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We all live in a complex world where we are not sure if anything we know is true. We distinguish knowledge from belief when we are certain of what we believe in. However, in a lot of cases, we believe a fact is a fact because we see that people all around us believe in that fact, or merely because we are used to being told that fact over and over again. But in fact, what we think is a fact now might not be a fact, therefore, I would say that it is an oversimplification to claim that some Ways of Knowing give us facts and others provide interpretations. There are four ways of knowing – language, perception, reason and emotion.
One way of knowing is by communicating with each other through language. We claim to know many facts because we have been told or read of those facts, and language is the main way of knowing what other people know. However useful it is, there are many disadvantages of knowing through language. First, language is vague. For example many words such as “big” and “small” hugely depends on context, therefore you might not have an idea of how big or small an object is through the context. Second, language is ambiguous where one sentence can have many meanings, or a word can have a secondary meaning like “passed away” actually means “dead”.
There are also some literary techniques like irony and metaphor that can confuse people from the meaning that it wants to communicate. Therefore, I would say that language can give us facts or interpretations, all based on an individual’s judgment on what to believe. I personally believe that judging through problems like the ambiguity of language would be easier because one would eventually be experienced in a particular language, but other problems with other people persuading you to believe in something is much harder to judge from, because it is not a pure language problem but problems like authority and their manipulation of language to make you believe in them.
Another way of knowing is through perception of our five senses. Perception is essential because we can only know anything through perception, especially through our visual sense. However, we cannot simply take the evidence of our senses for granted, because they sometimes deceive us, as our eyes were made to manipulate what we see. (Chandler, n.d.) For example, the illusion picture on the right is a still picture; however, our eyes deceive us and think it is moving. Also, our perception is selective and can be distorted by our emotions and prejudices. A classic example is that “an optimist sees a glass as half-full, a pessimists sees the same glass as half-empty.” (Lagemaat, 2005).
Our emotions can strongly effect our perception. Memory is another selective perception: “Numerous studies have shown that the most vivid autobiographical memories tend to be of emotional events”. (McPherson, 2004)As we can see, a lot of our senses and our own memory tend not to be reliable, therefore I would say that our perception can give us facts or interpretations, all based on an individual’s judgment whether what they perceived is true or not.
Another way of knowing is through reasoning. Reasoning seems to be more reliable than the other Ways of Knowing, because it is based on Rationalism and logic. The only disadvantage is that people are generally not good at abstract reasoning to they often make errors. For example, “a is bigger than b and b is bigger than c, therefore a is bigger than c.” (Lagemaat, 2005), In general, I would say that reasoning is the most straightforward and most certain out of all Ways of Knowing, because we don’t need to use our judgmental skills as much.
The last way of knowing is through our emotions. It is important because emotions help us make rational decisions about things by narrowing down our options so we can choose a number of manageable items. Also it is the main way to let us judge something. For example, Benny is picking his nose and our emotions tells us that it is disgusting or gross, when it might have been dirtier to touch a dog. Also, intuition is a way of knowing where it is a flash of creative insight. For example, we have a feeling that someone is staring at you at the back. Even if you are right, these intuitions do not seem reliable, and emotions often let us perceive the wrong information. Therefore, I would say that emotion is not a very reliable Way of Knowing, (Lagemaat, 2005)
In general, I would say that it is an oversimplification to claim that some Ways of Knowing give us facts and others provide interpretations, because all ways of knowing has doubts. However, some ways of knowing is more certain and straightforward like others, like reasoning, because it is based on pure logic. Others like emotions are harder to perceive because those ways of knowing does not base on anything but pure gut feelings. So in general, all ways of knowing is an interpretation or fact depending on which we believe, but can be more certain on some other Ways of Knowing.
Chandler, D. (n.d.). Visual Perception. Retrieved October 2, 2008, from www.allposters.com