CONTENTS 057.5 EPISTEMOLOGY NEXT
EPISTEMOLOGY:linguistic introspection aspiring to conceptual consensus


A definition of 'epistemology' might go something like this... it the analysis of the symbols, language and associations made during the process of constructing a network of conceptual linkages that aspires to be called 'knowledge'.
eg ..."The moon and the sun cause the tides"...
is a linguistic expression of the conceptual association of the existential entities the sun and the moon with the movements of the oceans. It is the job of epistemology to try and establish some sort of consensus as to the meaning of the words 'sun', 'moon', 'tides' and 'cause'. There would probably be wide agreement as to the 'sun' and 'moon' meanings, somewhat less consensus as to what a 'tide' was, and a whole lot of soul-searching about what might constitute a 'cause'.
Similarly... "DNA is the genetic code that influences evolution"...
is a statement that can only acquire the status of knowledge if the words are all clearly defined and agreed upon. Is 'DNA' a name or a classification? What is a 'gene'? What is a 'code'? What do we mean by 'evolution'?
More abstractly... "Names are labels for entities"...
is a very general epistemological language statement about how some elements of language relate to existential 'things'.
...but... "'TEDDY' is the name on the label of a soft-toy..."
is a more specific statement about a supposedly simple existential state of affairs. At first encounter it often appears as if such assertions would not involve much controversy and that nit-picking about the precise meanings and application of such words as 'name', 'label', and 'entity' is an exercise in irrelevance. In reality however, using words without consensus agreement as to their meaning results in misunderstanding at the very least, and grotesque tragedy at worst. Deciding and agreeing as to what the word 'soft-toy' means should not cause too much disagreement. Sure... this teddy isn't perfect. Its got a broken ankle and a plaster which shouldn't be a problem...but... if it had actually lost its left leg during the last attack, then that might introduce difficulties. There is a lot less demand for one-legged teddy-bears... we just have to be practical about it. Let's agree then that a 'soft-toy' 'teddybear' must have 2 legs. It can still be a 'soft-toy', but it can't really be a teddy bear... in the full sense of the word you understand... Historically, soldiers returning from any engagement of warfare have usually encountered this problem. If too many body bits have been blown off, or one's behaviour is distressingly abnormal, then it is usually tacitly agreed that such individuals be not referred to as 'normal' or as 'persons'.

There are numerous words that have been contrived to categorize and describe the introspective and reflective speculations about the 'reality' that a few individual human awarenesses find themselves thinking about. Words like 'cosmos', 'philosophy', 'metaphysics', 'science', 'ontology' and so on. The words are used in a manner that appeals to the predispositions and intentions of the user, and as a consequence acquire a range of connotations within which it is often very difficult to discover any form of consensus. 'Philosophy', for example, has meant anything from an intense scrutiny of contrived linguistic assertions... called 'propositions'... thru to a vague amorphous attitude that is proposed as a guide to general daily behaviour. 'Metaphysics', in its turn, might mean the realm of existential essentials like 'space' and 'time' and 'cause' to one person, and 'other-worldly', 'mystical' or 'spiritual' to any dreamer inclined to the 'poetic'. Since the motive for human reflective speculations about 'reality' would seem to be for the purpose of acquiring 'understanding', and the thought processes involved need to be conducted using a language, then the most pragmatic policy would be to classify all such introspections simply as 'epistemology'.
As a word, it has a relatively clean etymological provenance... simply suggesting 'knowledge' or 'understanding'... but has sometimes in the past focussed too myopically on artificial 'proposition' constructs, or on the limiting dichotomy of 'knowledge' v 'belief', or such isolated concepts as 'truth', 'belief' and 'justification'. From the down-to-earth gardener's perspective, engaging in any realm of intellectual introspection should necessitate the linguistic exploration of all elemental symbolic concepts... in order to determine an envelope of meaning. Using the word 'epistemology' to mean the linguistic introspection of any realm of core concepts... aspiring to communicate a conceptual consensus about 'knowledge'... could be a very helpful simplification. After all, the very first sentence of the Metaphysics by Aristotle was "All men by nature desire to know."... not a desire to study "that which follows or is beyond natural things", but a desire to 'know' or 'understand'.

