth and in the motif of “sickness” that runs throughout that play: “Art not without ambition, but without/ The illness should attend it: what thou wouldst highly,/ That wouldst thou holily; wouldst not play false, And yet wouldst wrongly win…(Act 1 Sc. v) Shakespeare’s Macbeth is not a play about ambition: Shakespeare is not “against” ambition; it is a play that concerns the outcomes of the “illness” that at times accompanies ambition and the ambitious.

“Deformity” of the soul is characterized by the movement of the soul towards something which it has established as its “aim”, “the scope” in the soul where the “aim” is sighted, but the individual soul is “inadequate” to the “aim”; it is “unfitted” or not suitable to the aim such as seen in the play Macbeth once again. Phronesis deals with the proper sighting of the soul and phronesis is developed through “experience” and “self-knowledge”. Without phronesis one develops “misperceptions” of things. Infatuation is a common example, not simply for another human being but for the outward appearances of things. The human soul, according to Plato, is in a state of “ignorance” but it strives to overcome this ignorance and become beautiful. Our being-in-the-world is permeated by a lack of knowledge. It is an infatuation with immediately given appearances on the basis of which all further experiences of the world are investigated, inquired about, and explained. Infatuation is that love of the “beauty” which is in “the eye of the beholder”.

“Ignorance” is rooted in “unfamiliarity”, “not having seen something or other yet appearing to oneself and to others as if one did know it”. “Presumed familiarity” with something is the proper origin of deception and error. What is essential is not mere ignorance, mere unfamiliarity, but a presumption of knowledge. True education is the “leading out” and a liberation towards seeing revealed truth. Ignorance is “bad” because it inhibits human beings from their true Being which is to reveal truth. The ignorance cannot be eliminated with definite bits of knowledge; it cannot be something that provides or produces a definite stock of objective knowledge and provides definite objective ways of knowing things. It can only be eliminated through the mode of speaking with one another and to one another. This type of speaking in under great threat in today’s world. Plato sees the “illness” and “ugliness” of the soul as requiring a “catharsis” or “purification”. However, the soul in need of “purification” shuts itself off from such instruction because it feels it does not need the purification to begin with because it believes that it already knows. This pretense to knowledge is what must be undercut and exposed. This helps us to understand what Socrates meant when he said that the opposite of knowledge is not ignorance, but madness, such a madness as one sees in Macbeth at the end of that play. If one follows through on this distinction between ignorance and madness, one can see that a great deal of madness is prevalent today in advanced societies.

One of the obvious challenges in communicating and disseminating knowledge is translation. All translation is an interpretation. In the examples that I frequently use from the Greeks, all of them are translations of that language. The language used by Plato in his dialogues, for instance, is an attempt to get beyond the chit-chat of everyday speech, the language we most commonly use in our everyday dealings with things and with others. The language and engagement in the conversation that is dialectic is not the attempt to out-argue someone, but getting one’s partner in the conversation to open their eyes and see; dialectic is possible between friends, not between rivals; dialectic is not political. An appropriate question to ask is whether or not a “dialectic” is possible on today’s social media and what possible consequences are present.

Logos is an assertion about something and an addressing of some thing as some thing. It is concerned with the proper naming of the things. While language first has to do with hearing, its purpose is to make us see the thing that is named. We do not have to look far for examples of disputes with the proper naming of things and you may find any number of them for your Exhibition. OT 2: Language and Knowledge

11. Can new knowledge change established values or beliefs?

The obvious answer to the question of this prompt is “yes”, so in your Exhibition you will demonstrate what that knowledge is and how that knowledge changed our values and/or beliefs, presumably with regard to what was considered “knowledge” prior to it. The “what”, “how” and “why” of those changes in “values” and “beliefs” or what have become known as “paradigm shifts” in human being-in-the-world have brought about many consequences once they were established as our way of viewing and being-in-the-world. The main problem that you will be faced with in this prompt is that it is so broad that a focus is required, and you can begin to do so by looking at how values and beliefs changed in any number of areas of knowledge.

To what areas of knowledge do the images/objects you have chosen belong? You might begin by examining how the word “values” is itself an example of the great change that occurred during that period we call the Renaissance when human beings became the centre of the things that are, with the consequence that we have the rise of the age of humanism. An examination of what we understand as History can occur here. The Greeks, for example, did not have any “values” and the closest approximation we have to describe this situation is what the Greeks understood by “virtue”.  “Values” involve ethics or choices and determinations of what are “best ends”, what is “most useful” primarily for the individual and also for the community; “virtues” involve politics, how to best live in communities.

Certainly the greatest change in our human being-in-the-world occurs due to our change in our relationship to Nature. What values and beliefs changed due to our change in our relationship to Nature could be undertaken. A link that might be of some help with a discussion of this broad theme is posted here:  The Natural Sciences: Historical Background.

A discussion of what “values” and “beliefs” are might be demonstrated and you might find this link helpful. Darwin and Nietzsche: Part 3: Truth as “Correctness”: Its Relation to “Values”

Similar explorations can be undertaken in the areas of the arts, particularly the history of the development of the arts. What is it that we “value” in a work of art? See the link: What is a work of Art? 

12. Is bias inevitable in the production of knowledge?

This prompt asks you to inquire whether “objectivity” is possible given its assertion of the negative as to whether or not “bias is inevitable” (See prompt #28). Is there such a thing or mode of being as “objectivity”? What is “objectivity”? When we speak of “bias” we usually mean that it is the particular leaning one may have in order to bring about a pre-determined outcome, the “production” or bringing forth of which is determined to be a good end. When we say that science is “the theory of the real”, we are saying that science is the viewing that allows the interpretation of the being of things to be “objects” and to be understood as “reality”. In the most general terms (and as a “second order” inquiry) the “production of knowledge” that results from such viewing is the determination of the being of things as “objects”. The German philosopher Kant grounded this viewing in his Critique of Pure Reason. According to Kant, our cognition renders sufficient reasons for the being of objects when it brings forward and securely establishes the objectness of objects and thereby brings itself to objectness, that is, to the being of experienceable beings. This is what Kant called his “transcendental method”.

Our experience of the world is one of being amidst objects and all other determinations of the being of objects is precluded other than that established by the principle of sufficient reason. What makes the being of objects possible is Reason itself. When we say that the objectivity of objects is based upon “subjectivity” we mean that it is not something confined to a single person and something fortuitous to their individuality and situation and discretion; it is not “personal knowledge”. “Subjectivity”, according to Kant, is the “lawfulness of reasons” which provide the possibility of an object. This can be done through perception and calculation. Subjectivity does not mean “subjectivism” but is rather the dwelling of the claim of the principle of reason which has as its consequences the Information Age and the Age of Artificial Intelligence in which the particularity, separation and validity of the individual disappears in favour of total uniformity. The principle of reason demands the universal and total reckoning up of everything as something calculable. Without such reckoning up (algorithms, for example) our computers and hand phones would be quite useless because they could not have come into existence. If the inquiry of your Exhibition wishes to remain a “first order” inquiry, the age-old advice of “follow the money” is a good one whether it be about climate change deniers, the lack of ethics in the activities of the world banking system, etc. The “bias” in the production of knowledge will be determined by the ends that have been chosen which will, in turn, determine the methods in which those ends will be achieved, usually unethical ones. You may want to reflect on the saying: “the good end justifies any means” and through your examples show the nature of bias.

13. How can we know that current knowledge is an improvement upon past knowledge?When we speak of the “improvement” in something, we are implying that the thing spoken about is “better” or is in a better condition than it was previously. When we compare the latest I-Phones to what appeared previously, what counts for improvements are the greater number of apps that are applicable to making our everyday encounters more efficient and reliable. We can look at our recovery from various illnesses to see improvements in health care and in the treatment of various diseases. In looking at the prompt in its most general form, what counts as experience at a given period depends on a prior interpretation of the world that is not itself derived from or vulnerable to experience. Thus the issue between competing scientific theories cannot always be settled by ‘experience’. One cannot say that Galileo’s doctrine of the free fall of bodies is true and that of Aristotle, who holds that light bodies strive upwards, is false; for the Greek conception of the essence of body, of place, and of their relationship depends on a different interpretation of beings and therefore engenders a different way of seeing and examining natural processes.

Is Galileo’s view an “improvement” on Aristotle’s view of nature is, of course, another question entirely and one which you may explore in your Exhibition. Certainly, any sane person will see the improvements in various technes or arts and crafts as improvements in knowledge. Anyone who has been ill or has had loved ones who have been ill could not but be grateful for the improvements that have occurred in the medical sciences such as the discovery of penicillin. It is difficult to take as sane someone who does not.

Ours has been an “age of progress” in that the knowledge that has been produced from the technological viewing of the world has brought about many benefits. However, such knowledge has also brought about many ills and challenges that we are now trying to overcome and must overcome if we are to sustain life on this planet. Our imposition on nature to bring about any ends that we may have in view presents us with challenges and dangers that are most difficult to understand and to overcome.

14. Does some knowledge belong only to particular communities of knowers?

Various communities of knowers establish “world-pictures” in which only “those in the know” are able to participate. The IB is one such community. The acronyms and the specialized language in use in those communities are not things that those outside of the community are familiar with. In other areas, there are few, for example, who understand the mathematics involved in quantum and relativity physics. These cabals of knowers have power within their respective communities, so much so that some proponents of these world-pictures have become placed as the new “priesthood” in the communities where these world pictures thrive. (See response to Prompt #21) Religion is what we bow down to or what we look up to and self-knowledge will reveal the idols that one may look up to or bow down to. 

There are few who would claim to have knowledge of what is going on in modern arts circles is another example. I, for example, haven’t got a clue what is going on in the fashion arts. For knowledge of that subject, I have to turn to my daughters.

That we have areas of knowledge is a recognition of the need for specialization in our studies since so much information and knowledge has been amassed in these areas through our pursuit of knowledge. But while these world-pictures are constructed in dealing with the beings that are involved in those domains, it is technology as the theoretical viewing that dominates how the beings will be inquired about and the manner of questioning regarding their being. It is the object that determines the kind of knowledge that is most appropriate to it i.e. the permanent, unchanging things in contrast to the things that change. Technology itself is a disclosive looking and is not to be understood as manufacturing. The Greeks understood technology as the theoretical knowledge that makes the practical applications possible. Technology is a seeing rather than a doing and its realm is truth not instrumentality, knowledge of Being rather than the manufacture of artifacts. OT2: Knowledge and Technology

While this is not so much an issue for high school students, it will become very much an issue as they proceed in their education. When one reads modern essays, doctoral theses, and other research in most areas of knowledge, one finds that there are no references from, say, before 1980 in the research. It must be that we feel that we have nothing to learn from the thinking that occurred before this time, or perhaps we feel that we already know the discussions that the great minds undertook regarding things in the past and that we can learn about them but not from them. Seeking truth for these communities of knowers is much like swimming inside the local lagoon here in Bali where the contours and shapes and the security of one’s activities can be carried out without the need to go beyond the safety and security of the surrounding reef to the area where the dangers of the big surf lie and where the sharks await. But such a venturing is necessary if one truly wishes to engage in a search for the truth of things. It is no surprise that the great discoveries of modern physics were primarily initiated by Germans, Einstein and Heisenberg for instance, just as it is not an accident that the great discoveries of Newton and Darwin belong to the English-speaking world.

15.  What constraints are there on the pursuit of knowledge? 

The greatest constraint placed upon the pursuit of knowledge is that which is imposed by the principle of reason: nihil est sine ratione: “nothing is without (a) reason”. In connection with the historical development of natural science, things become objects through reason; they become material, and a point of mass in motion in space and time and the methodology used pursues the calculation of these various points. When what is is defined as object, as object it becomes the ground and basis of all things, their determinations as to what they are, and the kinds of questioning that determine those determinations. That which is animate is also included here in this determination of being as object: nothing distinguishes humans from other animals or species (Darwin’s Origin of Species). Even where one permits the animate its own character (as is done in the human sciences), this character is conceived as an additional structure built upon the inanimate. This reign of the object as material thing, as the genuine substructure of all things, reaches into the area that we call the “spiritual”; into the sphere of the meaning and significance of language, of history, of the work of art, and all of the areas of knowledge of TOK. Works of art, poems, and tragedies are all perceived as “things”, and the manner of our questioning about them is done through “research”, the calculation that determines why the “things”/the works are as they are through “historical studies”.

16. Should some knowledge not be sought on ethical grounds?

This prompt speaks to the reasons or grounds that some actions should not be taken prior to reflection on their being undertaken presumably because the ends of those actions are not “good” ends. In hindsight, we might say that the research into the making of atomic weaponry should not have been undertaken given the outcomes of their capabilities. It was done and we live with the reality of their presence. Current research into AI, artificial intelligence, is being questioned because so much of it is occurring “beyond good and evil” or beyond ethical considerations. Both Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus and Ridley Scott’s film Prometheus are warnings of the implications of seeking some kinds of knowledge without considering the ends of such knowledge. Not all knowledge is good, it seems. Our word “monster” finds its root in monere or “warning”. The prompt indicates that human beings live within “grounds” or “reasons” and we view the objects of our world in terms of possibilities and potentialities. It is extremely difficult to question the ethics of those possibilities and potentialities because the language from which we could question them arose within the same crucible of seeing or theory that made them possible in the first place i.e. the technological.

Of course, the prompt should involve some thought regarding how we treat the world and the inhabitants within it and some thought must be given to how money is involved in many situations and conditions that students will have to face once they have “made the grade” and succeeded in the game where knowledge is valued according to its applications. The doing of unethical or unlawful actions will become de riguer as they take their place within the world’s corporations. Activities such as gene splicing to produce seed that will not reproduce, etc. will be choices that individuals in the future will have to make with the know-how that they have. It is obvious that such seeing of possibilities and potentialities is dependent upon the techne of the technological viewing and those who proceed with unethical actions will do so because they believe some personal end which will bring about their own personal eudaimonia or happiness will be the result, and they will do so under a sense of “duty” or be “just following the orders” of their superiors.

17. Why do we seek knowledge?

The German poet and mystic Angelus Silesius once wrote: “The rose is without why; it blooms because it blooms, / It pays no attention to itself, asks not whether it is seen.” What is it that distinguishes human beings from a rose? The mystery of the principle of reason is what has come to define human beings as the animal rationale. The essence of human beings is “reason”. What is this? The German philosopher Nietzsche once wrote: “To stamp becoming with the character of being –that is the supreme will to power” (WP 617). How does this statement relate to why human beings seek knowledge?

The principle of reason founds all principles as principles. How is the principle of reason a “rendered reason”? why must a reason be explicitly brought forward i.e. rendered, and to whom or to what is a reason rendered? We believe that a truth is only a truth if a reason can be rendered for it. For the German philosopher Leibniz, a truth is a verifiable proposition, a correct judgement. Judgement is the connection between what is stated with that about which a statement is made. It is the unity of a subject with its predicate and the support for their being connected is the basis or ground of the judgement and provides justification for the judgement. Reason renders an account of the truth of judgement. In Latin, this account is ratio: the ground of the truth of judgement is ratio. Because reason is a ratio, an account, if it is not given a judgement remains without justification. It lacks evident correctness, evidence. Judgement itself is not truth; judgement is only true when the reason for the connection is specified, when the ratio or account is given. Such a rendering needs a place where the account can be given and rendered.

 In asking the question why do we seek knowledge, we are asking what is the reason that our being is grounded in the principle of reason. Reasons must be rendered to human beings who determine objects as objects by way of a representation that judges. “Representation” is to present some thing, to make something present to humans. Since Descartes, the experience of human beings is as an “I” that relates to the world such that it renders this world to itself in the form of connections correctly established between its representations i.e. judgements, and thus sets itself over-against the world as to an object. Judgements and statements are correct, that means true, only if the reason for the connection of subject and predicate is rendered, given back to the representing “I”. A reason is this sort of reason only if it is a ratio, that is an account given about something that is in front of the person as a judging “I” and is given to this “I”. An account is an account only if it is handed over. When the reason for the connection of the representations has been directed back to the “I”, what is represented first comes to a stand such that it is securely established as an object for the representing subject. The reason rendered must be a sufficient reason: that is, that it be completely satisfactory as an account. This is what you are attempting to do in your Exhibition.

What does this mean?What you are attempting to do is to render completeness to the reasons that you are giving for those objects/images that you have chosen. This is called “perfection”. It is what guarantees that something is firmly established, secured in its grounds of its place as an object for human cognition. Only the completeness of the account, perfection, provides the evidence for the fact that every cognition everywhere and at all times can include and count on the objects and reckon with them. Herein arises the role of algebraic calculation: everything counts as existing when and only when it has been securely established as a calculable object for cognition. If it is not, it is “subjective”.

The principle of reason is what is in operation when we say “I get it!” in English, for it is the manner in which we “take something on”, “deal with it”, perceive it. Before the German philosopher Leibniz’ declaring the principle of reason as the principle, it lay in hiding in the darkness of our assumptions throughout Western history. With its articulation, the “modern age” bursts into blossom. But even today, the principle of reason is not clearly understood as that which determines all cognition and behaviour.

If we speak of technology, the products of technology, our computers, hand phones, military hardware and logistics, these are all examples of the principle of reason’s striving for “perfectibility”. which is its completeness of the calculably secure establishing of objects and the securing of the calculability of our reckoning with them. This “perfection” is the striving for the completeness of the foundation. It is the authority of the principle of reason which characterizes the modern age as “technological” or as the Information Age. The demands of the principle of rendering sufficient reasons creates the lack of clarity and confusion in our actions, our ethics. Modern science experiences the demand to render sufficient reasons as a crisis currently. (See particularly the comments by Heisenberg in the blogs on The Natural Sciences.)

The Natural Sciences as an Area of Knowledge:

18. Are some things unknowable?

We might begin a response to this prompt by saying that if there are “things” then they are “knowable” by the very fact of their being a “thing”. Until they become a “thing”, they are not “knowable”. This is why works of art are turned into “things” nowadays so that something may be said about them as to what they are and what they may mean.What is “unknowable” is not a thing. God, for example, is not a thing in that he is not “calculable” or measurable within the overall parameters of time and space positions and locations.

What is considered “unknowable” is where the search for knowledge begins so that they can become “known”; but notice that they will become known as ‘things’. In this search, we tend to look for things or at possible things which are far away from us rather than at those things that are nearest to us. An old story which Plato speaks about in his Theaetetus is that “Thales, while occupied in studying the heavens above and looking up, fell into a well. A good-looking and whimsical maid from Thrace laughed at him and told him that while he might passionately want to know all things in the universe, the things in front of his very nose and feet were unseen by him.” Plato adds, “This jest also fits all those who become involved in philosophy”. What is unknowable is as such because it is “unnameable”. If a thing cannot be named, it cannot be given over to others. For Christians, the name of God is “holy”, “sacred”, and He is not to be “named” because to do so would turn Him into a “thing”. Calling Him “God” or “Father” or whatever is not naming Him because what is lacking is “knowledge by acquaintance” and the terms used to describe Him are analogies or metaphors. The same principle operates in Islam’s rejection of any images of Allah for to represent Him as an image or idea turns Him into a thing.

CT 1 Knowledge and the Knower: “Empowerment”

19. What counts as a good justification for a claim?

The providing of sufficient reasons is what we consider to be a good justification for a claim. What is a sufficient reason? A sufficient reason is the identification of a subject or theme with its predicates; it is the identification of the causes for some thing’s being “what” and “how” it is. It is what you are doing in your Exhibition which we can say is an “event”. CT 1: Knowledge and Reason as Empowering and Empowerment

The providing of sufficient reasons is related to what is known as the correspondence theory of truth. We believe we have knowledge when our representations in our minds “correspond” to the things that we are inquiring about. A sufficient reason is both a demonstration and an explanation of some thing or event, but the thing or event must be made and become an object of inquiry a priori through the application of the principle of sufficient reason. That is, the thing must give itself back to us as an object prior to our investigation of it. The principle of reason states: “nothing is without (a) cause” or “nothing is without a reason” or “nothing is without reason”.

It is the final statement, nothing is without reason, that must be understood here. For a thing to be in the first place, reason must supply its being and the thing must give itself back to the inquiring subject as being able to be known through calculation and measurement i.e. as an object. As the philosopher Kant said: “The mind makes the object”. After the mind has done so, the rendering of sufficient reasons is what counts as good evidence and a good explanation, and provides the justification for the knowledge claim made about the thing. While most of the sufficient reasons are supplied through logic and logistics in mathematical calculations, examples for this calculating reasoning may be taken from almost anywhere and it will be your task to show their relationship to each other in making the assertions you will make regarding the three images or objects that you have chosen.

20. What is the relationship between personal experience and knowledge?

It was the Greek fundamental experience of the being of beings which underlay, and gave rise to, both the subject-predicate form of their language (and, thus, our English language) and their conception of a thing as a subject (subjectum) with accidents (qualities, what we experience of the thing through sensory perception). This fundamental experience of how things are comes to determine for us the manner in which we look at and “experience” the things we encounter here in the modern age.

‘To experience’ can be understood in many ways. It has the connotations of ‘to live’, or to ‘live through’. One can experience fear, for example, by feeling it or by witnessing it. Usually we associate experience with an intense effect on one’s inner life, but not necessarily externally, as in ‘That was quite an experience’. Experience can also mean ‘to go, travel, etc.’, literally to ‘go forth’, and this understanding has a more external quality. It can mean ‘to learn, find out, hear of, but also ‘to receive, undergo’, something. “Education” is “the experience of the leading out or leading forth”, experience understood as, or of, an external, objective event, and the lessons one learns from such events. As part of your education, ’empirical science’ is an experience in which you conduct ‘experiments’; by contrast, in literature or the arts you may be called upon to write an essay (an “attempt, a test”) based on personal experience or your experience of a text.

How we come to understand lived experiences are especially important in the Group 3 subjects. They may sometimes be understood as inner states, activities and processes that we are aware of or ‘live through’, but do not usually make objects of introspection or reflection. The connection with life and the human sciences is explicit: ‘Starting from “life” itself as a whole, human scientists try to understand its “lived experiences” in their structural and developmental inter-connections’.We must be careful and wary of the notion of ‘experiencing’.

We commonly associate ‘experiencing’ with an “I”, a subject or a consciousness. We can think of experience as an isolated, temporary experience or an inner, psychical event, intrinsically detached both from the body and from the external world. To conceive the self in terms of ‘experiencing’ implies that it is either pieced together from intrinsically distinct, momentary experiences or as an underlying thread that persists unchanged throughout its ‘experiences’. To regard moods or conscience as experiences ignores the way in which these moods disclose or how they open up for us our way of being in the world and our human being. Human being is not aware of itself by focusing on its experiences, but in ‘what it does, uses, expects, avoids’, in things it is concerned about in the world around it. Affects, passions and feelings (the manner in which we conceive of emotion) are not to be seen as inner experiences: ‘what we are concerned with here is not psychology, not even a psychology underpinned by physiology and biology, but . . . with the way in which man withstands the “There”, the openness and hiddenness of the beings among which he stands’. “Fortunately the Greeks had no experiences … Hence they did not believe that the point of art is to provide them.” (Heidegger)

Sometimes we understand experience as the experience, sensation or ‘buzz’ to be derived from, say, a drug or a rally (Jimi Hendrix Are You Experienced?). Technology’s erosion of human being and its enclosing of the world (the opposite of ‘disclosing’) are offset by its ability to give us experiences. All that matters is the quality of the feeling or experience, since these experiences can have no significance for our lives or our world. This leads to the great temptation of solipsism, particularly among the young.

Experience is at first passive: we come across something without going in search of it. In active experience, we ‘go forth’ to look for something. We go to something to see (perhaps with artificial aids such as microscopes) what happens to it under varying conditions, either waiting for the new conditions to arise or intervening to produce them. To experiment is where we intervene in something to see what happens: if we do such and such, only now we do so in ‘anticipation of regularity, e.g. when so much – then so much’.

The modern experiment essentially involves ‘exact’ measurement. Objects are shorn of their essences and regarded as mere individuals (or ‘ones’/units) conforming to mathematical regularities. These regularities determine in advance what counts as “objective”. Scientists do not conduct exact experiments to discover whether nature conforms to mathematical regularities; they do so because they presuppose a projection of nature as mathematical. Experiment in this sense is quite different from ‘experience’: ‘science becomes rational-mathematical, i.e. in the highest sense not experimental’. ‘Experiment’ and ‘experience’ were once contrasted with the medieval practice of examining authorities and previous opinions. Now they are contrasted with mere observation and description, guided by no mathematical ‘anticipation’.

‘Experience’, like all basic words, changes its meaning over history. What counts as experience at a given period depends on a prior interpretation of the world that is not itself derived from or vulnerable to experience. Thus the issue between competing scientific theories cannot always be settled by ‘experience’: ‘One cannot say that Galileo’s doctrine of the free fall of bodies is true and that of Aristotle, who holds that light bodies strive upwards, is false; for the Greek conception of the essence of body, of place and of their relationship depends on a different interpretation of beings and therefore engenders a different way of seeing and examining natural processes’. (Heidegger, What is a Thing)

This is an instance of the general idea that our ‘mode of access’ to a type of entity, e.g. atoms or historical figures, varies with our prior conception of their being. “The truth of a principle can never be proved from its result. For the interpretation of a result as a result is conducted with the help of the principle (the principle of reason, for instance), presupposed, but not grounded”. It is the Greek ‘fundamental experience of the being of beings’, which underlay, and gave rise to, both the subject-predicate form of their language and their conception of a thing as a subject with accidents. I have written extensively on this topic of personal knowledge on this blog site and recommend that you view the following links to find possible approaches in narrowing your focus on this broad topic: CT 1 Knowledge and the Knower: “Empowerment”; CT 1: Introduction to Theory of Knowledge: Knowledge and the Knower; CT 1: Self-Knowledge and Ethics

21. What is the relationship between knowledge and culture?

“Culture” is a 19th century word and has come to prominence with the arrival and dominance of the Human Sciences as a way of viewing the world. In your study of Group 3 subjects, you will hear both the words “culture” and  “world-view” said often. What is a “world-view” and how does it differ from a “world-picture” which can be associated with “mindsets”, “systems”, “subjectivity” and, thus, with the various understandings of what a “culture” is?

A culture is the ‘way of life’: the customs, civilization, achievement and values of a particular group of people at a particular time. It is an important element in the “seeing place” implied in the word ‘theory’ and is that which one must rise above (according to Plato in the allegory of the Cave and Simone Weil in her writings) and yet remain, at the same time, rooted to (the return of the released prisoner in the allegory of the Cave). Our understandings and interpretations of our experiences are, for the most part, culturally determined and this is what we have come to call “shared knowledge”.

The concept of a ‘culture’ is 19th century thought for what we call “cultures” are ‘historically determined’ and the knowledge brought forward from them will also be historically determined. The Greek polis is not properly understood as a culture, and we do not translate Plato’s Republic, for instance, as Plato’s ‘Culture’, yet the discussions in that dialogue are what we would understand as ‘culture’. 

“World-view” comes from the German Weltanschauung which is formed from Welt, ‘world’, and Anschauung, ‘view, etc.’, and means ‘view of, outlook on, the world’. What we call culture is derived from ‘world-view’. A “world-picture”, on the other hand, comes from the German Weltbild, a ‘picture [BiId] of the world’. The fact that the origin of these words is from 19th century German indicates that they are “modern” understandings of human beings’ position within the world. They were brought to their current prominence by the German sociologist/philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey, the man considered to be the “father” of the modern understanding of the human sciences.

In exploring the word “culture”, we must understand that world-view and world-picture are not interchangeable as to their meanings. A “world-picture” is usually associated with science or a science (‘the mechanistic world-picture’, ‘the physicist’s world-picture’, ‘the chemist’s world-picture’, etc.), while a “world-view” can be either pre-scientific or scientific. A “world-picture” is usually a theoretical view of the external world, while a “world-view” is essentially a ‘view of life’, a view of our position and place in the world and how we should act (our ‘lifestyle’ and the ethics that arise from that lifestyle).

From world-views and world-pictures is determined what and how we understand what our personal and shared knowledge are to be. Adherents of the same “world-picture” may hold different world-views and enter into conflict employing the weapons supplied by their common “world-picture”. A “world-picture” is only one constituent of a “world-view”. One might view the current “war on terrorism” in this light and a fruitful Exhibition can result from determining how this may be the case. A ‘world-view’ is often arbitrary and peremptory. It may be ‘personal’, expressing one’s own particular life-experience and opinions (one’s personal knowledge), or ‘total’, extinguishing all personal opinions (‘shared knowledge’). A total ‘world-view’ cannot understand itself, for from this understanding would come a questioning that would put the total world-view in question.

The modern world-picture, however, involves several components: mathematical science; machine technology; the reduction of art to an object of ‘experience’; the conception of all human activity as ‘culture’ and as the realization of ‘values’ (empowerment), the concern of a ‘cultural policy’ politically; a godlessness that co-exists with the ‘modernization’ of the Christian ‘world-view’ and with intense ‘religious experience’. Underlying all this, even natural science with its mathematical calculations from within a frame, is the very idea of a ‘world-picture’. If we read the prompt in the light of such expressions as ‘being in the picture’, ‘putting oneself in the picture’, ‘getting the picture’ – which imply a complete mastery of what the picture is a picture of – we see that world-picture essentially means not a picture of the world, but the world conceived as picture from within a framing. (cf. William Blake’s “The Tyger” and the “framing” of the fearful symmetry that is the “tyger”).

Beings as a whole are now taken in such a way that they are in being first and only insofar as they are presented by the human being as the representer and producer, that is, as objects. The emergence of the world-picture and the knowledge and culture derived from it involves an essential decision about beings as a whole. The being of beings is sought and found in the representedness of beings’ that arises through the principle of reason or ratiocination and the account of beings given therein.

