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How important is how you know what you know, to what you know?

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Here’s an odd question: Do you think that knowledge is relevant to Education? Odder still, how you answer that question puts you on one side or the other of a wide Grand Canyon-like divide in epistemology. Epistemology being:

“…the study or a theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity.”

And if you hadn’t noticed that there was a divide, allow me to point out that if you think that ‘Knowledge’ indicates something that can be objectively known to be real and true, that puts you on the traditional side of that divide, and then way, way, over on the other side of that divide – where your schools are – are claims such as this:

“…Given that the transmission of knowledge is an integral activity in schools, critical scholars in the field of education have been especially concerned with how knowledge is produced. These scholars argue that a key element of social injustice involves the claim that particular knowledge is objective and universal. An approach based on critical theory calls into question the idea that “objectivity” is desirable, or even possible…” Sensoy, Ozlem, and Robin DiAngelo. Is Everyone Really Equal?: An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education, first edition. Teacher’s College Press: New York, 2012, p. 5, then 7

SoOooo… the Woke believe that ‘Knowledge’ matters, that it matters how it’s ‘produced’, and that it is unjust to teach that knowledge has an objective meaning (a meaning that is objectively true for you, true for me, and true for anyone else, no matter their feelings or prejudices) to your kids, in our schools.

The Epistemological Drama

Do you think that that matters? To put the matter in a more familiar context, here’s a statement that depends upon a traditional epistemology:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”

, and here’s a very different claim that depends upon a very different epistemology than that of our Founders:

“We support Diversity, Equity and Inclusion”

These two examples represent two entirely different epistemologies, and they are entirely incompatible with each other – each is a refutation of the other – don’t you think that you should understand whether either of those statements are true, or false, and how to justify one or the other?

If you know nothing about epistemology – yours or theirs – how are you going to argue the point?

Note: The question is not ‘should you use an epistemology?’, but rather ‘Are you aware of the epistemology that you are using?!’ You are using a form of epistemology in evaluating what is ‘claimed to be known’, and in justifying what you think is worth knowing, but if you aren’t at least somewhat familiar with the uses and misuses of how such matters are justified and verified, then your thinking will be muddled, and the other side will roll over your ‘b…b…buh..but!‘s like a tank.

What does it mean to say that something is justifiable? Ironically, even asking the question means assuming the existence of the same objective truth that the Woke despise, but handily enough for them, denying it also ‘frees’ them from any such logical concerns, yet it doesn’t do away with the fact that the traditional view is not only what our nation was founded upon, but is the True North which our ideas of Education were once rooted in and oriented around. And neither position frees you from the responsibility of consciously considering whether or not “… that particular knowledge is objective and universal…“, and whether or not understanding that it’s true “… is desirable, or even possible…” – and evaluating how to understand and affirm or deny those questions, is what epistemology does.

The fact is that epistemology sets the tone for every claim – sensible or nonsensical – in our culture, politics, law, and the education of those who go into each of those fields. Sound epistemology is critical to being able to identify and orient towards True North, and unsound epistemology is what we all use to justify wandering off of the straight & narrow, whether that be the sloppiness of slightly astray, or the deliberate thumb in the eye of a 180* turn in the opposite direction.

Speaking of which, as we like to look back on the 1940s and 1950s as being fairly solidly patriotic decades in America, have you ever wondered how it was possible that John Dewey’s people were able to send an official invitation to the members of the Marxist Frankfurt School, to come to America and set up shop at Columbia University (more on that invitation in coming posts)? Do you suppose that their cool German accents charmed everyone and got them a free pass? Or… was it that those at the heart of our school systems who were exceedingly familiar with the meanings and justifications of epistemology, even then, understood and welcomed such a radically incompatible set of Marxists into America, knowing that their intention was to undermine and subvert the ideals that America was derived from, and confident that they could get away with doing so?

And yet most Americans, and certainly most students, were unable to recognize what those beliefs meant to their own lives, and to the lives of their children, and grandchildren, and because they didn’t recognize the threat, and wouldn’t have been able to defend their beliefs against them if they had, we are in the position we are in today where it’s not only Academic America that is rabidly and openly anti-American in their beliefs and actions.

If we don’t learn to recognize and defend the ideas of those truths that we hold to be self-evident, from the supporters of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion who mean to eradicate them, what effect do you suppose that will have upon your children, and grandchildren, and nation tomorrow?

