Relativism in Epistemology

Among the contested debates in philosophy, it is the possibility of knowledge and particularly objectivity in knowledge. Philosophy has evolved right from the classical times to contemporary times and yet philosophers have not had a common settlement on fundamental epistemological issues. It is a war between rationalists and empiricists or it is a war between critical idealism and rationalism or it is a war between skeptics and realists or it is a war between objectivists and subjectivists and it could be a war between relativists and absolutist. This study will link all these different schools of thought in regard to knowledge with a bias in epistemological relativism. Philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, Hume, Aquinas, Locke, Hussel, Lonergan among others will be incorporated in the study.

Knowledge in Common Parlance
Why not spend some time analyzing the common understanding of individuals in respect to the acquisition of knowledge. It can be argued and justifiably so that any quest to ground the nature of knowledge must take into account the ways in which knowledge is acquired. In other words, it is by understanding the origin of knowledge that one can understand the nature of knowledge. The nature of knowledge therefore, raises the following questions is knowledge subjective or objective is knowledge relative or absolute

Consider the following example A child comes running to the mother after seeing a dog at the house backyard. The mother takes the child in her arms and comforts her. The child as such does not know that it is a dog but intuitively she feels it is a harmful animal. This knowledge makes her scared because it impacts into her emotional structures. Remember, what has been indicated earlier that the child is not aware of the dog in the sense of the dog but intuitively she feels that it is a harmful animal and so the best thing for her is to dash to her mother for protection. See that, the childs feeling that the dog is a dangerous animal is from her intuition. That in itself is knowledge in the childs mind. The most important thing here is to notice that intuition plays a significant role in acquisition of knowledge.

Now, after the child grows up, her cognitive processes improve such that she can learn her own things through experience. For instance, she learns that fire is hot and so one should not directly touch it after she touches it herself. Note that fire as a hot substance becomes knowledge to this childs mind. Note very well that she gets this knowledge from her experience. It can be inferred therefore that knowledge is acquired through experience.

The same child grows and at the age of 14 years she begins to ask more fundamental questions about her life and what she uses everyday. In this regard, her knowledge becomes more reasoned and analytical in nature. For instances, the child no longer uses beads to count in her mathematics lessons and homework to ascertain that (224). This truthknowledge is based not on concrete experience in that there is nothing that she can see in the form of (224) as related to how one can see a piece of chocolate or a piece of cake served on the dining table. Indeed, the child works it out in her mind and notices that not only is (224) but also that (314) or (-6104) and so on and so forth. Therefore, it can be inferred that knowledge is not only based on concrete experience but also it is developed by the mind. It means there is knowledge that persons have as a result of their cognitive faculties.

In general, this example invites three elements that knowledge can be from intuition that knowledge can be from experience perceived in our external senses and that knowledge is developed a priori. This anticipates some of the fundamental schools of thoughts as will be discussed in the course of this study. They are as follows idealism, rationalists, and empiricists.

This section anticipates one of the topics on the Lonergan in the subsequent sections. Lonergan is a very thorough epistemologist because he talked of internal consciousness. Unlike most philosophers, he tried to explain an individual not just as a knowing a person, but as a person aware of himselfherself as knowing. He explained very well on how the mind works and as will be seen in other proponents like David Hume, Immanuel Kant, and Aristotle, they did not realize that there is a causal aspect in how the mind acquires knowledge where this effect is internally grounded in the mind. In fact, Lonergan kept mention one phrase no your mind. He invites all scholars interested in epistemology to understand their mind before they can even talk of the different theories of knowledge there is.

Lonergan uses his doctrine of insight to ground on the ability of the mind in grasping the universal and intelligible notes in objects. It is because of insight that the whole human life settles for a common pool of knowledge. For instance, why circle is round, is not just believed to be round because people can see a circular thing, no this judgment is universally held because of insight. Indeed, all human beings have the same structuring of their mind as instituted by their creator. Can relativism dispute that the faculties of the mind are different Therefore, as one goes through the different theories of knowledge, take note of the following do other philosophers think of the knowing subject as conscious of himself as a knowing subject Do they consider the structure of the mind and its relation to the known objects Does relativism consider the nature of the mind and its ability to arrive at universal truths Yes, one needs to look at all the epistemological theories with the eyes of Lonergan.