World-picture, like the concept of culture, is distinctively modern. There is no medieval world-picture: human beings are assigned their place by God in His created order. Perhaps in your study of Shakespeare you have come across the Elizabethan world-picture or order of being, but this is not how the Elizabethans viewed themselves; this understanding is a later German understanding. There is no Greek world-picture: human beings are at the beck and call of Being. There is no ancient or medieval ‘system’, an essential requirement for the reduction of the world to a picture. Our two latest AOKs were called Religious Knowledge Systems and Indigenous Knowledge Systems. Neither of these two AOKs are ‘systems’ in the true understanding of that word and are rather interpretations of what Westerners see and how they account for the beings as a whole and for their understanding of those beings. Ancient and medieval human beings were not ‘subjects’: ‘The world’s becoming a picture is one and the same process as man’s becoming a subjectum among beings’. Human beings’ becoming a ‘subjectum’ is to be found in the thinking of Descartes. Hence, humanism arises at the same time as the world-picture, a ‘philosophical interpretation of man that explains beings as a whole in terms of man and with a view to man’. To manage the world as picture we need to think in terms of quantity and measurement, the ‘calculable’. ‘Each historical age… has its own particular concept of greatness’; and our concept of greatness is purely quantitative, the ‘gigantic’ – not only gigantic monuments, but the traversal of vast distances at immense velocities, etc. The difference between one concept of greatness and another is not, however, a quantitative, but also a qualitative difference. Hence the ‘gigantic of planning and calculating. …veers round into a quality of its own’ and then it becomes incalculable (Heidegger). Just as the essence of technology is not itself technological, so the essence of calculation and the calculable is not accessible to calculation.

22. What role do experts play in influencing our consumption or acquisition of knowledge?

Your response to this prompt will depend on the areas of knowledge that you choose your objects/images from. You might wish to consider how IT managers and creators mold our acquisition of knowledge by how they portray “information” as knowledge and how our language is being formed and manipulated by what is considered knowledge through this “technology of the helmsmen”. Once again remember that technology is the theory not merely the instruments that technology has produced i.e. that knowledge which technology has brought forward.

The word “expert” derives from “expertise” or “know how” and this kind of knowledge is what the Greeks called techne. This “know how”, presumably, comes from a long, broad engagement with the field which is under discussion. Scepticism and doubt are the proper approaches to claims made by “experts” in many areas of knowledge. 

“Experts” help the societies of which they are members determine what is best to know within that society. They are the creators of the “shadows” within Plato’s Cave. In the global society of the future, these experts will be those who are able to put the discoveries of science to use i.e. what you are getting your education for. Take a closer look at the IB curriculum that you are studying. What has been determined that you should know if you wish to be a prosperous member of the society which holds that the kind of knowledge espoused is the most valuable to possess? Whether they are the ulemas of Muslim societies or the “talking heads” of the think-tanks of technological societies, it is the “experts” who determine how truth has been interpreted and how it should be applied to human actions within communities. 

We have, of course, film “critics”, art “critics” etc. to determine what our tastes should be in our various forms of entertainment. They are considered “experts” because they have that knowledge by acquaintance with the subject matter upon which they speak. Plato and Aristotle called these “experts” sophists. Sophists are the norm in today’s societies; and because they are the norm, they should be treated with scepticism. The “celebrity chefs” that are so popular in media today would be considered technites, not sophists.

A current example could be the claims made by Alan Dershowitz, a prominent professor of law from Harvard University, in the impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump. He asserts that the American Constitution and his reading of the Federalist Papers #65 by Hamilton allow the President to act in any manner he deems fit regarding his re-election as long as that action is in “the public interest”. His arguments appear to ignore the fact that it is the public who determines what their interests are and not an individual running for office. After having fought a Revolutionary War to replace someone who they believed was a tyrant (King George III), he claims that the USA’s founding fathers wished to replace one form of tyranny with another. His speech is sophistry. This merging and movement towards fascism, where the political leader’s “interests” are considered as the “public interests”, is a worrying trend not only in America but in all parts of the world today.

23. How important are material tools in the production or acquisition of knowledge?

We view “material tools” as technology, but as our writing on technology demonstrates, while this is a “correct” understanding of what technology is, it does not get us to the essence of technology: the tools are the outcome of what the essence of technology is and they are brought into being because technology provides “the open space” for their ability to be. OT2: Knowledge and Technology. Much like the fruit of a cherry tree is not the essence of the tree, the material tools of technology are not its essence.

Our use of tools is primarily a way in which we enhance our sense perception as a way of knowing things in the sciences, but the things themselves must be determined as “objects” and therefore calculable and measurable prior to our use of the tools. The tools are antecedent to our viewing of the world as “technological” and they can only produce or allow us to acquire what is called “knowledge” in a pre-determined manner, a manner which produced the tools themselves in the first place. 

In determining the “importance” of the various tools that you may be choosing for your Exhibition, you will be making what is called “a first order claim”. First order claims are those that are made within particular areas of knowledge or by individual knowers about the world, or in this specific case, about the importance of tools in producing knowledge and acquiring knowledge in the various areas of knowledge. It is your job to examine the basis for these first-order claims. In doing so, you will be viewing technology as “instrumentality”. “Second order claims” are claims that are made about knowledge, and you will have to deal with these in evaluating the “importance” of the claims that you will be making. There are many examples from the medical professions. These second-order claims are justified using the principle of sufficient reason which usually involves an examination of the nature of the knowledge that you are investigating and the nature of the tools that are used to produce or acquire such knowledge. For example, the statement: “Mathematical knowledge is certain” is a second-order knowledge claim because it is about mathematical knowledge, and the tools that are suggested by this prompt will usually be related to the knowledge that is produced mathematically. Some discussion of the certainty and reliability of mathematical knowledge will be required. 

Technology, understood as instrumentality, is a matter of ends and means. All “producing” is based on a disclosive looking i.e. the truth as unconcealment i.e what we have determined a thing or being to be in the first place. Technology is our understanding of what it means to be, the way we understand what it takes for something, anything, to be. This understanding is grounded in the principle of sufficient reason. Technology is a theoretical, not a practical affair. The doing and making of technology, what we understand as instrumentality, is secondary to how technology determines what a being or thing is in the first place. It determines the possibilities and the potentialities of the things as disposable in some fashion for human ends.

Technology as the principle of sufficient reason is the guideline that governs all our relations to beings including our practical relations. Technology is the beholding of the essence of all things in advance in the light of which humans make or produce things and can take a stand at all towards things. The “material tools”, the “instruments”, come after technology establishes its dominion in the realm of beings. Techne is a “know how” that is established and derived from a “knowledge by acquaintance” or “epistemology”. Technology is that violence that is asserted upon nature which demands reasons for a being’s being the way it is. The material tools required for the production of knowledge are secondary to the technological viewing that has allowed these tools to come into being. Technology’s essence is that it is the theory that determines the practice. With regard to the production of knowledge, Shakespeare’s “The art is nature” perhaps captures it best; it is what we as human beings are.

Modern machine technology looks to science, to scientific, empirical, practical, reliable, proven facts and is not guided by murky theory. An exact science leads to an exact machine technology. Modern technology employs modern science. The “seeing” is not based on science as the “seeing” is outside the purview of science. Modern science is applied technology, not technology as applied science.

24. How might the context in which knowledge is presented influence whether it is accepted or rejected?

Historicism dominates all presentations of what has come to be called knowledge in the 21st century. It was in direct conflict with that tradition which is known as the history of philosophy. The philosophical tradition believed that there was a knowledge which was accessible through reason that was permanent and unchanging, a truth that would be true in all times and all places about the most important things. Historicism denies this truth and it asserts that there is no “truth” outside of the historical contexts from which it has been produced. This assertion is apparently paradoxical or contradictory since the concept of historicism itself must be “historical” and will be replaced by some other concept at some point in the future. This is really what the writings of this entire blog are about; and this is where thought begins, not where it is finished.

The USA is going through some deep conflicts at the moment in that its Constitution begins with “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” But its sciences illustrate that there are no self-evident truths and that what are believed to be self-evident truths are coming into conflict with the conveniences that have been revealed and desired through their technology, the tendencies towards autocratism and fascism being two examples . How this conflict will be resolved is a matter for the future, but one cannot be optimistic regarding what the outcomes might be. Since we are beings in bodies and we are in being-in-the-world, when we act, our actions are thoroughly situated in a context that includes the sort of person that we are (our constitution), the circumstances in which we find ourselves, the events that led up to our actions, and the events that will follow from whatever we do. These conditions and contexts determine the actions that we will take regarding decisions which we have to make within the everyday experiences of our lives.

The roles of the media in its various forms is something that will need to be addressed. The development of the media from the Gutenberg press to modern social apps and the consequences of these developments is certainly a topic or theme that can be addressed here.

25. How can we distinguish between knowledge, belief and opinion?

Belief {Gk. pistis [pístis]; Lat. fides} is the affirmation of, or conviction regarding, the truth of a proposition, whether or not one is in possession of evidence adequate to justify a claim that the proposition is known with certainty (the principle of sufficient reason). For example: I believe that two plus three equals five, I believe that Bill Clinton was President of the United States in 1995, and I believe that I will live another ten years. The first belief is also a case of knowledge in the sense of a belief in its first principles; the second is probably knowledge within the context of our conception of time; but the third is (at present) merely belief. The belief of the first type is axiomatic in that it is based upon first principles or “self-evident truths”. Our science as “the theory of the real” is just such a belief. It is based upon the need to provide sufficient reasons (evidence) for the reality of the beings that are. Inquiries regarding such beliefs are what are called “second order questions”. The second example is a result of the “system” that is in place that allows beings to seen as how we wish to view them. We call these “facts”, but they are “facts” only within the system that allows them to be seen as such. 

Opinion is an orientation towards things as they would show themselves to a correct investigation and examination. “Opinion” is an attempt to “reveal” the truth of something covered over or hidden. “Opinion” is Plato’s “justified true belief” which he outlines in his dialogue Theatetus. Opinion is not a seeking for knowledge but is something someone already has whether it be true or false because an opinion can be true or false. Sophia and episteme are not “opinion” because they are already complete i.e. they are not underway towards something because they already possess knowledge of the things about which they deliberate and those things are the things which are permanent. “Opinion” regards those things that can be otherwise and that is why it can be true or false. Opinion is the handing over of knowledge through “language” and what the thing is that is handed over. It is not a “truth relativism”; it may reveal or it may not. It reveals when it is true; it does not reveal when it is false.

Knowledge as it is defined in the Oxford Dictionary involves facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. It is an awareness or a familiarity with a subject be it theoretical or practical. Such a definition is correct to a point. What we call knowledge involves truth and judgement. Knowledge as truth indicates that some thing has been brought to light, has been revealed and this we consider a “fact”; but it is only a “fact” within the theoretical viewing or system that has brought it to light as such. “Information” only “informs” when the data which comprises it is placed within a system (the “form”) that allows it to “in-form”. It is the “system” that makes “information” possible. This ‘system’ is called the “technological” in other areas of this writing. “Skills” are “know how”, what the Greeks called techne. They are what can be learned and what can be taught i.e. the Greek word mathematical. This prompt and topic is dealt with at greater length in the following links: CT 1: Perspectives (WOKs)

CT 1 Knowledge and the Knower: “Empowerment”;

CT 1: Introduction to Theory of Knowledge: Knowledge and the Knower

26. Does our knowledge depend on our interactions with other knowers?

What we call our “knowledge” requires that what we consider the knowledge to be must be rendered or “handed over to” others so that it may be justified and made secure. This rendering is done through language of some kind. We may all have private experiences that are unique to us and that we consider “knowledge”, but unless they are shared with others, we cannot be secure that they are knowledge. We may gain our knowledge from parents, peers, teachers or others with whom we come in contact, but this knowledge must be made “our own”. At some point in the future you will become a member of a knowledge community within the multi-versities that are post-secondary education. We call them “universities” but this is a misnomer. They are “multiversities” because their domains of knowledge exist within various “world-pictures”. 

Our cognition, our conscious awareness, is a type of representational thinking which, in the presentation or the “experience”, some thing we encounter comes to stand, to a standstill, is put in a “position” or “place”. What is encountered and brought to a standstill is the object. For modern thinking, the manner in which beings are is as objects. Representational thinking, the thinking in images and ideas, the representedness, belongs to the objectness of objects. This representational thinking, or visual thinking, determines how the object stands i.e. “is”. What this means is that something is, something can only be identified as a being/thing, only if it is stated in a sentence that satisfies the fundamental principle of reason as its founding i.e.. it is the fundamental principle of all that is, including statements made to others. Reasons must be rendered or “handed over” for the things which first give themselves to us. This demand that reasons must be rendered is what is empowering in the principle of reason. It is this that is the great paradigm shift of human being-in-the-world in the modern age and determines the actions that we choose to take and whom among us is sane or not. 

27. Does all knowledge impose ethical obligations on those who know it?

This is a particularly troublesome prompt because it requires an exploration of the terms “impose” and “ethical obligations”. We are “obliged” to the things about us if we want them to work at their most efficient level. For example, if we want our automobiles to perform at optimum efficiency, we are “obliged”, we “owe” it to the automobiles to maintain them properly. The “ethical” obligation is our actions and reflections on the things that are. These have to do with communities. We “impose” laws to determine our behaviours in our communities. But what about the things that are about us? To whom or to what are we “obliged” to them and why? Why, for example, are we “obliged” to preserve panda bears in conditions that are far better than most human beings in the world? From where do these obligations stem? A specific discussion of the computer as an example can be found at this link:

“Ethical obligations” were called rendering “what was due to some thing or another”. It is the old definition and understanding of justice: “we render to others their due”. These are written about at length in other entries in this blog and reviewing them might be helpful with your Exhibition under this prompt. But if in our “rendering”, we are turning everything into objectness so as to seek its possibilities and potentials, from where will any recognition, responsibility or obligation arise? Can we do it is prior to should we do it, for we have lost any sense of “should”. 

CT 1: Self-Knowledge and Ethics

Nietzsche/Darwin: Part IX-B: Education, Ethics/Actions: Contemplative vs. Calculative Thinking

Part IX: Darwin/Nietzsche: Otherness, Owingness, And Nihilism:

Nietzsche/Darwin Part VIII: Truth as Justice:

28. To what extent is objectivity possible in the production or acquisition of knowledge?

This prompt is covered in greater depth under #17.  The question here is “what is meant by objectivity”? In responses to the other prompts, the interpretations of the key concepts in those prompts suggest that not only is “objectivity” possible, it is our way of being-in-the-world, for it is through our perceptions of things that we turn everything into an object; and it is only by being an object that we can begin any discussion of them and, thus, acquire any knowledge of them. The history of what is called “objectivity” begins with the French philosopher Rene Descartes and through him, what we call humanism, human beings as the centre of all that is. 

The philosophical principles lying inside quantum physics and Heisenberg’s indeterminacy principle are proofs that what was traditionally called “objectivity” in the sciences is no longer possible. The human observer becomes part of the system that is being investigated in the experiment and, ultimately, determines its outcome. We do not acquire what can be called “objective knowledge” of nature as that was traditionally understood. What we have called “objectivity” in this writing is a legacy from the German philosopher Kant and his “transcendental method” and how this thinking was interpreted by the English-speaking empiricists. To go into this matter here is much too complicated and I, frankly, am not sure that I am capable of it. Suffice it to say that it must be asked: where in all human activity do human beings encounter their essence, what they truly are? It could be said, in contrast to Heisenberg,  that even high-tech disposable things. let alone the things of nature, are not truly mirrors in which we behold only ourselves (Heidegger). 

Here are some links that might be useful in discussing the key concepts of your Exhibition regarding this topic:

CT 1: Knowledge and Reason as Empowering and Empowerment

The Natural Sciences as an Area of Knowledge:

29. Who owns knowledge?

When we speak of “owning” knowledge, we are speaking about that which we have taken possession of for ourselves: “I get it!”, I understand and it is now mine. Such possession implies having a power over, a control over, a relation to some thing or some one, and therefore a responsibility for the knowledge, the thing, the person that one is related to that one has some kind of possession of. The knowledge of the techne is his own or he has made that knowledge his own, but the production of knowledge, the “products” of that knowledge or the applications of the knowledge is “through another” and “for another”. The products of Microsoft may indeed have once belonged to Bill Gates, but the knowledge that brought about those products he has taken possession of, and that knowledge and its truth is present to everyone. The knowledge of physics, chemistry, electronics, etc. did not belong to Mr. Gates but came from “outside” of him. While the responsibility for the work of art belongs to the artist herself, the “art” that provided the prompt to bring forth the work was certainly not her “own” although we believe that the “creativity” and “imagination” that are inherent in the work are the artist’s responsibility. It is this gap in our knowledge of what is “our own” and what is not that is a great mystery for us if we give thought to it. On most occasions we do not and this is due to our relation to the objects of the world that we have brought before us. 

In your Exhibition you will bring your knowledge to bear on the relations of the objects or images that you will choose to exhibit and demonstrate their connectedness to each other. This choice of images or objects is your “own”, but the truth and knowledge in the representational thinking regarding their relation to each other will not be of your doing or making.

The concreteness of the Exhibition itself is a product of your “work” and you will provide the “first order” descriptions of the images and things you have chosen. The abstractions that are the “second order questions” will be arrived at from elsewhere, thus your discussion of owning can be on the practical application side of the products of knowledge such as patents and the like, or it can deal with a theoretical discussion of what the possible meanings of owning can be. You may also wish to discuss “owe” and its distinctions from “own” and the possible implications of these in any discussion of this prompt.

CT 1 Knowledge and the Knower: “Empowerment”

Part IX: Darwin/Nietzsche: Otherness, Owingness, And Nihilism:

30. What role does imagination play in producing knowledge about the world?

While this prompt seems to suggest that the application of the knowledge brought forth from the technological world-view, which is the enjoining of the arts and the sciences, is somehow an individual event, there is an implication in the prompt that imagination does not, of itself, bring forth or produce knowledge about our being-in-the-world but plays a “role” along with other “actors” in bringing forth that knowledge.  Einstein, for example, has  been quite clear that it was not reason only that brought about his theory of relativity but that imagination played a great part in its final coming-to-be.

I have written extensively on imagination in the link below and suggest a reading of this writing as a possible prod to further you along in your Exhibition of this way of knowing the world.

Imagination as a Way of Knowing

31. How can we judge when evidence is adequate?

This prompt is very similar in nature to prompt #19 i.e. “what counts as good evidence”. “Adequate” is a synonym for “sufficient”, so evidence is considered “adequate” when “sufficient” reasons are provided for the judgements that are made; and when these are provided, they are considered “good” evidence. The principle of reason operates in any and every statement that we make about things i.e. “the book is on the table”, etc. There must be a “corresponding” relation or “reality” of the book, the table and the book’s place on the table. The “why” and the “how”, as well as the “what” are explained and this is usually indicated by our use of the word “be-cause…”, “the cause is…”.

The evidence is considered adequate when the idea in the mind corresponds to the object which is under investigation and that object gives us its reasons for being as it is. This is known as “the correspondence theory of truth”. But notice that the objects being spoken about must have already “presented” themselves to us in some fashion in order for our statements to be made about them i.e. they must be given to us a priori. “Adequate” evidence means that the evidence provided is “correct”.  Correctness is being directed toward something, making statements that are ‘fitted’ or ‘suitable’ for the things that are spoken about. In logic, the word correctness is “lack of contradiction”, “consistency”. Correctness as consistency means that a statement is deduced from another statement in accordance with the rules of reasoning. Correctness as “free from contradiction” and being “consistent” is called formal “truth”, not related to the content of beings in distinction from the material truth of content. “Correctness” is understood as the translation of the Latin adaequatio and the Greek homoiösis. Read this prompt together with #19.

32. What makes a good explanation?

A “good explanation”, like “good evidence”, provides reasons for the answers to the questions “whence”, “why” and “how”. These questions are embedded in our understanding of causality and in our cognition through our search for reasons to understand why a thing is the way it is. An explanation is a rendering or handing over of an account of things. According to Wikipedia, a good explanation is “a set of statements usually constructed to describe a set of interpreted facts which clarifies the causes, context, and consequences of those interpreted facts.” This description of the facts etc. may establish new rules or laws, and may clarify the existing rules or laws in relation to any objects or phenomena examined i.e. they may provide a better description of the “whence” of the objects under examination. You are required to provide a good explanation of why you have chosen the objects/images for your Exhibition and to show a good explanation of how they are related.

“Whence” means “from where”, “when” and speaks of the origins of the thing in question. This origin usually deals with the question of “motion” or “movement” so the question is raised “From where, originally, did the change or motion come from?” An explanation is a “scientific account” of a thing, and by this we mean that sufficient reasons have been given for its being the way it is. We demand that things give us the reasons for their being the way they are. You may be asked or demanded to provide an explanation for why an essay or project which you were required to do is late. An adequate or good explanation usually suffices to end the ire of that tyrant that calls himself/herself a teacher!

33. How is current knowledge shaped by its historical development?

The German philosopher Nietzsche once wrote: “The scholars dig up what they themselves buried”. The truth of what is “past” or “historical” must be disinterred and become claimed as current knowledge. This revealing or bringing out from concealment of what has been buried is “the correctness of our representations” or what we have come to call “the correspondence theory of truth”. It is what we call “research”, a “searching” again for what has been lost. When we speak of “the production of knowledge”, we are tacitly recognizing technology as a way of knowing as a way of revealing the things that are hidden. This revealing of hidden things is like the cherry tree that is currently bursting into bloom, revealing what has been concealed regarding its essence up to this time. It is through research that we believe we can uncover that which has been hidden. This research has different methodologies in the different areas of knowledge, and these methods of disinterring the truth are all pre-determined by the view of the “past” as an object of study.

The Greeks had a saying: “The future comes to meet us from behind” and it is this future that is encapsulated in the historical development of the knowledge that preceded it. Our understanding of truth gives a precedence to human subjectivity. Such a precedence was not present in the early Greek understanding of truth and, subsequently, what we understand as knowledge is not how the Greeks understood knowledge. It is through the original unconcealment of things which allows us to do anything whatsoever: in order for us to do anything, to act upon anything, to stand in relation to any being, it must have been disclosed to us in advance what a being is in general. The disclosure of things is prior to our human judgmental truth.

Our falling away into subjective truth is not a “fault” of human beings: that the gods offered themselves more fully to the Greeks than to us is not our “fault”. Here in Bali, the gods choose to show themselves more favourably so that a Balinese person would have no trouble concurring with the ancient Greek Heraclitus that “everything is full of gods”. Our cognition, based as it is on the principle of reason, has great difficulty seeing and understanding this statement.

Current knowledge and historical knowledge is shown through the transition and transformation of language: language addresses itself to human beings in words that conceal the genuine face of Being. How one re-searches the historical developments within an area of knowledge will be determined by hermaneutics and the de-construction of language. These topics are too complex to go into here, but you could do some research on them before setting off on your journey to your Exhibition.

OT 1: Language and Knowledge;

The Natural Sciences: Historical Background;  Notes on Ancient Greek Philosophy and Modern Science

34. In what ways do our values affect our acquisition of knowledge? 

In what and from where does our word “values” have its origins? What is a “value”? This word has only recently come to prominence (19th century) and yet even the Pope himself uses this word when speaking of how Roman Catholics should be in the world. Our common understanding of “values” is one hazily arrived at and derived from what Aristotle called “The Ethics” and, for Aristotle, these had to do with the actions of human beings in defining and achieving their ends, their desires and goals. His original term was arete or what we have translated as “virtue”, and knowing oneself was to have knowledge of one’s possibilities and potentialities.

The virtue of some thing was its usefulness or goodness, and it had to do with its “potentialities” or “possibilities”. For example, the “virtue” of a thoroughbred racehorse is to run fast; it is not good if it does not or cannot do so. But our word “virtue” which for the Greeks meant the “manliness of a man” has come to mean “the chastity of a woman”. This is just an example of the extraordinary changes in meaning that words have through the centuries and should serve as a warning. I have written at greater length about “values”, “knowledge” and “truth” in other sections of this blog and you can explore those writings should you choose to do so.

Darwin and Nietzsche: Part 3: Truth as “Correctness”: Its Relation to “Values”

35. In what ways do values affect the production of knowledge?

Whenever we speak of the “production” of knowledge, we are speaking of the “bringing forth” of what was once hidden into presence so that we may see it face to face. Whether we are speaking of the cherry tree in bloom in the streets or the “David” that was once hidden in the marble and now stands in Florence, “producing” knowledge involves a great deal of our time as human beings both in our work and our play. “Production is a process of combining various material inputs and immaterial inputs in order to make something for consumption. It is the act of creating an output, a good or service which has value and contributes to the utility of individuals.” Wikipedia. What this definition indicates is that the “production of knowledge” is what the Greeks called techne, and in all of those prompts that speak of the production or producing of knowledge we can be certain that the technological viewing of the world is at play. The “output” that is looked for has already been pre-determined prior to the making or “creation”. For more on the way of knowing involved in techne see the following links:

CT 1: Perspectives (WOKs)

Nietzsche/Darwin: Part IX-B: Education, Ethics/Actions: Contemplative vs. Calculative Thinking 

OT2: Technology and Knowledge

CT 1 Knowledge and the Knower: “Empowerment”

Truly, truly, I say to you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it stays alone: but if it die, it brings forth much fruit. John 12:24

      No, no, no, no! Come, let’s away to prison.
10 We two alone will sing like birds i’ th’ cage.
     When thou dost ask me blessing,  I’ll kneel down                                                                         And ask of thee forgiveness. So we’ll live,
     And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
    At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
15 Talk of court news, and we’ll talk with them too—
     Who loses and who wins, who’s in, who’s out—
     And take upon’s the mystery of things
     As if we were God’s spies. And we’ll wear out
     In a walled prison packs and sects of great ones
20 That ebb and flow by the moon. –Shakespeare, King Lear, V sc. iii

What is it about human beings that make liberty and justice their due? Why is justice “what we are fitted for” when it is not convenient to our wills or our “empowerment”? Why is justice our “good”? What does it mean to say that “we are not our own”?

For May 2022, TOK has decided that knowers and knowledge are to be explored through core and optional themes. Themes are the main ideas, topics or subjects to be explored. In order to “explore” one must set out by some means of navigation upon a journey toward a goal; we may call these journeys “paths”. These “paths” in TOK are what we call our “methodologies”, the means by which we attempt to reach the goal, which is ultimately “knowledge” of the particulars within the general areas of knowledge that have been designated as the domains of exploration.

These domains of exploration are what are now called themes, the main or big ideas, the central or archetypal concepts and principles, and your understanding of them will be assessed in an Exhibition that brings to presence the your ability to apply your knowledge to everyday events in the world about you. What is this “knowledge” that you will be applying to the world about you? What form does it take? We call such knowledge “second order knowledge” for it asks us to demonstrate the grounds of how we know and we distinguish it from “first order knowledge” which asks us to bring to presence “what” it is that we claim to know from the use of this second order knowledge.

In the Core Theme (CT), “knowledge and knowers” is to be examined. In the writings on the core theme, we will explore what it means to know and what and how what we have come to call knowledge comes to be. We will examine the factors that shape how we make sense of the world and what we mean by “making sense”. We will also try to discover where our “values” come from and what shapes our perspectives, our viewing of the world and on the world. That “values” and “perspectives” are the words brought to prominence by the German philosopher Nietzsche through his “historical” thinking is dealt with elsewhere on the blog site. Part of the difficulty that we face in coming to know ourselves is that we use words like “values” and “perspectives” quite carelessly without hearing them or thinking about them, but they are filled with consequence.

We will attempt to reflect on how we engage and relate to the knowledge around us in the everydayness of our dealings with the beings/things in our worlds. A great part of our worlds are the communities we belong to, and they play an important, if not decisive, role in how we construct, share and evaluate knowledge or what we think knowledge to be. Our ethics or our manner of being-in-the-world are, for the most part, decided by the communities of which we are members. That many of our communities are lurching towards fascism politically is a theme which bears scrutiny as we examine what we think knowledge to be and what comes to count as knowledge within those communities. Could this fascistic leaning in the present day be due to the preponderance of the acceptance of the “pragmatic theory of truth” in the empirical and social sciences i.e. how we have interpreted “nature” including our own human nature? Let us explore and see if this is the case.

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 David Hume, J. S. Mill, and Jeremy Bentham as well as the British scientist, 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 is “true”, and it was an attempt to overcome what was believed were the conclusions of the previous metaphysics and philosophy of European thought, primarily brought forward by the philosopher Immanuel Kant. Those accounts for the why, the how and the what of things that were experienced by the 19th century continental European thinkers were to be replaced with a “scientific account” or an account that was explainable in terms of science and the scientific method of inquiry. The misunderstanding of what that metaphysics is/was in the history of the philosophy of the West has led to many of the contradictions present in this pragmatic theory of truth and is one of the factors in the current confusion of present day thought. Some of these will be explored below.

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. 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, what was once called “perfection” (although the use of this word has fallen out of fashion somewhat). 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”, for example), or that promote “success” or what is considered to be “valued” as the best outcome. From them, evolution was viewed as the progress towards the perfection of the species biologically coupled with a drive for moral perfection through the used of rationality by human beings as the animal rationale.

William James’s version of the pragmatic theory is that “the ‘true’ is only an expedient in our way of thinking, just as the ‘right’ is only an 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”, and these ends are determined by our “convenience”. It would be difficult to find a clearer statement about what is currently happening in American politics than this assessment of truth made by James. 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’.”

The good end, the good result, will justify any means, and this principle of action has led to many of the great disasters and catastrophes 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”. But from whence derives this understanding or “interpretation” of the “real conditions of existence” and upon what is it grounded.

The pragmatic theory of truth came into being and operates where technology as a way of knowing through the principle of reason prevails. 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 whether that class be “civilized” or cannibals. Peirce’s definition 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), or 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” is the end product of the process that applies the principle of reason (the principle of causation in this case) and arrives at statements or assertions regarding the reality 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 as the technological society totters towards its apogee.

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. This irrationality ultimately leads to intolerance as its outcome as collective factions vie for power within the communities of which they are members. The madness, this irrationality, can only be deep in societies which hold 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 and they are linked in very mysterious ways.

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. The German philosopher, Nietzsche, has shown that the “perspectivism” and “values” philosophies of the pragmatists rest upon a “sea of nihilism”.

