After asking someone recently why we should trust the deliverances of our senses and being looked at like I was insane, I thought it was time to put my thoughts to writing.
The topic of epistemology is very fascinating to me. This is the study of knowledge. It asks such questions as:
What is “knowledge”?
How do we acquire “knowledge”?
These questions may seem too philosophical and “out there” for some. I would hope that the following considerations spark interest.
The first thing to note is that every person operates with some answer to the above questions. No one truly goes through life thinking “there is no such thing as knowledge” and “there is no way I can know anything”. By even stating such things one would be refuting oneself. For, if it were true to say that “there is no such thing as knowledge”, that statement itself would be a unit of knowledge and one might ask the person stating it “how did you acquire such knowledge?” Whether or not we all admit it, we all believe that knowledge is an objective feature of reality.
The second thing to note is that what most people are interested in is accurate knowledge. It seems obvious that there are two categories of knowledge:
If one presumes to say “there is no such thing as accurate knowledge”, we might ask, “Is that statement accurate?” Again, whether or not we admit it, we all believe that truth is absolute and not relative. If there is accurate knowledge, it seems important that we learn to discern between the two.
And, that is the question: How do we do this?
An Overview of My Thoughts
Reality is the state of affairs as they really are without consideration of human perception.
Perception is our observation of that reality. Our senses, those mental faculties which correspond to certain physical features of our bodies (sight – eyes; hearing – ears; etc.), are the means by which we perceive reality.
Our minds process or interpret the reality we observe and form beliefs about it.
We use language to describe the reality we observe as we interpret it with our minds. This description takes the form of propositions. (For example: “It is raining”.)
Beliefs are propositions which our minds have formed through perception and interpretation in an attempt to describe reality in an accurate way.
We cannot be certain that our senses are accurately perceiving reality.
Enter Pontius Pilate
“Pilate said to Him, ‘What is truth?'” (John 18:38, CSB)
Here is what I propose: “Truth” could be defined as any particular proposition, or the entire set of propositions, which accurately describes reality.
We must first distinguish between “reality” and “truth”. Given realism, the idea that the external world (external from the perspective of human minds) is real, reality has to do with the actual or real state of affairs. The way things actually are without consideration of human perception. It has to do with what exists with no reference to observation or perception. Think of the universe. Whether or not you or I perceive or observe the universe it is still there. That is reality. Once perception and observation are considered, we must think of things a little differently.
Humanity is a rational kind of being. We are thinking beings. Our minds are a large part of what separates us from animals. Our minds process information and we communicate information by the use of language. We use language to describe reality. When we do so properly we can call that proper or accurate description of reality truth.
Here’s the rub.
How do we know that our perceptive faculties (senses) are functioning properly? How do we know that our senses aren’t incorrectly perceiving reality and delivering bad data to our minds? What if the sky is actually “red” but, for whatever reason, we perceive it to be blue?
The only way we could know with certainty that our senses were properly perceiving reality is if somehow we could get outside of our senses and perceive reality without their aid.
I don’t claim to have my mind completely wrapped around this issue nor to have the solution. The one which seems most intriguing and plausible is revelational epistemology. This is the notion that there is an Intelligent Being who reveals to us what we need to know about reality. This is accomplished via communication. This being is the ultimate reality and the source of any reality outside of itself so it has perfect knowledge of all reality. It is able to communicate facts about reality to the minds it has created thus allowing them to break the boundaries of their senses.
It should be obvious that this description sounds a lot like God! On this model, God is the Ultimate Reality Himself as well as the Cause and Source of all reality other than Himself, which would include human beings. He has given them rationality and intelligence, means by which they can receive information from Him and communicate with one another. He reveals or communicates to them the knowledge they need. For this article, I’m not going to elaborate on what forms this communication takes. For now, it is sufficient to explain this revelation in general terms.
So, to summarize:
Mankind has the ability perceive reality with their senses.
By itself, mankind has no certainty that these senses are functioning properly.
God, as the source of Ultimate Reality, can communicate to mankind to provide certain knowledge of reality.
At least, that’s my theory. What are your thoughts?