Sources of Knowledge

Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 244)


In the previous chapters we have dealt basically with two approaches to the question of the possibility of knowledge. Firstly the search for arhe the principle of understanding. In the ancient form it was also the ontological principle of the universe, but in Moore’s hands it reduced to a principle of clear and unclouded understanding of judgements on which to build a wider body of knowledge. Seen in this light the approach is essentially rationalist, reminiscent of Descartes’s clara et distincta perceptio. We have then gone to have a look at the proposition that theoretical (i.e. technical in some sense, or in common parlance scientific) knowledge will provide an escape from the difficulties we found in the Moorean approach. We found that all theory-building assumes that the problems addressed by Moore, and others of this ilk, are resolved. To rely on theory, and theoretical technique to solve initial problems of the possibility of articulate knowledge, and/or cognition is then seen as necessarily begging the question. Husserl addresses this question seriously (Husserl, 1928). These results have left us with a clear road to follow in future research.


Subject Matter Basic Sense Open Language Numerical Identity Transcendental Argument 
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  1. 1.
    Vide Srzednicki:1983Google Scholar
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    For useful discussion of implicit vs. explicit knowledge, (and realist vs. anti-realist theories) compare (1987) Crispin Wright Realism Meaning and Truth. I do not accept Wright’s views, but very detailed discussion here would be out of place.Google Scholar
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    I shall talk as if the interpretation that suits my purpose was the correct interpretation, but this is merely to further the simplicity of presentation. Ad meritum I am leaving the whole question of correct interpretation of Kant’s writings severely open, and no argument presented here is intended to contribute to that debate. But I find it easiest to explicate my position by talking as if that was the correct and obvious interpretation. I apologise to those who might be annoyed by this ploy. It should be also noted that I am not agreeing with Kant, even as I interpret him. I think that there is in his doctrine a significant difficulty that he shares with many others. This is a severe problem that needs to be addressed. It is the main purpose of the present work to make a start.Google Scholar
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    There are metaphysical systems that are painfully hoisted on this petard, a man called Jozef Maria Hoene-Wrofiski, comes to mind (Hoene-Wroríski, 1811). Not even Spinoza, let alone Kant are quite in this boat. Spinoza while arguing for strict rationalism offers a reason why it does lead to the knowledge of the world, adopting the view that could be described as the doctrine of alternative single sources of knowledge, and what is more he offers reasons for this procedure (Spinoza, 1951). According to him it is reasonable to say that anything that exists does so either in its own right or dependently. This is enough for Spinoza’s definitional distinction between substance and mode, to which two the concept of an aspect is significantly added. In fact we have here a fine example of an articulate base for the initial metaphysical move.Google Scholar
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    I should perhaps record here a suspicion: we could say that open language has a capacity that Tarski failed to discern (Tarski, 1944). Since in such a language, as Tarski himself insists, anything that can be said in any language can in principle be said it can include meta-statements as well. If so these meta-statements will occur as it were on the object level. Therefore while not allowing a meta-language with respect to itself it must allow meta points to be made. What would seem to be excluded is the orderly introduction, and maintenance of this level of remark as a general device. If so openness need not lead to dysfunctional problems attributed to it by Tarski. It would be a difficult task to analyze the devices that are possible, and to show how the problems are avoided. We might well ask: could transcendental proofs be made to serve to provide legitimate entry, and an intelligible position for meta level determinations within an open language? Some would be admitted directly by those means, others mediately. I am chary of suggesting at all strongly that such idea was Kant’s, but it strikes me that it might not be alien to the spirit of his enterprise. Should it work out it would be very welcome. Before we have to leave this matter, let me only record that in this conception something like Kant’s synthetic a priori concepts would have to provide the structure of the meta-talk on the open language level. Levving this whole matter aside, if it were the case that we might be able to provide for the formative metaphysical moves the kind of support that Kant envisages for his transcendental proof, we should certainly try to do so.Google Scholar
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    Kant, I am sure, was well aware of this, and indeed seeks to make use of it. According to him a solution that would pay attention exclusively to the form of the theory would be apodictic. There are points a plenty where Kant insists that we may not, in one way or another, define substantive truths into existence, take for instance (A792/B820): In this field therefore, it can never be permissible, so far as synthetic propositions are concerned, to justify assertions by disproving the opposite.Google Scholar
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    The theory of ‘a ghost in machine’ as seen, and interpreted in Gilbert Ryle’s The Concept of Mind (1949) illustrates the other side of the coin, but only approximately. Ryle states his point in terms of a wider perspective that is accepted for the purpose of his argument. In basic epistemology, the investigated perspective must be both the widest possible, and ultimate, ergo there can be no external backing. The pit opening in front of our minds becomes abysmal.Google Scholar
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    As argued in Chapter 1 Moore’s concept of paradigmatically transparent expressions was designed to deal with some such situation Moore (1925) calls such an expression as “the Earth has existed for many years past” `the very type of unambiguous expression the meaning of which we all understand’. Quite clearly if this were the case on the required level we would have found our assured point of contact with the subject matter. But we have seen that this is not so, for how can we judge what is ultimately the case. What Moore, his followers, and critics, did with that idea does not concern us here. I have argued (vide Chapter 1) that the real point of the move was lost in the process for the real nature of a paradigm was misconstrued. In what follows I am not about to defend Moore, I think however that the insight behind this move is basic and worth developing a bit further. The point appears in its modem form in e.g. Christopher Peacocke (1986), who writes: I am asking about the spectrum of non-defeasible commitments attributable to a thinker in virtue of his judging just that content [italics mine]. Peacocke has a more complex idea of truth attribution than had Moore; this is also his main interest in the article, a purpose narrower than ours. But the idea of a totally reliable base is basically the same (vide Chapter 4).Google Scholar
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    Quine in The Roots of Reference (1973) tried to overcome this difficulty, using such notions as: “nearness”, “mathematical nearness”, etc. On reflection it is clear that all these ploys are parasitic on a sense of similarity obtained elsewhere.Google Scholar
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    This point resembles the point raised by Strawson in Individuals (1959), but it is not identical, for we are applying it to the very possibility of thinking rather than the possibility of thinking a world.Google Scholar
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    Kant of course thought that the synthetic unity of apperception fulfils this role. Strawson in The Bounds of Sense (1966) stresses this point as well, and clearly such a system must be somehow provided.Google Scholar
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    Let us remind ourselves that the insistence on half-product is necessary in order to arrest the slide into a regressus ad infinitum. We have found above that this might be removed provided only there is a dimension gap between the articulate level as such, and its paradigmatic base.Google Scholar
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    We are asked by Winch to believe that different individuals representing different ‘life styles’ are simply in no position to communicate with each other. Trivially, it is obvious that the view must be mistaken, practice proves it so in multitude of everyday cases, but as is often the case in philosophy, the caricature reflects a real difficulty.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MelbourneAustralia

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