Epistemology should be about the meaning of words and their relationship to the reality concepts they represent. It should be the intellectual activity of using language to introspectively analyse language itself, in an attempt to promote a consensus perspective about what aspects of perceived reality are meant by the very words it uses to communicate about that reality. Acquired concepts are examined by way of a language... that is used to express all the assumed and understood connotations of that concept... and thereby to a supposedly more detailed, accurate and essential comprehension. Language is used upon itself to try and clarify what the meaning of certain words must be... particularly those words which purport to symbolize certain aspects of the existential circumstances which we find ourselves. The fundamental point of language is to communicate between individuals, so that attempting to tease out a consensus appreciation as to what a certain word must mean is an essential undertaking. "What is the meaning of the word 'epistemology'?" is an epistemological question that is certainly worthy of the expenditure of much linguistic ingenuity, the digging over of established philosophical gardens, and a lot of unromantic metaphysical weeding.

Individual humans choose neither their mother language nor their nurture. As a consequence, they acquire a very sophisticated vocabulary... which is able to facilitate a wide range of communication functions... before the idea ever occurs to them, that the meaning of the language they are using could be examined and questioned. For many individuals this never happens, and as a consequence, they continue thruout their life using the learned concepts and perspectives without ever appreciating that they may be inadequate or faulty or irrelevant. For those individuals who attempt some sort of introspective inquiry of the concepts and assumptions of their nurture, the wide range of contradictory and incompatible conclusions arrived at, is testimony to the extreme difficulty of being obliged to use a language to investigate itself.

After being subjected to a process of birth, sensory experiences and linguistic nurture, the human individual acquires a self-awareness that allows it to partition its universe into self versus not-self. It occurs to some individuals to reflect about the mysterious nature of this circumstance, and to pose numerous questions about the dichotomy itself and all the associated phenomena. Some of these questions must be accepted as unanswerable. For example, one of the most mysterious questions of all is "Why is there something rather than nothing?". Elaborate god-myths or abstract god-entities have been invented to 'explain' the existence of the universe and the relationship of human beings within it... and so 'answer' the question. Whilst this appears to satisfy many individuals, it is nevertheless simply an invention that attempts to bypass the question and replace the inexplicable existence of a universe with an inexplicable existence of a 'god'. That there is something, is the irreducible reality that every awareness has as its existential circumstances. Accept the question as unanswerable and plant another row of radishes. Many, many questions do not have answers.
Asking questions is a linguistic procedure, and is the strategy for acquiring knowledge and identifying the unanswerable. 'Epistemology' then, is the process of seeking to acquire 'knowledge' and 'understanding'... by interacting with reality and then describing the consequences with an introspective and self-analytical language. It should include within its scope all those human endeavours that have purported to seek 'knowledge'... philosophy, metaphysics, science, alchemy, astrology, theology, magic, etc, etc,... and apply the twin tools of experiment and linguistic analysis to filter the sensible from the non-sensible.

Much of the observable phenomena of 'reality' can be interacted with and by adhering to the procedures of what is called 'the scientific method', hypotheses can be explored, assumptions checked and patterns of behaviour modelled. The astounding successes of science and medicine is testimony to the fact that the reality phenomena... which have been called 'mass', 'light', 'sound', 'temperature', 'velocity', 'atom', and so on... have been investigated sufficiently to enable innumerable predictions to be made and phenomena to be manipulated. All the words and concepts used in communicating the conclusions of such physical experimentation still need to be rigorously examined. Assuming everyone associates exactly the same meaning with words used about the physical world is no more justified than in any other sphere of language. The meanings of such words as 'quark', 'electron' or 'Higg's boson' are anything but universal. Biologists want to both 'name' a 'species' and treat it as a classification... which is an inconsistency that invites confusion. Invented terms like 'phlogiston' and 'dark matter' and 'folded dimensions' need a very vigilant team of linguistic analysts, to keep scepticism to the fore until convincing empirical evidence is forthcoming. Science needs the linguistic analysis of epistemology to ensure that sensible meanings of communication are retained. Above all... question the 'obvious'...

Many of the observable phenomena of reality appear mysteriously undefinable and primordial. Other seemingly observable phenomena are in fact products of the awareness (human) doing the observing. Epistemological science can explore and reflect and try and resolve distinctions between answerable and unanswerable questions. What is 'space' and 'time' and 'energy'? What is the difference between left-handedness and right-handedness? What is 'dark matter'? Why is there an 'inside' and an 'outside' of a box? What do we mean by 'mind', and where does it go on death? What do we mean by 'expanding'? What do we mean by a 'thing'?
That herd of cows is only a herd-thing because I said so. I identified all the cows, put them in a paddock, closed the gate and called them a 'herd'. You put all the calves in as well. So which classification are we talking about when we talk about the 'herd'? The one with or the one without the calves? The universe is large and chaotic enough to provide a sufficient number of such questions for some time to come. The demand for epistemologists may well create a lack of gardeners.


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