Friday, August 24, 2012

Getting Down to Facts: can we avoid making assumptions?

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Education is not the piling on of learning, information, data, facts, skills, or abilities - that's training or instruction - but is rather making visible what is hidden as a seed” -- Thomas More (1477-1535)
A host of philosophers, scientists and scholars have long trekked after a mirage: presuppositionless knowledge, that is, knowledge not based on any kind of assumption. However, because we humans are limited beings with bounded capacities, constrained in space and time, whatever we believe about what we know rests upon important epistemological presuppositions.

These are not assumptions of the ordinary kinds that we commonly discuss. Rather, they are things we take for granted unless something unusual, even bizarre happens. Examples of epistemological presuppositions are assumptions that our senses, memories and understandings do not majorly mislead us; that they are at the very least, somewhat consistent.

Facts are knowledge. But what is knowledge? Is "knowledge" no more than an honorific title we give to those beliefs we feel meet whatever criteria we are committed to for distinguishing (pronouncing?) what is true from what is false? This could range from a scientific procedure to a reading from a holy book, depending upon what it is we are committed to. (See Knowledge: The Residues of Practical Caution.)

However, these criteria for distinguishing true from false do not necessariy select out pre-existent truth and falsehood so much as they define what is true and what is not, bringing them, so to speak, into existence.

(Some philosophers might say that our "criteria" are supports for "performative acts of recognition".)

To examine these issues further, see Questionable Assumptions in Social Decision Making

--- EGR