I would really like to write a long and brilliant post on epistemology. While I’m pretty sure I can easily attain the first criteria, I am just as sure that I will fall far short of the second. I simply lack the chops. Nevertheless, the question of how we know what we think we know has been weighing on my mind a great deal lately. So…bullet points (not really bullet points, because I can't get the !@#$% formatting to work properly).
We can know almost nothing (beyond the self evident) with certainty. All that we “know” is assumptions and probabilities.
The lawyers are actually onto something when they created standards of evidence relating to the burden of proof in a criminal case. Beyond a reasonable a doubt. The preponderance of evidence. Clear and convincing evidence. The fact is that most of what we consider to be Beyond a reasonable doubt is not at all. Most of what we base our lives on is about the preponderance of evidence.
Most of our “a posteriori” knowledge is indirect, and received from other source to which we grant authority. How we select our authority has much less to do with logic than with habit, conditioning and emotion.
Our acceptance of such authoritative sources of evidence is ultimately built in unfounded assumptions. Most people are unaware, or refuse to admit, that most of their view of the world is based on unfounded assumptions for which there is no real evidence. For example, I believe that Jesus died and rose again to save mankind from sin. My source of evidence is the Bible. I believe that the Bible is the Word of God. My source of evidence for this is…well…it’s that a bunch of Bishops decided that it was about 1700 years ago. There are lots of reasons why this makes sense to me, but really it all boils down to assumption. None of my evidence would be acceptable to someone who didn’t ALREADY believe these things.
Knowing is somewhat overrated. If we waited until we achieved certainty on everything, we would be utterly useless, paralyzed by our own intelligence.
All philosophy, all seeking of ultimate understanding, all assertions of absolute truth are in essence religious activities. This pisses off the materialistic naturalists, the logical positivists and the scientific empiricists, but it’s true. Their conception of what is a god is uninformed and just simply too small to be really useful in understanding how the world REALLY works. If they dared to peek behind the curtain, they would see that it’s all ultimately about religion, no matter what.
None of this means that what we know is wrong. It just means that we can't really truly say for sure. Believing is not the same as knowing. In fact, I believe that I am absolutely right about those things I believe. I also allow for the fact that I could be wrong.
It’s a wonderful world, ain’t it?