Counter to this preponderance of the “pragmatic theory of truth” in our current education, what does it mean to say that ‘we are not our own’ when we are reflecting upon ourselves and on the communities of which we are members? As beings in bodies, human beings experience themselves as the “dependent” creatures. In the modern, we have come to experience ourselves as “wills” directed towards mastery over beings and things, “making something happen”, “changing the world”, and “empowerment” of the Self through our mastery of the environment and the ready-to-hand, including our own bodies. In these writings, this is called “technology”. Today’s focus on the Self and of its securing its own permanence and security, its salvation, is a product of the Renaissance interpretation of Christianity, what has come to be called Protestantism. This focus then evolves into what has come to be called “humanism” where human beings are placed at the centre of all that is when “the death of God” becomes an ethical and political reality. Why is this so?

In the thinking of Plato, “will” is experienced as “wanting” or “desiring” (eros) expressing our dependence upon that which we need be it food, another person, or the Good. In our language we have continually attempted to overcome our experience of “will” as dependence, as the “erotic”, and attempted to replace it with “mastery”. We conceive of our essence as “freedom”. For Plato, our “freedom” rests in our ability to respond to the light that has been given, not a light which is a creation of “human subjectivity”. Shakespeare’s Macbeth is the greatest example of this “freedom” that we have in the English language.

In Plato one finds that our core need as human beings is our longing for the perfection that is to be found in the Good. The ideas of love, beauty and justice are perceived through contemplative attention and then enacted upon in our lives. Our modern view is that the core of human beings is the primacy of the will in achieving the satisfaction of the “appetites” be these food, sex or power. It is our way of seeing and being-in-the-world that leads to our injustice or justice when it comes to our ethical actions or praxis. The ethics are not in the seeing and being but in the actions themselves. The purpose of the seeing and being-in-the-world is the purpose of discerning and distinguishing between the just and the unjust life, what we are “fitted” for as human beings.

If we return to Plato’s allegory of the Cave in his Republic we discover from Book VI and Book VII that the chief “religions” focus on the self and the social (“religion” understood as what we bow down to or what we look up to). As the French philosopher Simone Weil states, our “freedom” is our incoherent behaviours that harm others e.g. “collective feelings, war, national rivalries, class hatreds, loyalty to a party, to a church, etc.” (Notebooks 2, p. 347). This harming of others comes from our focus on the “appetites” and our need to assert our wills. Since there are no limits to our “freedom” since there are no limits to our appetites we are, literally, “beyond good and evil” in how we view what is due to other human beings and to the world in which we live. It is our understanding of ourselves as “freedom”, whether in following “values” created by the Self as autonomous individuals or the “values” imposed by society through a contract chosen by a collective of selves, that we understand ourselves.

The ancients felt that through “virtue” (arete) one could experience the Good. For ourselves, the Good is what secures and preserves our “freedom” to create our destiny as we see fit. We affirm the assertion of the power of the self (“empowerment”) over something other than the self and of our selves over our own dependencies, particularly those dependencies that arise through being beings in bodies. What the ancients understood as “desire” (eros) and “need”, we interpret as will and mastery. Something of this may be found in the example of some women speaking of pregnancy as an “illness”.

As we have seen in our reflections on the thoughts of Nietzsche, to will is to “legislate”, to make a judgement/judgements and we view this as the expression of a responsible and independent self, an “empowered” self. The Greeks, Aristotle and Plato, have shown that the “regime” or the community will determine how we view this Self and what takes place within this Self which, in turn, will determine its actions. Both Plato and Aristotle rejected the pragmatic theory of truth for something higher and more noble.

CT 1: Introduction to Theory of Knowledge: Knowledge and the Knower

“Posterity may know we have not loosely through silence permitted things to pass away as in a dream”.—Richard Hooker, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, 1554 

This post has been updated to reflect the changes presented in the Theory of Knowledge Course Guide May, 2022, published in February, 2020.

Why an Alternative Approach is Necessary:

TOKQuestionThis alternative approach begins with a generalized assertion about the IB Diploma Program: that it is one of the flowerings of the essence of technology whose origins lie in Western European thinking which began with the Renaissance and developed from the thinking present at that time. Essence means “what something is”, “that which lets something be whatever it is”, but our understanding of “what something is” and what “lets be what something is” has changed since ancient times. The TOK course in its ends, its assessments, attempts to be “a set of conceptual tools” that are to be applied to “concrete situations” through its Exhibition. But what are these “conceptual tools” in their essence, from where did they originate, and how do they engender our understanding of what makes for a “concrete” situation?

Because of the reality of time constraints within the overall carrying out of the Diploma program, a great deal of what is necessary to be learned to be able to discuss the topics of TOK with any depth must be “skipped over”, and this skipping over of things is very characteristic of the search for knowledge in our modern age. Every asking about something, every questioning, is a seeking. Every seeking is guided beforehand by what is sought. Our seeking is the act of questioning, an aware seeking for something with regard to the fact that it is (its “whatness”) and with regard to the manner of its being (its “howness”, its manner of being what it is). It is an “inquiry” and an “investigating” in which we lay bare what the questioning is about and we ascertain its character. In TOK the questioning is about knowledge and what we know and how we know it. We are guided in this search for the “what” and “how” of knowledge in various domains or areas of knowledge through the framework of “scope”, “perspectives”, “methods and tools”, and “ethics”.

“Scope” means to view, to see. “Microscope” means “to see small”; “telescope” means “to see far”. The “seeing” is what the Greeks called theoria or what we call “theory”; it is through “seeing” that we know things, that we “experience” things. The Greek word episteme referred to this type of knowledge. The extent of the area or subject matter that something deals with or to which it is relevant is the horizon of the seeing. TOK’s “scope” is all comprehensive for it deals with “exploring the nature and scope of the different themes and areas of knowledge. It explores how each theme/area of knowledge fits within the totality of human knowledge, and also considers the nature of the problems that each theme/area of knowledge faces and tries to address.” (TOK Guide, 2022, pg. 12) In ancient days this was referred to as “philosophy” or “knowledge of the whole”. The philosopher seeks for knowledge of the whole of things. That TOK makes explicit that it is not a “philosophy course” indicates the state of what has been called philosophy in the past and in the English-speaking tradition in particular in the present. 

The Guide provides an analogy or metaphor of the search for knowledge comparing this search to a “map” where all specific details are not, and cannot, be provided in it. But as any Middle School Geography student can tell us, there are certain requirements for a map to be a map. Most maps will have the five following things: a Title, a Legend, a Grid, a Compass to indicate direction, and a Scale.

Our title is “The Search for Knowledge”: what do we know and how do we know it? Our Legend will be our key concepts which are outlined below and which predominate throughout the journey we are taking to knowledge, how we will come to define as knowledge what we discover. Our Grid will help provide the “place”, “the position”, or the “stand” of where and how the objects of knowledge are to be discerned, our Areas of Knowledge, our hypotheses and prostheses. The Compass provides us with the methodology, the sense of direction when we begin from our starting point, the manner and mode of how we will achieve this knowledge, how we will conduct our journey. This sense of direction is precluded and pre-determined and it will determine where we will arrive at what we will determine as knowledge. And the Scale will provide the measuring of that which we would call knowledge in relation to its “actuality” or “reality”. It is in the Scale that we will find the concept of what we call “truth”, for in the Scale is “judgement”.

The essay assessment will approach knowledge questions, what are called “second order questions” for the most part, on the Areas of Knowledge that have been chosen to be examined. How do “areas of knowledge” come about? What determines how things are defined and classified so that they will be placed in one area of knowledge and not in another? From where and how does this taxonomy originate? 

A number of important concepts and key terms are prominent in the study of TOK:  evidence, certainty, truth, interpretation, power, justification, explanation, objectivity, perspective, culture, values and responsibility. Many of these important concepts and key terms that are given in the Theory of Knowledge course are based on the Latinate origin of these terms in English because contemporary philosophical English is, for the most part, Latin in origin. This Latinate origin of philosophical thinking in our language is most important in how we come to interpret and to understand the meaning of the concepts handed over to us, of what we conceive our “personal knowledge” to be, and what and how we are to understand the knowledge that is given to us and to which we are indebted in the handing over to us of our traditions, the knowledge that comes to us from our communities. The understanding of these terms is “historical” for us in that their meaning and significance changes over time. Whether this is indeed the case is something that will have to be examined and interrogated.

Thinking about technology, for instance, requires us to re-determine the meaning of the sense of essence or how we understand what something is (“things” and “concrete situations”), and in this re-determination to hear what is being said in our word “technology”. This re-determination of the sense of essence, of what we think something is, is one that allows us to see the illumination of truth as it is understood in the Diploma program (and in the English-speaking West in general) as the truth revealed to us through the seeing and hearing that is called “technology”. How we will see and hear has been pre-determined for us long before our arrival on this planet as individuals.

We think of essence as a ‘one’ which many things have in common; the many human beings have the one essence, “humanity”, in common; the many trees have one essence, “treeness”, in common. The essence is, therefore, the universal concept or genus, while the individuals are the various species or single cases. In order to grasp what many things have in common, we must first go about and see or “experience” the individual things. From this “experience” we can abstract out from the individuals that respect in which they are alike. The individuals precede the essence in our experience and the individuals are instances of the essence. What those individual things are is defined or determined by the “conceptual tools” we use that determine our viewing, our way of looking upon the things. This determination is our judgement of the things which is given to others through language. This is the essence of the TOK assessment called “the Exhibition”.

How we approach to the things is the foundation of the Exhibition. Through the concepts provided from the Theory of Knowledge course, students are asked to choose artifacts that “exhibit” something of a real life situation from which they will determine general knowledge questions which are appropriate to ask or raise about how we interpret or understand those artifacts and that situation, whatever it may be. The Exhibition uses inductive reasoning to go from the individual or particular to the general to make judgements about the things being examined or the questions asked. To “exhibit” means to “bring to presence”, “to show” something which has been “grasped” and “appropriated” or taken possession of and belonging to one, to take what has previously been “hidden” and to bring it to light. This “bringing to presence” relates to how the Greeks understood “truth” as  “uncoveredness” (aletheia), “bringing something to light”, “a showing forth”. “To grasp” means “to take hold of something”, to make something “one’s own”, to “make judgements about it” and make it available for use.

The understanding of “truth” that is given here in these writings is from its original Greek understanding. Truth is an ‘uncovering’, a ‘disclosing’, ‘a revealing’, an ‘unconcealing’. Truth allows something to “shine forth in its appearance” as essence, as what it is. When the philosopher Kant says that “Judgement is the seat of truth” what he is saying is that when we determine what some thing is, we make statements (judgements) about that thing. To make judgements about things requires that we provide “evidence” to support the assertions about the thing in question and to make that thing “manifest, clear, to bring the thing to light”. We call this “making manifest” the principle of sufficient reason. Things, however, have an uncanny way of revealing and concealing themselves at the same time, one of the ways being through language. We may ask the question: do things get to arrive in their “truth”, their essence, in the technological world-view of our present time and, thus, in the IB Diploma program? The answer to this question is “no”. We shall explore what it means to say this and the consequences of saying it.

CT 1: Knowledge and The Empowering/ Empowered Self:

We need to begin by understanding that all human beings interpret themselves in their questioning and their assertions and so we are all “philosophers” to some extent. Our beginnings of our questions and the interpretations that are our answers to them take place within our being-in-the-world, the social and cultural contexts that are our shared knowledge, our traditions and our communities. The questioning determines (and has determined) what knowledge will be understood as from the beginnings of these shared traditions. This questioning and the manner of the questioning rests upon and springs from how and what we understand what truth is. What we conceive the truth to be determines what we think ourselves, as human beings, to be. Truth and human being in its “humaneness” are inextricably linked. Without truth and bringing truth to presence, human beings become something other than what they are in their essence.

TOK appears to take the position that the best way forward implies a responding to and a questioning of the traditions, legacies and histories that make us what we are: our shared knowledge.  Our response (our responsibility—the ability to respond with some sense of freedom of thought in relation to our traditions) is the liberation that is education. But this way forward is pre-determined by how truth is understood and has been understood in the traditions that have come down to us in the language that has been given to us. Our questioning and our thinking are dominated by historicism. 

Those who come from a ‘scientific’ or ‘mathematical’ background might find the thinking and questioning in TOK difficult and ‘useless’. This should not be surprising: our shared knowledge (traditions) from the sciences is based on a mode or manner (the “how”) of being-in- the-world that calculates what beings/things are in advance in order to secure them for “usefulness”, to put them to use, either now or at some point in the future. It determines the possibilities and the potentialities of things. In this determination of a thing’s possibilities and potentialities, it makes of things disposables so that human beings in their dispositions can commandeer and make use of them. But to do so, the things or entities of the world must first be turned into objects. 

Both the natural and human sciences believe themselves to be in possession of the truth of some king or at least on the way to truth, and the scientists within these domains or areas of knowledge believe this possession is genuine knowledge: science is the theory of the real. From within this possession, these scientists must strive to carry out a destiny pre-determined for them from very long ago. The word “science” itself is derived from the Latin meaning “knowledge”. The Greeks understood it as episteme and it was directly related to theoria or theory, a manner of looking at the world, and we understand epistemology as “the study of what makes knowledge to be knowledge”. The things that are secured for their usefulness were called by the Greeks pragma. Our word “pragmatic” focuses on the “usefulness” of something and that which is not deemed “useful” is dismissed in various ways or simply “skipped over”.

Scientists will deny this statement, that they are in possession of the truth, of course; but we would not have science to begin with if the “truth” of this statement were not self-evident. Truth, as understood in the sciences, is truth as “correspondence” and “correctness”. It is with and within this understanding of truth in the sciences, the pre-determined securing of the things that are, where science becomes itself a form of ‘religion’ in that it strives for certainty in the meaning and purpose of its endeavors; and like all religions, its seeking is based on a type of faith, “justified, true belief”. But this faith of science is in crisis. Perhaps, the crisis for science’s faith in itself is that it does not believe that it is in crisis. The faith of science is in the manner in which truth has revealed itself to most human beings through the ‘objectifying’ of all the things that are, even the God which it dismisses as an object that cannot be known. Science in this determination thus becomes, essentially, a closing down on the ‘openness’ to truth or to the truth as it could be understood and grasped in another way. A decision regarding what and how things are has been reached, and this decision is the determination of entities/things as “objects”.

Immanuel Kant

What we understand today as “personal knowledge” comes to us through our understanding of our human being as subjectivity. This ‘subjectivity’ we understand as our ‘Self’, and it is within this ‘Self’ that we believe we ‘experience’ our ‘freedom’, our ’empowerment’. This understanding of the Self as ‘freedom’ and autonomy is the gift that the German philosopher Immanuel Kant has bestowed on us. It is Kant who solidified and grounded the Cartesian world-view of subject/object. Cartesianism still dominates our world view and the world picture we construct from that world view. More will be said later on world views and world pictures.

What had been called the ways of knowing in TOK has been dispensed with in the new TOK Guide May, 2022; however, they remain present whether explicitly or implicitly. Our ways of looking at the world, our ways of relating to that world remain our ways of knowing that world: they are our modes of disclosive looking upon the world, the ways in which we reveal what we believe the “truth” to be and, thus, produce or “bring forth” knowledge. They are the “lens” which provide us with our “perspectives” on the world and the things about us. From this looking we are able to ‘grasp’ and ‘assimilate’ the knowledge that becomes our “personal knowledge”. Because human beings are a multiform embodied animal, and because the world is composed of multivarious beings, various ways of knowing are needed to bring this variety of beings to truth and for human beings to understand themselves regarding who and what they are. The things of the different Areas of Knowledge require different approaches, but it needs to be remembered that they are first things.

The Greeks understood “personal knowledge” as phronesis. The goal of phronesis was sophrosyne or what we call “moderation” and this related to human action. The Greeks also understood knowledge as sophia or “knowledge of the first things, the Divine, that which is permanent and does not undergo change”; episteme or what we call “theoretical knowledge”; techne or “know how”, “knowing one’s way in and about something”, being “at home in it”; phronesis or knowledge about one’s own personal ends; and nous/noeisis or what we call “intellectual” knowledge, intelligence. All of our ways of knowing as we understand them in TOK can be found in how the Greeks understood knowledge. The discussion of the various ways of knowing is undertaken by Aristotle in Bk VI of his Ethics. The various ways of knowing determine the manner in which human beings are in their world and, thus, determine how human beings come to define themselves and how human beings choose their actions and their decisions.

The Areas of Knowledge (History, the Human Sciences, the Natural Sciences, the Arts, Mathematics) are those domains that we have ‘objectified’ so that they can be known: the essence of various objects are classified and determined to belong within the various domains of the AOKs. The concepts we use and their derivations from the language that is used to represent them determine the methodology which in turn have been determined by the scope/applications (“use”) of the knowledge that comes to be revealed.

Martin Heidegger

As we go further, I am going to assert that technology is the decisive mode of this disclosive looking and determines all of the other modes or ways of knowing and of our apprehending of the world and the things that are about us. Technology is our understanding of what it means to be, what it means to be human, and this understanding is prior to and determines what we understand reason, sense perception, emotion, language, intuition etc. to be. It is our understanding of what we as human beings think we are in our own being. Technology is the ontology (the way of being) and metaphysic (our knowledge of what the first things are) of the age, as the German philosopher Martin Heidegger would say.

Is it possible for the Natural and Human Sciences (biology, chemistry, anthropology, sociology, psychology) to comprehend what human beings are, their essence (their ‘whatness’), given that the explorations and results of those sciences are the products of human activity i.e. is it possible for reason to give an account of itself through reason or emotion to give an account of itself ‘emotionally’? The consequence (the result or the way of knowing) cannot be taken for the ground (cause) from which it springs; the ground takes priority or must come first i.e. it must be a priori. We must seek out what these grounds are for from them come our understanding of our concepts, our “conceptual tools” and, thus, our understanding of ourselves.

Modern technology is the seeing, the “idea”, that employs science. Science is not the source of technology; the seeing that is “technology” is not based on science since the initial “seeing” lies outside the purview of factual, empirical science. The determination to use or employ science is not a “scientific” idea; it is not one of the discoveries of the scientific or experimental method. The methodologies of the sciences are determined and have been determined by an understanding of what it means for human beings to be and an understanding of what things are insofar as they are “things” at all. Technology is the disclosive, the revealing, looking upon all that is in general. It is the looking of technology that allows modern natural science to be applied to the things that are. Technology is not applied science; modern science is applied technology. It is difficult for us moderns to grasp this since we see technology as the gadgets that are ready-to-hand for us, the instruments that lie all about us. But these gadgets are the flowerings of the “seeing” that is our technological world-view. Technology has “opened up” the world and gives a space so that the technological gadgets can come into being.

The grounding of what we consider knowledge to be is essentially related and grounded in our conception or understanding of truth. What is knowledge is an old question of the Greek philosopher Socrates. To consider humans the agents (the sources) of truth, to consider truth a primarily human accomplishment, amounts to a hubris, a challenging of the gods (why is this the case?), and draws down an inexorable nemesis or fate, one consequence of which is the gods withdrawal from us. We see the many warnings of this hubris in the tragic literature that has become part of our shared knowledge throughout our human history.

The Ethics

At the core of what makes tragic heroes “tragic” is their lack of self-knowledge; their actions derive from a flawed understanding of who and what they are, and this flawed understanding is grounded in a flawed perception of their being-in-the-world which, in turn, determines their flawed perceptions and, thus, their actions (their ethics) in their worlds. Their actions “miss the mark” or constitute hamartia, a term that has come to us from the Greek philosopher Aristotle. The prototype of this example of tragedy is Oedipus Rex. He is the challenger of the gods (Apollo) for he will not accept the fate that has been assigned to him: he must kill his father and marry his mother. But what human being would accept this fate? In his blind journeying to avoid his fate, he eventually is led, fatefully, directly, to his fate which he has been unwilling and unable to see. The climax of the play is the moment when the “truth” that has been hidden is “unconcealed” to Oedipus: he has, indeed, killed his father and married his mother; and with this unconcealing, Oedipus comes to know who he is. Such self-knowledge is not a joyous event when it is the nemesis for the hubris of challenging the gods.

We, today, find ourselves in much the same position as Oedipus: the pride that we take in our self-centeredness as human creators and makers, our humanism, has blinded us to who and what we are as human beings. Oedipus solves the riddle of the Sphinx because he is destined or fated to do so; we have solved many of the riddles of the nature of things and have created incredible, wonderful solutions to some of the problems of our existence, from the curing of diseases to the overcoming of tedious labour and boredom, to the splitting of the atom and reconstructing the genome because we have been destined to do so. Technology is that destiny that shapes us and drives us.

By examining some aspects of the historical knowledge that has been handed over to us, the history of metaphysics, humanism, and modern technology (and as we shall see, these are all one and the same) we shall attempt to get a clearer picture of this hubris and the fate that is drawn down from the displeasure of the gods which is, ironically, revealed by their withdrawal or absence. And we shall have to question whether in fact the gods have withdrawn from us or whether we are incapable of seeing them because of what we are and what we have done. To the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, is attributed the saying: “Everything is full of gods”. To say this to my neighbours here, the Balinese, would draw the likely response: “Of course they are”. The students in a TOK class in most parts of the world would probably not have any idea of what is being talked about here.

But human being, as the “religious animal”, will have ‘gods’ whether they name them as such or not. What we bow down to or what we look up to determines what the ‘gods’ for us, in fact, are.  In the past in Canada, our architecture was limited by the geography surrounding us: in Quebec, in many villages, the highest point would be the church steeple; in Montreal, it used to be the cross on Mont Royale. Nowadays, the highest point will undoubtedly be the telecommunications towers necessary for the transmissions of our messaging and information. Here in Bali in the old days, no building was to be higher than the tallest coconut palm. Such “superstitions” as shown in Quebec and Bali have been eliminated due to the practicality and efficiency necessary because of modern technology.

This definition of religion spoken of here is broader than the one traditionally understood. In modern societies, technology is that to which we bow down to if not literally then in other ways. It is the religion for the vast majority of us from the West, and it is now becoming the world religion. It is our way of being-in-the-world, our “lifestyle”. It is perhaps best expressed as ‘the religion of progress’, although ‘globalization’, “international mindedness” and other names have been given to it. It is always difficult to challenge and question the religion of the society of which one is a member, but this is what is being attempted here.

That which is sacred is able to look after itself even when it is denied by those human beings who claim that nothing is ‘sacred’. The hidden violence, hidden perhaps even to themselves, behind the machinations of those who cloak themselves in the banners of ‘free speech’ and ‘freedom’ is part and parcel of the product and the disposition of the technological world-view; that is, it is a predicate of the subject technology. Who and what we are and what we think the things about us are is determined by what we think “truth” is. What we think truth to be determines all of our relations to all else that is. Who and what we think we are and what we think the world about us is, is not some market place in which we can pick and choose among a variety of fruit; it is a package deal. Our IB schools world-wide, driven by the un-thinking technological gathering, ordering and commandeering of the world and its resources (including human beings, including you as students), are nothing more than encampments on the road to environmental and economic mastery.

Morain Lake
“When we go into the Rockies we may have a sense that that gods are there. But if so, they cannot manifest themselves to us as ours. They are the gods of another race, and we cannot know them because of what we are, and what we did. There can be nothing immemorial for us except environment as object.”–George Grant, “In Defence of North America”

A note on the picture above: it is of Moraine Lake in the Canadian Rockies. Anyone who has been to this beautiful place will understand that the naming of this place and the place itself are somewhat incongruous.

CT 1: Self-Knowledge and Ethics

Simone Weil

We experience good only by doing it. We experience evil only by refusing to allow ourselves to do it, or, if we do it, by repenting of it. When we do evil we do not know it, because evil flies from the light.

 Does evil, as we conceive it to be when we do not do it, exist? Does not the evil that we do seem to be something simple and natural which compels us? Is not evil analogous to illusion? When we are the victims of an illusion we do not feel it to be an illusion but a reality. It is the same perhaps with evil. Evil when we are in its power is not felt as evil but as a necessity, or even a duty.

 As soon as we do evil, the evil appears as a sort of duty. Most people have a sense of duty about doing certain things that are bad and others that are good. The same man feels it to be a duty to sell for the highest price he can and not to steal, etc. Good for such people is on the level of evil, it is a good without light.” —Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace (p.121)

Some might think it odd to begin this section on self-knowledge and ethics with a lengthy quote from the French philosopher Simone Weil concerning the distinctions between good and evil. Weil’s statement on what evil is relates to Socrates’ statements that “No one knowingly does evil” and “It is better to suffer injustice than to inflict it”. In our discussion of Plato’s Cave, we saw that for Plato, morality is entirely internal and that evil is not the opposite of good but is the deprivation of good, or “good without light” as Weil states. What we call “morality” is based on self-knowledge or what the Greeks called phronesis or good judgement regarding the things that are in our own self-interest. Evil begins with our own self-deception regarding what is in our best interests; it is a choosing of the “shadows” instead of the light that is the good. For the Greeks, aletheia was our “uncovering” of beings from the darkness or hiddenness in which they repose; it was bringing the beings to light. As evil is the deprivation of good, it is also the deprivation of truth.

If we remember our original starting point in the blog in Plato’s Cave, even the shadows contain some truth because they are made possible by the light of the fire kept by the opinion-makers, the sophists, inside of the Cave and the diffused light of the sun which is outside the Cave, and the shadows are those beings that experience the deprivation of the sun’s light and are deprived of the sun’s light. For Plato, they are “non-beings” in that they are not what they truly are. Because the shadows are non-beings, they are the illusions and delusions that seduce us into thinking that they are “real” and are necessary to our well-being and our happiness.

What occurs when thinking or reasoning is not involved in practical action? To explore this we will attempt to understand the phrase the “banality of evil”, a concept which comes from the philosopher Hannah Arendt in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963). We often wonder how it was/is possible that people who carry out unspeakable crimes, such as the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia or the Nazi carrying out of the European Jewish Holocaust during World War II, could possibly act in such horrific, evil ways. Arendt’s thesis is that people who carry out unspeakable crimes, like Adolph Eichmann, a top administrator in the machinery of the Nazi death camps, may not be crazy fanatics at all, but rather ordinary individuals who simply accept the premises of their state (or institutions) and participate in any ongoing enterprise with the energy of good bureaucrats. They conceive of their actions to be their duty. Eichmann’s appearance and responses to his accusers have been echoed in eerily similar, familiar ways by those accused of the Khmer Rouge massacres over the past few years.

What Arendt had detected in Eichmann when viewing the process of his prosecution and his trial was thoughtlessness. Eichmann’s ordinariness was demonstrated  in an incapacity for independent critical thought: “… the only specific characteristic one could detect in his past as well as in his behavior during the trial and the preceding police examination was something entirely negative: it was not stupidity but a curious, quite authentic inability to think.” Arendt continues: “When confronted with situations for which such routine procedures did not exist, he [Eichmann] was helpless, and his cliché-ridden language produced on the stand, as it had evidently done in his official life, a kind of macabre comedy. Clichés, stock phrases, adherence to conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct have the socially recognized function of protecting us against reality, that is, against the claim on our thinking attention that all events and facts make by virtue of their existence.

In an article “Normalizing the Unthinkable” (Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, March 1984), Lisa Peattie described how in the Nazi death camps work was “normalized” for the long-term prisoners as well as regular personnel: “[P]rison plumbers laid the water pipe in the crematorium and prison electricians wired the fences. The camp managers maintained standards and orderly process. The cobblestones which paved the crematorium yard at Auschwitz had to be perfectly scrubbed.” Peattie focused on the parallels between routinization in the death camps and the preparations for nuclear war, where the “unthinkable” is organized and prepared for in a division of labor participated in by people at many levels. Distance from execution helps render responsibility hazy. “Adolph Eichmann was a thoroughly responsible person, according to his understanding of responsibility. For him, it was clear that the heads of state set policy. His role was to implement, and fortunately, he felt, it was never part of his job actually to have to kill anyone.”

The point being made here is that human beings in the everydayness of their dealings within the “lens” of technological world-view are incapable of the capacity for thinking that reflects on the wholeness of their activities when they are given over to the “they-Self”, the society or community of which they are a member. This giving over may express itself in loyalty to superiors (as it did with Eichmann), with patriotism, or in the currently common populism that is erupting throughout the world.

Arendt notes that there is a most sinister “innocent appearance” or commonplace “normality” to our activities whether it is manufacturing food, bombs or corpses when these activities become rootless, mechanized and routinized.  Almost 10 years after Eichmann in Jerusalem, Arendt reaffirms in Thinking and Moral Considerations this same dimension of evil: “… the phenomenon of evil deeds, committed on a gigantic scale, which could not be traced to any particularity of wickedness, pathology, or ideological conviction in the doer, whose only personal distinction was a perhaps extraordinary shallowness.” Arendt asks the question: “Could the activity of thinking as such, the habit of examining and reflecting upon whatever happens to come to pass, regardless of specific content and quite independent of results, could this activity be of such a nature that it ‘conditions’ men against evil-doing?” But in the technological world, all our thinking is a striving for results. Where are we to find genuine thinking when we are dominated by a drive to produce results and we see it as our duty to produce results, and in our exhaustion from our efforts, all we wish for is to be entertained by our thoughtless arts?

When I speak of the “sinister innocence” of the appearance of evil as a phenomenon, I am referring to the quote from Simone Weil that begins this reflection. Weil sees “the surface phenomenon” as the phenomenon of evil in the same way that the shadows in the Cave that “enthrall us” are the “illusions” of an absent reality, the Good. Arendt, who cannot allow herself to assert something like “the highest good”, continues:

“I mean that evil is not radical, going to the roots (radix), that is has no depth, and that for this very reason it is so terribly difficult to think about it, since thinking, by definition, wants to reach the roots. Evil is a surface phenomenon, and instead of being radical, it is merely extreme. We resist evil by not being swept away by the surface of things, by stopping ourselves and beginning to think, that is, by reaching another dimension than the horizon of everyday life. In other words, the more superficial someone is the more likely will he be to yield to evil. An indication of such superficiality is the use of clichés, and Eichmann …was a perfect example.” 