The fact is that the values and rules of behavior that a society develops, are based upon what they’re able to agree upon as being right and wrong, and for that to be possible, they first need to be able to say that something is (which is Metaphysics), and from there we must give consideration to how we know what does and does not qualify as knowledge of it and how to verify it (Epistemology), because only then can anyone have anything meaningful to say about what is right & wrong to do in light of what is known to be true (which is Ethics).

When arguing with someone (which does not mean either fighting or debating) who disagrees with you, you’re engaging in a process of reasoning with them by identifying what each of you see from your varying perspectives, and then comparing your initial mental sketches to what you both can see of the actual landscape, and that often involves (and requires) congenially directing and shifting your vantage points this way & that to see things from the other person’s point of view so as to compare and find what landmarks you can agree upon – or the lack of them -between your wordscapes and the actual landscape that you both inhabit. Progress in an honest argument isn’t marked by a win or a loss, but by finding that your sketches have revealed something clearer – whether that be a mere glimpse or full scenic view – of what can be agreed upon between you, and better understood about each other, and verified, as being real and true, and that is employing and practicing the epistemological process that was implicit in the traditional reasoning that our Founder’s era was familiar with.

Under that traditional view, notions typical of its adversary in Social Epistemology, such as ‘what’s true for you, may not be true for me‘, would be dismissed out of hand as being unserious and potentially dangerous sentiments that undermines and outright attacks our ability to reason together towards some mutual understanding. It’s not looking for an honest (meaning what?) argument, even as it demands the results of one with your agreement (or compliance) without its cause: having reasoned towards a mutual understanding of what is real and true. What they want to avoid at all costs, is an honest argument. Statements such as that are not a call for truce, but a passive/aggressive attempt to verbally overpower your moral objections to their position, which gives them a foothold in your own mind, from your having implicitly legitimized their falsehoods by accepting them as possibly *true* (meaning what?), when in fact what is real and true, are obstacles to the wordscapes they expect you to either accept, tolerate, or submit to. When you nod along with such statements, you’re missing the fact that whatever you had thought was important to adhere to, has been reduced to their level as a now meaningless *truth*, as you’ve surrendered the epistemological battle you didn’t even realize you were fighting.

Solzhenitsyn’s call to Live not by lies is truly meaningless, if you cannot recognize or defend what is and is not true.

Prior to modernity, the process which epistemology now refers to wasn’t seen as being so distinct, intricate, or confusing enough, to warrant being designated as a distinct field of study, as other than a handful of outright cynics and skeptics which most reasonable people generally dismissed out of hand, the fundamentals of philosophy – metaphysics, logic, ethics – already covered what could be known and how we could know it, as naturally followed from Aristotle’s first rule of thought, from his metaphysics, essentially that:

a thing cannot both be, and not be, at the same time and in the same context.

, the ability to give reasonable consideration, and the ability to apply the logical method, follows from understanding that, and through that understanding, a person can be expected to reliably come to know the nature of what they do and do not know, and to understand how they know it, which forms an informal epistemology of how ‘you know what you know’, and the ability to logically verify it. As a result of attempting to deny that first rule of thought, we now have not only a field called ‘Epistemology’, and something called ‘epistemic adequacy’ (that you know that ‘it is what it is’), but wildly divergent systems of epistemology which accept and justify ‘concepts’ that are in conflict with that first rule of thought, and any thought which follows from it. That is of course still the basis of a valid epistemology, and any claim that denies, or attempts to spin that statement, is invalid and an unjustifiable epistemology, as are those ideals and ideologies that are built upon them. And yes, if you know that, and know that their claims are based upon invalid epistemologies, all you need to do is expose that, and their game of ideological Jenga comes tumbling down.

A good first step in that direction: ‘What do you mean by ‘True’?

We tend to marvel at people not being reasonable today, but anyone who fails to engage in reasoning without anchoring their effort in the reality below their thinking, and with truth as the star above that guides it, cannot reasonably be expected to maintain even the appearances of being reasonable for long. Without a regard for what is real and true, the need to find mutual understanding and a connection to what is true, all ‘arguments’ and statements must devolve into either conveniences of mutual admiration, or confrontations which can only be ‘resolved’ through some contest of power, whether that be by tallying up the quantities of ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ for it, or by physical force or the threat of it, and as Thrasymachus put such notions of ‘Might makes Rightto Socrates:

‘…I proclaim that justice is nothing else than the interest of the stronger’.

Reason without truth is ideology, its aim is power, and its means are the politics of force, which require that the laws of right reason be transformed into arbitrary rules to be obeyed without question, or else. We’ll begin taking a deeper dive into what this is, and isn’t, and how your ability to know can be undermined, in the next post.

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