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"All Men Desire to Know" saith Aristotle

Medieval Philosophy and Existential Epistemology

I. Argument

A. Simple Version
P1. Epistemology is a rational discipline that presupposes the existence of knowledge.
P2. Belief in, desire for, pursuit of and dependence on knowledge are necessary and universal.
P3. There are universal Laws of rational existence that govern and force us to believe and know.
P4. This would only be so if it were actually possible to know things and know that we know.
___________________________________________________________________________
C. Therefore we can know things, and know that we know them; epistemology is valid only when it includes the existential domain, i.e. data that is received from experience through the senses.

II. Introduction

This paper explores the problems of human knowledge stemming from the medieval era to the present. In it I will grapple with the elusive question of the justification of knowledge that goes all the way back to Aristotle in the 4th century BC and beyond. Aristotle is a good subject to start with since in a real sense he was a medieval philosopher insofar as he was “reincarnated” into a Latin-speaking Europe that previously knew very little of his ideas until his writings were reintro- duced there. “For Aristotle…epistemology is based on the study of particular phenomena and rises to the knowledge of essences.”(1) He believed that we can know things, and I agree. In this paper I argue that we can know things and know that we know them. Further, epistemology as a branch of philosophy is valid only when it includes the existential domain, i.e. data that is received through the senses. Perception and experience must not be proscribed, for they are God's means by which we know.


The Medieval period was an intensely religious era up to and including the Renaissance. Most disciplines were infused with religious assumptions and philosophy was no exception. In Europe and North Africa nearly all philosophers of the period were Christian, Muslim or Jew and true skeptics were hard to come by. Indeed, medieval philosophy quite preoccupied with natural theology with often only fine distinctions therefrom. In those days, questions about God were philosophy questions. But this is not to say that God was the only subject of their concern. Indeed, the religious philosophers were interested in the full gamut of metaphysical questions, especially with the recovery of Aristotle’s invaluable works. Having been in the sole possession of the Arabic-Muslim world for centuries, they were reintroduced into Latin Europe in the 13th century and translated. This spawned a kind of Aristotelian Renaissance in the West with Thomas Aquinas as its champion. But Aristotle was hardly a Christian philosopher, and his writings introduced non-theistic ideas into Catholic Europe for the first time. This challenged the teachings of the Church until Aquinas synthesized them with Catholic Theology in his Summa Theologica. Aquinas believed "that for the knowledge of any truth whatsoever man needs Divine help…but also that human beings have the natural capacity to know many things without special divine revelation.”2 Other philosophers of the era include Augustine and Boethius at the far early end of the period, the 4th-6th centuries, and Anselm, Maimonides, Averroes, Avicenna, Al Ghazali, and Duns Scotus at the later end, the high middle ages. Still later figures double as early Renaissance philosophers, such as Albert the Great, William of Ockham, and Marsilius of Paduaas . Most of them had something to say about epistemology, but some were more prolific than others, such as Augustine and Duns Scotus who will receive a bit more attention in this paper. Needless to say, the quest for a compelling theory of knowledge continues to this day, up to and including the author of the course textbook, Noah Lemos, and dozens more. At this point it would be interesting to chart the “evolution” of epistemology as it is my general observation that it became less classical and less platonic, i.e. less rooted in permanent metaphysical elements and a correspondence between reality and the mind. True or not, that is a subject for a different time. In this paper I have chosen to focus on the ideas themselves and will mostly consist of my own original thinking, such as it is.

Although I stated my thesis already in the first paragraph, here is my whole argument.

III. Argument Expanded
P1. Epistemology is a rational discipline that presupposes the existence of knowledge.
1. This and every rational endeavor rests on the assumption that understanding is possible.
2. Understanding, in turn, rests on the assumption of truth, or at least reliable information.
3. This, in turn, assumes that it is possible to access and analyze information, i.e. to learn.
4. The goal of learning is greater understanding which is self-refuting if we cannot know.
5. Further, epistemology presupposes both the function of reason and the laws of logic.