Whereas Arendt sees evil as “extreme” and a “surface phenomenon”, Weil sees evil as the false reality of our everyday being-in-the-world since our being is “deprived” of the good unless we are thoughtful and attentive to it and wrest it from its hiddenness. Arendt sees thinking as necessary to prevent us from doing evil, but she is unclear regarding thinking’s direction when she says “reaching another dimension than the horizon of everyday life”. What exactly is that “horizon” and that dimension in the technological? In the society that accepts that “Time is money” and where “results” are most important, where are there moments to be reflective upon one’s being-in-the-world and actions? In the entry that explores “Understanding the Shadows”, I have attempted to make clear that the surface of phenomenon is all that we care about in the modern and that this has been in the making for hundreds of years.

Arendt in her later thinking says:  “It is indeed my opinion now that evil is never ‘radical’, that it is only extreme, and that it possesses neither depth nor any demonic dimension. It can overgrow and lay waste the whole world precisely because it spreads like a fungus on the surface. It is ‘thought-defying’, as I said, because thought tries to reach some depth, to go to roots, and the moment it concerns itself with evil, it is frustrated because there is nothing. That is its ‘banality’. Only the good has depth and can be radical.” (Hannah, Arendt, The Jew as Pariah – Jewish Identity and Politics in the Modern Age. (New York: Grove Press, 1978), p. 251.)

In Plato’s Republic Bk. 6, Plato describes all forms of human community as ‘a Great Beast’ whether it be that of a city, society or a culture that one gains some freedom from through recognizing it as such, and from this turning away receives the freedom to move towards the light. The metaphor of the Beast is an analogy to the ‘they-Self’, and the Cave of Bk. 7 of Republic is a literal description of being in ‘the belly of the beast’ and the ‘turning’ and ascent to remove or extricate oneself from the Beast’s control. Service to the Great Beast in Republic, our desire for social recognition and “empowerment”, is the great temptation or enchainment which prevents one from seeking the Good. The “giving away of oneself”, the greatest good or the highest end for human beings, that is spoken of by the saints is eerily demonstrated in the deprivation of that giving away shown in that giving away of one’s freedom to think in those who could and would potentially engage in the most heinous crimes. Power, the illusion of the control of necessity and chance, is the temptation. It is thus that we enter the world of the sophist and politics.

CT 1: Perspectives (WOKs)


TOKQuestionWhat is knowledge? What are the things known? Who and what are the knowers and how do they know? What we have called the ways of knowing are the perspectives, the manners or comportments, and the methods in which human beings bring the things of their world to light, into “unconcealment”, what the ancient Greeks referred to as aletheia or “truth”. In this “bringing to light”, the things are brought to a “stand” and are made “permanent” in their “presencing” in this standing. This “standing” of the things is what is called knowledge, for the things in their “standing” and permanence can be “counted upon” to be as they are. The Greeks defined human beings as the zoon logon echon, “the living being that is capable of speech”. The Latins later described human beings as the “animale rationale“, the “rational animal”. How did this change from speech to rationality occur and why is it important? Our definitions of concepts and things are crucial to our understanding of how we know and what the things are that we do know.

Because our speech is with reference to other human beings and things, it was called logos by the Greeks. Because it involved more than one person and more than one way of knowing, it was referred to as “dialectic”. “Dialectic” means “conversation”, “speech”. Within the speech dianoia and diaresis are used, “synthesis” and “separation”, to signify that which is being spoken about, but the dialectic itself is a manner of being underway towards knowledge and is insufficient in itself in attaining knowledge. “Dialectic” is one of those words that has gone through many various interpretations throughout the history of the West becoming more complex and obscure as it became intertwined with other ways of knowing.


Aristotle was first to distinguish five ways of knowing and the things that are known by them in Bk VI of his Ethics. Our word “ethics” comes from Aristotle’s two texts on this subject matter or theme: Nichomachean Ethics and Eudemean Ethics. Nichomachean Ethics is the text that is most commonly known. That a discussion of the manners in which human beings “know” is undertaken at the very heart, the centre, of the Ethics gives us an indication of the importance of understanding what we think human beings are when we are trying to determine the nature of the actions that human beings take. Thinking is a human action and a form or way of human being-in-the-world. What we have come to call our “ways of knowing” and the things about which they give us knowledge determine in advance the actions that we will undertake when we attempt to meet the ends or goals (desires) that we have decided upon. The ways of knowing are responsible for, are “needful of”, and contribute to, our actions and their outcomes. They are “actions” themselves, the choices that we have made the nature of which are “brought to light” in their outcomes or ends. In today’s word, we would call them “lifestyles”, those choices we have made as beings who live in communities which determine the manner of our being in those societies. In philosophical language it is called ontology.

“Bringing things to light” is an essential part of what human beings are. We are not human if we do not. As we proceed, we want to keep in mind Socrates’ saying that sounds so strange at first because it seems to defy our common sense experience: “No one knowingly does evil” or injustice, and we will try to understand what Socrates could possibly have meant by this. We will try to grasp the phenomenon of “intentional ignorance” and how our helplessness is not knowing what is “good” or “bad” and making decisions and choices in this state of ignorance.

The five ways of knowing and the things that are known by them are outlined by  Aristotle as: 1. sophia or knowledge of the first things, the “permanent” things, the divine, Being. Sophia deals with what is “necessary” as well as what is “beyond” human beings; things that human beings cannot change, what is essential. For the Greeks, Nature was seen as “permanent” and “beyond” or “outside” of human beings; it was “sempiternal” even though the things within it did experience change; 2. episteme or what we call “theoretical knowledge” which deals with the “viewing” or the “seeing” of the things that are “permanent”. Episteme also deals with the “permanent things” through theoria, the viewing of the things. What we call “scientific knowledge” is part of episteme, and the study of knowledge itself is what is called “epistemology”. Aristotle refers to the bios theoretikos the “theoretical life” or the “scientific life, the life of the scientist” which was an innovation in the Greek language at the time by him; both sophia and episteme deal with sense perception, “seeing” or “viewing”, as their primary manner of accessing knowledge; 3. techne is “know-how” or “expertise”, “a being at home in something” and it deals with the things that do change, things that are in “motion” and their “possibilities” or “potentialities”. Techne deals with things that have to be made and which are not yet what they will be or are not yet in being. All human “production” is a realizing of the “potential” or the “possibility” of bringing forth new things and is a “bringing forth” as a result of techne whether it be shoes or a work of art. Techne is a plan or “projection”, an algorithm involving a “doing” that brings about some end “in another and for another”. The Greeks did not distinguish between shoemakers and poets as technites. “Architecture is the techne of the house”; 4. phronesis is the deliberation with regard to the things that are in one’s own self-interest. Phronesis is the way of knowing that we usually associate with “ethics” since our thinking about what is in our best self-interest involves the actions that we will undertake to attain those things which we desire. These actions will be undertaken in our lives as members of a community. Phronesis makes situations accessible, and the circumstances are always different for each situation. For the Greeks, sophrosyne or “moderation”, was the best outcome of the deliberation associated with phronesis; 5. nous is that thinking that we associate with the “intellect”, what we have come to call reason, intelligence. It involves the other four ways of knowing in some manner with regard to bringing the things to light, to knowledge. When the French philosopher Simone Weil says: “Faith is the experience that the intelligence is enlightened by Love”, she is attempting to illustrate a reality of human being-in-the-world where “intelligence”, “intellect” and all of the other ways of knowing are combined and, thus, her statement is an “ethical” statement because such a “faith” determines how one will think and act among others in their communities.

With the exception of sophia, the ways of knowing are not distinct in themselves as approaches to things but involve each other in our deliberations of the outcomes for which we are aiming. Sophia and episteme regard things that we know through the senses, primarily the sense of sight; techne, phronesis and nous are the ways we know things through speech whether written or spoken and whether in words or numbers.

When things are known through “speech”, they can become what we call “opinion”. Ethics is not “opinion” because ethics deals with praxis, concrete actions, and these actions were taken in the direction of some perceived “good”. An opinion is directed to something; it is a maintaining that some thing is such and such. Opinion is an orientation towards things as they would show themselves to a correct investigation and examination. “Opinion” is an attempt to “reveal” the truth of something covered over or hidden. “Opinion” is Plato’s “justified true belief” which he outlines in his dialogue Theatetus. Opinion is not a seeking for knowledge but is something someone already has whether it be true or false because an opinion can be true or false. Sophia and episteme are not “opinion” because they are already complete i.e. they are not underway towards something because they already possess knowledge of the things about which they deliberate. “Opinion” regards those things that can be otherwise and that is why it can be true or false. Opinion is the handing over of knowledge through “language” and what is handed over. One may distinguish between “informed” opinion and “uninformed” opinion. Uniformed opinion is not knowledge since it is merely the shadow of a shadow.

Many of today’s interpretations of the Greeks see them as living in a “split” world, one of Being and one of Becoming where the world of Being is placed “beyond” the actual world in which we dwell, where the realm of the Ideas, Beauty, Goodness and Truth are somehow and somewhere beyond us and are abstracted from the reality of our day-to-day living. A closer reading of Greek texts, particularly Plato, reveals this not to be the  case. The Beauty of which Plato speaks is not one that is in “the eye of the beholder”; it is beyond the realm of “opinion”. The Greeks dwelt in both Being and Becoming simultaneously, as we do here in the present and as human beings have always done. Our interpretations of the Greeks derives from our “splitting” of the world into a dualism such as mind/body, subject/object, etc. and then attempting to reconcile those dualities through some form of “dialectic”.

We shall now discuss each of the ways of knowing as indicated by Aristotle more specifically.

Sophia as a Way of Knowing: (Nic. Ethics Bk VI Chap. 6-7)

Sophia and episteme concern the things that always already were and are and which human beings do not first produce. For the Greeks, this would be what we call Nature including ouranos, the heavens. Aristotle establishes a correlation between the ways of knowing in the psyche or the soul of the revealing the things and of the things themselves that are revealed i.e. a correspondence. This revealing of the appropriate beings by the appropriate ways of knowing is done so that the psyche might dwell with them. This “dwelling” with them does not mean that they have to be present at all times: because they always are, they can be “counted upon” to be as they are and be present when we wish them to be. Beings or things that are in “motion” and subject to change are not able to be known in any precise way and, thus, cannot be “counted upon” in themselves. (“Only that which has no history can be defined”, as Nietzsche would say.) This permanent “dwelling alongside” the things that are everlasting is what makes “scientific knowledge” possible. Science concerns itself with what Plato called Necessity, what we call “the real”. For the Greeks, the world was not “created” but always was, is and will be. Time itself was “a moving image of eternity”.

Aristotle began his Metaphysics with the famous line: “All human beings by nature desire to see”. ὀρέγονται “see” is commonly translated as “know”, but what Aristotle wants to emphasize is what we would call “knowledge by acquaintance”, a “becoming familiar with things so that we may dwell among them” and we do this through seeing them first. For Aristotle, sight is our primary sense. Along with sight, however, hearing is most important and even has greater primacy, for we must hear in order to share with others what we have seen. Human beings are the zoon logon echon, “the animal capable of speech”. It is what we do and can do with our speaking that distinguishes us from all other beings and, thus, makes us “human”.

The archai or genesis of things for the Greeks is the Good, and sophia is that way of knowing that gazes upon the first things, the permanent things of which the Good is the primary one, though it is not really a “thing” at all. The philosopher’s being is a “dwelling alongside and with” the Good. A philosopher is a philo sophia “a friend (lover) of the Good” or of the Whole. Such knowledge is called “wisdom” and only a few human beings ever attain it. One aspect of the sophia of the philosopher is his ability to distinguish the Necessary from the Good.

For Plato, evil is not the opposite of the Good, but the deprivation of the Good. The Good is what beings are fitted for, what their “nature” is that has been given to them. A drowning man knows all too well that it is good for human beings to breathe and that the air is good for that action of breathing. Goodness and its “fittedness” are present for us at all moments and in all situations. The “fittedness” of some thing is the “virtue” of that thing, its completeness, fullness. When I experienced the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, I had to come to understand that what I had experienced was a deprivation of “good”, not what we traditionally associate with “evil”. We moderns have chosen to lose sight of this most important understanding of Human Being. Wars, plagues, floods and famines were all very familiar to the Greeks. A glance at Thucydides History will demonstrate this. But beyond these ills, in spite of these ills, the Greeks sustained a belief, a knowledge that the essence of things was Good.

The Good is the first axiom, the first self-evident principle, from which we can draw all other axioms and conclusions. We are familiar with this attempt to account for the whole of things in the various ways i.e. that the elements were considered the archai of the whole: earth, water, fire, and air. For Plato, the ideas are derived from the Good and they provide the universals, the “wholes”, from which the particulars get their essence, what they are. It is the “light” which makes these universals and particulars possible, for from the light comes the ability to “see” and in Greek seeing is theoria, from which is derived our word “theory”. The seeing in the “theory” is a “two-way” seeing, and we will speak more about this later.

“Universals” are related to “hearing”, while “particulars” are related to “seeing”. We are able to see a tree as a tree because it participates in the idea of “treeness”. Our seeing of the tree is its “outward appearance” (eidos), but the outward appearance of the particular tree is not what the tree is in its essence. It is not the “being” of the tree. It is through speaking about the tree, the hearing, that we can arrive at its “universal” quality, and from this speaking are able to delimit and define what it is when we say the word “tree”. 

The ability to distinguish the Necessary from the Good is what the Greeks called mathematike: things which can be learned and things which can be taught. We associate mathematics with numbers and symbols, but the Greeks did not. The mathemata covered a much broader theme. Within mathematics, the Greeks distinguished between arithmos-arithmetic and geometry. Arithmetic concerns itself with monas or units, things that are “unique”, “alone”, particulars. Geometry concerns itself with stigme or a “point”, a monas with a thesis added. A thesis is an orientation, a situation, a viewpoint; it has the character of being oriented toward something and of retaining something within one’s self in this orientation. The one who possessed wisdom, who possessed sophia, was a geometer. Plato stated: “The god is forever the geometer”, and above his Academy had inscribed “No one enters without knowledge of geometry”. More will be written about Greek geometry in Mathematics as an Area of Knowledge, but suffice it to say for the moment that geometry was the manner in which the proper Being of beings were outlined in their limits and their possibilities i.e. mathematics as an activity was “ethical” in its purposes and goals. A study of the Pythagoreans and their geometry illustrates this. Knowledge in geometry was to know a thing’s “place”, for in knowing its “place” one would be able to determine its essence or essential nature. When a thing was not in its appropriate place, it was “unnatural”.

The “seeing” or “knowing” in sophia is attained when the perception of the virtues of beings/things is known as well as a “seeing” why such and such should happen. This “knowing” is achieved through the study of geometry. The ultimate “why” is the “good” as telos or “end, purpose”. The “good” is the “for the sake of which” that determines what we call “knowledge” and this “for the sake of which” can be “in another and for another” such as in techne or it can be in one’s own self-interest as in phronesis. Sophia is the guide for episteme (theoretical knowledge), techne (“know how”), phronesis (ethics/actions), and nous (intellect, intelligence). Sophia is itself autonomous as a way of knowing, according to Aristotle. Sophia is both a way of being-in-the-world and a way of “seeing” which determines the best actions to be taken.

The “good” for Aristotle is an aition “something responsible for bringing about something else”: it is both the ultimate archai or beginning and telos or end.To the extent that a thing has reached its telos or purpose, its goal, and is whole and complete, it is as it was meant to be and this was called its “virtue”. What is meant by the “good” in the Greeks is quite distinct from what we mean by “values”, and our idea of “values” as moral assessments, “subjective preferences”, etc. are a poor derivative of the Greek understanding of the “good” and are one of the results of the intervention of Christianity in Western history.

The highest mode of “revealing” truth and, thus, the highest mode of human being/existence is to be found in sophia,  and this mode is to be found “in another and for another”. Through knowing the limits placed on the things that are, including ourselves, human beings are able to see the gulf that separates the Necessary from the Good and to distinguish the virtues of the things themselves from the Good itself. While sophia might wish to simply gaze upon the Beauty of the Good itself, being a human being requires that we live with others in communities and, thus, requires phronetic knowledge. It would seem that sophia as a way of being-in-the-world is reserved for the gods alone  (Nic. Ethics X Chap. 7); and that while sophia may be the best way of knowing, the other ways of knowing are more necessary and more pressing for human beings. Few human beings attain sophia. 

Episteme as a Way of Knowing (Nic. Ethics Bk VI Chap 3)

Episteme is concerned with those things that do not change. Episteme has its roots in the archai, the first things: it uses the archai as its axioms, the self-evident principles from which it draws conclusions. The concerns of episteme are the archai (the beginnings, the first things), the purpose or goal (telos), the outward appearance (eidos), and the matter or material (hyle) i.e. the four causes of beings as indicated by Aristotle. The archai are what already is, and they are that from out of which every being is properly what it is. Episteme cannot retain the archai in itself i.e. reason cannot give an account of itself through reason just as science cannot give an account of itself scientifically. Episteme must be realized through theoria or a way of looking at the world.

The primary theme of episteme is the eidos or the outward appearance of things and from this it pursues its deliberations along the lines of the eidos. We call this viewing “representation”. Because of this focus, episteme is primarily concerned with theoria or “theory”, the “seeing”, the “viewing” and with the emperia, or what can be perceived through the senses and “experienced”. Techne only intends the eidos; it does not co-intend the telos or purpose as it takes its guidance from the “logistics” of the production, the algorithms inherent in its blueprint. This severance of the “making” from its goal or purpose in the deliberations of the techne is still with us today and is at the root of many of the problems that we associate with “technology”.  In phronesis the “good action” is itself the archai for the archai is the purpose itself;  phronesis is not speculation about the action itself because the “good action” is always before one as a concrete action, a “real possibility”.

Knowledge in episteme, unlike phronesis, is attainable at a young age. Aristotle believed that “much time is required” for phronesis while quite young people can have mathematical knowledge, for instance; this is due to the fact that mathematical knowledge does not have to do with concrete existence or experience but is abstracted from it. Pascal would be a modern example of a young person able to attain mathematical knowledge although there are many other examples.

For Aristotle, episteme has to do with “scientific knowledge”. What, for Aristotle, are the beings or things that are “uncovered” through scientific knowledge? Aristotle begins: “We say of that which we know that it cannot be otherwise”. Knowledge must always be as it is. Episteme deals with beings that always are. Only that which always is can be known. That which can be otherwise is not known in the strict sense since it depends on my being present to be what it is at a particular time. With the objects of episteme I do not have to be present to be able to rely on their being the way they are. This is why there can be universal collaboration on projects involving the theoretical things. To know is to have “uncovered” and hence knowledge is associated with truth. In this knowing there is a preservation of that which is known. It is a positionality towards the things that are known and it has at its disposal the outward look of the things. This positionality is that which can be shared.

Today’s concept of knowledge and our theory of knowledge and science take their orientation from this concept. Knowing may be said to be the preserving of the uncoveredness of beings that are independent of the knowing itself and these beings then are at the disposal of the knower. The knowing that I have at my disposal must always be so; it is the being which always is so, that did not become, that never was not and never will not be. It is constantly so. It is a being in the most proper sense. It is that which is permanent.

This permanence of known beings determines those beings that are in moments of time. The world for Aristotle is permanent, eternal; it did not come into being and is imperishable. The existence of what is alive and of the world as a whole is thus determined to be imperishable. The ouranos, heavens, determine for the living thing the length of its presence. The aidia, the permanent things, are what form the beginning for all other beings. They are, therefore, what properly is. Therefore, what dwells in the now and is most properly a being and is the archai or origin of the rest of beings determines all beings in their presence. This is not the separation of worlds that has come to be the common   understanding of the Greeks in the West. The Being of the beings is immanent in them and in the world and it is what makes knowledge and science possible. Aristotle’s understanding of time is that to be “in time” means to be “measured by time with regard to being”. What always is is not “in time” but is a constant presence in the “now” and its nows are numberless, limitless. Because they are numberless, they are not measurable. The beings of episteme are those beings that are permanent.

The beings of episteme are “knowable” and “learnable” i.e. they are mathematical in the Greek sense. They are things that one can teach and learn. Scientific knowledge is “mathematical”; the knowledge of sophia is not mathematical. Knowledge may be understood as a stance towards beings which has their uncoveredness available without being constantly present to them. Knowledge is teachable i.e. communicable without there having to take place an uncovering. By speaking about the logoi or speeches here, Aristotle is referring to the distinction between the speech of the sophists before a court or the senate where they appeal to the common understanding of things which is shared by everyone i.e. “common sense”.  Such speaking does not provide scientific proofs but its purpose is to awaken a conviction in the audience who hears the speech. “They show the universal through the obviousness of some particular case” i.e. through a definite example. In a similar way, “what is known at the outset” is the mode in which episteme  is communicated. Hence it is possible to “teach” someone a science without that person having seen all the facts themselves provided the person possesses the necessary presuppositions. The axioms of mathematics operate in the same way: separate deductions can be made without the need of a genuine understanding of those axioms. Episteme requires presuppositions that it cannot elucidate itself as episteme. It shows something that is already familiar and known. It presupposes the archai and these are not properly uncovered by the episteme itself as a mode of knowledge. It cannot demonstrate that which it presupposes. It is not the highest possibility of knowledge: sophia is.

Genuine knowledge is always more than the mere possession of results. The person that has at their disposal what emerges at the end and then speaks further does not have knowledge. What is gained is knowledge from the “outside” and the person remains unknowing in any real sense. Episteme does not have at its disposal the ability to make the genuine beings available; these beings are still hidden in the archai. This has many implications for what we understand as the Social Sciences.

Techne as a Way of Knowing (Nic. Ethics Bk VI Chap. 4)

The objects of concern of techne are those things that are “coming into being” or things that are not yet. In techne, the “know how” is directed towards a “producing” of something that is not yet. All “know how” as the guiding of production moves within the horizon of those beings which are in the process of becoming and are on their way to Being. The “lifestyle” of the techne is of one who considers having things “occur in such and such a way” i.e. having something be correctly executed so that the intended end may be brought about. As a way of being-in-the-world, it is always a “preparation for something”. It is an “in order to” and a “for the sake of which” that determines its comportment towards the things with which it deals.

In techne, the arche of the beings or things, their genesis,  is in the producer. If something is to be produced, deliberation is required. The “for which” must be determined (i.e. shoes for a certain customer) and “the look” of the “outward appearance” (eidos) of the thing, the work, the finished product (the shoes) must be determined. The blueprint, the algorithm or the plan, is determined prior to the production. The arche in the form of “idea” and “outward appearance” (eidos) are in the producers themselves. The arche do not reside in what is produced, the work or artifact. This is contrary to the things of Nature which “produce themselves”; the arche reside in them. In techne the work produced resides “beside” the activity of production; and as a “finished work” it is no longer an object of techne. (See the discussion on technology in OT2 where the “products” of technology, the computers, hand phones etc. are not technology itself but are distinguished from what the essence of technology is OT2: Knowledge and Technology). Insofar as the purpose or end (telos) constitutes the arche of techne, the arche itself is not available in the work that is produced. This shows that, for Aristotle, techne is not a genuine mode of revealing truth since the essence of what the thing is is not in the thing itself. (A few words on “artificial intelligence” can be noted here. The computers or robots that are supposedly producing haikus and the like are not really producing haikus because the arche are lacking. They may be producing something that for all intents and purposes looks like and sounds like a haiku but it is not; it is a shadow. The machines do not give the command prompt to themselves to “bring forth” haikus because as “finished products” themselves, they are lacking the idea or genesis of the haiku itself. When the machines are capable of doing this, then we will have “artificial intelligence”. What is called “artificial intelligence” today is really nothing more than the “rote learning” that is possible through nous and shares many parallels with it. The machine is “unaware” of the archai.)

The finished work of techne arises through production and fabrication or making. It is “for the sake of something”. It is “not an end pure and simple”, according to Aristotle. The “work” whether of art or a pair of shoes is “for something and for someone”. It is produced for further use for human beings. Techne is not concerned with the finished products but only with things that are in the process of becoming, the possible.

For Aristotle, three things are determined by becoming: 1. physei or “self-production”; 2. techne; and 3. chance or contingency. “Chance” is understood as “accidents” such as miscarriages and the like, things that are “against nature”. The modes of becoming that are not those of Nature Aristotle calls poiesis, from which our word “poetry” comes. Poiesis is a “bringing forth”. The “bringing forth” that occurs in techne is initiated by the eidos in the psyche or soul of the producer. The eidos or the “outward appearance” of the thing to be produced initiates the movement of deliberation (noesis) and then follows the poiesis or the action, “the making” that brings about the production itself. In Aristotle, the eidos or “the outward look” is the arche or beginning that connects the deliberation (noeisis) and the poiesis together: the “knowing and making” are both deliberative and practical action. Techne is a knowing and a making. What is produced, the work, is no longer of concern to techne. It is out of its hands, and this is the deficiency of techne as a way of revealing things according to Aristotle.

Phronesis as a Way of Knowing (Nic. Ethics Bk VI Chap. 5)

In Greek, the word arete means “virtue”. “Virtue” is the full development, the “perfection” of a being whether it be the “finished work” of the technite or of a human being. Its connection with the morals of Christianity came through their interpretations of Aristotle during the Medieval period. “Virtue” with regard to human beings initially meant the “manliness of a man”, the perfection of a human being and then later became the “chastity” of a woman when human perfection itself became defined in the person of Jesus Christ. Such is the fate of words in our language, and it is a warning about making assumptions of what the words may mean. A house that has a leaky roof would be lacking in “virtue” according to the Greeks. As the wife of Macbeth observes about her husband: he is “too full of the milk of human kindness/ To catch the nearest way” indicating that the tragic hero, Macbeth, is a “virtuous” man who through his actions loses that virtue and in so doing ceases to be a full human being becoming a tyrant and a monster. We shall explore these connections further as we discuss phronesis as a way of knowing and its relation to “virtue”.

Phronesis deals with “opinion” as opposed to episteme which is knowledge itself, according to Aristotle. Phronesis deals with arete itself as opposed to techne. The object of phronesis is human being itself and what constitutes its perfection. The human being who exercises phronesis “deliberates well, appropriately over that which is good (full and perfect)” and which is also good for the deliberator himself. The object of phronesis is some thing that can be otherwise but which from the outset has a connection or a relation to the deliberator. The deliberation of techne, on the other hand, deals simply with the production of something else, the “work”, for someone else. Phronesis is concerned with the work in so far as it relates to the individual directly.

phronemos is not someone who thinks correctly with regard to particular personal advantages such as health and bodily strength but one who deliberates in the right way regarding “what is conducive to the right mode of Human Being as such and as a whole”. Phronesis is concerned with the right and proper way to be a human being and this is where it becomes connected historically with what we refer to as “morals”. Phronesis promotes “seriousness” in “relation to such things which cannot be the theme of a making or production” i.e. that “seriousness” is the proper attitude or relation to those things upon which phronesis deliberates.

In the case of phronesis the object of deliberation is Life itself where, unlike techne, the purpose or outcome is not separated from the deliberator himself as is the case with the “work” and techne. Phronesis’ goal or aim (telos) is the “best practice” or action and this is the “uncovering” and “revealing” itself. The purpose is disclosed and preserved in the life of the deliberator himself.

The “lifestyles” of the phronemos and the technite are each directed to a different mode of being-in-the-world: phronesis views oneself and one’s own acting while techne is cleverness, ingenuity, and resource regarding things I do not want to necessarily carry out or I am unable to carry out myself. Techne leads to “machinations”.  The thinking of the phronemos, on the other hand, is a drawing of conclusions: if such and such is supposed to occur, if I am to behave and be in such and such a way, then…The deliberation is different in every case. The deliberation of phronesis is a “discussing”. Shakespeare’s soliloquies are probably the best examples that we have in the English language of “phronetic deliberation”. Macbeth’s “If it ’twere done when ’tis done” (Act I sc vii) is a brilliant example.

Macbeth is a play regarding truth and phronesis. It is not a play about “ambition” per se but about the appropriation of that which is “fitting” to one’s self in  the appropriation, the acquisition of that which is appropriate or “right and fitting” to one’s own human being and the consequences of choosing that which is not appropriate for one’s self. The motif of ill-fitting clothing running throughout the play illustrates both the “hiddenness” of truth in the play regarding that which is appropriately one’s own and that one should make one’s own by taking possession of it, and that which is not “suitable” to one’s self. Macbeth is a great warrior, soldier but he is not a king because he does not have the temperament to be a king such as that exhibited by Duncan and Banquo. The temperament that makes for a great warrior is not that which makes for a great king, and so it is not “fitting” that great warriors attempt to make themselves kings.

Like techne but unlike episteme the deliberations of phronesis are regarding things that can be otherwise. The goal or aim of the deliberation of the phronemos is “such a disposition of human being that it has at its disposal its own transparency” i.e. self-knowledge, the proper being of a human being. The arche or beginning of phronesis is human life itself embodied in the human being. Life and the human being finds itself disposed and comports itself to itself in this way or that way. What phronesis deliberates about is not what brings praxis or an action to an end. Results are not what constitutes the being of an action. What constitutes the being of an action is the “how”. The purpose in phronesis is the human being himself; in the case of the “production” of the technite, the purpose is something other, to “bring forth” some thing over and against the human being. Not so with the action of phronesis which is “it’s thing”.

If human being itself is the object of phronesis then it must be characteristic of human beings that they are “covered up” to themselves and do not see themselves. A mood or disposition (attitude) can cover a human being up to themselves. A person can be concerned with things of minor significance; we can be so wrapped up in ourselves that we do not genuinely see ourselves and others. Phronesis is necessary to bring to light human beings to themselves. According to Aristotle and Plato, the “truth” of who and what we are must be wrested away from “hiddenness”. “Prudence” or sophrosyne is what saves us from being “covered over”, for “pleasure and pain can confuse every action” because they are corruptions, according to Aristotle. But because pleasure and pain are determinations of what human beings are, we are constantly in danger of covering ourselves up to ourselves in our search for the one and the avoidance of the other. Lethe “forgetfulness”, “oblivion” must become a-lethe “uncoveredness”, “revealed”. This “uncovering” occurs through the logos. We must talk to ourselves. The end of phronesis is where the “disposition of human being is such that in it I have at my disposal my own transparency” or my own self-knowledge. Its purpose is “the good life”,  eudaimonia, or “happiness” which is “through action” and the action is transparent in itself also. Phronesis serves to guide the action which is a “truth” itself.

