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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Essay on Man's Capacity for Knowledge - Philosophy Essay

Essay on Humans' Capacity for Knowledge

            The question about man’s capacity for knowledge was once the central issue in the history of philosophy.  Prominent philosophers gave different opinions on this question.  Plato never questioned whether man has capacity for knowledge.  He however distinguished between two sources of knowledge: reason and experience.  He thought that reason played an important role in understanding the world and obtaining knowledge.  According to him, it is knowledge that is obtained with the use of reason that is more reliable and trustworthy while knowledge obtained through the use of senses that is doubtful and uncertain.  Aristotle, on the other hand, thought that Plato was confused.  He argued in favor of the primacy of sense-experience.  He thought that the knowledge obtained with the use of the senses come first.  Like Plato, however, he never doubted the capacity of man to attain knowledge.
            One group of philosophers however, doubted the existence of all knowledge.  They were the Sophists.  The Sophists were skeptics who believed that there is no truth or knowledge or if ever there is, man is incapable of attaining them.   The Sophists came at this conclusion because of their travels from different city-states.  After observing the different laws being enforced by different city-states, they noticed that there are some actions which are legal in one state while there are some acts which are made illegal in other city-states.  They thus came to the conclusion that truth or knowledge is relative.  What is true for one person need not necessarily be true for another.  This led to their skeptical attitude about the nature of man’s knowledge. 
            It is my opinion that man has capacity for attaining knowledge.  If it is true that biases and prejudices cloud a person’s mind and affect his opinions and perceptions about the world, then efforts must be made to clear a person’s mind of all these biases and prejudices.  I can begin my search for knowledge by clearing my mind of all the rubbish knowledge which I had accepted since birth without scrutiny.  I can begin to doubt the presence of everything, including the table in front of me, my friends, the physical objects and even my physical body.  I can entertain the thoughts that I am at present hallucinating about my physical existence and the existence of the natural universe.  It can also be true that I have merely been dreaming all my life.  I can doubt everything that I see so as to attain complete objectivity about everything. 
It is possible that instead of being awake, in reality I could merely be dreaming.  It is possible that my whole life could be a dream.  I can also question the truths of logic and reason since it is possible that I could only have been deceived by a demon which has the power to make things appear to be logical.    
            Despite entertaining all these doubts, there is however one basic fact that I can be certain of.  It is something that I know I have attained knowledge and of which I will not be deceived.  I am certain that I am in doubt.  The fact that I am entertaining these doubts about my existence means that I am in doubt.  Doubting could only mean that I am thinking.  Also, because I am thinking, it follows that I am a thinking being. 
            In this regard, I fully agree with Rene Descartes.  “Cogito Ergo Sum.” “I think therefore I am.” (Douglas Burnham 5)   I believe that in reality it is not possible for us to doubt everything.  It is possible to arrive at true knowledge of certain things.  Because I think, I can be certain that I have a mind that exists.  That is one thing that I can be certain of - that I exist.   

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