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Blupete's Weekly Commentary


January 28th, 2001.

"Knowledge, Facts & Principles."

"When you know a thing, to hold that you know it; and when you do not know a thing, to allow that you do not know it -- this, is knowledge." (Confucius.)

Knowledge is composed of judgments as to what is true. Truth is the agreement of our ideas and words with the nature of things, that is to say, the relations which things and ideas bear to each other and to themselves; and knowledge of nature consists, to a great extent, in understanding the causes of things. Except for those who come to it by divine providence, knowledge comes to those who have an acquaintance with facts, facts which can only be acquired by study or research. But facts are like only so many ingredients, the knowledge pie must be baked with principles. Principles being a general law or rule adopted or professed as a guide to action. Bentham wrote that the "word principle is applied to any thing which is conceived to serve as a foundation or beginning to any series of operations."1 From the OED we learn that a principle is a "fundamental source from which something proceeds; a primary element, force, or law which produces or determines particular results; the ultimate basis upon which the existence of something depends; cause, in the widest sense."

A couple of matters which fall out as a result of the above analysis: Knowledge is objective, outside of oneself, and, thus, can be attacked and defended without reference to the individual who holds the assertion that a particular piece of knowledge is correct, or that it is false.2 Further, our beliefs, opinions, and/or theories should not be considered knowledge until they have been exposed over time -- usually a considerable period of time -- to all comers; and which has stood up to unabated testing. When it comes to a belief or a hypothesis, what is it that a person should be continually testing for? The answer is whether the belief is true. It cannot be declared bogus simply because it is a belief that causes pain: the truth can be quite painful at times; it can be offensive. We cannot jettison the truth to make another person or group of persons feel better.

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NOTES:

1 Principles of Morals and Legislation , 1780. I refer to Pope, "Two Principles in human nature reign; Self-love, to urge, and Reason, to restrain." ("Essay On Man.")

2 The traditional idea that knowledge is subjective, - Aristotle, Locke, Hume, et al. - is refuted in Karl Popper's book, Objective Knowledge.

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Peter Landry

January, 2001 (2014)