P2. Belief in, desire for, pursuit of and dependence on knowledge are necessary and universal.
1. The notion of knowledge exists universally; it is a fundamental component of reason.
2. The belief in knowledge exists universally; it is a fundamental component of sentience.
3. The desire for and pursuit of knowledge are universal; it is a totally irresistible yearning.
4. The need for knowledge is universal; it is impossible to function without actually knowing.

P3. There are universal Laws of rational existence that govern and force us to believe and know.
1. The laws of logic and reason exist universally and completely govern human thinking/doing.
2. They are every bit as fixed as the natural laws and force our existential conformity to them.
3. All human being rests on mutual conformity to these rational laws; philosophy prizes this.
4. These laws force us to assume and give assent to the mutual possession of knowledge.

P4. This would only be so if it were actually possible to know things and know that we know.
1. In every domain of reality there is a correspondence between the law and its object.
2. Since the “law of rationality” presupposes there is knowable knowledge, there is.
___________________________________________________________________________
C. Therefore we can know things, and know that we know them; epistemology is valid only when it includes the existential domain, i.e. data that is received from experience through the senses.

IV. Discussion
“All men by nature desire to know” said Aristotle in the first sentence of his Metaphysics.4 This is a profoundly simple statement akin to, say, “Everyone desires to eat” and “Everyone wants pleasure”. These and many other examples (including negations) are clearly evident in ourselves and in every other person we meet. If there are exceptions they are rare anomalies, and we consider them as such. This is why Aristotle can say it is true by nature. As far as we can tell, plants do not desire to know. We can easily surmise that human beings have always desired to know because, like Aristotle, we associate this desire with the defining properties of human nature. Whether or not we can actually know things, the desire to know is undeniably fundamental to human nature. By his statement, Aristotle was not only saying something about humans and their desire for knowledge; he was also making an epistemological claim—that he knows something. That does not seem unreasonable to me, as already I have also done so. But I have this nagging fear that I must be careful not to sound overconfident about my assertions lest a skeptic ask me, “But do you really know that?” I wonder if Aristotle had that anxiety. Socrates is famed for having said that he knows nothing except that he knows nothing. For someone who knew nothing he had a knack for telling his opponents their arguments were absurd. It seems to me that Socrates knew there was such a thing as absurdity and how to recognize it. Jesus, in contrast—a philosopher in his own right, I contend—was less humble, less self-deprecating or less insecure. He seemed to have few reservations about saying, “I know…” (John 5:32, 42)

Still, asking someone “How do you know?” what you think you know is a fair question and every bit as much a part of human nature as the desire to know. Closely related to it is the question, “How can you know?” or “How can it be known?” i.e. can knowledge be justified? Even more basic are the questions, what is knowledge can we obtain it? This is essentially epistemology. Apparently the word itself was not coined until 1854 by Scottish philosopher James Ferrier, but as far back as we can tell philosophers (and may I add, average people) have been wrestling with these questions. As we shall see, philosophers in the Medieval era were every bit as concerned with them as those before and after.

Epistemology, therefore, is a kind of philosophy, a rational discipline that seeks rational evidence about the nature of knowledge. The first premise of my argument is that 1) Epistemology presupposes the existence of knowledge a priori. If this were not true there could be no goal of it, nor any purpose. But it does have a goal. Its goal and the goal of every rational endeavor is to gain understanding. It rests on the a priori assumption that understanding is possible, which presupposes learning, which presupposes truth, which presupposes knowledge. At the onset of the Medieval era, St. Augustine elucidated this in his discourse with Adeodatus in his work, The Teacher6. Basically he argued that the goal of language is to teach and to understand. a) Understanding, in turn, rests on the assumption of truth, or at least reliable information. (Reliable information = true information = truth). b) This, in turn, assumes that it is possible to access and analyze information, i.e. to learn. c) The goal of learning, then, is to achieve understanding which is self-refuting if we cannot know and know that we know. d) Further, epistemology presupposes both the function of reason and the laws of logic. Let’s explore this proposition further.

