WHAT IS KNOWLEDGE?
D. R. Khashaba
I have repeatedly affirmed, from my first book onwards, that knowledge is an ultimate mystery and that in vain do we seek to say what knowledge is or how it comes that there is such a thing as knowledge. On the face of it, this sounds like a preposterous denial of a whole field of philosophical thinking, namely Epistemology. I hope I am not that mad; but before I explain my position I have to say something about my way of writing philosophy.
I do not write scholarly dissertations; I write philosophical essays — an entirely distinct art: this is true even of my book-length works. A philosophical essay focuses on and explores a core insight. In thus focusing on a single idea it sacrifices any attempt at ‘completeness’ and neglects to smooth rough edges. A short while ago I posted a blog titled “Science Breeds Ignorance”. At least one reader completely missed my point, thinking me to equate scientific knowledge with ignorance, although I had taken pains to explain that I was not speaking of common knowledge and common ignorance: I was speaking of the ignorance of spiritual realities and values.
To go back to where I started: In maintaining that knowledge is an ultimate mystery do I banish all theoretical thinking about knowledge? Not at all. Epistemology can do and does do useful work on such questions as how do we acquire knowledge or what are the marks (criteria) as opposed to illusion or belief? But I adamantly insist on two points: (1) No such studies can ever tell us what knowledge is or explain how it is that there is intelligence and understanding. (2) There can never be a final and definitive theory of knowledge.
I will take up the second point first but only briefly. There is no objective thing called ‘knowledge’ that can be subjected to observation and analysis. Knowledge is the whole universe of intelligent discourse and that encompasses all there is. Every theory of knowledge approaches that limitless and amorphous totality from a certain perspective. That is why there will always be rival theories and no one theory can be free from intrinsic defect. The endless controversies of scholars is testimony to this. To assert that one particular theory is the one true theory of knowledge is to say that the elephant is a long pliable tube and that is all there is to know about it.
As to the first point (my holding that knowledge is an ultimate mystery) I call Plato to witness. To ‘explain’ the mystery of knowledge Plato introduced the myth of anamnesis (recollection). In the Theaetetus he examines various approaches to empirical knowledge and finds them all defective. I examined the Theaetetus in Chapter Nine, “Theory of Knowledge”, of Plato: An Interoretation (2005) and dealt with “Plato’s Examination of Knowledge” (in Meyaphysical Reality, 2014) and do not wish to expand on the subject here.
D. R. Khashaba
February 13, 2017
Posted to https://philosophia937.wordpress.com and http://khashaba.blogspot.com