How does phronesis differ from episteme and techne in revealing truth and in so doing become a ground of ethical action since the grounds of ethical action are revealed in the things that these ways of knowing reveal i.e. knowledge? Phronesis differs from techne in that it possesses its outcome or its “work”; techne does not. As mentioned earlier, arete or “virtue” is the perfection of something, something brought to completion regarding a thing that has the potentiality to be completed. Techne possesses this; phronesis does not. We may complete a project, an exhibition, an essay but we cannot complete Life itself.

In the deliberations of techne, of “know how”, there are various degrees of development. Techne can presume things and concede things; trial and error are appropriate to it and through techne one discovers whether something works or not. The more techne risks failure the more sure it is of its methods and procedures. It is through failure that certainty is formed. It is precisely the individual who is ingrained in a definite technique, a set routine, but who continues to start anew and cuts through rigid procedures (who “thinks outside of the box”), who acquires the correct possibility of “know how” and has at her disposal the proper kind of “revealing” that corresponds to techne and who acquires more and more of that kind of “uncovering”. The possibility of failure is essential to the development of knowledge in techne.

In phronesis, however, the outcome is human Being or Life itself: mistakes are a shortcoming. The shortcomings are not “higher possibilities” but “miss the mark” or goal of phronesis. Aristotle called this missing the mark hamartia, a “flaw in character”. It is one of the essential characteristics of his tragic hero outlined in his Poetics. In moral action, one cannot experiment with oneself as one can say Macbeth does in his deliberations. The deliberation in phronesis is ruled by an “either-or”, the outcome determined by success or failure. There is no “this as well as that”; there must be “a road not taken”. Phronesis has a permanent orientation as it pursues its goal and this permanent orientation is agathon, the Good. This orientation will bring about the “best action”. Good and evil are not opposites; evil is the deprivation of good, the lack of light, the lack of knowledge. From this we can now understand why Socrates says: “No one knowingly does evil” for it is not possible to do evil “knowingly”. Evil is the product of a “lack of light”, a lack of “unconcealment”, a lack of “truth” whether this be due to “intentional ignorance” (as is the case in Macbeth or any number of politicians currently in power) or otherwise. The root of all “sin” is the “sin against the light”, the denial of truth, the denial of the light.

While with techne there is always the possibility of making things “bigger and better”, with phronesis the end, the action, is complete and finished in itself. Phronesis is not the “virtue” of techne. The object of techne is a “product” or “work” while the object of phronesis is a praxis or action. For this reason, phronesis is “virtue” or arete itself. In this it differs from techne, even though the object of both types of deliberation are “things that can be otherwise”.

How does phronesis differ from episteme? In relation to things that can also be otherwise, knowledge of these things is “opinion”. We all have views and opinions on the things of everyday life which come to pass and change. Aristotle takes up the relation of “opinion” to phronesis: “Phronesis is not a desire to disclose for the sake of disclosing, but is a desire for truth which is practical”. Phronesis is not the deliberation that aims at the acquisition of views and opinions and is, thus, not “subjective”. The “revealing” that rests in “opinion” is what the Greeks called mathesis from which our word “mathematics” is derived. What I have experienced, noticed or learned I can forget. “Forgetting” for the Greeks is lethe.  It is a concealment, a hiddenness of things that “theory” can fall into. I can experience, notice and learn what has  already been experienced, noted and learned, what the Greeks called mathemata and what we have called “shared knowledge”, whereas phronesis is in each case new and is “self-knowledge”. There is no lethe in phronesis since the light is always present in the here and now.

Phronesis is not a mode of “theoretical knowledge” and is not a “virtue” of theoretical knowledge or the knowledge of techne. What is most notable in Aristotle (and where he differs from Plato to a very great extent) is that he designates sophia as the “virtue” of techne whereas Plato designates sophia as the “virtue” of phronesis. Sophia is the highest mode of human existence and deals with things that do not change whereas techne deals with things that do change. We will have more to say on this at a later time.

In phronesis the good can show itself purely and simply or it can show itself in a momentary glance in which the concrete action is clear and then a decision can be made. It would appear that since phronesis concerns the being of human beings that the manner in which phronesis reveals things would be the highest and most important mode of disclosure of truth, way of knowing, and therefore the highest being or “virtue” of a human being. But this is not the case.  Phronesis is not an autonomous mode of disclosure such as sophia. Aristotle points out that “The good (agathon) does not show itself except to the good person (agathos)”.

An evil disposition or a generally bad constitution can bring it about that the good presents itself to a human being as something it is not. So it follows that only someone who is already an agathos (a good person) can be a phronimos (a person who possesses phronesis). The possibility of the “uncovering” of the best action is bound up with the proviso that the person carrying it out must already be a good person. It is not enough that the person is guided by the circumspection that is phronesis; the anticipation of the good end as the mode of carrying out the action is only possible with the good person. Macbeth, in succumbing to the temptation of the three Weird Sisters, has already ceased to be a “good man”, and his subsequent confusion over the decision he is going to make indicates this.

Nous as a Way of Knowing

“Faith is the experience that the intelligence is enlightened by love.” — Simone Weil Gravity and Grace, Plon, Paris, 1948

Truly, truly, I say to you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it stays alone: but if it die, it brings forth much fruit. John 12:24

Aristotle says: “If therefore the ways in which we disclose beings truly (“knowledge”) and thereby do not distort them by deceiving ourselves are episteme, phronesis, sophia and nous, and if the three first mentioned episteme, phronesis, and sophia do not properly make the archai thematic, then all that remains is that nous is that manner of disclosing truth which discloses the archai as archai.” Techne is left out here because trial and error, making mistakes, are part of its way of knowing. In the other modes of revealing we have certainty and are not subject to deception according to Aristotle.

Nous is that “seeing” which is dependent on “speech” i.e. it is an “intellectual” rendering of the beings and their archai. It is “discussion”, what we call “dialectic”, in that it proceeds in an algorithmic fashion, step by step, from the universals or the first things to the particular things being discussed. It holds within itself the natural divisions of the ideas as Plato presented them to us, those things that are permanent, and nous attempts to demonstrate how the individual thing, the specific thing, participates in its idea so as to become “standing” and be available for discussion. Nous prevents those errors that arise from language when something is presented “as something”, not what it is in itself. Something can be distorted only when it is grasped in terms of something else; in our language, all things are presented in words or symbols or numbers and are, therefore, subject to errors. This is the danger with all discussions using analogies and the like. The errors occur in the synthesis of the categories that are used to describe them. Every judgement or denial about something whether true or false is a synthesis. The rampant nonsense regarding “alternative facts”, etc. is the false or pseudo treatment of the nous and the logos.

It should be clear from these descriptions of the ways of knowing given here that we do not “use” the ways of knowing so much as they “use” us. With nous what we call the classification of things and the determination of their limits helps us to define what the things are and where they shall be “placed”. Nous is particularly concerned with our praxis and our choices that we make in our words. From the nous comes the step-by-step procedures to realize the ends that we desire from our apprehension of the situations and the circumstances.

The connection between nous and logos is shown in the manner in which we understand intelligence and intellect as that “place” where reason is grounded, where it resides. For the Greeks, human beings were defined and described as the zoon logon echon, the living being capable of discourse or speech; for the Latins, human beings became defined and described as the animale rationale, the animal capable of reason, the animal that uses logic which is derived from the logos; and today we would describe human beings as that species of animal that has evolved from the ape and which has discovered reason historically. 

Today, we refer to nous as “the brain”, “the mind”, or “the psyche”. Nous relies on language for its uncovering in order to make possible the handing over of knowledge through the dialectic that is the distinguishing feature of human beings: the zoon logon echon. Sophia and episteme rely on “sense perception”, primarily sight, to see the permanent things and have direct experience of the permanent things, whereas nous uses the permanent things, the first things, the archai, in order to go forward and “produce” knowledge from those things which in themselves do not have to be directly experienced. 

Nous allows us to see the limits of things and so be able to define and classify them. These limits were seen through the use of geometry in the Greeks. Nous is the deliberations of the doctor before he prescribes a course of action to treat a disease. In the structure of ethical deliberations, nous begins with the phronetic “for the sake of this, for the sake of the good” such and such is to be done. The circumstances and the situations of the action are such and such. This is the second premise of the deliberation. The second premise is determined by the outermost limits, the consequences. Next to be required is sense perception. All deliberation ends in a sense perception. All deliberation ends in a sense perception through the specific objects. The objects of this sense perception i.e. seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching reveal their specificity in different ways: seeing – color, hearing – tone; etc. The situation is sized up “in the blink of an eye”, what we would call “intuition”. The specific ways of sensing a thing are the permanent “uncovering” of things for sense perception. These came to be called the “categories” and can be measured in their intensity. For Plato, these things were to be seen in the triangles, the elementary figures of geometry.

What is the connection between nous or intelligence and ethical action? Our paradigm of knowledge is that we have knowledge when we represent anything to ourselves as object and question it so that it will give us its reasons. In other writings I speak about this as “the mathematical projection”, the “throwing forward” of reason or what we understand as reason. This “throwing forward” is also called “research”. The limitations of the human mind in synthesizing facts necessitates that we separate that which is being researched into different areas of knowledge. This has led to many astounding practical achievements in all of those areas of knowledge. But what is being said about our ontology when we come to define ourselves in such a way?

Simone Weil

What does Simone Weil mean when she says: “Faith is the experience that the intelligence is enlightened by love”? For the past 500 years or so, we have viewed the world and our being in it as a “subject/object” relation. We view our “freedom” to make this world as we wish to be the ground of our actions within it. What is the relation of this knowledge which is driven by domineering and commandeering to “faith”? And what could possibly be meant by “love” in Weil’s statement?

A number of years ago, students were asked to distinguish between knowing a mathematical theorem, riding a bicycle, and knowing a friend in one of the prescribed titles that were offered to them for writing an essay. In the responses to the title, the essays found that knowing a mathematical theorem and riding a bicycle were not so difficult to describe and explore. When it came to knowing a friend, however, they had some difficulty: they found that they turned their friends into objects such that if they had fleas, they would have counted them. In no essay that I read on the title (and I read more than 60) did students discuss that they knew their friend because they “loved” their friend and that it was this love which distinguished their friends from others.

When we speak of ethics, we are speaking about our living in communities or societies. We have formed societies because we have needs, and we depend on others to meet them. As we grow up, our self-consciousness brings the tendency to make ourselves the center of things, and with it the common sense understanding that our very survival depends on our own efforts. When we allow ourselves to be dominated by self-serving, the reality of “otherness” almost disappears for us. In Plato’s writings, the tyrant is described as the worst human being because his self-serving has reached the furthest point. The tyrant is mad because otherness has ceased to exist for him. In Shakespeare, King Lear and Macbeth are “mad” because otherness has ceased for them at different points in the plays. Plato says that the opposite of knowledge is not ignorance, but madness, and this may be found in the statement by J. P. Sartre that “Hell is other people” or, in its opposite sense, “Hell is to be one’s one”. One should not forget the “deformity” of the soul that Aristotle speaks about when he is talking of phronesis as a way of knowing and how this “deformity” may be at the root of our own madness today.

The Greeks loved otherness not because it is other but because it is beautiful. The beauty of otherness is open to all and it is experienced in different forms and at different stages in the journey toward that perfection which we have outlined in the section on phronesis. A shoe fetishist and a saint are at different stages in that road; a gamer and a philosopher experience a beauty of a different quality, but all beauty, like truth, is One.

Any statements about the beauty of the world appear meaningless given the language of today’s modern sciences whether human or natural. We speak of beauty being in the eye of the beholder, but what is beholding? What way of knowing has determined how we “behold” the world? What are its grounds? How does it answer the “Why” that is at the core of human desiring and determines our nature as human beings? In all scientific explanations of the world and the beings in it, we are required to eliminate any assumption of the world as beautiful. Plato’s assumption that the world is beautiful and love is the appropriate response to it is seen as “naive” today since we believe that the proper way of viewing the world is as object, and it is not possible to love an object. Plato’s and Aristotle’s trust in the beauty and goodness of the world was changed to “doubt” through the thinking of Descartes and the arrival of the modern sciences in the 16th and 17th centuries through the work of Newton.

Because the presence of Nature was permanent or eternal for the Greeks, the seeing of the beautiful was open to all human beings. With the modern development of the subject/object distinction, the beauty of the world has been obscured for us. If we confine our thinking and attention to any being as if it were only an object for us (such as the students who attempted to describe “knowing a friend”), it cannot be loved as beautiful. Only as something stands before us in some relation other than the “objective” can we learn of its beauty and from its beauty.

The beauty of the world was related to the goodness of the world by its being considered an image of goodness itself in both Plato and Aristotle. With the discovery of modern science in the 16th and 17th centuries, a great paradigm shift occurred for human being-in-the-world and the discussion of “goodness” shifted to human ethical questions. The “good” has been replaced by “values” in our modern discourse regarding the ethical questions but what “values”, in fact, are has become something of a conundrum for us.

Being those beings which are permanent, beauty and goodness transcend the thinking of nous, techne and phronesis and are related to sophia and episteme and, thus, to sense perception. They can be seen. “Good” is not to be understood as a feeling associated with the appetites but is being itself. A lot of silly writing has been done associating religion with “feeling” and with being, ultimately, irrational. Our ability to perceive or conceive of “good ends” or purposes to our willing and actions are because the “goodness” that is in them is something that is permanent and is there, and remains there, whether we choose to see it or not.

In Plato’s Republic we are shown that we start with trust in our knowledge of those things that are immediately present for us, and then doubt is the means of moving to an understanding of what makes that trust possible in an educated human being. In Aristotle’s episteme and nous, things are described with the conception of purpose, and the ultimate purpose was the good in his science. Modern understanding is to view things in terms of necessity and chance, and through algebraic calculation to control that chance outside of any idea of purpose and there is certainly no room for a conception of the good.

One can see quite clearly from the new TOK guidelines for May 2022 that there is an awareness and concern regarding the darkness that has fallen upon our ethics and our justice in recent times. We can also see this darkness with regard to the ethical as having risen from our current understanding of the arts. Much of our time is filled with works of art and their purpose is the agreeable occupation of our attention. But the purpose of a great work of art is not properly presented when represented as “entertainment” nor as “aesthetics”. It is not chiefly “entertainment” that we have consumed when we are consumed by great beauty. The viewing of a Greek tragedy’s beauty was understood by the Greeks themselves as a “religious activity” wherein they were “looking back at” the gods who they believed were looking upon them; and it should be remembered that Greek tragedy initially arose from religious rituals to the god Dionysus. Even though the metaphor has been used to speak of the modern cinema as a “house of worship”, one can hardly, with any seriousness, compare the consumption of a flic on a Marvel action hero to a “religious activity”.

The question of whether there are some works of art more worthy of our attention than others must finally be answered in that there are some works of art more worthy of attention than others because they point to a goodness which is quite unrepresentable to us and that is quite beyond us.

When nous as reason and logic is exalted above understanding (as is the case in modern science today), we invert the Platonic and Aristotelian view of the world in order to view human beings as “autonomous” and this lessens our receptivity to otherness in the name of our freedom. One key difficulty in the present is that our viewing of the world is no longer a viewing which beholds the beauty of the permanent things of sophia and episteme, but is a viewing dominated by a science whose chief desire is to change the world based on its combination of nous and techne. When the objects of the world are apprehended as “resource”, they cannot be apprehended as beautiful, and it cannot be forgotten that in the public realm human beings are viewed as “human resources” and “human capital”.

The beauty of the world is made most manifest for us in the beauty of other people whether sexually or as family or simply as others, but it must be understood that with our being-in-the-world based as it is on modern sciences, what we have done to nature, we first had to do to our own bodies. The connection to ethics here is that it is through our bodies that we participate most directly in what we have come to call ethics, whether in the actions that we carry out for ourselves or for the sake of others. As Simone Weil said: “Matter is our infallible judge” when it comes to ethical questions.

The ways in which sexual instinct and love are held together and detached from each other make up much of our being-in-the-world. (Prior to the arrival of Facebook, pornographic sites were the most viewed on the internet). Sexual desire can be our recognition of others as beautiful or it can be a calculated self-centredness that makes other people the instruments for producing sensations. Sexual desire can be the occasion where the light of what others are is enflamed for us or it can lock us into the madness of ourselves so that nothing is real but our own imaginings. In the past, when love and the beautiful were considered “sacred” things, it was necessary to remove these sacred restraints because they were not instrumental to the forwarding of “production” in capitalist societies. The social sciences themselves are a product of capitalist society. In the past, “to love” and “to know” were considered the same thing.

The division of love from intelligence or nous is seen when we speak of our knowledge of justice, our ethics. In Aristotle and Plato, justice is defined as the rendering to anything what is its due. Political justice was the attempt to render what is due among human beings, both body and soul. In the non-human world, it was a rendering what is due to cattle and polar bears, stones and wheat, to God or gods. Justice was not only the arrangements to be realized in any given society, but also in the being-in-the-world of the individual, the realization of the individual’s perfection or “virtue”.

The philosopher Martin Heidegger made a statement that raised a great deal of controversy in the recent publications of his Notebooks: “Agriculture is now a motorized food industry, the same thing in its essence as the production of corpses in the gas chambers and the extermination camps, the same thing as blockades and the reduction of countries to famine, the same thing as the manufacture of hydrogen bombs. Man is not the lord of beings.” Many claimed that this quote justified the accusation against Heidegger that he was anti-Semitic and should have been properly shot following World War 2. What distinguishes Heidegger from his critics is that he is consistent in his thinking; his critics would like to have it both ways. The modern thinking that separates techne and nous from phronesis and sophia and provides the drive to domineering and commandeering the world as disposable resource, has cast a pall on the consistency of any modern theories of justice and ethics and has led to the confusion that is evident in many writings and actions of human beings today and, thus, provides the rationale for the TOK guidelines for May, 2022.

The journey to the perfection of individual virtue is not isolated from the requirements of living in the world. We can only fulfill those requirements and retain some relation to that perfection to the extent that we partake of that perfection. What we have come to call our freedom is simply our potential indifference to such a high end as Plato indicates and as Shakespeare shows so brilliantly in his Macbeth.

In the political writings of Plato and Aristotle, it was recognized that the wicked were not only individual criminals but those who wished to rule for their own self-assertion. Such tyrants were more destructive of justice than those who ruled simply in terms of the property interests of one class. They were worse than those who were simply ambitious for political power. Because tyrants were the most dangerous for any society, the chief political purpose anywhere was to ensure that those who ruled had at least some sense of justice which mitigated self-assertion and this was the purpose of their education. Such education is lacking in today’s leaders in many parts of the world.

The central distinction between ancient and modern theories of justice, where some limitation must be placed on individual liberties, can be seen in the hierarchy that has been outlined in this writing regarding the ways of knowing. The limitations in ancient societies are vertical in that they are understood by what the ancients knew about the whole which transcended the individual. What is given in knowledge of the whole is knowledge of the good which we do not measure and define but by which we are measured and defined. The modern theories are horizontal in the sense that one human being’s right to do what he or she wants has to come to terms with the rights of other human beings to do what they want. The basis of society was the rational calculation of the social contract. The contractarian basis of the state was both communist and capitalist: Marx’s dependence on Rousseau; the American founders dependence on Locke’s right to “life, liberty and property”. Kant’s Perpetual Peace emphasizes that we could have a just society composed of a nation of clever devils if they were clever enough to negotiate a social contract. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights owes a great deal to the ethical thinking of Kant.

In ancient societies, virtue was at the core of the just political order while the moderns have given freedom that central position. Modern theories of justice show it to be something human beings make and impose for human convenience. In the coming to be of technological science, the dependence of science upon calculus has been matched by the dependence for knowledge of justice upon calculation. These calculations are based on the logic and reason that has come to dominate what we understand as nous in our modern age.

We will finish up this overly long entry with an example which illustrates the disjunction of beauty and truth, the implications that this has for our understanding of ethics today, and why there is such confusion regarding our ethics. That the way of knowing called sophia has all but disappeared for us and with it the sense of the permanence of beauty and truth goes without saying. We can also say that the connection between love and intelligence has also experienced a rift in most aspects of our being-in-the-world. We shall speak of this with regard to Darwin.

Darwin’s discoveries and statements about what human beings are are taken as “fact” and not theory in our defining of what human beings and other species are. If we reflect on what we mean by loving something with intelligence, we could say that it is to want them to be. What is it about animals as products of modification through natural selection which would make us want them to be? Since Darwin, human beings have been responsible for the extinction of more species than at any other time in history. There is some connection between what we think other species to be and how we treat them. Facts and values are not as disjointed as we have been led to believe.

Darwin’s discoveries required disciplined attention, but what was discovered in his syntheses does not call forth love for the objects of his studies. To know that human and non-human species are modified through natural selection does not throw light on ourselves and others, on defining what human beings and other species are, but there is no reason for us to find “beautiful” that about which his formulation is made. It gives us no reason why we should love ourselves or other animals. Can we love ourselves and others just because we have come to be through natural selection? Darwin’s viewing provides us with no reason why we should. Darwin’s discoveries about natural selection do no make the animals ugly, but neither do his discoveries tell us why the animals are beautiful. The “fact/value” distinction is that separation in our seeing of the world where the true and the beautiful are disjointed, where scientific theorizing and propositions are ‘value neutral’ or ‘value free’.

Human beings will, obviously, go on loving otherness because they find it beautiful. But what is the result when they cannot hold in unity the love they experience with what they are being taught in the technological sciences? This is at the core of what appears to me to be an attempt by IB, through TOK, to deal with the most important issues that face us today in our everyday lives.

Our dominant paradigm of knowledge may not be of much concern to many of the young in IB schools because it is their ticket to professionalism and that is the name of the game. But there is little room for reflection in our paradigm of knowledge. The bios theoretikos of Aristotle has long since past away. The bios ethikos embodies all our waking hours, but there is hardly the opportunity to apply phronesis to most of the actions we take when the value of those actions are determined according to their efficiency and their results. How is it possible to think that the modern paradigm is sufficient to meet the needs of human beings?

OT 3: Knowledge and Politics Part 1

When we speak of “knowledge and politics”, we are speaking about “political philosophy” or “political science” because knowledge is “science” or “philosophy”. The turbulence of our times in not unique to them; the history of human beings shows that as long as we have had societies, we have had difficulties living within them. These difficulties for us today are that the problems of living in societies are exacerbated by the judgements of our social sciences which state that we cannot make judgements about what is the “best” society or what is “good or bad” when speaking about societies and the actions of the human beings who live within them because we must distinguish between “statements of fact” and “statements of value”. To judge the good or bad or what is “best” is to make a value judgement, and the modern social sciences are forbidden from making “value judgements” (or so they claim, although they do so all the time). “Political philosophy” or “political science” would claim to have knowledge of “political things”, but what are “political things”? Our modern social sciences resist making such claims to knowledge.

Our modern social sciences are a product of, and a consequence of, the great change in the viewing of Nature that occurs with the modern Natural Sciences of the 17th century. It was the Greeks who first distinguished Nature (physis) from “convention” (nomos) and thus raised the issue of whether social things, the political things, were “by nature” or “by “convention”. This distinction raised all kinds of thorny questions: is justice merely “conventional” or are there things which are by nature just? do laws have natural content or are they merely the inventions of human beings and thus conventions? These questions are still with us. When Americans say: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…” they are saying something which is by nature, “self-evident truths”, and not something which is mere convention. Nowadays we aren’t quite sure that there are any “self-evident truths” and this is one of the major reasons that we find ourselves in the turmoil and confusion that we are in today no matter where we dwell on the planet.

Plato in Bk. VI of his Republic states that those who follow the opinion of what we today would call the “pragmatic theory of truth” would be the followers of a Great Beast, and in their following of the Beast, their actions or ethics would be determined accordingly. The sophism of today’s Social Science is outlined clearly by Socrates in the passage which here is quoted in full because of its importance:

“…That each of the private wage earners whom these men (technites) call sophists and believe to be their rivals in art, educates in nothing other than these convictions of the many, which  they opine when they are gathered together, and he calls this wisdom. It is just like the case of a man who learns by heart the angers and desires of a great, strong beast he is rearing, how it should be approached and how taken hold of, when—and as a result of what—it becomes most difficult or most gentle, and, particularly, under what conditions it is accustomed to utter its several sounds, and, in turn, what sort of sounds uttered by another make it tame and angry. When he has learned all this from associating and spending time with the beast, he calls it wisdom and, organizing it as an art, turns to teaching. Knowing nothing in truth about which of these convictions and desires is noble, or base, or good, or evil, or just, or unjust, he applies all these names following the great animal’s opinions—calling what delights it good and what vexes it bad. He has no other argument about them but calls the necessary just and noble, neither having seen nor being able to show someone else how much the nature of the necessary and the good really differ. Now, in your opinion, wouldn’t such a man, in the name of Zeus, be out of
place as an educator?” (Republic 493b trans. Allan Bloom)

In his description of the Great Beast, Plato outlines what he will call the Cave in Bk VII of Republic and what dwells in the Cave. The Cave is the world in which we dwell everyday. Societies are the Great Beast that we dwell alongside, among and with in the Cave, and the societies are determined by the nature of their rulers and the regimes and rules (laws)  that they establish. The “regime” is what the Greeks called the polis, from which our word “politics” is derived. The word has more connotations than the translations “country” or “city” or “State” provide.

Plato lists five types of regimes, from best to worst, in his Republic: 1. monarchy; 2. aristocracy; 3. oligarchy; 4. democracy; 5. tyranny. Democracy is placed just above tyranny because, according to Plato, democracy appeals to the “lowest common denominator” in human beings, the “appetites”, and these are insatiable in nature and lack sophrosyne or “moderation” without “proper education” and guidance. Democracy neglects the education to “virtue” of its citizens within it or domestically, and appeals to an imperialism in the State without in its relations to its neighbouring states because of its avariciousness. Democracy inevitably devolves into tyranny through time because it is unable to develop a sense of “otherness” among its inhabitants i.e. it is not able to establish the virtue of “friendship” among its members. “Friendship” is established through logos or “speech”.

When things are known through “speech”, they can become what we call “opinion”. Ethics is not “opinion” because it deals with praxis, concrete actions, and these actions are taken in the direction of some perceived “good”, and the actions and their results can be seen by all. An opinion is directed to something; it is a maintaining that some thing is such and such. Opinion is an orientation towards things as they would show themselves to a correct investigation and examination. “Opinion” is an attempt to “reveal” the truth of something covered over or hidden. “Opinion” is Plato’s “justified true belief” which he outlines in his dialogue Theatetus. Opinion is not a seeking for knowledge but is something someone already has whether it be true or false because an opinion can be true or false. Sophia and episteme are not “opinion” because they are already complete i.e. they are not underway towards something because they already possess knowledge of the things about which they deliberate and those things are the things which are permanent. “Opinion” regards those things that can be otherwise and that is why it can be true or false. Opinion is the handing over of knowledge through “language” and what the thing is that is handed over. It is not a “truth relativism”; it may reveal or it may not. It reveals when it is true; it does not reveal when it is false.

To speak about “knowledge and politics” is to recognize that ours is an age of sophistry. Because this is so, we wish to look at the dialogue by Plato which follows Theatetus called Sophist. In this dialogue Plato provides the “lineage” of the sophist so that we are able to grasp from where and how the sophist came to be. Plato’s dialogue “uncovers” the Sophist as well as those things with which his techne deals. How the sophist speaks about and deals with things reveals that his comportment towards things is that of a technite. His is an art or a craft which involves the “speaking about everything”. We have come to call this techne “rhetoric”. Sophistry is the “know how” that deals with speaking about everything there is; his is the “know how” about speaking about things, but his “know how” is a deception of that which is spoken about: the speech of the sophist presents its object as something which it is not; what he speaks about is not as he shows it to be. In a Platonic sense, the sophist demonstrates “the Being of non-beings” and in doing so demonstrates that illusion and trickery are. But surely, illusion and trickery, deception and lies are real things, are they not? Not so for Plato, but we must remember that for Plato even those things which we consider “good” are not “real” but merely “shadows” of their true being.

By showing what the sophist is through words, the Being of the philosopher is also shown in silence. Throughout this dialogue, Socrates is silent, his is the Being of the philosopher, and the conversation is conducted by the Stranger from Elia and carried out with Theatetus. We have two opposite “triangles”: the politician – the sophist – the madman, on the one hand, and the Statesman – the philosopher – the human being/citizen on the other. Each of these triangles illustrate the Idea of the objects that they are attempting to bring to light or to “presence”.

The language used by Plato in his dialogues is an attempt to get beyond the chit-chat of everyday speech, the language we most commonly use in our everyday dealings with things. The language and engagement in the conversation that is dialectic is not the attempt to out-argue someone, but getting one’s partner in the conversation to open their eyes and see. Logos is an assertion about something and an addressing of some thing as some thing. It is concerned with the proper naming of the things. While language first has to do with hearing, its purpose is to make us see. We do not have to look far for examples of disputes with the proper naming of things. Any reading of the daily news will provide them, and as this is being written a great debate is going on in America over what is the thing that is to be called “bribery”.

Plato’s Sophist shows  the being of the sophist and the being of the philosopher and how the two “reveal” the beings with which they are concerned: the sophist in his comportment reveals the “non-being” of the things of which he speaks; the philosopher reveals the true being of the things, and as we engage in reading this dialogue we ourselves participate in philosophy. What we will attempt to show is the “non-being” of the political and ethical things of which the sophist speaks and in doing so, how Plato relates to “revealing” in our own age regarding these things. How do the political and the ethical things “look” when encountered and spoken of by the sophist and the philosopher? How do these things “look” in our age?

Each area of knowledge is “cut out”of the whole of things and has a definite aisthesis or “lens” (as we now call it) in which its perceptions have been shaped and honed regarding the objects which it inquires about. In geometry, the objects are the relations of space or place, things as they are “by and within nature”. The objects of physics are beings that are “in motion”. The physicist does not first prove that his objects of inquiry are in motion; they are seen that way in advance. Philosophy and the philosopher distinguish themselves from sophists and dialecticians by the type and mode of competence, and mode of existence which they demonstrate. The philosopher is dedicated to “substance”; the sophist to “semblance”. The sophist claims to educate by enabling his hearers to “speak well” about anything and everything. The sophist disregards completely anything substantial in his speaking.