The proponents of idealism are mainly Plato, Immanuel Kant and Hegel. This does not mean that they are the only ones only that they are majorly considered.

Plato believes that knowledge as it exists in the mind is as a result of reminiscence. The knowledge in the persons mind derives from a different world, which Plato calls the World of Ideas. For example, when President Obama sees a horse he ascertains that indeed it is a horse he even calls it a horse. Now, from a platonic point of view the following is what occurs in President Obamas mind in the event he sees the horse, he remembers the horse as it is in the World of Ideas, he remembers that perfect horse which the mind captured in its divine existence. This is a very interesting theory. What Plato underscores is that the individual, in the form of President Obama, has an innate conception of a horse. Therefore his knowledge about the horse is not from the concrete experience but from the interplay between the World of Ideas and the World of Experience. In this respect, experience of a concrete horse only occasions or points to the real and perfect horse that exists in the World of Ideas. This is what idealism is all about. It neglects the possibility of experience in the development of knowledge. It regards everything as ideas. This doctrine takes a scholar to other works of Plato in the doctrine of participation. In a nutshell, Platos epistemology advocates for innate ideas which serve as sources of an individuals knowledge.

Immanuel Kant is a celebrated philosopher especially because of his quest to reconcile the empiricists and the rationalists. Indeed, though he may appear a go-between the two camps he was also inclined to idealism through his content objective. Recall the example of the girl child illustrated above. It can be seen that the child undergoes different level of acquisition of knowledge. There is that knowledge which she acquires through experience as such there is that knowledge which she acquires through intuition there is that knowledge which she acquires through her own workings of the mind. All these cognitive processes imply judgments. From a Kantian point of view there are synthetic judgments synthetic-analytical judgments and analytic judgments. This child knows that fire is hot after she touched and got burnt in the process. Her mother mockingly asks her why she is so frightened to touch the fire. The mother even attracts the child to touch the fire. The child refuses and even cries because she wants the mother to stop making her touch the fire. All of a sudden she confesses that last night she touched it and this being the reason why she cannot write in school because of her burnt finger. See that, she fears to touch the fire the following day because she got burnt in the latter day. The child can be said to have made a synthetic judgment. Synthetic judgments are those judgments that wholly depend on concrete experience or better still they are those judgments that cannot be true by meaning alone. For instance, there are seven trees in Vegas, is a synthetic judgment. For one to ascertain if this is true or false one will need to go to Vegas and count the trees.

Still from this example, the child learns to use her brains in making mental sums such that she does not need two sticks and two pieces of chalks to add up to make ten. She can do that by writing the sum on the book and working it out in her mind. Here, it is important to note two aspects of the sum first she writes it on her book then she works it out in her mind. So, she needs to write it so that she can work it out. In the former, she does it synthetically, while in the latter, she does it analytically. Therefore, she makes a synthetic and yet an analytic judgment that (224). Indeed, there is knowledge that though it is founded on experience, the judgment to it is as a result of the mind. This is what Kant means with synthetic-analytic judgments. However, there are judgments that need no experience at all. One does not need to see that a circle is round or a square is four-sided. Such judgments are referred to as analytic judgments since they are true or false by meaning alone. The best test for such judgment is the principle of contradiction. However, Kant was still interlocked in critical idealism especially when he talked of content objective.

The mind imposes knowledge on objects of its experience. Consider the following example Bill Gates sees the changing colors in his laptop computer. He sees blue colors, then green then white then yellow then indigo then orange, name it. According to Kant this is all manipulated by the Bill Gates mind. It is not affected by the programming of the computer. See His mind imposes the colors so that he sees them as blue, green et cetera. Consider another example Hilary Clinton sees a jubilant crowd during her political campaigns and she is very excited, in fact she feels that she is winning the presidential race. Now, this is a creation of her mind. There jubilant crowd exists in her mind and all she is doing is to project it so that it becomes the object of her experience. This is absurd Even the person who is reading this paper, know that what is written is not from a writer but it is taking place in the mind. The mind imposes the contents of this written paper. In a nut shell, the mind is like a young man walking in the streets wearing green glasses such that he sees everything as green. This is the literal interpretation of Kants content objective. Just as how the young man will see everything around him as through his green glasses as green so will a person see things through the dispositions of his mind.