First, we have already said that epistemology is a rational discipline. That means that it is an exercise of the mind that relies upon reason, which relies upon logic. All rational or intellectual disciplines do, by definition, as well as by the nature of human cognition. As such, epistemologist presupposes that he/she exists, that other persons exist (by virtue of arguments, language and communication at least), that reason exists, that learning and understanding exists, and that reason is a reliable human faculty to help us achieve learning and understanding. Indeed, many believe it is the only means by which to achieve them, or the only legitimate one, or the primary one. Even those who allow for data collection through the senses (and divine revelation) as I do, acknowledge the indispensability of reason for the process of achieving learning/understanding. But the goal is precisely that: learning and understanding. Again, both of these imply true information, which is truth, and the apprehension of truth is knowledge. So what epistemologists are all searching for is knowledge. Aristotle was right. Epistemologists, like everyone else, desire to know. When they pursue a compelling theory of knowledge or of knowing, they innately presuppose that such a thing exists and it is possible to obtain it. If and when such a theory is arrived at, and there is global consensus, that would be knowledge. Indeed, they presuppose all these things, for they must, or this and every rational exercise is only that at best—a mere exercise. Perhaps we can call this the “presuppositionalist approach” to epistemology.

What I think this proves is that all epistemologists believe in knowledge. They agree with each other, explicitly or implicitly, that knowledge exists and it is worthy of pursuing. They presuppose it, like ordinary people do, and I think they must. P2. The belief in, desire for, pursuit of and dependence on knowledge are both necessary and universal. a) The very notion of knowledge exists universally and it is a fundamental component of reason. This may not serve as a dialectical proof of knowledge to some, and I admit that it doesn’t yet provide a method by which we can justify what we think we know. But I assert that the structure of rational reality drives us to presuppose knowledge and the possibility of obtaining and even justifying it. Indeed, any semblance of functional life in this order or structure of reality depends on this presupposition. b) The belief in knowledge exists universally; it is a fundamental component of sentience. It is, as I said, indispensable. It is for rational human functionality like water, air, food, and even light. It is not only pervasive, it is universal. Further, I assert as a first principle that all things that are universal and universally sought after are fundamentally real, like math, natural laws and the laws of logic. c) The desire for and pursuit of knowledge are universal; it is a totally irresistible yearning. As we have said, epistemology, all philosophy, and all science are completely dependent on the existence of and the belief in knowledge. Indeed, all rational functions of life are so dependent and the things humans so highly value universally: peace, happiness, love, justice, civil order, protection, and all human flourishing. d) The need for knowledge is universal; it is impossible to function without actually knowing.

(Continued in part 2)



References

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aristotle#Aristotle.27s_epistemology
2. http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Thomas_Aquinas#Epistemology
3. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/medieval-philosophy/
4. http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/metaphysics.html
5. https://prezi.com/z_ei56ov1dxp/the-epistemology-of-st-thomas-aquinas/
6. http://www.niu.edu/engel/_pdf/ReviewBonjourDefensePureReason.pdf
7. http://www.iep.utm.edu/kantmeta/
8. Hyman, Walsh and Williams. Philosophy in the Middles Ages, third edition. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2010.
9. Lemos, Noah. Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.





  • 3 April 2016
  • Author: Scott Cherry
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2 comments on article ""All Men Desire to Know" saith Aristotle"

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resume

5/27/2019 12:25 AM

Majority of the men desire to know different aspects and points for the old and historical elements. The stance of the calculation and reviews is approved for the humans. The mode is followed for the brick paces for the instrument and tools for the groups of the people.


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assignmenthelp

7/4/2019 2:05 AM

It is, in any case, a somewhat rough framework. People, being equipped for levels of example acknowledgment and prescient thinking a few stages past that of most vertebrate species, have in a like manner consolidated that capacity with the regular interest.

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