In contrast to the philosopher, the sophist does not take things seriously because he is not concerned about the substantive content of his “speeches”; nothing gets too “heavy” in the speeches of the sophist simply because there is no substantive content to give them weight. The philosopher, on the other hand, wishes to bring about understanding; the sophist attempts to persuade and cajole through his speeches’ apparent reasonableness and brilliance. The sophist’s unconcern for substance is a matter of principle because the sophist is concerned with semblance, the false, the not, and negation. The sophist is well aware of the importance of speech and the speaking person and of the spoken word’s dominance in the individual and the community. The form which the speeches take is most decisive. In the view of human being-in-the-world and ethics, Plato associates the sophist with the politician and the madman.

Today’s politician is a sophist if we look at the character and mode of being of the sophist as outlined by Plato and Aristotle. Because the sophist is a “complicated” thing to “describe”, comparisons of commonplace things which no one will dispute will be used. The first commonplace comparison that is familiar to everyone is an “angler”. So what similarities do the “angler” and the sophist “reveal”? The methodological approach used by Plato is one of diaresis, a separation in which the two things, the thematic=sophist and the example=angler, are placed side by side so that they may be compared and “brought to light”, similar to the methodology that you will be using in your Exhibition.

The “angler” is shown to be a technite, one who has “know how”. Someone who has no “know how” whatsoever is what is called an “idiot” by the Greeks. This is the origin of our word meaning the same thing. This “know how” of the angler is called by the Greeks dynamis “an ability, a capacity, an aptitude for something”. Techne is a “producing”, a bringing into being what is not there at first, “a bringing forth into presence”, a “revealing”. The angler brings to presence what before was hidden in the depths. Learning is a “bringing something close to oneself”, “making oneself familiar with something”, “getting to know someone or something”, “taking something into awareness”. In Greek, the word pragma means “something there that one can do things with”, “something one can use”, “something one can appropriate”. The demiourgos is one who makes things for public use. The relation of all these terms is that they concern something that is already there; the things may be appropriated or “grasped” in logos or in praxis. The prey which the angler hunts is already there, though hidden.

What is appropriated in knowledge and speech is the truth of things that are already there in their “unconcealment”. Knowledge was developed by the Greeks without any “theory” or “epistemology”; they did not have a “theory of knowledge”. Knowledge, for the Greeks, was a taking to oneself of something that was already there on hand such that the being, the thing that is taken up remains precisely what and where it is. The things offer themselves in their full presence without distortion, and knowledge and discourse is allowing the beings or things to give themselves as they are. To contrast the Greek understanding of what knowledge is to our understanding of knowledge would take much more writing than this entry will allow. How do all of these concepts relate to the sophist?

The sophist’s comportment to the world is speech/logos. We have referred to it as “language as a way of knowing” and, as we have mentioned, each way of knowing is a comportment to the world, a “lens” through which the world is perceived in some way. Speech, words is the means the sophist uses to procure his objects which are other people. “Correct speaking” is what he himself has to give. His techne brings about “disputatiousness” in others; that is what his “education” brings about in other people produces “divisions” rather than the “understanding” that leads to “friendship”. The goal of “correct speaking” or rhetoric is the inculcation of opinions in others. The aim is to prevail in public opinion to procure power and reputation. The intention of speaking is not to comprehend those things about which the speeches are made, but to prevail in public opinion and procure power thereby. (Gorgias 453 A2)

The Greeks define human being as the zoon logon echon, the animal capable of discourse. Since language is crucial to understanding who and what the sophist is, we must look at how language relates to the techne and to the comportment of the sophist in relation to the world and the beings in it. Plato believes that the sophists are misinformed about the nature of their techne. Deception can only be carried out if one sees the truth. This deception must first begin with the self.

In his dialogue Phaedrus, Plato has Socrates describe his love for speeches and why he does so: his love of speeches is driven by his desire for “self-knowledge”. It is a love of learning, or literally, “hearing what people say”. Socrates does not leave the city because he has nothing to learn from the fields, meadows and trees. Phaedrus itself is a dialogue regarding the human comportment in Love to speech, the soul, and the Good. But the dialogue itself takes place outside of the city, under a tree by a brook. Socrates’ love is not referring to the degenerate speeches of orators and the like; his love is of the speech with substance. The speeches of the sophist, however, concern the needs, demands, dispositions, inclinations, and the manners of the many, and these serve as the guidelines for discourse. The sophist must first have knowledge of the audience to whom he is speaking (See the Great Beast passage above).  Socrates does not distinguish between the speech about serious, important matters and the speech about trivialities and chit-chat. The one who is competent in the techne of speeches is also the one who is able to deceive in a perfect way by this same techne. The condition of the possibility of genuine self-expression is also the possibility of perfect deception and misrepresentation.

For example, deception is to speak about something in such a way that it looks like something else which it is not but which it is to be seen as. This “being seen as”, this sight, is to be formed by logos. The actual “what” of the thing needs to be hidden and the thing depends on the “face” that it wears, how it is made to appear. The face of the deception must be precisely revealed. The one who knows the truth of the thing must have this first before the deception is possible. One can see specific examples of this techne of deception running throughout the attempt to impeach Donald Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors. The thing, the “crime”, is made to not look like a crime by Trump’s defenders. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Macbeth must deceive himself first through the logos which he does by not addressing the act which he contemplating to be “murder”. Macbeth refers to the murder as “it” and he invents a new word, “assassination”, in order to hide from himself the “face” of the action that he is considering doing. (Act I sc. vii) This self-deception is “evil”, for evil is the denial of the light as light, and this denial must occur first prior to the action being carried out. An element of “intentional ignorance” must be present and a denial of the truth as truth.

Where and how does this denial of truth originate? In Plato’s Sophist the discussion is of the relation between the soul and the body, and the themes of “sickness” and “ugliness” or “deformity”  (c.f. Macbeth). The “sickness” that arises in the soul is when one mode of comportment or way of knowing the world comes into conflict with another mode of comportment. This results in what we would call “stress” today and it is experienced in the body. “Ugliness” is considered to be a condition of the soul and is understood as “inadequacy” or “unfittedness” for the goal or aim that the individual is trying to achieve. This does not relate to the different modes of comportment but is something residing in the comportment itself. The “aim” or telos, the “aspiration” is not appropriate to the nature of the individual’s thinking nor to the individual’s psyche or soul thus resulting in a “deformity”. Where the “ugliness” is, things do not have “the proper outward look”; disfiguration in the things that are seen occurs because the soul itself does not have the proper “outward look”.

We will continue to attempt to explore the nature of political things in Part II of this writing on knowledge and politics. For a conclusion to this writing, as we rest along our journey along the path to the arriving at the origin of political things, let us just say that the modern thought reaches its culmination in the most radical historicism. It condemns to oblivion the notion of eternity or the permanence of things. Oblivion of eternity is our estrangement from our deepest desire, the desire of and for the Good, according to the Greeks. This estrangement has resulted in our present confusion regarding political and ethical things due to our estrangement from the primary issues. We do not know what the questions are that we need to ask. It is the price that we have had to pay for our attempt to control necessity and become masters and owners of nature.


OT 2: Language and Knowledge

“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 and knowledge.

The very essence of what we are as human beings, our ontology or way of being-in-the-world (to use the philosophical word) is contained in our language and in our understanding of language. To understand language is to contrast instruction with teaching; and to do so is to recognize the teaching in TOK and to characterize its “uselessness” and why it must be “useless” in order to be true learning and teaching. The issue of “uselessness” and “usefulness” is to connect these seemingly varying themes here to the status of education in our modern technological age.  In order to do so, we must 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 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:

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. Speech deals with the “correspondence theory of truth”.

The traditional metaphysical connection (subject “the things”) + (predicate “the qualities of the things”) between language and thinking defines language in terms of thinking, thinking as the human activity of representing objects, and thus language has been seen as a means for conveying information about objects. This “information” we call “data”. Traditional metaphysics places thinking as “reason” (reason, “logic” which has its root in “logos”) as the determining factor in the relation between language and thinking. The Greeks called this way of knowing nous. It is through reason that we attain truth and, thus, knowledge. 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. The problem with regard to language as a means of “uncovering” truth is that the uncovering of truth is not intrinsic to language. In language, things can come to presence and be revealed as either true or false (pseudos). And this is the major problem or difficulty with language.

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 is a technique for perfect representation. Algebraic calculation is a dominant influence in this type of thinking.

There are two major schools of thought on language: the “structuralist” or “analytical” school which has been the one 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 this statement mean? In attempting to understand language and knowledge, we will speak about written and spoken language.

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 thus “only an instrument that we employ to manipulate objects”. 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.  Heidegger notes the influence and understanding of language by analytic philosophy in our modern technological age:

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, theory itself) 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 They might alarm you. This manner of thinking must be thought about in relation to what we understand as “artificial intelligence” or AI. The consequences are very grave for the future.

Martin Heidegger

Heidegger’s negative characterizations of logistics abound: It is a “logical degeneration” of traditional categorical logic, 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:

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. Our modern attempts to fixate language into an unambiguous tool for communicating information and representing beings/things illustrate 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 this truth 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 drives us to realize the “global village” or “internationalism”. This view of truth is sometimes called “the pragmatic theory of truth”. Heidegger was not a holder of the pragmatic theory of truth.

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 experience. 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. They are the language of commandeering and dominance.

Language cannot be merely a tool that we use because we can control it: we owe our own Human Being to language and in this sense, it is language that uses us. What distinguishes human beings from other animals and species is that we are the zoon logon echon the animal capable of discourse. Language is fundamental to the revelation of the world in which we live; it is an essential part of what enables us to be someone 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 or what we have come to call ‘shared knowledge’. Everyday “idle talk” is a pale, dull reflection of “creative meanings” that are first revealed and achieved in poetry.

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 coherence theory 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-view, 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” or what we call “data”. 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 are, in the end, inseparable. They allow themselves to create our box, the “lens” through which we view the world.

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. See 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”.

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 as “the box” that inhibits our thinking. The word information itself is composed of in+form+ation: “that which is responsible for “the form” so that it may “inform”.

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”), then, that “speaking turns into information” and that which is responsible for the framing is what is referred to as “technology”.

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. 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 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
St. Augustine 5th Century

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 “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, the 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 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 manner of reading Plato 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. It has only been recently that this has changed.

The traditional picture of language found in Augustine, Aristotle, and the logical positivists, also has deep connections with the metaphysics of subjectivity (Descartes, Kant).  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.

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 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 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 the 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 moderns 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.

OT 1: Knowledge and Technology

Inquiring Into the Essence of Technology

According to the current TOK Guide May, 2022, the TOK course will examine “knowledge” according to four elements: 1. Scope; 2. Perspectives; 3. Methods and Tools; and 4. Ethics. These elements provide a framework in order to aid us in our examination of ourselves and the things that are. The framework of “conceptual tools” indicate how knowledge is produced or “brought forward”: how we come to know the things that are either in our own experience, or from the “shared knowledge” that has been handed over to us from our traditions and from other social contexts. What we call “knowledge” comes to be and is in this area that we experience as our “freedom”. This “freedom” is a realm that is distinguished from Nature or Necessity and we call this realm “History”.

This writing’s objective is to investigate how technology can be said to be a “way of knowing” and as a way of knowing how it determines our “cognition”, our “mindset” and thus how we define ourselves as human beings and what we think “knowledge” to be. In the quest that we take to understand what knowledge, we need to first question what is given to us as the map to guide us in that search for knowledge. How do the constituents and contents of the map become determined? Who provided us with the map and from where does the compass originate? What does “freedom” mean in relation to “technology” and why and how do we need to reflect on technology in order to prepare for a “free relationship” to that technology itself? The more one reflects on and thinks about what technology is, its great mystery looms before one. For most, there is no mystery to understanding technology: it is the instruments and tools that we have ready-to-hand about us in our everyday lives i.e. our computers, our hand phones, our media.

How do we relate to technology? How do we think about it? What do we imagine it to be? How is technology a “way of knowing” the world rather than merely the “products” that have come to be through technology? What is technology’s relationship to reason and to the principle of reason that determines and drives it? How does technology determine our cognition and thus our understanding of what we think human beings are and what the things about us are i.e. how does technology determine our current “mindset”, our current “hard wiring”?

How do we stand, or what is our under-standing, with regard to technology? The problems that have arisen and are posed by technology cannot be answered simply by making technology better and we cannot ignore these difficulties simply “by opting” out of technology, if that were indeed possible. What does it mean to say that “technology is our fate”?

We cannot experience the essence of what technology is so long as we are merely conceiving and pushing forward the technological, putting up with it, or evading it. Everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology whether we passionately affirm or deny it. Technology is our fate as human beings. Why and how has this become the case?

In looking for the essence of technology, we will be looking for something that is not “technological”; the essence of technology actually precedes the historical emergence of the “concrete” forms of technology in the 18th and 19th centuries. To understand the essence of technology and thus our “key concepts”, as well as our “scope”, “perspectives”,  “methods and tools” and “ethics”  that we use to understand knowledge in our AOKs, we must go back to Greek philosophy for some guiding concepts to help us with our analysis. Our  ways of being-in-the-world shape how we view our world; and in that shaping both we and the knowledge we produce affect both the maker and what is made. The essence of technology remains a mystery to us and it is up to us to choose to remain thoughtfully within that essence.

Our method of questioning will strive to expose the unexamined assumptions that shape our understanding of the world we live in and the “key concepts” that we use to understand that world. Our purpose is to attain a more “empowering” way of conceiving the world and our place in it, even though we hesitate in using the word “empowering” and must pose it in an ironic mode since the idea of “empowerment” is itself a product of, or a predicate of, the technological world-view we want to examine.

Our Current Understanding of Technology:

How do we generally think about technology? What is said about technology in the current TOK Guide? We think about technology in two ways: 1. technology is a means to an end; 2. technology is a human activity. In the TOK Guide for May, 2022, the discussion of technology will involve “issues relating to the impact of technology on knowledge and knowers, and how technology helps and hinders our pursuit of knowledge. It examines the ways that technology can be seen to shape knowledge creation, knowledge sharing and exchange, and even the nature of knowledge itself”(TOK Guide, p. 16). These themes indicate what is the current “instrumental” (aimed at getting things done) and anthropological (a human activity) definition of technology. These definitions define technology accurately; however, they do not go far enough. They do not give us the essence of what technology is. (Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology” trans. Lovitt) We will examine these instrumental and anthropological views of technology more closely in this writing.

Our everyday understanding of technology as instrument has many implicit assumptions that prevent us from understanding more fully our relationship to technology. Even our attempts to maintain control over technology, to master it so that it doesn’t destroy us, are informed by our “instrumental conception” of what technology is. “The will to mastery becomes all the more urgent the more technology threatens to slip from human control” (Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology”). This fear of “loss of control” over technology is emphasized in the current discussions and critiques of Artificial Intelligence or AI. But what is this “intelligence” that these machines exhibit?

For a fuller understanding of how humanity stands in relation to technology, we need to consider what we mean by “instrumental”: what assumptions lie behind our understanding of “getting things done” or “achieving our goals” through the use of tools? The basic idea in any attempt to “get something done” is that one thing (e.g. a student in the Arts class) has an effect on something else (the paper, paints, etc. that make up the student’s next piece of work or project). Our effects on other things to achieve an end is sometimes referred to as the application of “algorithms”, a schema or plan for organizing the world we live in. “Algorithms” and the question concerning the meaning of “instrumentality” (tools used to solve problems) leads to an old problem in philosophy: the question of causality. We will look at the role of reason as the primary approach to “how” we solve the problems that we encounter in our day-to-day lives or “real life situations”.

The original meaning of the Greek techne is “know how”, a feeling of “being at home in” the things that surround us. This understanding can be said to combine our understanding of the word technique or “applications” and the “know how” of the techne. Our applications, our uses of methods and tools, come after we have already determined what it is that we want to achieve through our technique in the schema or plan which we have already projected onto the world about us. An interpretation of that world is already present so that the techniques will be “applicable” or “appropriate” for the task to be carried out. This suitability is tied in with our understanding of reason (logos) which, in turn, is tied in with our understanding of causality.

Historical Background: The Four Causes: A Tea Ceremony Cup


We will examine the question of causality by examining Aristotle’s understanding of causality and applying his four causes to the making of a tea ceremony cup. For Aristotle, there are four components to what can be understood as causality:

  1. the material cause (clay, the hyle)
  2. the formal cause (the form; its “cupness”, its “outward appearance”, the eidos)
  3. the final cause (the end or purpose for which it is to be used; a tea ceremony, the telos)
  4. the efficient cause (the tea cup maker; the artist)

What exactly do we mean by “cause” anyway? Let us look at a cup prepared for a traditional Japanese tea ceremony to illustrate the traditional model of the four causes. What do these modes of causality all have in common?

Our English word “cause” comes from the Latin word causa. Causa stems from the verb meaning “to fall”, and is used to designate “that which brings it about that something turns out as a result in such and such a way”. Our current use of the word “algorithm” carries this Latin meaning of “cause” within it.

Philosophical tradition traces the doctrine of the four causes back to Aristotle, but the Greek words Aristotle uses are quite different from the later words for “cause” that emphasize effecting as used by the Latins. Instead, the Greek word aition carries the sense of “that which is responsible for something else”, or “that which is obliged to” something else for its being as it is. So our word “education” comes from the Latin educare “to lead out” combined with the Greek suffix aition “that which is responsible for” or “obliged to” something or someone else: education is that to which we are obliged to for the “leading out”. “To educate” means that which is responsible for the “leading out” (think of Plato’s Cave here), or that which is obliged to something else for the leading out. The “leading out” cannot occur on its own initiative. We have to hear the words “responsible” and “obliging” in a different tonality than what we normally hear in these words. Think of these terms in relation to your “shared knowledge”, your own “education”.

tea ceremony cupLet us return to our example of the Japanese tea ceremony cup and try to understand it in a Greek way as opposed to our understanding which comes from a Latin interpretation of the Greeks. The “key concepts” that we use are Latinate in origin because philosophical English language is Latinate in origin.

Clay is the material (hyle) that is shaped into the form (eidos) of “cupness”. Both the clay and the form are responsible for or are obliged to the tea ceremony cup being a cup. These are known as the “material cause” and the “formal cause”, but we must not hear the words as “causes” which bring about “effects”. The cup has been produced in order to be used in a particular kind of activity—a Japanese tea ceremony. Its existence is determined by this context, which literally defines the cup in the sense that it gives it clear boundaries: it is neither a water glass nor a coffee cup. This drawing of defining boundaries is telos and is responsible, along with the material and the form, for the tea ceremony cup’s existence as a tea ceremony cup and not something else.

Aristotle and the Greeks had no such category as the “causa efficiens”. Instead of seeing the cupmaker or artist, the techne, as the agent that “effects” the production of the cup as we moderns do, Aristotle’s model would view the careful consideration of the artist—the logos, a term derived from apophainesthai, “to reveal”—as a kind of point of departure for the cup’s coming into being. Rather than mastering the material by wrestling it into a particular form, the Greek version of our Japanese artist brings together the various potentialities of clay, the abstractness of “cupness”, and the context in which the cup will serve, and through this method allows the Japanese tea ceremony cup to come into being.

For the Greeks, the way in which the material, the form, the context, and the thought or consideration of the artist all “give themselves up” to the existence of the cup, is bound up with the Greek idea of Being. Giving as a “giving to” the existence of the cup, helps us understand the Greek word aition as “that to which something else is indebted” or “obliged”, “responsible for”. The cup is “indebted to” the clay, the idea of cupness, and the artist. The artist is responsible for the Japanese tea ceremony cup; the cup is “indebted” to the artist for its being. The artist, in turn, is indebted or obliged to the material and the form for the making of the cup. These are not products of the artist’s mind or “creativity”; they should not be understood as the artist imposing on the material but as being obliged to the material, much as I am obliged to the young student who offers me her seat when I am travelling on the public bus and I respond to her offering with “Much obliged”, “Thank you”.

But what do responsibility and indebtedness mean here?

It should be clear that our method here is to return to earlier and more fundamental meanings of commonly used terms and concepts, what we understand as our “key concepts” or the conceptual tools that we use to understand what we call “knowledge” or to produce what we call knowledge. All of us constantly “skip over” what our words mean and in this “skipping” gaps are created so that we lose our way (or have lost our way) and become exhausted and despair because of our neglect of the real, original sense of our basic ideas. I’m sure many of you have experienced this “exhaustion” in many of your TOK class discussions.

We do not want to think of “being responsible” or “being indebted” in an overly moralistic manner (although what we think “ethics” are is involved in them); we’ll think of them, for the moment, as “to occasion”. We sometimes think of “to occasion” as “to cause” such as “His presence in the room occasioned much concern” or “President Trump’s tweets occasioned much concern for his fellow citizens”. For the Greeks, however, the sense of “responsibility” and “indebtedness” was more “to make present”, in the sense of bringing something that was not present before into time and space, what we mean when we say “to produce” some thing. Being responsible for is a “bringing that thing into appearance” or “starting something on its way to arrival”.

Think of your exhibition “presentation” in this fashion: that which is responsible for bringing the event of the present-ation into “presence”; it is an “ex-hibition”, a “showing forth”, a “bringing out of hiding”. The four causes in the example of the Japanese tea ceremony cup all serve less to “create” the cup than to assist the potential cup in the clay, in the idea of cupness, and in the context of the tea ceremony, in making its appearance. All four causes are contributors to the cup’s appearance and the maker of the cup is not the sole or primary contributor. Our modern emphasis on the human being as the centre of this “making” is attributable to our historical, Western “humanistic” or “humanism” world view. In this “humanist” view, the “effect” (the artist’s purpose and the artist himself) are the primary “cause” of the cup’s coming into being. The TOK Guide continues to follow this “humanist” world-view with “you” at the centre or its “core theme”.

We have to imagine that the cup is “on its way” to existence; the four ways of “being responsible” help it to “arrive” there. They are responsible for what the Greeks called hypokeiesthai, which designates how something that we see as “present” is made present for us. From the roots of this word comes our word hypothesis and we should remember the relationship of hypothesis to “theory” or the “looking” that is prior to the bringing into “presence” of knowledge for us.

White foam cup containing coffee with bubbles on top

Let us look at a second type of cup. Both the tea ceremony cup and the Styrofoam cup contain the form of “cupness” but their material, purpose and sufficient causes are quite distinct. Comparing and contrasting these two cups will give us a much better understanding of causation as it is understood today and how it was first understood by Aristotle. With the Styrofoam cup, one can arrive at an understanding of what is meant by technology in the writing here.

The essence of technology is shown in the “arrival” of the Styrofoam cup. The cup is a “com-posit” of materials brought together by human beings whose “pose” is to “impose” on Nature in their “com-posing”. Their “bringing together”, their “ordering and gathering” is of something not found in Nature; the polystyrene molecule is the invention of human beings. The end purpose of the cup, its usefulness, also demonstrates the essence of technology and an understanding of modern human being in the modern world. The cup is intended to be “disposable”. Its characteristics establish its “efficiency” for our uses.

tea ceremony cupThe Japanese tea ceremony cup represents an arrival or a “bringing into presence” that is of a different essence of technology, an ancient understanding of technology. Whereas the Styrofoam cup is replicable to an unlimited number, the tea ceremony cup is unique. The “bringing forth” of the tea ceremony cup is what the Greeks understood as poiesis. The “bringing forth” of the Styrofoam cup is not a poiesis. What do both these artifacts say about the nature of “bringing forth” or “producing”? What do these two things “say” about the “cultures” of which they are the products? What is valued as “useful” and not “useful” in the making of these two products in each of the cultures of which they are products?


For the Greeks, this “making present” and “being responsible” is termed poiesis from which our word “poetry” is derived. That the Greeks would designate poiesis as what we understand as poetry shows the regard they held for poets in their society and how important language was in the “making present” of things for them.

Poiesis means “bringing forth” and there are two forms of bringing forth. The first is directly associated with poiesis, as it is the bringing forth into existence that the craftsperson and the poet (and anyone who “produces” things) practices. The activities, the making of poets and craftspeople, was called “techne” by the Greeks, “know how”. The products of these activities are brought forth by something else (en alloi—“in another”), that is, the poet makes the poem, the artist makes the tea ceremony cup, etc. The second type of “bringing forth” is physis, the bringing forth that occurs in nature, in which things such as flowers are brought forth in themselves (en heautoi). Both instances, however, fall into the category of poiesis in the sense that something that was not present is made present.

This “bringing forth” out of concealment into “unconcealment” is what the Greeks termed “aletheia” which literally means “revealing” or “unveiling”. It is the Greek word for “truth”. This disclosing or unveiling is of something that was always already present and the four causes all participate in the revealing of this thing that was always already present. We need to keep this original concept of truth in mind when we discuss the other theories of truth: correspondence, coherence and pragmatic.


  • we began with our everyday understanding of technology as instrumentality, as a way of getting things done
  • we moved from what we mean by instrumentality into a discussion of “cause”
  • the examination of “cause”, in turn, lead to a discussion of poiesis as a bringing forth, a revealing of something that was concealed
  • we arrived at the conclusion that this “bringing forth” was related to the Greek word aletheia or “truth” and that all bringing forth, “production”, is related to what the Greeks understood as “truth”. We call this “knowledge”.

Technology as “Techne” + “Logos”:

But what has poetry to do with technology? Technology is a kind of poiesis, a bringing forward, a revealing. In this way it is associated with “truth”. We need to grasp a different view of “technology” than our current view of it as “instrumentality” or “methods and tools”. What does the word “technology” mean? We overlook this word and assume that we know its meaning because we are surrounded by technological things like a fish is surrounded by water.

Our word “technology” comes from the Greek technikon, someone who uses techne. This is where the word techne comes from and means “know how” or “knowing one’s way about or in something”. For the Greeks, a techne was a “maker”, whether of shoes or of poems. In the sense of “technique”, techne refers to both manufacturing (the techniques of shoemakers and tailors, for example) and to the arts (the techniques of poets and graphic designers, for example). Techne is part of poiesis. “Know how” is one definition of a type of “knowledge”, the knowledge that is a “knowing one’s way about or in something”.

In Greek thought from Plato on, the word techne is used in connection with the word episteme, from which we get the word “epistemology”–the branch of philosophy that examines how we know things. Our course is called “Theory of Knowledge”. It is a course dealing with “epistemology”. The Latins interpreted this type of knowledge as “science”: “Science is the theory of the real”: “knowledge is the looking at that determines what will be called the real”.

Techne is a kind of knowing. We might think of it as “expertise” which we generally understand as more than a set of practical skills. It is “know-how”. What is decisive in techne does not lie at all in making and manipulating nor in the using of means, but rather in the revealing mentioned before. Our word “technology” thus means “making” (“making” as “producing” or “bringing forth”) + “knowing” (knowing as a kind of expertise or “know how”). It is the kind of knowing that makes the “making” possible.

If we understand technology as deriving from this concept of techne, then we will see that its essence lies not in the instrumental production of goods through the use of tools or manipulation of materials or data, but in “revealing”. The artisan, through his techne, brings together the form (a cup) and the matter (the clay) of the tea ceremony cup within the idea of “cupness” to reveal the cup that has been “on its way” to existence. The cup was always already there. Its coming into being or presence was the partial responsibility of the artist but not the sole responsibility of the artist. The artist did not “create” the cup.

So far, we have been focusing on the arts and their relation to “technology”; but when we think of technology, our focus is on the sciences, in particular the physical sciences. We think of “technology” as a product of the physical sciences and its applications, the computers we use, the medical achievements that we have made, and so on.

The example of the tea ceremony cup might seem irrelevant to a discussion in the technological age in which virtually all of our artisans’ work can be performed by a machine. One of the differences, we might assume, is that modern technology is based on modern physics. But the development of the physical sciences has been so dependent upon the technological development of devices for testing, measuring, etc. (the enhancement of our sense perception, our “viewing”), that science cannot be seen as a “cause” or “origin” of technology.

The difference lies elsewhere. It lies in modern technology’s orientation to the world. Modern technology’s mode of revealing is not poiesis, according to Martin Heidegger.

The “revealing” that rules in modern technology is a challenging which puts to nature the unreasonable demand that it supply energy which can be extracted and stored as such. (Money is really “congealed energy”, for instance. It is stored energy.) This challenging, demanding viewing of nature is grounded in the principle of reason: we challenge, demand reasons for why some thing is the way it is. The principle of reason determines how we understand causality nowadays.

The difference between older forms of technology (the windmill, for example, which draws its energy from the wind but does not extract and store that energy) and modern technology which exploits and exhausts–“challenges”–our planet’s resources is an example of the difference of our orientation to the world. Our challenging looks at the environment as “disposables”, how the resources can be of some use to ourselves. Unless they have some relation to ourselves as “usefulness” for our conceived ends, then they are not allowed or recognized as having any independent being in their own right; they are not allowed “to be”. They are not “objects” as these have traditionally been understood. Reflect on both the Styrofoam cup and the tea ceremony cup once again. The Styrofoam cup has no reason for its existence beyond its “usefulness”; and once used, it is disposable and meant to be disposable. The relation of the tea ceremony cup to its users is quite different.

ThreeGorgesDam-China2009Another example illustrates the difference between technology’s “challenging forth” and poetry’s “revealing”. Let us look at China’s Three Gorges, a potent symbol in Chinese national culture, to show how technology transforms our orientation to the world. When we build hydroelectric dams on the rivers, the meaning of the rivers change: they become an energy resource. There is a contrast between “the Three Gorges” viewed as a source of hydroelectric power and “the Three Gorges” as it appears in the work of many Chinese artists and poets, in which the rivers appear as the source of philosophical inspiration and cultural pride. It is interesting to note here that technology also includes the tourism industry, which in its own way transforms the natural world into raw materials, a source of profit. Now, Chinese pride is in their mastery of nature and millions of tourists, both domestic and foreign, flock to see this Chinese mastery of nature at its height.

It might help to recall at this point the Greeks’ description of things being “on their way into arrival”. The tea ceremony cup “arrives” when the artisan’s work brings it “out of concealment”. Before, it was only potentially a cup; in the work of the artisan (techne), that potentiality is realized and the cup is “revealed” or brought into actuality.