Now, if one sees things in the frame of his mental content, then the knowledge which she gets is in tandem to hisher mental dispositions. Consider the following argument all human beings have different mental dispositions by virtue of the principle of identity. George Bush is a human being, therefore, without the fear of contradiction, has a different mental disposition. Different, not even his family can equal his intellectual endowments. The argument continues as follows human beings acquire knowledge within the glasses of their thoughtmental content. George Bush is a human being, therefore and with mathematical certainty, it can be inferred that he acquires knowledge within the glasses of his thoughtmental content. Now, it is time to reconcile the two arguments George Bush has got a different mental disposition and on the other hand, he acquires knowledge through his mentalthought content. Remember, it has been indicated that not even his family can equal his intellectual endowments. By and large, it can be argued and justifiably so that George Bush has got knowledge peculiar to his mind and only that which pertains to his mind. This also applies to his wife and the rest of his loved ones such that all have knowledge that is peculiar to their minds. To this extent, if one upholds this doctrine of Kant then she may look like a relativist.

It is important to note that Kants epistemology admits not any elements of relativism. It can be noted that in his a priori synthetic judgments, Kant emphasizes a lot on universality of knowledge. Knowledge related to physics, Mathematics or ethics falls under this category. To reiterate, the universality of synthetic judgments does not admit what the proponents of relativism hold it is because of this fact that one should not confuse the content-objective of Kant as similar to relativism no, Kant clearly cannot be a relativist. It is also important to note that Kant is celebrated today for his efforts to reconcile empiricism and rationalism. He said that the human mind has got two components namely sensibility and understanding. Due to sensibility the person is able to experience the objects around himher while on the other hand, understanding helps himher find meaning in those objects by applying to them concepts.

Aristotle and Aquinas believed that nothing is in the intellect that was not there in the senses. In other words, knowledge starts from experience where the mind grasps the intelligible notes or the essential notes of the concrete object. Therefore, when one looks at a bent object immersed in a glass of water, she sees it either as bent or either as not bent. Please note that the use of the disjunctive argument is deliberate as it will shed more light in the other bit of empiricism. Consider the following example a teacher demonstrates in the physics class by dipping a pencil in a glass of water. The students see it as bent and in fact, one of the students vehemently asserts that the pencil is bent. But when the teacher picks out the pencil from the glass of water, it comes out straight as before. One of the students in a comical way declares the teacher a magician. The teacher keeps on dipping and removing the pencil to keep the students guessing. During the evaluation of the experiment the students scratch their heads because they really cant tell why the pencil appears bent. The teacher therefore introduces the topic on refraction and in this light the students gain insight as to why the pencil appeared bent. Please note the mention of the term insight. So, it can be seen that experience as seen or heard or smelt or touched or tasted cannot give truth as it is, therefore, there is more to it. In this regard, Aristotle argues that the mind is able to understand that the pencil is not bent as perceived by the senses but that through an act of abstraction, the mind grasps the intelligible notes which enable it understand why the pencil is not bent. The following figure best explains this experiment.

Aquinas develops Aristotles theory by adding that the mind is not only able to grasp intelligible notes of the perceived objects but it can also grasp supernatural reality like the angels or even God. The mind through the act of separation, can grasp reality above it and that which escapes the world of senses.

For an empiricist, to argue that the pencil is not bent is non-sense It is very hard to convince an empiricist that the pencil is not bent. Their overall tone is that experience as perceived by the senses is what knowledge is. David Hume will ask the teacher the following question from which experience can one get the idea of refraction, please show Where is it When one tells an empiricist that when an object is thrown up is comes down due to gravitational pull, Hume will respond as follows  from what experience can one talk of gravitational pull Where is it In this regard, the concept of gravitational pull is quantified. Empiricists entertain not any idea of metaphysical abstractness. If one cannot bring the fact that people tend to move forward when a car breaks due to inertia and put it in a box such that it can be felt  or touched, or seen and so on, then to argue like that is null and void. For them, Knowledge of angels, and even God is metaphysical nonsense and a waste of time. They will recommend that one proves the knowledge of angels or God from experience. Recall the famous question from what experience can one get the idea of an angel or God. Show it Where is it

