The Basis of Knowledge

Published: 2021-06-29 07:07:39
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Category: Philosophy

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The question, "What is the basis of knowledge?" is often contested by rationalists and empiricists. The arguments presented by these epistemologists are radically different, and are often viewed as the only options by which we can derive true knowledge. Rationalists believe that the only dependable source of knowledge is the mind, whereas empiricists believe that all knowledge can only be verified by the senses. Immanuel Kant combined both as he believed that the mind and sensory impressions cannot exist independently of one another. The notion that Plato's rationalism stands in absolute opposition to Aristotle's empiricism is a false dilemma; Kant effectively combines both in his explanation of synthetic a priori knowledge.

Rationalists believe that the only dependable source of knowledge is the mind. As Plato was a rationalist, Plato's thinking depends on concepts of the mind and necessitates that knowledge is innate (Hermann and Stebben, 10). The mind is considered the superior instrument for the acquisition of knowledge as its concepts once existed in the world of forms. This world of forms was the place of higher reality where ultimate truth could be found (Thompson, 28). According to Plato, our souls wandered through the world of forms, developing and storing every form of knowledge we would ever need. Eventually, our souls were reincarnated and placed in the physical world and our bodies, more specifically our minds. Thus, through intuition, insight and use of our mind's eye, we can recall and have a definite understanding of these purely intellectual truths (King, 25). Plato also maintained that the knowledge we have is not learned, but rather recollected. As our birth was too traumatic for our minds, it caused us to forget everything that we know. Hence, the fundamental truths and knowledge we had are brought to maturity through recollection by our intellect (Thompson, 26). Furthermore, Plato does not trust sensory experience as he thinks our bodies serve as a constant distraction from the pursuit of higher knowledge. Our souls are imprisoned in our bodies, and can only view the world from the five senses. Unfortunately, as our senses can be easily deceived, we cannot acquire real truth and knowledge. Plato's implication is that only reason and careful deduction by the workings of the mind can give us true knowledge of the forms.

The claim that only reason and careful deduction are involved with rationalism constitutes a false dilemma. Plato's staunch support for the existence of the world of forms does not allow him to acknowledge, like other rationalists that sense experience plays a small role in our acquirement of knowledge (Herman and Stebben, 41). His theory that the mind alone is full of real knowledge is debatable as we can never be sure that our minds are free of false premises (Thompson, 33). For instance, one can firmly believe that all philosophy teachers are tired, graying, middle aged men. No amount of pure reasoning will ever dispute this claim or prove its falsity. For one to realize the truth, they must rely on their sensory experiences and look for all the exceptions to this rule, because at least some of our knowledge is derived from the senses. We often rely on our senses to interpret and verify knowledge. Plato goes on to state that sense experience should not play any role as our physical world is a matrix, and hence our senses are easily deceived (Stevenson, 158). In stating this, he presents us with fewer options than is actually the case. Recollection of knowledge requires the involvement of sense experience. For instance, we associate certain sensory impressions, like feelings, smells and sights with important events in our lives. These sensory impressions help us recall the events at a later date. After all, no knowledge can be enjoyed without the initial stimulation of the senses (Thompson, 43). In claiming that sensory experience plays no role in the recollection of knowledge, Plato is placing rationalism in opposition to empiricism and thus presenting us with a false dilemma. It is unfair to generalize both epistemologies as being on opposite ends of the epistemology spectrum, when in fact there are elements of both schools of thought exist in each.

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