Language and reason as ways of knowing Essay
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Knowledge is also said as ‘ways of knowing’. It means ‘information and skills acquired through experience and education’. The acquisition of knowledge is done by three main factors; perception, language and reason. In this essay we sought to see the strengths and limitations of those learning approaches. Let’s take an example, how do we know that in a bottle, labeled crystal, there is water? We would use this example to explore the three cases.
Perception is the way of taking messages and processing it by the brain to obtain meaningful information.
Using the example above, we would do anything possible to conclude that what we are consuming from the bottle is water. That is we would observe, smell, taste, etc. We can see that we use our senses to identify the substance. We would observe the bottle, its labeling (name, ingredients etc.), colour of the substance and advertisement on the substance; we would smell the substance and even taste it (this would be last because we fear it might be harmful). All this shows that using our senses, we can identify objects and moving organism; this is the major strength of perception (immense knowledge is gained).
Another point would be upon losing one of the senses; we are able to intensify the others, which help us even more in detection but surplus always comes with its difficulties. Subliminal perception is the way trying to identify objects with the memory only, for example a patient may not remember someone’s name but seems to know that person, and thus that patient tries to associate a name that goes well with that person that he/she declares to be unidentifiable.
The problem is that even with our senses, we are limited in perception and it’s very frustrating to know how little we know. Sometimes our senses may deceive us, we may see the substance transparent but it is not necessarily water but another liquid. We can have perceptual illusions where we believe an object to have a specific shape but actually differs from what we have thought of. We may also have hallucination, we may feel, see, hear, taste and smell something when there is really nothing of such kind. We also tend to conclude on the very first bit of information received as we have been in such situation before (experience).
Language is a method of communication which involves a sender, a message and a receiver to express thoughts. It was developed by humans and when using it, the rules were grammar and the symbols were words. The advantage of this method of learning is that it’s very simple (user-friendly) to use and every person in the world uses it. So communication is easy, thus enriching the ability to acquire knowledge. The greatest advantage is that there are many ways to communicate the thought, therefore enabling people to understand in a way or other. Using the example above, we can give important information, express what we feel and enquire about the substance in the bottle and also in different ways so that all the people involved can understand.
There are also seven functions of language, which guides us to where each piece of information acquired can be classified. Despite language having a strong face of learning, it still has its disadvantages. The example above, the bottle of supposedly water, we have used our senses to identify it but without language it is impossible to give the facts, views etc correctly and even harder to communicate the information in different ways; some people uses too many words to explain only a word(can be a different language). Also different people have different views and not all will agree on what one has said about the substance.
Reason is a way to justify what we have acquired as knowledge based on previous experiences. If we cannot do so, therefore we have not gained any knowledge. Taking the above example again, we say if that substance is water because it’s tasteless; we say so because we have heard, read and experimented on water. The strength of reasoning would be the rationality and logic arguments. Rationality is what allows us to say things that do make sense, we will not say that the substance in the bottle is water because of the shape of the bottle; it does not make sense. The rationality of a statement shows how the processing of all the information acquired is done and says whether it’s “good” or not (there is really a bad reason as long as a person can justify it). Being logical depends on the argument put forward as example given above.
To be logical, the deductive argument must be correct and validate the argument; this differentiates between a “good” reasoning and “bad” reasoning, using above example, 1) all liquid that is pH 7 is water and the substance in the bottle is of pH 7, thus the substance in the bottle is water (this a valid deductive argument) . But sometime the arguments may be valid but does not sound, all substances that are colourless are harmless and the substance in the bottle is colourless, therefore it’s harmless (concentrated hydrochloric acid is also colourless but is very harmful). To conclude knowledge gained through perception, language and reason is a great advantage to us, human beings but often can be deceptive and invalid. We should be more careful when taking in information, processing, expressing and justifying it. Here again we see that they are all linked!