A Personal Philosophy of Knowledge

Every individual possesses a philosophy of his own.  He may not be able to identify what school of thought it belongs and he may not be able to articulate it but it is what governs every impression he gets out of everything he sees. His tools for analysis and for formulating resolutions for issues that he confronts are the material expressions of the philosophy he bears.  The philosophy of knowledge is the foundation of an individuals perspective of every thing that surrounds him.  Otherwise called as epistemology or theory of knowledge, this is primarily concerned with the characteristics and confines of knowledge.  Through studying epistemology, an individual is able to define knowledge and the process which he undergoes in acquiring it.  After comprehending such definition and the procedure for obtaining it, he becomes capable of reaching a conclusion on what he knows after an evaluation.  He also gains the ability to discover the method of knowing what he knows.

As an individual, I have my own philosophy of knowledge.  All my decisions and corresponding actions are influenced principally by ideas nurtured by such philosophy.  I may share the same philosophical nature with other individuals.  I am a pragmatist because I am a product of my own time.  This the era of pragmatism, a time when science is advancing so quickly and discovering new sets of laws that continues to break long-standing beliefs and conventions.  This is an era when ideas are accepted not because of their profoundness but for their use value.  However, I am not just a pragmatist because I cannot avoid being influenced by it.  I subscribe to this philosophy of knowledge because I truly believe in it.  Pragmatism is not just an alternative to rationalism and empiricism.  I consider it as a practical viewpoint that is pluralist and, therefore, seeks the end of fruitless debates.  (Cornish  Gillespie)  This essay is an attempt to discuss the nature and purpose of the philosophy of knowledge that I subscribe to.  I shall also point out here the methods of acquiring knowledge as well as the applications in management.  Finally, I shall present a personal action plan that is a reflection of my pragmatist philosophy.

The philosophy of knowledge evolved in accordance with the development of science.  During the early periods, when the scientific research and the means of production was still rudimentary, man still could not explain what brought into existence the things that he observes around him.  Due to this inability, it was natural for thinkers of those times to uphold a non-empirical or a priori knowledge.  Ancient Roman and Greek philosophers such as Plato were the most prominent proponents of a priori knowledge.  This kind of human knowledge does not rely on the material evidence, which is usually perceived through the use of the five senses of hearing, sight, taste, touch, and smell. (Moser  vander Nat p.1)  Instead, it asserts that an object can be known even if the senses do not confirm its existence.  This is because a priori or non-empirical knowledge only depends on sheer reason.  (Kant p. 431)  Immanuel Kant was one of the earliest critics of non-empirical knowledge and rationalism.  He pointed out the weakness of the argument that an objects existence can be confirmed without the application of sensory experience.  Such assertion is grounded on the belief that the idea presupposes the material object.  Hence, even if it is unproven by conditions required by the use of the senses, an object can still be considered real. While Kant criticized rationalism, he never went to extent of being a materialist.  He was, in fact, an idealist.  Indeed, he upheld the empiricist notion that knowledge can be achieved by the use of the senses or by observation.  However, he also held the belief that ethical concerns and beauty are non-empirical.  He insisted that the definition of beauty and ethics are not borne out of observation but by influential ideas.

With the advance of science and its characteristic practice of proving a hypothesis with the use of practical experimentation, the dominant Kantian idealism and philosophy of knowledge was replaced with empiricism. Aside from scientific advancement, other factors that contributed to the growth empiricism were religious, political, and cultural.  Empirical knowledge began to take shape when the major schisms shook the dominant Catholic Church.  People began to question the absolutism of religion as highlighted by the rise of Protestantism.  It was also the time that anti-monarchy sentiments began to grow particularly in Italy during the Renaissance.  The Renaissance was not just a period of artistic progress it was also a time when, due to Italys political conditions, ideas regarding liberty and republicanism became more articulated.  (Skinner p.69)   At that time, transportation also became more developed, allowing the possibility of people of different countries interacting with each other.  The cultural exchange that occurred especially with the east, allowed western philosophy to be infused with a new mode of thinking, which include many ideas that broke the truths regarded by the west, particularly Europe.