Modern technology also reveals. But its revealing is different from that of the older crafts. To explain this difference more fully, we need to introduce the idea of the “resources” or “disposability”.

“Resources” is closely related to the idea of technology as “instrumentality” with which this writing begins. Technology’s instrumental orientation to the world transforms the world into “resources” or “disposables”; it transforms the world into “disposables” so that all the things we encounter, including other human beings, are “disposables”. We might say that for technology, nothing in the world is “good” in and of itself, but only “good for” something. In the grip of technology, things that are always already present no longer get to “arrive”; our striving is to “change the world”, but this changing is to make the things of the world “disposables”. The airplane that stands on the Changi airport runway, for example, has no meaning or value in and of itself; it is merely a means of transportation and its value to humanity is completely tied to its being at humanity’s disposal. The computers we use have no meaning outside of their uses; after a short period of time we “recycle” them with the loss of an incredible amount of wasted energy that has gone into their making. Our networking and relationships are turned into what “use” we can make of the human beings (resources) we are in contact with.

Technology transforms humanity itself into resources; humanity itself becomes “disposable”. We have become “human resources” or “human capital”. Today, the burning of Sumatran forests to replace them with palm oil trees is perhaps a better example of how our own well-being and health is placed at risk; and for the majority of people, this goes well beyond the profits of the palm oil companies. The chemical sciences have determined the “value” of palm oil, which is used in many, many products that we use as consumers.

Our use of the expression “human resources” aligns human beings with raw materials such as coal or petroleum or palm oil or agricultural products (and this use of human beings as “resource” by other human beings is what is called “cybernetics”). If one reflects on the consequences of such thinking and viewing, one may understand why there are so many reservations regarding AI among many learned people. AI is the outcome of a particular human way of thinking and viewing the world.

But because humanity is, as it were, in the “driver’s seat” of technological advances, humanity never completely becomes mere raw material. By the same token, nature and nature’s mode of revealing never fall completely under human control. Even though humanity has now acquired the capacity to destroy nature utterly (atomic energy), the natural world reveals itself to human beings on its own terms. Humanity doesn’t directly control the formation of coal or oil deposits or the accumulation of nitrogen in the soil; we can only control the way we orient ourselves, our thinking and our actions, in relation to such resources and to other human beings.

This fundamental relationship between humanity and the world gives rise to a particular human orientation or comportment to the world, an orientation or attitude referred to as Framing which in turn determines our “composing”.

What is framing? The “Hard-Wiring” of Our World-Views

The German word Gestell has a number of meanings: “rack”, “skeleton”–the basic sense is of an armature or framework. In the history of philosophy, it finds its origins in Leibniz and Kant, and through them to Hegel, Nietzsche and Heidegger. This term is used to describe how human beings have come to relate to the natural world. It can also be found in the poetry of William Blake where he refers to the “framing” of the “fearful symmetry” of “The Tyger”. (Blake in an earlier draft, originally used “German forged manacles” for “mind forged manacles” in his poem “London”).

Let’s return to the Greek word eidos, familiar to us from the example of the tea ceremony cup, and explain how Plato redefined this word. Eidos originally designated the outward, visible appearance of an object; Plato, however, uses the word to mean the abstract, universal essence of that object: the “cupness” of the cup is the eidos, not the individual outward appearance of any individual cup. From Plato’s redefinition comes our word “idea”. The use of Gestell, or “Framing”, follows a similar path: a word meaning something concrete (a bookshelf, for example), is used to designate something abstract when given its philosophical applications.

We often hear people criticized for wanting to “put everything into boxes”; we are exhorted to “think outside of the box”. This expression usually means that a person thinks uncreatively, narrowly, with too high a regard for established categories.

The “frame” in the concept of “Framing” corresponds to these “boxes”, but all of us have a tendency to think in this way. We call it our “mindset”.

We noted before that nature reveals itself to us in its own terms, and all that humanity can directly control is its orientation to the natural world. We should think of “nature” here in the broadest sense, as the entire realm of the non-human–but also including such things as our physical bodies, over which we have only limited control. But what we have done to Nature, we first had to do to our own bodies. What characterizes the essence of modern technology is the human impulse to put the world “into boxes”, to enclose all of our experiences of the world within categories of understanding–mathematical equations, physical laws, sets of classifications–that we can control. The need to domineer and control is what has determined our “looking” at nature as calculable, orderable and this is grounded in the axiom that is principle of reason.

When the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, for example, states that “the essence of technology is by no means anything technological”, he means that technology’s driving force is not located in machines themselves, nor even in the various human activities that are associated with modern modes of production. In the example of the computer, the parts that make up the machine as well as the labor of the factory workers all belong to technology, but are not its essence. The “frame of mind” that views the world–its reserves of rare earth metal ores, its chemical structures, its human populations–as raw materials for the production of computers approaches more closely what we mean by the essence of technology. It is in our “ordering and gathering” that determines how we will live in our societies and how we will view other members of our societies. The technological world-view, however, is still more far-reaching. Framing or the viewing of the world as disposables stems, historically, from the human drive for a “precise” and “scientific” knowledge of the world.

What is technology’s place within the history of the modern sciences? In at least one sense modern technology comes before the development of modern physics and actually shapes that development. This claim will make sense to us if we remember that the essence of technology is that orientation to the world called “Framing”. Insofar as the human drive for a precise, controllable knowledge of the natural world paves the way for modern physics, we can say that “Framing”, and thus the essence of modern technology, precedes and determines the development of modern science. Technology is not applied modern science; modern science is applied technology.

The essence of something does not reveal itself till the end. The instruments and devices, the tools of technology, are the revealing of what technology is in its essence in much the same way that the oak tree is the revealing of the essence that is contained in the acorn, or the full human being from the fertilized embryo.

Where does this Framing tendency of human thought begin? The philosophical context in which that question can be asked must be considered here. The task for ourselves in TOK is to question the implicit assumptions in our thinking, assumptions that are in the “key concepts” that we use to understand what knowledge is. To do this, we must undertake the painstaking effort to try to think through still more primally what was primally thought. Greek philosophy and the tracing back of the meanings of words is closely related to the larger project of uncovering the implicit significance of important concepts. What is most “original” or “first” is also that which is most enduring; the most fundamental concepts are those that will continue to shape the concepts that come after. I am here pointing to the principle of reason which is axiomatic.

One of clearest statements of what we mean by “Framing” appears in the dilemma of modern physicists, who are discovering that the physical world does not lend itself to measurement and observation as readily as they once thought. Physics is bound to a particular way of looking at the world: that nature reports itself in some way or other that is identifiable through calculation and that it remains orderable as a system of information. This system is then determined by a causality that has changed once again.

Werner Heisenberg

As Werner Heisenberg, one of the founders of quantum physics, has said: “”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.” Mathematics is the language of modern physics.

The model of causality that shapes modern physics is neither the “original” Greek one of “ways of being responsible” nor the traditional Latin one of the four causa, but a model of “numbers crunching” in which things exist and come into existence only insofar as they can be measured. An atom, for instance, is a mathematical equation, not an “object” in the traditional sense of that term.

We often think of technology as the “application” of the discoveries of science. Much of the discipline of “Applied Physics” is devoted to the construction and testing of useful devices. It is not enough to have identified Framing as the essence of modern technology. We need to determine how we, as human beings, stand in relation to technology. The essence of technology precedes the historical emergence of both modern science and modern machine production. In that sense, we might view modern science as the “application” of Framing. But what, exactly, is Framing?

Is humanity’s “Framing” orientation to the world an inevitable outgrowth of the history of human consciousness as is suggested by many of the latest biological and sociological studies? The question about how we are to relate to technology always comes “too late”, since we are already caught up in a Framing view of nature which sees nature as disposable as much as we are caught up in the concrete realities of technological development. We can, however, gain some perspective on our own orientation to the world, and thus achieve a perspective on technology.

How is human history related to the historical development of technology, and how can humanity come into the “free relationship to technology”–which is, remember, the aim of this TOK course for both the teachers and the students and are questions we must consider throughout our studying and questioning.

Geschichte, the German word for “history”, and Geschick, the word for “destiny”, deriving from the verb schicken, “to send”, are related etymologically. The human drive to obtain a quantifiable and controllable knowledge of the world “sends” humanity on the way to an orientation that views the world as a set of raw materials, as “resources”, disposables, culminating in modern technology. From the primal relationship in which the physical world reveals itself to humanity on its own terms, humanity moves or is sent into a Framing relationship with the world. Within this relationship, however, the earlier relationship is maintained: humanity is still experiencing the world as the world reveals itself. Oedipus is “sent” on the road to his destiny, ironically, once he visits the oracle of Delphi and learns that his destiny is to marry his mother and murder his father. Oedipus attempts to escape this fate by fleeing Corinth and the parents that have adopted him only to meet his fate, his real parents, and realize his fate in his journey. Oedipus completes his fate because of his “blindness” to the things that are and through the rashness of his character. We, too, are in Oedipus’ position and we, too, must open our ears and eyes in order to re-orientate ourselves to our being-in-the-world.

Because Framing does not utterly change humanity’s connection to the world, there is room, even within Framing, for a different–we might say “renewed”–orientation to the world, according to Heidegger. It is not exactly right to speak of Framing as an inevitable development of humanity’s interaction with the world—we must caution against a fatalistic view of technology’s incursion into our lives. We can neither throw up our hands in the face of the problems brought on by technology, nor can we “rebel helplessly against it and curse it as the work of the devil” (Heidegger).

Once we realize that our own orientation to the world is the essence of technology, once we “open ourselves” to this essence, we find an opportunity to establish a free relationship to technology. We have a choice, according to Heidegger: Humanity can continue on its path of Framing, of “pushing forward nothing but what is revealed in ordering”, seeing the world as disposables, and structure our lives according to the rules and values of this orientation. This is the world-view that ultimately devolves and arrives in nihilism, meaninglessness.

The continuation of this viewing would cancel out the other possibility: Humanity can come to realize that it, too, is “on its way” to an arrival, and that only by re-orienting itself to the way in which nature reveals itself can humanity establish a relationship with the world that is not ultimately self-destructive. Our self-destruction does not come about through atomic weapons or climate change or any of the other problems or crises that our technological world-view has brought about. Our self-destruction is the ultimate loss of the essence of our own humanity. We have intimations of this loss of our essence when we view our world situation today.

The danger associated with technology is not so much the direct effects of mechanization. The danger is the threat to humanity’s “spiritual” life. This danger has four main elements:

  1. In continuing on the path of Framing, humanity will eventually reach a point at which the human, too, becomes only so much “resources” or disposables.
  2. Humanity’s over inflated sense of its power over the natural world will result in humanity’s coming to believe that humanity has control over all existence.
  3. This excessive pride leads ultimately to the “delusion” that humanity encounters itself and only itself everywhere it looks–a kind of narcissism at the species level and the extreme end of “humanism”.
  4. Finally, such an orientation to the world will blind humanity to the ways in which the world reveals itself. In spite of (in fact, because of) the entire set of scientific apparatuses and theories which are meant to guarantee our precise knowledge of our world, we will miss the truth of what the world is.

In Heidegger’s words: “The threat to humanity does not come in the first instance from the potentially lethal machines and instruments of technology. The actual threat has already afflicted humanity in its essence.” The rule of Framing threatens humanity with the possibility that it could be denied to us to enter into a more original revealing and hence to experience the call of a more primal truth.

Another Orientation to the World: The Return to Plato’s Cave

Within the “supreme danger” of humanity’s Framing orientation to the world lies the potential of a rescue from that very danger.

To help us to understand this paradox, we turn our attention to the meaning of “essence”. The traditional philosophical sense of “essence” means “what” [in Latin, quid] something is. It names a genus, a class of things that are all the same kind of thing. All trees, for example, have “treeness” in common; “treeness” is their essence. From their inquiries into essence, the ancient Greek philosophers, particularly Plato and Aristotle, developed the concept of eidos, which we have already encountered in the example of the tea ceremony cup.

This traditional understanding of essence, however, does not apply to modern technology. For Plato and Aristotle, the essence is what “remains permanently”, what outlasts any particular manifestation of a thing. The particular oak that has grown out of the acorn has its essence in being both an oak (and not an elm) and in being a tree (treeness) already, permanently held in the acorn. In trying to “get behind” the assumptions and established formulations that shape traditional philosophical thinking, the model of essence as a “genus” does not adequately represent the relationship between the essence of a thing and the thing as it appears before us. This raises questions for all of our AOKs.

If Framing, as the essence of technology, cannot be thought of as a category to which all technological things belong, how are we supposed to think of it? We can return to Plato’s Cave at this point. For Plato, the eidos and “idea” are in Being and allow beings (things) “to endure permanently”. The Sun’s light “grants” the appearance of beings to humanity (remember that the Sun is a metaphor of the Good in the Cave analogy and this light is a metaphor for all of our ways of knowing and seeing things). There is a connection of the concept of “enduring”–a quality of essence in the traditional model of essence–and “granting.” This “granting” is the sense of “otherness” that is “given” to humanity and not “created” or made by humanity.

The idea of “giving” or “granting” is crucial, and the phrase “to be” is, in German, es gibt–literally, “it gives”. If we return for a moment to the example of the tea ceremony cup, the ceremonial cup is used in a “transformative practice”, in particular that of “wabi-sabi”. “Wabi” represents the inner, or spiritual, experiences of human lives. Its original meaning indicated quiet or sober refinement, or subdued taste “characterized by humility, restraint, simplicity, naturalism, profundity, imperfection, and asymmetry emphasizing simple, unadorned objects and architectural space, and celebrating the mellow beauty that time and care impart to materials.” “Sabi”, on the other hand, represents the outer or material side of life. Originally, it meant “worn,” “weathered,” or “decayed”. Particularly among the nobility, understanding emptiness was considered the most effective means to spiritual awakening, while embracing imperfection was honored as a healthy reminder to cherish our unpolished selves, here and now, just as we are – the first step to “satori” or enlightenment (Wikipedia). The tea ceremony and its cup is the opposite of the technological fast-food industry and its ubiquitous Styrofoam cups, plastics and other petro-chemically composed and produced materials. The Japanese tea ceremony experiences life as a ‘gift’ while the ‘quick’ breakfast is efficient, useful and non-reflective and emphasizes that there are other more important things to be done.

The world “gives” itself to us insofar as it reveals and opens itself to us. Our response to this “gift” as “Framing” is at once a grave danger (our instrumental, exploitative, disposable, blind orientation to the world sets us on a self-destructive course) and an opportunity to see ourselves as a part of the coming-into-being, the revealing, and the “granting” of the world, what has been called the “otherness” of the world in other writings here. Life gives us a choice: to view it as a “problem to be solved” or as a gift to be cherished.

Furthermore, since humanity is as we have said “in the driver’s seat” of technology, we must realize that our capacity to manipulate nature entails a solemn responsibility to “watch over” nature. Again, we can easily see the argument in terms of today’s environmental movement, but we need to remember that it is not simply speaking of nature in the sense usually assumed by environmentalists. Everything that exists must be cared for–humanity’s responsibility is to care for Being itself. In this activity, memory is of crucial importance. It would also be a simplification of the argument to associate it too directly with the anti-nuclear movement, but the specter of the total devastation of the planet does bring home the gravity of our/the concerns with our technological world-view. In the question concerning technology and knowing everything is at stake.


Let us sum up the major points:

We tend to think of technology as an instrument, a means of getting things done as shown in the Styrofoam cup and the fast-food breakfast. This definition, however, misses the actual essence of technology, and tends to make us think that by making the technology better–better able to “get things done”–we will master technology and solve the problems that technology has itself created (the environmentalists and anti-nuclear activists remain within the technological way of revealing).

This instrumental way of thinking stems from our assumptions about causality. If we come to understand modes of causality as ways of being responsible for the arrival of things into existence, we can begin to understand that the essence of technology has to do with the way we are oriented to the coming-into-existence, or the “revealing” of the world.

Humanity’s orientation to the world takes the form of a Framing which views the world only as “resource”, a source of raw materials, disposables, as “good for something”. In this Framing, however, lies the potential for another orientation.

Framing is the essence of technology. Framing is ambiguous, in that it contains two possibilities: 1. It is a danger that sets man on a destructive and self-destructive course. “On the one hand, Framing challenges forth into the frenziedness of ordering that blocks every view into the coming-to-pass of revealing and so radically endangers the relation to the essence of truth”. (Heidegger) 2. At the same time, it is a “saving power” and an opportunity: humanity’s Framing orientation to the world makes clear the responsibility of human beings to the world. If we reflect upon the Framing as the essence of technology, we will find not only that we are a part of the world, but that the world “needs” us to care for it, that humanity “is needed and used for the safekeeping of the essence of truth” (Heidegger).

Let us try to clarify the relationship between these two opposing orientations contained within Framing.

The danger of technology’s essence and the saving power inherent in it are joined in the way stars are joined in a constellation: part of a whole, but separate entities. The individual is one part of a whole that is encompassed by Life (Being). Enclosed as we are within our Framing orientation to the world, what can we do to save ourselves from the consequences of Framing? How can we nurture an alternative way of looking at things that will help us to change the ways of thinking that drive technology and thus to evade some of the horrific dangers that inhere in technology?

Against an orientation that investigates all aspects of the world and assumes that the world can be grasped and controlled through measurement and categorization (classification), an alternative may be found in art (although the saving power of art was denied by Socrates). In the history of the West before the onset of Framing, in ancient Greece, where the concept of techne–which, as we have seen, is the source of our word “technology”–included both instrumentality and the fine arts, that is, poiesis we may find the source of a possible alternative. In Greece art was not a separate function within society, but a unifying force that brought together religious life, political life, and social life. The art of ancient Greek culture expressed humanity’s sense of connectedness with all Being. Art was a kind of “piety”; it was the outgrowth of humanity’s care–in the sense of “stewardship”–of all existence. It was no one less than Socrates who said, however, that art cannot be the “saving” of humanity: only reason can do this. This is something that must be pondered for what is the “reason” that Socrates is talking about here and is it how we have come to understand reason? Is it the principle of reason and causality as algorithm?

In our own time, the paradox of how “Framing” can hold within it a saving power can be resolved by viewing the artistic or poetic orientation to the world as the alternative dimension of “Framing”. The poet looks at the world in order to understand it, certainly, but this reflection does not seek to make the world into a “standing-reserve”, a resource, or a disposable; the seeing does not seek to change the world. The poet takes the world “as it is”, as it reveals itself—which is the world’s “true” form (remember that the Greek word for truth, aletheia, literally means “revealing” or “unveiling”).

“Truth” is a “revealing,” the process of something “giving” or “showing” itself. Art is the realm in which this “granting” of the world to us is upheld. Art’s relationship with the world is different from technology’s in that art is less concerned with measuring, classifying, and exploiting the resources of the world than it is with “taking part” in the process of the coming-to-being and the revealing that characterize our existence and our essence as human beings.

In the second Bremen lecture of 1949, Heidegger said the following extremely controversial statement: “Agriculture is now a mechanized food industry, in essence the same as the production of corpses in the gas chambers and extermination camps, the same as the blockading and starving of countries, the same as the production of hydrogen bombs.” Such a statement shocks our liberal humanist sensibilities and “values” when the deaths of millions of human beings are said to be essentially the same as our slaughtering of animals to provide food in the most efficient way. But here Heidegger is being consistent in his thought regarding the uncanny essence of technology. Within the technological world-view, that there are human beings to whom no justice is due, to whom nothing is due but extermination is the stuff of today’s headlines. What is the alternative to this?

We are not suggesting that we all go out and become artists, but rather that we incorporate more of the artist’s and poet’s vision into our own view of the world. In “Imagination as a Way of Knowing”, I have tried to illustrate this through the example of William Blake. In incorporating the artist’s vision into how we view the world, we can guard against the dangers of Framing, and enter into a “free”–constantly critical, constantly questioning, constantly listening and hearing–relationship with the technology that in its persistence is constantly making new incursions into our lives. No matter how we view and live within the technological, the issues are of the most importance for ourselves as human beings and our future on this planet.

May 2020 Prescribed Titles: Deconstruction


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 provide you with another perspective to the ones given to you in the titles and from your own 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. Some of you may need to get your network administrator to make a few tweaks in order for you to access it. Comments, observations and discussions are most welcome. Contact me at

Title 1: “Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not” (Pablo Picasso). Explore this distinction with reference to two areas of knowledge.

Title #1 asks you to explore and question the thought of a great artist, Pablo Picasso. We should try to set aside whatever pre-conceptions we might have of Picasso and his art and explore the more general implications of his implicit understanding of what being-in-the-world is and how, in his utterance, he distinguishes the contrasts between art and science, poetry and philosophy, “others” and the “I”. These contrasts and distinctions are very old questions and have been with the people of the West since their historical beginnings. Picasso should be seen as a representative of Art as an area of knowledge and of the imagination as a way of knowing in the modern world i.e. a particular example, and your discussion should be about how “knowledge” and the search for knowledge is implicitly given in his quote. Do not focus on Picasso himself in your discussion even though I will say a few words here about him as a general representative of modern art (albeit a great one) and provide an example in relation to him.

By doing some research, you will find that Picasso himself began the art movement known as Cubism, and the principles behind the techniques involved in this type of art form are helpful in expanding on what Picasso might have meant in his quote, particularly with regard to “what is” and “what could be”. The development of the techniques of art throughout the centuries could provide examples for you to explore in your discussion of the relationship of art to the imagination. Seeing beyond the limitations of three-dimensional “seeing” as an example, through the use of imagination, could be a focus for your discussion. It might be interesting to approach a discussion of the title with some reflection on modern techniques in art such as Picasso’s and other post-Modernists and the mathematics involved in matrix mechanics in modern Physics.

In the mural Guernica below, we have Picasso’s presentation of “reality” at a terrible moment in Spanish history. Clearly, a great truth is presented in the painting so a discussion of the relation of truth to art could be in order. Questions regarding the role of art in personal and shared knowledge could also be a useful approach. A discussion of the work of art and truth can be found by following this link: What is a work of Art?. The relation of art to “reality” through the use of imagination as a way of knowing could be contrasted with the approach to reality using the scientific method (inductive reasoning) and how sense perception as “seeing” is involved in each. You may find the following links on The Arts as an Area of Knowledge and Imagination as a Way of Knowing helpful in exploring ideas that could lead to reflection on the topics involved in the title.


The quote distinguishes between the “actual” and the “potential”, between necessity and possibility, between reason (“why”) and imagination (“why not”). Historically, the Scottish philosopher David Hume discusses the role of imagination as a way of knowing most pointedly in his critique of reason as a way of knowing. The imagination is that faculty which allows for a “projection” of our understanding of the “real” from the “habits” informed through “experience”. Cause and effect is an example of this habit-formed view of the world, according to Hume. Artists, if they are great artists, are in constant contention with this view of being-in-the-world as they attempt to change the way we see the things of our world, to change our “habits” of how we view the world. One could take the Cartesian approach and discuss “objective” and “subjective” knowledge. Is beauty a product of the imagination and, thus, “in the eye of the beholder” or is beauty something “objective” in itself, something to be seen and not judged? What role does language as a way of knowing play in determining “what” something is? Is the destruction of language in the technological world an attack on the imagination? Is the desire to change the way we view the world in Art connected to or related to the desire to change the world itself and is part of the techne and logos that we call “technology”? What role does art play in what we call “technology”?

The “present” as the “actual” is contrasted with the “future” as the “why not” in the title. Picasso, like most artists, questions “why the why?” as our experience of being-in-the-world in his quote. The “present” and “future” relate to time, so art as producere, “a bringing forth” of something that was not, is implied in the title. Discussions of dystopias (Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale) or utopias (Thomas More’s work by the same name, but there are many others) could be used as examples. Here, language as a way of knowing, how language “brings something to light” could be examined. How imagination requires language in order to be a way of knowing is a topic that can be explored. See the following link: Imagination as a Way of Knowing.

How is art “the production of knowledge”? and other questions regarding what knowledge is also a possibly that could be explored through the title. The “techniques” or methodologies, the approaches, in the various areas of knowledge and the role imagination plays in them are some possibilities. Another approach could be a discussion of Ethics and the issue of novelty with regard to the production of “knowledge”, the “should I” or “shouldn’t I” issue. The American physicist Robert Oppenheimer once 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.” This quote can be related to the role of imagination in our everyday lives and the impact that it has. Picasso himself once said “Giotto, Titian, Rembrandt, and Goya were great painters. I am only a public entertainer who has understood his times and has exhausted the best he could the imbecility, the vanity, the cupidity of his contemporaries”. What is the role of the artist in the society of which he is a member? Of what “value” is “originality” in the arts?

Title 2: “There is a sharp line between describing something and offering an explanation of it.” To what extent do you agree with this claim?

The key terms to define in title #2 are “describing” and “offering an explanation”. Discussion of “a sharp line” is also required if one is to examine this title in depth. Another aspect of the title asks “to what extent do you agree” and this, too, must be addressed along with a demonstration of how you support your agreement or disagreement with the statement through examples from the WOKs or the AOKs.

A “description” of some thing gives us its “what” while an “explanation” gives us its “how” and “why”. Both descriptions and explanations are a “rendering of an account” of some thing so both involve language as a way of knowing and both involve other human beings so that these renderings of the things can become “shared knowledge”. This “rendering of an account” is what the Greeks called logos from where our word logic is derived, so it might appear at first glance that the use of the phrase “a sharp line” may be somewhat hyperbolic.

Whatever is being rendered in an account must also first  be “sensed” in some way, so sense perception as a way of knowing comes into play. But what shapes this “sense perception” so that some thing becomes defined as what it is in such and such a way? What some thing is is its “essence”;  a description of a thing provides the boundaries and limits of the thing so that we can arrive at a “de-finition” of the thing and so are able to distinguish one thing from another i.e. a donut from a coffee cup. Historically, these descriptions were referred to as “categories” or “what was said about something” or “down to some thing”. How large or small, the position in time and space, the color of something, etc. were all predicates of the subject that the thing itself was. Human beings were not themselves the subjects. That is a development that came into thought through Rene Descartes where human beings became the centre of knowledge and gave being to the things themselves. The “descriptions” of the things determined ahead of time what they were and how they would be examined i.e. our AOKs.

An “explanation” of a thing has its roots in our demand that a thing give us its “reasons” for being the way it is, its “why” and its “how”, and this is based on the “principle of reason”, nihil est sine ratione, “nothing is without a reason” or “nothing is without reason”. But is there such a “sharp line” dividing these accounts of the thing in question? Each area of knowledge has its own “thing” for which it gives an account and, perhaps, an exploration of the thing and how it is accounted for in two or three AOKs might be a way of approaching the title. A tree in a Group One text such as a poem and a tree in a Group 4 biology class are still the same “tree”, but the approach to knowing what, why and how the tree is are quite different in these AOKs. Choosing to discuss WOKs or AOKs will determine the approach that you will take on this title.

Thinking, or what is called thinking  in our age, is a metaphysical stance involving an empowering and overpowering activity, and our search for knowledge involves this primordial stance towards the things that are requiring that we demand “explanations” not only for “what” the things are but “how” and “why” they are as they are. This “sense perception” of the thing originally determines what the thing will be for us. The inquiry into who the knowers are and what the things that they know are, how they establish the horizons or boundaries of those things in their definitions and classifications, arises from a preliminary “description” of the things that they choose to examine and a preliminary determination of what the things are. The inquiry into the “how” of definitions and classifications is a search for an understanding and “explanation” of the “key concepts” that are used in TOK and in learning today.

Another possible approach could be a discussion of  “to what extent” a “description” or an “explanation” gives greater illumination regarding the “truth” of the thing that is being discussed. When we are speaking about the “truth” regarding things, we are speaking about the manner in which we make propositions or assertions regarding the thing so that the thing under discussion comes to presence or “presents” itself to us. If, for example, we were to “describe” Picasso’s Guernica shown above, that is give a description of its form and its content, would that give a greater “illumination” of the work than an “explanation” of the work? In both cases, the work would have to become an “object” for us and be placed “outside” of us, and in so doing we would miss the “truth” that is “present” in the work itself. Great art, by its very nature, resists “objectivization”. “Description” precedes “explanation”; an awareness and agreement of what a thing is is prior to the “why” and the “how” of the thing itself. Newton’s law of motion, for example, as a description of the nature of things must be preceded by a prior description or understanding of nature that will allow that law to operate in our reasoning. Once that “description” is in place, then the laws of mathematics can be applied to it to provide an “explanation” for its behaviour.

Both “descriptions” and “explanations” are based on metaphors or analogies in that a thing to be an original, unique thing, must be identified as some thing in contrast to something else in order for it to be classified and defined. Our AOKs are all descriptions of the things that have been interpreted beforehand. All of our metaphysical accounts of things are based on metaphor i.e. they are interpretations. When we ask “to what extent” questions, a normative or standard interpretation of the thing about which the question is asked is already understood.

Should you choose to approach the topic from the point of view of the WOKs, you may find the following links helpful in building your arguments: Language as a Way of Knowing;  Personal Knowledge and Reason

Title 3: Does it matter that your personal circumstances influence how seriously your knowledge is taken?

Title #3 invites the student to reflect on the relation of personal and shared knowledge and what kind of knowledge is considered “valuable” to the community of which one is a member. What “type of knowledge” matters or is of some importance to that community, or what knowledge is taken “seriously” by that community?

One can see, for instance, what kind of knowledge is “valuable” to the “international community” of the future by looking at student choices of what IB subjects to study.  One can see that it is science and its applications which can be achieved through the study of mathematics as algebraic calculation. Calculative thinking is what is and what will be “valued” in the “future” world society of which you will be members. Some few individuals may be driven because they value “truth” and will find such truth in scientific knowledge; others will be driven towards the goal of making “big bucks” and gaining the prestige they desire within the communities of which they are members. Because of their “personal circumstances”, some students will be able to afford to enter the Ivy League colleges of the USA or the Oxfords and Cambridges of the UK, and as past historical examples have shown, if their entrance cannot be achieved by merit, then they will find other ways to gain entrance. Today, the appearance is all with regard to how “seriously” “your knowledge” will be taken whether you have any knowledge or not.

