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    [Discuss] ANOTHER Philosophy Essay

    Here's the other of the two philosophy essays that I dug out of my documents folder earlier this week. This one addresses "How do we know what we know?" and "How can we be certain of all knowledge?". Again, please share any thoughts or arguments you may have.


    As human beings, we go about our daily lives content with the world that we live in. We live out our lives however we please, going to school, work, playing sports, inventing, etc. Over time, humans have acquired a great wealth of knowledge, but how can we be certain of what we know? On top of this question, I ask, what is the purpose of our lives as human beings? I ask myself these questions every day in hopes of finding truth in my existence. These questions, if truly answered, will either validate or obliterate even our most basic concepts of our existence on and of this planet Earth. In order to provide my view on the answers, I must first explain how knowledge is acquired, and whether or not the world around us, as we perceive it, is real. I have researched both the views of Plato and Rene Descartes in order to help discuss whether or not we may truly be certain of what we know.

    All knowledge, be it that ants are small or simply that apples are red, is obtained through use of one or more the five senses: touch, taste, smell, sight, sound. Unfortunately, human perception is easily betrayed, and can differ from person to person. Take, for example, those who are born with the condition known as colour-blindness. They may see colours (be it a few or the entire spectrum) completely different than you or I, assuming that our vision is the same to begin with. It is possible that someone who perceives a colour or object differently than you or I may still name the colour the same, creating the illusion that their perception is the same as ours. Reality, however is not only applicable to physical objects, but pertains to one's mentality or views of everything (society, government, conflict, etc) around us. In today's world people and societies, as well as their views, differ greatly from one region to another. This is the cause of much disagreement and conflict, due to the fact that people perceive things differently. You may have heard the quote “one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter”. This quote really helps one to grasp the differences in individual views. Even knowledge gained through schooling (ex. History courses) could possibly be biased depending on who created the learning material (America, textbooks). Our views on society are based on external influences (parents, education, demographic) while we grow and learn. As social and economic environments change, people are forced to react based on their aspect on the situation. However, there is also another possibility for what reality truly may be. There is a chance, no matter how small or absurd it may seem, that everything around us is simply an artificial reality being projected into our thoughts.

    In truth, we may very well be brains sitting in vats, hooked up to machines. As unlikely and eccentric as that sounds, it is possible. Furthermore, there is no real way to determine the true nature of our existence. In Plato's Allegory of the Cave, several prisoners are chained at the back of a cave where they have been unable to move or look anywhere else but at the wall for their entire lives. Outside the cave is a fire which casts shadows onto the cave wall when objects or creatures pass by it. To the prisoners, “the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images” (Plato, “Allegory of the Cave”). As you can see from Plato's works, reality is based upon individual perception. There are those outside the cave whose reality is completely different, as they have experienced more than those who know only the shadows on the wall of a cave. We may not have to be a brain in a vat in order to be completely wrong about the world as we perceive it. Should this case be the truth, everything as we know it would be rendered completely false.

    We could possibly be some race that does not resemble our concept of a human being even remotely. There could be some superior race harvesting us for some purpose while these dream worlds are projected onto our minds to keep us busy. This, however only partially helps to show how weak the foundation of human knowledge truly is.

    The great philosopher Rene Descartes once said “I think therefore, I am”. Descartes came upon this thought as he was philosophizing on the truth of all knowledge possessed by him. This quote is (technically) the only truly verifiable piece of knowledge. At least through self-enlightenment. It states that the only thing that I (or you, or anyone else if you actually exist) am truly certain of is my own existence, which is verified by my examination of my existence in the first place. As for a little more physical proof of our ignorance (for lack of a better word) toward the truth, lets look at the field of science. No matter how hard we try to uncover a) the most basic form of matter, for example via String Theory or b) how the universe and everything we know to exist came to be. Imagine being a scientist and one day, using a highly advanced microscope, discovering programming code underneath the smallest, most basic form of matter. It would be like discovering that we are, in fact, just some program on a computer. It is also a fact that, just like the matter in String Theory, we are infinitesimally small. There are planets and stars that exist in the universe beside which the Earth would not even be visible because it is so small. Not only can we doubt the foundations of what we know, but we realize how little we truly know about life, the universe, and everything in it. There are those who fall to religion, such as Christians, Muslims, Hindus, etc who fall to their faith for an explanation as to how everything came to be, but there are also those who choose to seek the truth of the purpose of our existence through physical means (science). This brings me to the second part of my answer as to the purpose of life.

    Human beings search for the meaning of life every day, but do not truly know what it is they are looking for. I believe that the true purpose of life (If I, as a human being am advanced enough to grasping the concept) is to seek happiness and enjoyment in everything we do. Our lives are short and we should learn to make the best of what time we have. However, purpose of life as an individual may be more simple, like finding the right career or place in this world. My belief is that we as individuals must give our lives purpose, be it to contribute to the advancement of the human race or to simply seek enjoyment in the short time that is our life. This does not necessarily mean that you may go out into the world and do as you please without moral. The Schools of Thought (ex. Utilitarian, Egoist) discussed in the final chapter of this course prove just how reliant upon the individual purpose in life really is. Egoists believe that everything they do should be in their best interests. This is simply the way they view their external connections to reality. There are also those like Utilitarians whose views support the pursuit of the greatest positive influence by their actions. The very existence of these different Schools of Thought discussed depends on people having different perspectives on reality.

    In conclusion, I do not believe that we may truly be certain of all knowledge we possess. The foundations are questionable, as there is the possibility that everything as we know it could be false. Everything exists within the human perception. One person may see a completely different reality than another. No matter whether or not this reality we perceive is true, we should continue to seek a purpose in it. There very may well be some “master plan” created by a “God”, but we will likely never know that. It is up to us as individuals to create a purpose for ourselves in this world. It is up to us to seek knowledge to the limits of our capability. But first, we must realize how little we really know. We must open our eyes to blindness.

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  2. #2
    Alen's Avatar
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    Solipsism (or at least the fact that the only thing that is sure to exist is our mind) + Allegory of the Cave =

    Objective meaning of life = even though mentioned as your opinion it should have been included under "possibilities" rather than facts =/

    I'll try to find my essay on Descarte and Plato's Allegory of the Caves tomorrow, right now I got chemistry to study

  3. #3
    Speedy1515's Avatar
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    I look forward to reading it.

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