Scientific discoveries are not static processes.  As man seeks further explanations for the nature of things, efforts at discovering and experimenting continue ceaselessly.  Because of this, whatever was accepted as truth before could be disproved later by more recent discoveries.  The process of proving and disproving the existence and nature of things, however, leads also to development of the theory of knowledge. Rationalism was replaced with empiricism.  The philosophical debates on what conditions of sensory experience should prompt sources for empirical knowledge laid the basis for the growth of pragmatism.  While pragmatism clearly points out the inadequacies of rationalism, it does not absolutely differ with empiricism.  It depends on knowledge acquired from scientific observation of material evidences.  It relies on sensory experience. (Markie)  However, while empirical knowledge subjects itself to debates, pragmatism brings about the resolution of arguments by simply focusing on the use value of ideas.  Whatever idea is useful and has been proven as such by practice is considered correct and true.  On the other hand, ideas, which values are only appreciated in the level of theoretical discourse, are practically useless.  Therefore, whether these are accurate and true is not the issue.  It is whether such ideas are helpful, especially in the realm of basic human needs.  After all, from my pragmatic point of view, the purpose of knowledge is to develop mans basic tools for survival.  Basic intelligence was necessary in order to improve the early mans capability to acquire food.  Now, intellect is important so that political policies and the supporting cultural factors are formulated in order to enhance modern societys economy.  Modern philosophy may seem primarily to be food for the intellect.  However, its value can only be appreciated if it is used for transforming economically and politically restrictive structures.  Intellectual discourse is good only if it leads to concrete and practical gains for the human being and society.  Karl Marx mentioned that philosophers do not have uniform interpretations of the world.  It was the mid-1800 and the debate between rationalism, which was then described as idealism, and empiricism, which Marx considered as materialism, was raging.  He further expounded that while philosophers worldview vary, the important point is that the world must be changed.  (The German Ideology p.123)  I consider such statement as pragmatic although there were criticisms on some of Marxs economic theories as no longer relevant nowadays.

I subscribe to pragmatism because the current development in all fields of sciences, from biology, physics, economics and politics all serve the purpose of improving mans individual and social conditions.  With such developments, these are times when theories can no longer be proven as true or correct by merely surviving the polemical barrage from those who disagree with it.  The source of knowledge is no longer just the sharp reckoning of philosopher who relies solely on logic or syllogism. The truth is not just a mere invention of the mind.  It should be based on material substantiation and it should undergo of the process of experimentation before a conclusion on its objectivity is achieved.  To determine the correctness of a theory, it must first be put into practice.  Practice is the most concrete proof of a theorys validity.  However, such practice should also be relevant to man and his societys needs.  Principally, it should serve the economic interest of human beings.  It should contribute to the development of production.  Otherwise, both practice and theory can become useless.  For a pragmatist, further discussions on the validity of it both can only be a waste of time.  There are no prescribed standards for which truth can be evaluated.  There is only use value to consider.

From a rationalists point of view, the acquisition of knowledge mostly depends on logic or in concepts that are not formulated after actual experience using the senses.  Because of this, a rationalist may often cite intuition as the basis of how he arrived at a certain conclusion. In Kants transcendental idealism, he pointed out that such concepts are inherent in the human mind.  This is clearly a subject-based knowledge acquisition.  In this case, a person does not gain knowledge about the thing itself but on what he purports it to be. This is very much similar to Platos theory of forms, which asserts that ideas are the highest substantiation of reality.  (Ross p.155)  Such process of acquiring knowledge is no longer accepted nowadays though primarily because it is obviously subjective and does not in any way conform to the standards of science.

The empiricists would naturally criticize the falsehood of rationalisms definition and process of acquisition of knowledge.  However, they would also explain that rationalism was a natural product of its time.  The low level of scientific development was the material condition that prompted the mind to make such non-scientific and subjective conclusions.  Empiricism asserts that knowledge is acquired only from sensory experience.  Therefore, in order to discover the nature or the objectivity of a theory, it first applies it to practice. Actual practice or experimentation is the only methods in which the senses are utilized for observation or verification of the results.  Ibn Tufail, who influenced John Lockes empiricist philosophy, described the mind as a tabula rasa that absorbs knowledge from observation. (Russel p.224)  However, the empiricists may also have to struggle explaining why certain mathematical and ethical laws have been proven true by mere logic or the by the workings of the mind.

