After a long break for the Christmas holiday, a lingering sinus infection, and the business of learning to fly a new aircraft, I have been too long absent from this blog and from my own questions and thoughts. However, life has taken a slightly slower turn now that I have my first checkride behind me, and so I once again will take up the task I set myself of addressing the questions raised by a friend regarding my discussion of the nature of the foundations of epistemology. You can read the original post here, and links to the rest of the series are at the end of this post.
5. Is our epistemological access to persons (ourselves, others, God, angels, demons, saints) any different than our access to ordinary objects of perception/reason/memory? Assume that ordinary objects (tables, chairs, etc.) can be present for observation under certain conditions. Are the conditions for the presentation of a person different? Can persons choose NOT to be availble for cognitive presentation?
It seems that the normal means by which we have access to objects are employed as we come to know persons. We start with certain perceptions and through interactions come to discover more about the person. We can then order and arrange these experiences and let our reason operate upon them to come up with a set of beliefs about that person. While the jury is still out on the question of whether or not we can ever match our beliefs to reality, if we are able to, it comes about generally in the manner described. In this way, the means of knowing God, ourselves, and others is just the same as the means by which we know a rock.
However, the process by which we come to hold beliefs about something, and the access we have to that thing itself are two very separate matters. The first is primarily concerned with mechanics and processes taking place in an individual’s mind as he interacts with and interprets objects of his experience. The second is concerned with the nature of the interaction itself. This second issue, the access we have to things themselves is of prime importance in this discussion; indeed it gets to the core of the original motivation driving this thread of posts. Generally, it seems that when asking the second question, answers are provided that only address the first question. If it is possible to access the thing itself then there are many interesting theories presented about how we gain knowledge of the thing we have access to. However, the possibility of ever gaining epistemological access must still be addressed.
Persons are a very different sort of thing than rocks and chairs. They have both material and non-material aspects, and the latter aspect is the more interesting of the two (at least one would hope, Miss Beauty Queen . . . but I digress). The mind, will, emotions, and desires of the person, the things that make up the core of his being are hidden from view. Their accidents can be made manifest in the material realm, through behavior, speech, or interaction with material objects, but the core, the soul, the essence, is hidden from sight. The observer, friend, or lover remains on the outside and is doubly denied cognitive access to the person. The first denial of access comes through the operating limits of the individual’s cognitive tools. As previously discussed elsewhere, these tools of perception, memory, and reason are woefully limited in their ability to accomplish the task at hand because they are bound to a particular perspective and are never free to objectively verify their products (beliefs) against the thing being examined itself. The second denial of access comes from the other person who can only reveal himself through his accidents, through some sort of action or behavior which serves a vehicle for a message, and can never be simply known. The one sending the message necessarily restricts access to himself by sending a message rather than sendng himself as it were, and the one receiving the message is restricted by his capacity to understand the message due to the limitations of his cognitive tools and the interpretive grid that is created by his very existence as an individual.
A third limitation comes into view when one considers the ability of a person to purposefully send false or conflicting messages in order to deny one the ability to even form plausible beliefs about the person himself. Since a person can only be known through the clues, messages, and traces he leaves behind, he has the ability to choose to deceive by leaving false clues, and messages that are intended to lead an observer astray. Thus we come to see that knowledge of persons seems even more elusive and limited than knowledge of the material world. A host of obstacles stands in the way of a pursuit that is common to men. From whence cometh the hope that the pursuit will not ultimately be in vain? (Or where have we gone wrong to arrive at this seemingly hopeless place?).
Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush: Foundational Principles of Knowledge
1. Mulberry Pickin’s: The Relationship Between Being Foundational and Being Unassailable
2. Mulling on Mulberries: The Significance of Differences in Belief Among Intelligent People
3. What’s A Mulberry (To You)?: The Limits of Perspective on Obtaining Objective Truth
4. Interpretting Mulberries: Interpretive Grids and the Filters of Truth