The most celebrated proponent in epistemology is Lonergan and this is the reason why it was indicated earlier on the importance of insight. Lonergan cannot be classified either as a rationalist or as an empiricist or as an idealist. An individual undergoes three cognitive processes namely experience understanding and judgment. Each of this cognitive process has got three triadic substructures namely question for understanding, insight and conception then question for reflection, reflective insight and, judgment. Through insight, the person grasps the intelligible notes in the concrete object. This pivots between the object and the level of conceptualization. Then the mind grasps the intelligible notes embedded in this insight such that it develops a concept. The process goes on until the mind of this person acquires knowledge that is virtually unconditioned. This is important because it combines all theories of knowledge into a synthesized whole. Again, unlike the relativists who will dispute the universality and objectivity of knowledge, both Aristotle and other rationalist, not excluding Lonergan, agree that indeed there is universality in knowledge.

Epistemological Relativism
Individuals have got different experiences hence they all have different realities. In this regard, truth is merely a matter of opinion. Moral knowledge succumbs to relativism in that morality is also interpreted in different dimensions. The famous dictum in this school of though is that what is good to this person is good to this person or what is true to that boy is true to that boy. Even, in such school of thought, one can purport that (226) and without minding asset that that is true according to himher. It is quite an absurd doctrine of knowledge. So, knowledge is merely a matter of opinion, period. Therefore, judgments in regard to truth and falsity, good or evil, right or wrong are within the discretion of the individual person, as the knowing subject. No person can be said to be absolutely correct or valid. It is impossible to ground objectivity in knowledge. Consider the following example two people are looking at the rainbow during a rainy season. They are challenged to write down the colors of the rainbow. Some indicate that it has five colors others it two colors others six colors and others seven colors.  Some argue that it has two white colors others magenta, others navy blue and so on and so forth. Now, a relativist will argue that they are all correct as each is entitled to hisher opinion. Indeed, it is believed that, the colors of rainbow are red, green, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet to make the total of seven. Consider the following figure of a rainbow for more clarification.

It is impossible to acquire knowledge about anything. All knowledge is a matter of opinion, not leaving out science. This hypothesis is pegged to the fact different civilizations have got different ways of thinking and convictions. This becomes their knowledge. For instance, US believe that wearing clothes is a good since it will protect them from cold and it is a sign of good manners. On the contrary, a person in Africa believes that wearing clothes is unbecoming it is a sign of fear, and a waste of time. Now, the two cultures have different understanding as pertains to wearing clothes. Now, this manifests different thought content which now becomes their knowledge. So, it can be seen that the two civilizations have relativistic approach to dressing.

Therefore, the doctrines of Lonergan or Aristotle have no place in relativism. It is impossible to acquire objective and universal knowledge. Looking at the cognitive processes as brought forth by Lonergan and other rationalists it can be inferred that through the act of conceptualization, it is possible to talk of objectivity and universality in knowledge. Indeed, all will agree that circle is round a cake taste good pepper is bitter a sugar cane is hard to the teeth 224 and so on and so forth. This is where most epistemologists part ways with relativists. Why does every body consider pepper bitter or a cake sweet It is inconsistent and a serious contradiction in terms when one purports that sugarcane is as soft as cotton. If one exhibits such an ideology, the society will regard himher as insane.

We have seen the different theories in regard to knowledge and I concur with the belief that no camp is absolutely correct. They all exhibit some truth in their own ways. However, the big mistake they ever make is to regard one doctrine as the best as compared to the other. An empiricist cannot ignore a rationalist nor can a rationalist ignore an empiricist. The same case applies to a realist in that she cannot ignore an idealist and the vice versa. More importantly, relativists cannot consider himself absolutely truthful as there are many defects to this kind approach to knowledge. I strongly disagree with the doctrine of relativism since am convinced that there are certain elements of knowledge that are shared across the world. By the way, relativism in itself is knowledge. Why then do they regard opinion as the bases for any knowledge Is their opinion not subject to relativism As in, to argue that knowledge depends on opinion is relative also. Therefore, the belief in relativism cannot be absolute because it is also relative.


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