As a pragmatist, I consider the methods of the empiricists in acquiring knowledge as the only acceptable process.  However, I would not go through such process though if I perceive that the theory I am trying to prove through practice and experimentation is not relevant at all to further my particular concrete interest.  If I deem it important in relation to my career, to my personal objectives, or to my social agenda, I would certainly go through the process of discovery, sharing, and then application.  By discovery, I would use my senses in determining and getting raw data and information.  Because, I already have accumulated prior knowledge through the varying levels of theoretical and practical education, I have the capability to synthesize my conclusions drawn from sensory experience with what I already know.  Therefore, I combine knowledge extracted from material evidences such as those provided by conclusive surveys and assessments with intuitive notions or opinions, which are products of accumulated previous knowledge. Aside from this combination of explicit and tacit knowledge, discovery also entails socialization.  Socialization means the fusion of tacit knowledge of other individuals.  (Becerra-Fernandez et al. p.54)  The search for knowledge over a certain issue or object becomes a collective effort in a certain degree. To achieve this, I may either call for a meeting of such concerned persons or consult with them individually.  I consider the former as a better venue for such approach though.  Along with discovery is the capture of knowledge.  At this point, I externalize knowledge by converting what I know tacitly into unambiguous expressions, whether it is through numbers, verbal or written reports, or graphical presentations.  Since these are just pieces of synthesized information, I will have to raise these again into a higher level of comprehension.  I internalize these explicit forms and create an abstract of what I learn.  In scientific experimentation, this may be considered as the process of formulating a hypothesis.  However, what is important here is not whether I can create a hypothesis or not.  It is my ability to reach a more profound understanding of the knowledge I have captured from both tacit and explicit sources.
The knowledge acquired through the simultaneous process of discovery and capture will have to be tempered in another process in order to achieve a higher level of objectivity.  This is the part when such knowledge is shared or communicated to others.  In terms of management, there are purposes for this particular process.  One is to create a condition where people are more intellectually-equipped to perform a certain function related to the knowledge provided to them.  Two is to provide a more comprehensive background for them, a condition in which they may be able to develop creativity and initiative in performing their tasks without deviating from the objective.  Three is to share knowledge to more individuals or departments.  (Becerra-Fernandez et al. p.55)   Besides these three factors, however, I also consider this sharing as another venue for raising the objectivity of knowledge.  As a manager, for example, I will still consider certain policies made in the confines of a boardroom subject to changes depending on the response of the employees below.  There may be instances that what is thought of as true in a management-level meeting may not be so in the perception of the employees who will be affected the most by it.  Should this occur, the moment such policies or decisions are shared opposition will certainly rise from the ranks.  This is an ominous sign that such decisions may not work effectively.  Therefore, I will have to make adjustments and recreate knowledge. All these interactions with individuals are valuable in creating knowledge. A specific time and space is, therefore, necessary for such interaction to take place.  (Nonaka  Nishiguchi p.19)

Application of such knowledge immediately follows after sharing it to all those concerned.  This will require direction and actual activities meant to realize an objective.  In management, this direction is to be performed naturally by the managers with the assistance of supervisors at the lower level.  The direction will have to be preset to the established policies, aims, objectives that have already been agreed upon through the interaction between management and the rank and file.  However, this does not mean that the acquisition of knowledge ends here.  In fact, I consider knowledge application as the most sensitive part.  It is here that the validity of an idea is subjected to actual realities.  Application is not the end of knowledge. It is when knowledge is given life through the activities done by the people of the company.  Once knowledge is applied, it provides both management and the employees an opportunity to raise their level of theoretical and practical understanding of their tasks.  The dialectical relationship of knowledge or theory with concrete conditions prompted by practice should provide them with new lessons.  However, this can only be done after management evaluates the results of the applications and once again interacts with the employees in order to share knowledge.

With the pragmatic premises stated above, my personal actions plan for acquiring and applying knowledge will certainly be one that does not have a clear boundary between acquisition and application.  If my objective is to make a dissertation, for example, it will be done through a continuous process of discovering, capturing, sharing, and then applying.  I will start out with certain ideas already learned from my studies but I will reinforce these by reading more literature, by discussing with peers, and by consulting my professors.  Once I deem that I already have enough information, I will begin synthesizing these and come up with a conclusion or a hypothesis.  This will be the subject of my treatise or dissertation.  I will share the analysis and conclusion of the dissertation with my peers in order to validate it further according to the responses.  However, the most important communication is when I deliver my dissertation to professors and subject my ideas to their reckoning.  This is when my knowledge is verified by people who have gained enough theoretical and practical knowledge.  Their findings and suggestions will not be the ultimate steps of my knowledges development.  It will be put into concrete practice, another venue for higher knowledge.


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