As I write this, there is a controversy in the USA regarding what occurred during Hurricane Dorian and its threat to the American East coast. The hurricane brought catastrophic devastation to parts of the Bahamas and was a threat to do the same to the USA. In the controversy, President Trump, who had decided to spend the weekend golfing rather than monitoring the hurricane and providing solace to those who might have been victimized by it, insisted that the state of Alabama was in danger from the storm in one of his many infamous tweets, but the scientists of the National Weather Service contradicted the statements that the President had made. It was quite clear that the President had decided not to keep himself updated on the progress of the storm while he was golfing, and his statement regarding the state of Alabama was based on information published three days earlier, prior to the storm arriving in the Bahamas, and not on the current weather information that had been issued by the NWS scientists.  Trump insisted, nevertheless, that his statement was accurate.

This incident illustrates the difficulty of establishing “reliable sources” for one’s information even prior to this information becoming “knowledge”. What role do “authorities” play with regard to how “seriously” one takes their knowledge? What constitutes an “authority” on a particular subject? How “seriously” is a rational person to take the information that is received from Donald Trump? What role do “experts” play in whether their knowledge should be taken seriously? What makes a source “reliable” and what is “reliability”? Given the existence of mass media, anyone can put themselves forward as an “expert” or “authority” of one kind or another on any topic. These are all questions that you should consider when writing your essay on this topic.

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a play that shows us the what, why and how of the relation of truth to tyranny in human beings and in the societies they form. We can relate this example to the “for whom” that “knowledge matters” and the consequences which result when the truth of the knowledge does not matter (there is no “knowledge” without “truth”). In tyrannies and fascist societies, truth must be manipulated and finally destroyed in order for the tyranny to flourish. Macbeth must first cloud and obscure his own reception of truth before he can carry out the murder of King Duncan; he must become “unnatural”. Following the murder and Macbeth’s becoming king, falsehood and deception rule and are constantly required for him to maintain the semblance of power. Shakespeare sees truth as something that belongs to human beings as human beings, and without truth we are not human beings; we become “monsters”, a word which comes from the original Latin monere or “warning”.

This example from Macbeth leads to the question of “personal circumstances” with regard to how “serious” one’s knowledge is taken. The Divine or the Eternal can take care of itself, but “truth” requires human beings to be receptive to it and to bring it to presence. Without the presence of truth, human beings will cease to be human. Our parables and the fairy tales that are part of our shared knowledge illustrate to us that truth somehow rests in “the smallest of things”, not in how many “likes” someone gets on their postings on modern media platforms. Perhaps our modern fascination with “giganticism” has led to this perception of what propositions should be taken “seriously”. When judging the sources of knowledge or information (they are not the same thing, and you could develop your essay by distinguishing between the two), one must be alert to “red flags” regarding the statements or propositions put forward by those who make them. If, for example, someone calls themselves “a philosopher” one can be quite certain that they are not in much the same way that when we hear someone who calls themselves a “saint” is not: their very calling precludes their being what they say they are. One can find many examples and parallels of this in American and world politics today where political leaders claim to be “experts” in fields in which they are clearly not. If Einstein had published his “Theory of Relativity” on the Internet and not in a respected scientific journal, its “truth” would not be known to us today but its “truth” would, nevertheless, remain present. Einstein was not in the best of “personal circumstances” when he wrote the paper.

What is the kind of knowledge that we value and why? Is “valued knowledge” in the “eye of the beholder”? That the emphasis on calculative thinking and the sciences as what is worthy to be called “knowledge” and is what is valued today is shown where art as “knowledge”, for instance, is not taken “seriously” and is considered to be merely for the entertainment of the masses in their leisure hours. What is being said about the culture that does not take its art “seriously”? When the Romans conquered ancient Greece, it was when the Romans removed the Greeks’ statues and their art that the Greeks wept. Would we weep today if our societies, our cultures lost their works of art? When the issue of cloning is brought up, the ideal of reproducing Einsteins and Mozarts is often mentioned. There is no mention of cloning a Mother Teresa. But this begs the question of whether or not our world needs more Einsteins or  more Mother Teresas. 

A long quote from Picasso should provide some perspective on “personal circumstances” and the “serious” knowledge of which we are speaking here: “In art the mass of people no longer seeks consolation and exultation, but those who are refined, rich, unoccupied, who are distillers of quintessences, seek what is new, strange, original, extravagant, scandalous. I myself, since Cubism and before, have satisfied these masters and critics with all the changing oddities which passed through my head, and the less they understood me, the more they admired me. By amusing myself with all these games, with all these absurdities, puzzles, rebuses, arabesques, I became famous and that very quickly. And fame for a painter means sales, gains, fortune, riches. And today, as you know, I am celebrated, I am rich. But when I am alone with myself, I have not the courage to think of myself as an artist in the great and ancient sense of the term. Giotto, Titian, Rembrandt were great painters. I am only a public entertainer who has understood his times and exploited them as best he could the imbecility, the vanity, the cupidity of his contemporaries. Mine is a bitter confession, more painful than it may appear, but it has the merit of being sincere.”

Title 4: “The role of analogy is to aid understanding rather than to provide justification.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

Title #4 asks the student to distinguish between a number of key concepts in Theory of Knowledge: “understanding”, “justification”, “analogy”, and has the ubiquitous “to want extent” prompt for the thesis of an argument for the essay. Avoiding simple dictionary definitions of these key terms is best, so a recommended approach is an exploration of them through examples.

How does analogy work with regard to thinking? An analogy is a comparison which establishes a relation between unlike things. A map, for example, is an analogy which establishes a relation between the user of the map, the terrain of which the map is a model, and the unknown terrain over which he or she is traversing. Maps are “models”, and all models are analogies. Some models are more useful than others when it comes to helping our understanding of the things that we are trying to understand but some prior understanding of the things, the situations or contexts or of the things themselves is required before the analogy can be made and be effective.

If we look at our Venn diagram used to describe the TOK program, personal knowledge and shared knowledge are interwoven through the “relation” established by the WOKs. This diagram is also an analogy, an ana-logos or an “appropriate correspondence”, as this was understood by the Greeks and Latins. The relation between the “unlike” things is established through logos or speech: a naming of the thing to be discussed is put forward first so that a “correspondence” can be established between human beings and the thing that is named. For this naming to occur, it must first “come to light” as some thing. An “understanding” is reached through an agreed upon “judgement” of what the thing is, and this is how an analogy “aids” our understanding in our naming of what the things are. The naming helps us to ascribe limits to the thing and a “definition” of the thing beforehand. The naming allows us to classify the thing. What we call “knowledge” is the appropriate correspondence of the name to the thing and from it derives “the correspondence theory of truth”. Logos, fatefully, becomes translated by the Romans as logic so that it is through “logic” or what we have come to call “reason” that the correspondence between human beings and their world is most firmly established. For the Greeks, human beings were the zoon logon echon or the animal capable of speaking, or the animal whose nature was dominated by speaking or discourse; for the Latins, human beings become defined as the animale rationale or the animal capable of, or dominated by, reason. For the Greeks, things were brought to light through speech; for the Romans (and, subsequently, for us) it is through reason that things are brought to light. This bringing to light was done through “analogy”, an “appropriate correspondence”.

The role of analogy in reason as a way of knowing can be seen in our construction of inductive and deductive arguments and in our use of the algebraic calculations which are dominated by logic or “cause and effect”. Our use and reliance on algorithms is a dominant example of the role that analogy plays in our thinking today. “Argument from analogy” is a type of inductive argument where perceived similarities are used as a basis to infer some further similarity that has yet to be observed. They aid in our making predictions of the possible outcomes of events or experiments, and we “value” the “correctness”, “precision” and “certainty” of establishing these outcomes or our judgements of the outcomes in advance. “Justification” is “judgement” and judgements require “evidence” which is obtained through what was historically known as the “categories”. The categories provide us with descriptions of the “case” under discussion. The categories give us the “what”, the “how”, and the “why” of the things.

Our metaphysical understanding of the world is based on analogy, or metaphor to be more precise. These analogies help us to navigate the terrain that is the mystery of Being-in-the-world, to use an analogy. They “aid” our understanding by helping us to clarify our understanding of what is. In your oral presentation, it is more than likely that you will use inductive analogy to move from a specific example (case) that you are examining to arrive at some universal question or statement regarding what the example’s “truth” is or how the general principle throws light on the essence of the example under discussion, the “whatness” of what the example is, your “judgement”.

The Scottish philosopher, David Hume, critiqued the use of analogy in inductive reasoning, and it took nothing less than the philosopher Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason to adequately respond to his critique. Kant’s attempt to demonstrate that “synthetic judgements a priori” are possible is his attempt to save reason as a way of knowing from Hume’s critique. Hume critique states that our establishing of relations between the objects of the world and ourselves, our “experiences”, rests in and is driven by our own necessities and not necessities in the objects themselves. There is no analogy. Our belief and “understanding” of things is false from the start. Hume radically separates the mind within which ideas occur, from the body which receives impressions through sense perception as a way of knowing. The analogies that are made, according to Hume, are in the constructions of the mind and imagination, and their relation to the body is only based on whether or not they provide “pleasure or pain”.  There is no “justification” for our beliefs in the analogies that we have made between the world and ourselves because there is no correspondence; it is our necessities and not the necessities of nature which inhere in our judgements about things. What was the correspondence theory of truth devolves into the pragmatic theory of truth where “know how”, or “knowing one’s way about” in something (technology) or what we regard as our “understanding”, comes to dominate since our “know how” is how we grasp the things that are and this grasping “works” for us by helping us to achieve our ends whatever they may be, what we desire.

An inductive argument by analogy is an argument that goes beyond the information in the premises by making a projection on the basis of them and contains an analogy as one of its premises. As such, it is an argument where it is possible for the premises to be true and the conclusion false. An inductive argument by analogy can range in strength from very weak to very strong. There are two key features that determine the strength of an argument: the amount and variety of the features that A and B share; and the relevance of the features shared between A and B with respect to the conclusion. If A and B are similar in many relevant ways, then you are likely to have a strong argument. However, if A and B are similar in only a few ways or if the similarities are not really relevant to the conclusion, then you are likely to have a weak argument. Remember to consider this in the preparation of your oral presentations and also in the development of your arguments as you “judge to what extent”. In the Natural Sciences, for example, uniformity in the prior determinations of mass and motion allow the use of algebraic calculation to make predictions that can be verified through the outcomes of experiment. These “analogies” are very strong and until the discoveries of modern physics worked quite well for us as what we called “knowledge”. The discoveries of modern physics place this knowledge into question.

To say that two things (or situations) are analogous is to say that they are comparable in some relevant respect. This is not to say that two things are identical but only that they are relevantly similar in some way. In the Human Sciences, Social Darwinism is an example of an analogous model used to predict and determine outcomes of human behaviour in the politics, actions, and the societies that human beings create. The “fact/value” distinction that is the primary methodological principle of modern social science has its roots in Hume’s distinguishing between arguments of what ought to be cannot be made from arguments of what is. That is, that nature provides no grounds or “evidence” for determining what good and bad or good and evil are other than the “pleasure/pain” principle. In the Natural Sciences, we use the Rutherford model of the atom to “aid” us in understanding what an atom is even though the model has no relation to the results that arise from the discoveries of quantum physics. In Indigenous Knowledge Systems, on the Nicobar Islands, stories of the battles between the Goddesses of the Sea and the Earth informed the villagers that when the Earth Goddess appeared to gain the upper hand by the withdrawal of the sea, they knew that the Sea Goddess would return with a vengeance and so they took to higher ground and were saved from the resulting tsunami in December 2004.

In deductive argument by analogy, a deductively valid argument contains an analogy as one of its premises. First, an argument by analogy contains three parts: (1) the analogy  between two situations A and B, how they are alike and the manner in which they are alike (2) a statement P follows from situation A, and (3) the conclusion that P follows from situation B. However, there are also two key additions to this three part analysis. First, arguments by analogy contain an analogy (as a premise) which contends that two different situations (A and B) are analogous, i.e. they share some relevant feature x. Many arguments by analogy, however, do not specify what the specific relevant feature x is that A and B share. That is, they do not specify exactly how A and B are analogous. In order to analyze arguments by analogy, we add a fourth feature, which is an explanation of the analogy.

Second, in order for the argument by analogy to be deductively valid, we need a principle that makes it such that if the premises are true, the conclusion must be true. Without this principle, it would be possible for the premises to be true and conclusion false. For example, it is possible for A and B to share a similar feature x, for P to be true in A, yet for P to be false in B. What a deductive argument by analogy requires is a principle that makes the argument valid. This is a principle asserts that P is true for anything that has some specific relevant feature x. The argument is now deductively valid for if the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. None of this is to say that the premises or conclusion are in fact true, just that if they were true, then the conclusion also would be true. In your drafts of your essays and oral presentations, you should construct the inductive and deductive arguments by analogy that you are going to use. Following the steps outlined above by enumerating them should help you with this.

In the Arts, the now old film Forrest Gump often shows Forrest quoting his mother’s analogy that “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get”. This use of analogy attempts to make appropriate valid comparisons between two unlike things. (See the discussion of Title #2 above).  The “correspondence” of the relation between the two things used for comparison is what makes the analogy and its use effective. In comparing life to a box of chocolates, the analogy stresses the element of chance in life with regard to the outcomes of our decisions and that, at times, we will not enjoy the outcomes of our choices.

In literature the use of simile, metaphor, allegory and analogy are common artistic techniques in poems and other works. When Robert Burns says “My love is like a red, red rose”, he is making a comparison between something abstract (“love”) to something that all human beings can relate to ( a red, red rose). If we should take his simile and change it to a metaphor “My love is a red, red rose” then confusion would reign with regard to his meaning. Someone from a scientific world-view would not be able to comprehend the statement because they would take it in a literal sense and think Burns was a botanist! George Orwell’s Animal Farm is considered to be an allegory or analogy of the Russian Revolution, but it could be an allegory for all revolutions.  In the Christian Bible, Christ often uses parables as analogies of complex ideas comparing them to things that all human beings can relate to: “”The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field; which indeed is smaller than all seeds.” Obviously, the analogies that parables make are not based on “emotion as a way of knowing” but are “aids” to “understanding” our experience of being-in-the-world and illustrate that “religion” is not, primarily, an emotional experience only. Many examples may be found in Indigenous Knowledge Systems as well as Religious Knowledge Systems. Analogical reasoning is one of the most common methods by which human beings attempt to understand the world and make decisions.

Title 5: “Given that every theory has its limitations, we need to retain a multiplicity of theories to understand the world.” Discuss this claim with reference to two areas of knowledge.

Title #5 invites you to explore the meanings of a number of key concepts that are used throughout the explorations carried out in a TOK course. It is important that you demonstrate your understanding of the quote used in discussing two AOKs through examples from those AOKs in developing your response. These examples must be RLSs (real life situations) not hypothetical examples. To do so, something must be said about “theory”, the knowledge “produced” from these “theories”, the “limitations” of these various theories, our “need” for a “multiplicity” of theories, and our prior “understanding” of the world in which we live that establishes what things are and how they will be viewed to begin with.

A “theory” is a way of seeing. The manner in which we see or view the world will determine how our “theories” will be stated in language, whether that language be words or numbers. It is through language that the relations, the ways of knowing, between ourselves as knowers, our “personal knowledge”, and the things to be known, our “shared knowledge”, are established. The multiplicity of theories or ways of viewing the world is required because the world is experienced as a multiplicity of objects of various types. “Specialization” is what is required because it has become impossible for us to have knowledge of the whole. Was knowledge of the whole ever possible? TOK is an attempt to return to the questioning of the whole. When examining events historically, for instance, a number of various theories from various AOKs are used to try to gain an understanding of the whole of what that event is because each “theory” is limited in its nature or “essence”.

“Theory” is a very complex concept. From its Greek origins, théa means ‘look’, ‘sight’ and hora means ‘to see’, ‘to bring to sight’.  Thea as ‘sight’ is that which allows the look of something to be seen and is connected to eidos (form) which is the ‘outward appearance’ of some thing. For Plato, the eidos is eternal or permanent; the theoretical looks upon the permanent things, upon their “essence”, what the thing is. The ‘treeness’ of a particular tree is that which is present and permanent in all trees. The theoretical person is the one who looks upon something as it shows itself, who sees what is given to see. From this word comes our word “theatre”, and the theoros is the spectator who goes to the great festivals and dramas to ‘see’ and ‘to be seen’.

The other complex of ideas associated with theoretical is that of the root theo which is to look upon the divine, to look upon the eternal things, the permanent things or the things that do not change. For the Greeks, however, this looking was not one way: the theoretical was also how the divine looked upon us so that we are given a sight of the eternal things, or the first things (archai), and this giving of the sight of the divine was a ‘gift’. So, the theoretical is both the god’s looking upon us, which comes first, and our response to that look (theo=divine, horao=the disclosive looking back). The proper response on our part was, initially, a contemplative, pious, thankful ‘looking back’ in response to the god’s look upon us. To be a spectator at the theatre for a Greek was to have both the god looking upon them and their response to the god’s looking; to be a participant/spectator at the Greek theatre was to take part in a religious activity similar to our attitudes when we go into our churches, temples or mosques. There were no ‘fourth walls’ in the Greek theatre. The whole conception of a ‘fourth wall’ in theatre may, indeed, be a product of modern fantasy or a result of our predominant subject/object perspective which requires that the play being viewed be turned into an object.

The connection between the Greek understanding of the theoretical and the modern understanding is that in the modern the theory encompasses the first principles, the first things, which determine the procedures and experiments or experience of the things that are (methodology); this is what the Greeks understood as techne.  For us, the dominant first principle is the principle of reason. The things are required to ‘come to light’, to ‘come to sight’, within the principle of reason which establishes the validity of the other first principles e.g. the principle of contradiction, etc. The great achievement of quantum physics is the discovery that things don’t quite come to ‘sight’ in the manner in which we expected them to under this manner of viewing.

It is through our “theories” that we arrive at our understanding of what the “essence” of things are. Essence means “what something is”, “that which lets something be whatever it is”, but our understanding of what something is and what lets be what something is has changed since ancient times. Many of the important concepts and key terms that are given in the Theory of Knowledge course are based on the Latinate origin of these terms in English because contemporary philosophical English is, for the most part, Latin in origin. This origin of the thinking in our language is most important in how we come to interpret and to understand what we conceive personal knowledge to be and what the shared knowledge is that is given to us in the handing over to us of our traditions.

Language is “the giving of an account”, and our account is that we reach knowledge when we represent things to ourselves as objects, summonsing them before us so that they will give us their reasons for being as they are. This is true whether we are speaking about the Natural Sciences or the Arts. In order to do this, well-defined procedures or “methodologies” have been developed and these procedures are what we call “research”. The “knowledge framework” is just one attempt to illustrate these procedures. These procedures belong to the very essence of what we think knowledge is because we believe that “research” is the effective condition for the realization of any knowledge; research “produces” knowledge. That which we call “knowledge” is such because the object which has been researched has been “revealed” or uncovered, “re-searched”. There are many examples that you can point to of the results that have come about through this research and have justified their theories in their uses.

While there are a “multiplicity of theories” within the various AOKs, our “understanding” of the world is based on the distinction between ourselves as “subject” and that which is as “object” so that most, if not all, theories begin with this assumption as their starting point, and our “seeing” are “pro-jections” on the things that are. All three words contain the Latin root jacio “to throw”, so our theories are a “throwing forward” and/or a “throwing against” the world understood as object. The world stands over against us. The “knowledge framework” of TOK is one example of this “throwing forward” in that the past (as History) is represented as an object or our “shared knowledge”. When we look at a thing as an object, it can only have meaning as an object for us. We can learn about it but not from it. This stance of command necessary to research kills the past as teacher.

In the Arts, the “work” of art must first be turned into an object so that it will lay below us as the transcending summonsers in order to answer our questions for its being as it is. In this transcendence, we ensure that the work’s meaning is “under” us and is therefore “dead” for us in the sense that it cannot teach us anything greater than ourselves. All the multivarious theories in Art today arose from the understanding of Art as “aesthetics”. It is not a coincidence that the theory of “art as aesthetics” arose in the 17th century simultaneously with our mathematical projection of the natural world: both required that the world be viewed as object. The place that experiment plays in the sciences is taken in arts’ and humanities’ research by the critique of historical sources i.e. the social contexts, the biographies of artists. The ancient Greeks, for example, did not relate to their art as “aesthetics”. Our views of the Arts as “aesthetics” has led the Arts to have less significance in the societies that these works inhabit. They have become “entertainment”. They provide us with “experiences” and are crucial to the “fun culture”. 

Belief is required to overcome the “limitations” that are present in our “theories” or views of the world. In the Natural Sciences, “evolution” is not taught as “theory” but as “fact”. This belief coincides with the “need” that human beings have for “truth”. In the West since the thinking of the French philosopher Rousseau, we have believed that there is a realm of being called ‘history’, and that there is a need to try to understand what the science of that realm was supposed to teach us. The need for truth that human beings have as the deepest part of their nature, that “need” that provokes them to give thought to the whole of things, requires that we ask questions that go beyond the “research” and “theory” in the natural sciences or of history. When human beings ignore this “need”, they will become less “humane” because of the inevitable tyranny that will result from their way of viewing the world.

Title #6: “Present knowledge is wholly dependent on past knowledge.” Discuss this claim with reference to two areas of knowledge.

Title #6 invites you to explore the nature of “present knowledge” and “past knowledge” and whether or not “present” knowledge is “wholly dependent” on the knowledge that has been handed over to us from the past. The reference to “present” and “past” is, of course, a reference to time, and time is a reference to History. This presents a challenge in that our word for “History” in English does not distinguish between “the study of” what is called history (which might be better called “historiology” or “historiography”) and “that which is studied”, the “object” of history that is an historical event or artifact. “History” relates to time; “knowledge” to human being-in-the-world. The German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, said that “Only that which has no history can be defined” by which he meant that the necessity and contingency of “change” is our dominant experience of being-in-the-world and because of this, we can never have “knowledge” of the things that are but can only impose “permanence” on this change through our “will to power”. Another statement by the French existentialist, J. P. Sartre, is that “Existence precedes essence” and it indicates that “what” something is cannot be determined until it has no “history”.  History dominates our understanding of what things are; all things have a “history”. Nowadays, many write as if God has a history.

While the title speaks of “present” and “past” knowledge and their relation to one another, the purpose of this knowledge in the “present” must also be taken into consideration and that implies that the “future” is also understood in what we consider knowledge to be. What is the aim or goal for that which we call “knowledge”? Why study history, for instance?

This title can be approached in either a direct way, by using the “knowledge framework” and examining the histories of the development of the Human Sciences and the histories of the discoveries in the Natural Sciences, for instance. A similar approach could also be taken towards a discussion of the Arts. One may take a chronological approach where every development or significant discovery builds upon past research such as the Periodic Table, our models of atomic structure, and so on. The history of “movements” in the Arts could also be undertaken showing how these “movements” relied on a “past” understanding of what the Arts were attempting to do. “Past knowledge” creates the “box” which thinking becomes enfolded in, and yet the thinking is not wholly dependent on this “box” as paradigm shifts do in quantum theory and Einstein’s relativity. (See The Natural Sciences: Historical BackgroundNotes on Ancient Greek Philosophy and Modern ScienceThe Arts as an Area of KnowledgeThe Natural Sciences as an Area of Knowledge:)

“Historicism” dominates how we view our “past knowledge” and how our past knowledge comes to be “interpreted” and “understood” as “present knowledge”. Under the influence of the French philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and later through an impressive array of historical data and analysis, European intellectual life became influenced and later dominated by the contention that all human thought is radically contingent. That is, the diversity and bewildering change that was revealed by the historical sciences led many intellectuals to assume that the ideas of the past were bound absolutely by the particular historical limitations of the age, and such limitations can never be overcome by any human effort.

This historicism, especially in its more radical and nihilistic forms, meant that no ideas can ever claim any sort of universal validity, including the ideas of “good” and “evil”. The effect that this historicism has on human thought is that the conclusions of the historicist do not lead to “enlightenment”,  (as the Age wherein these thoughts first arose) but rather leave the thinker without any rational guidance in ordering his personal or social-political existence: a single comprehensive view is imposed on us by fate: the horizon within which all our understanding and orientation take place is produced by the fate of the individual or of his society. As mentioned in the discussion of title #5, examination and research in the Arts is dominated by the examination of historical sources. The same could also be said of the Human Sciences. One of the essential questions regarding historicism is that is not historicism, our “present knowledge” regarding the truth of things, is not historicism itself a product of its time and, therefore, not inherent in the truth of things themselves?

The historical development of the Human Sciences shows the abandonment of an unconditional distinction between right and wrong among modern thinkers, and by modern I mean that thinking which first arose in the Age of Enlightenment in the 16th and 17th centuries. What is lacking because of this abandonment is any substantive conviction concerning those permanent moral and ethical principles not of merely human making or contrivance that can provide us with an intelligible guide toward the proper ordering of our existence. To put it in other words, for us moderns the “good” is not accessible to “reason” but is merely a “value” judgement i.e. the “good” is in the eye of the beholder. For we moderns, much of the personal and political nihilism that we have inherited as part of our “past knowledge” and upon which our “present knowledge” depends, stems from this lack of any standard independent of positive right and higher than positive right (i.e. of our own making or contrivance), a standard with reference to which we can judge of the ideals of our own as well as of any other society. This abandonment of “natural right” has taken place because of the role of history and historicist thought in the development of the nineteenth and twentieth century social sciences.

“Past knowledge” requires interpretation. An “interpretation” is what is called hermeneutics nowadays. Hermeneutics comes from Hermes, the messenger of the gods in Greek mythology (though he is very similar in nature to the Norse god, Loki), and pneuma or “breath”, “in-spiration”, to “breathe in” or “take in”, and was related to the life spirit or our being-in-the-world. So hermeneutics is initially rooted in the “divinely inspired” interpretation of religious texts or the “messages of the gods”. Today, however, everything is understood as text, or “object”, something to be interpreted from the commanding summonsing of the “subject”. The physical world is a text; the works of Shakespeare and their productions are texts; the Bible and the Koran are texts. These texts, however, are not understood as “messages from the gods” to be interpreted and understood, something which has been given or gifted to us, but are more related to what we call “theory”, “truth” and “method” (which is why we have the “knowledge framework” and Indigenous and Religious Knowledge Systems as two AOKs). From our commanding summonsing stance, “past knowledge” is “old knowledge”, “outdated knowledge”, something that we can learn about but cannot learn anything of worth from. We somehow see our own knowledge as a creation ex nihilo, which is not dependent on anything but our Selves. The findings of relativity and quantum physics in the Natural Sciences are clearly not “wholly dependent” upon “past knowledge” but are also not possible without that “past knowledge” already being in place.

The commandeering summonsing stance is the ground of historicism and is what is called the “technological”. It is part of our fate, first as Westerners and now as “global citizens”. It issued forth in “the religion of progress”, but now historicism has even shown that “progress” itself is a “value” which is highly questionable. The “know how” that is understood in the Greek word techne illustrates our summonsing stance and is one of the flowerings of the essence of technology. Essence means “what something is”, “that which lets something be whatever it is”, but our understanding of what something is and what lets be what something is has changed since ancient times and this change arose from our differing view of how Nature was interpreted.

Many of the important concepts and key terms that are given in the Theory of Knowledge course are based on the Latinate origin of these terms in English because contemporary philosophical English is, for the most part, Latin in origin. This origin of the thinking in our language is most important in how we come to interpret and to understand what we conceive “past knowledge” to be and thus what we consider our personal knowledge to be and what that past or shared knowledge is that is given to us in the handing over to us of our traditions. For those of us from North America, we have to understand that North American societies have little or no cultural history of their own which pre-dates the modern age, i.e. the age of utilitarian reason, “free-thinking” rationalism, and material-technical progress (technology as it is commonly understood). In North America, the needs of the spirit have been overcome by a pre-occupation with consumption and pleasure, and this is in no little way due to North Americans’ inheritance from the “past knowledge” of the thinking that was going on in Europe.

Historicism dominates our interpretations of what we call the Human Sciences. In North America (and now world-wide),  we have become completely oriented toward some future world, one that must bear the mark of our own creative freedom. Our destiny has become bound up with the will to change the world (to “make history”) through the expansion of scientific learning. We have made actual the dream of the philosophes of our past knowledge — to conquer an indifferent nature and harness it for purposes limited only by the human imagination. In the process we have learned to subordinate the past and the present to the future, so much so that the very meaning of human existence is bound up with what is yet to be (“existence precedes essence”). What is and what has been find their significance only in their relationship to the future; for modern human beings, time has become history, and history means the progressive fulfillment of man’s quest for a humanist centred mastery and perfection.

When the production of knowledge is directed towards the future, the net of inevitable progress is a shallow secular form of the belief in God,  and just as the historical sense has killed god, it kills the secular descendants of that belief (Nietzsche). For Nietzsche, two distinct character types will emerge in the modern world as a result of this “past knowledge”: the “last men” and the “nihilists.”

The last men are those who will continue to understand their existence simply in terms of the shallow and petty pleasures of life based on the “passions”, and will understand politics in terms of mass democracy and the continued social quest for material progress. Such individuals will, in turn, make up the mass of ordinary individuals in the modern technological society. The nihilists, on the other hand, are those relatively few individuals who, under the influence of scientific rationalism, recognize that all values, especially the trivial values of the last men, are all relative and contrived for they have learned this from their “historicism”. They will be the ones to see through the contradiction at the heart of contemporary liberalism, even to the point of undermining rationalism itself. It is from these individuals, the true heirs of Western rationalism, that Western civilization has the most to fear. Such men, says Nietzsche, are strong-willed, yet have no content for their willing, not even reason itself. This means that they will be resolute in their will to mastery, but they cannot know what that mastery is for (Grant, Time as History 1969, 34). The violence which is precipitated by the nihilists will therefore be unlike any experienced in past ages; the rise of Nazism is a prime example of the Nietzschean prophecy fulfilled. The thinking arose in Germany and it was Germany that first had to endure its coming forth. Contemporary North American and world politics see Nietzsche’s prophecy being enacted and unfolded globally. The thinking of Nietzsche lets us know where we are and who we are from the “past knowledge” that we have inherited.

Theory of Knowledge: An Alternative Approach

Why is an alternative approach necessary?

%d bloggers like this: