Things Can Be Otherwise 2

Theory of Knowledge

This session of Things Can Be Otherwise was all about theories and ideas pertaining to knowledge. We were set to cover the following based on this theme:

  • The theory of knowledge, or epistemology and two opposing ideas on knowledge from Plato and Nietzsche.
  • Identifying the arguments from these two philosophers.

We started the session by identifying three types of knowledge:

  • To know how – how to ride a bike.
  • To know by acquaintance – e.g. Lady Gaga
  • To know by description – e.g. the factors leading to 9/11

We then learned about Plato’s theory of knowledge. Plato thought that truth is a singular thing and that for everything on earth, there was a perfect version of it that existed on a higher plane called the Forms. He believed that humans originated from the Forms and that even Forms had Forms.

Plato was pretty damning about art. He regarded it as imitation, mimicry and reflections set on deceiving viewers into thinking that art is the truth. He thought that art was not based on real things.

This idea of art as imitation is still a relevant one today. People worry that things like films, TV, video games, pornography etc are seen by impressionable people who then think that the behaviour shown in these things is the correct way to behave.

He also believed that if someone loves something then they must love every aspect of it or else they do not in fact love it. This was an interesting one because I’m not convinced that anyone can love every single aspect of it and, actually, I would be concerned if somebody whole heartedly loved something without engaging with some degree of criticism for it. But this might also suggest that no one is really capable of loving anything. It’s either a very hypocritical thing to say or a very scathing one or both.

In stark contrast to this, we have Nietzsche who thought that art was the highest way of being. He  thought that reality and representation are the same process. Which reminded me of a documentary I saw called HyperNormalisation by Adam Curtis which talks about this idea that people of vast wealth and power construct the reality for everyone else, the public/the layman, so that they don’t have to deal with the complexities of the world. It talks about an idea called controlled perception. Even though Nietzsche may not have been thinking about these sorts of things, it is interesting that people to do this to each other in a very calculated and deliberate manner.

He was also an advocate of nihilism which on the surface may seem quite pessimistic but it’s actually a train of thought that bestows great freedom and responsibility on the human race. It’s the thought that our actions are our own and not premeditated by a higher being. It is also the idea that our thoughts are our own and not put into our heads by something.

Nietzsche formed an idea that we think of concepts or general ideas by subtracting all the similar cases in the concept of their individuality. For example one leaf is not the same as another but we still have an over arching concept of leaf that brings all leaves of every kind together regardless of difference.

We couldn’t have a session on theories of knowledge however without asking ourselves what knowledge even is and how it differs from opinion. How can we even be certain that we know what we know?

It was that last part of the question that intrigues me the most because I’ve always thought that knowing is a human idea and the only confirmation of ideas we’ve had are from other humans. So why does this make some ‘bits of knowledge’ more valid than others when the deciding factor is another human? A human with ideas that are just as flawed, as brilliant, as stupid, as ignorant, as relevant, as irrelevant as mine. Who is the almighty determiner of what correct knowledge is? Scientists come to mind in the first instance but scientists are humans like I am a human.

I found this session very interesting, more interesting than I thought it would be and I enjoyed listening to everyone’s opinions and ideas.



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