The foundations of knowledge course is about epistemology. The purpose of epistemology is to discover how people acquire and validate knowledge. Epistemology deals with questions, like how, is knowledge obtained and can we trust the methods that we use to obtain knowledge? The course also addresses other questions such as what knowledge is and how concepts are formed.
What is Knowledge?
Knowledge is a mental product of our brains. Awareness is things you perceive but you can’t recall the information later. Knowledge is a form of awareness that you unconsciously choose to remember for longer periods of time. It is also something that you are able to understand and recall later. Knowledge can be anything, it could be simple things that we directly perceive with our senses. It could also be something more complicated and abstract which our understanding of is based on our senses. This would be something like coding or mathematics.
How do we obtain knowledge?
We obtain knowledge by perceiving things. The methods that we use to perceive things comes from our senses. Our senses can only perceive things in the real world, they can’t perceive dreams. Perception also only perceives entities and a world of entities, it doesn’t perceive the individual attributes that combine to make that entity. For example, you perceive an apple, you don’t perceive roundness + redness + juiciness. But you really don’t just perceive the apple either, you also perceive the table the apple is on and the room that the table is in. We also obtain knowledge by actively perceiving it. This was tested in an experiment where two kittens were put in a room where one was allowed to move around in circles looking at a wall. The other kitten was being pulled around inside a gondola by the other kitten. The former kitten was able to move around and not fall off a short drop, while the latter hadn’t learned anything and walked around haphazardly eventually falling off the platform it was walking on.
How can we trust our senses?
We can trust our senses because they can’t distort what we perceive. The perception from our senses is the given. Senses perceive reality which is used to make all of our choices. Our choices have to match reality. There are two objections that have been given against perception. First is the argument from delusion, then there is the argument from illusion. The argument from delusion comes from the fact that you see stuff that isn’t there when you take drugs. But you aren’t seeing things, because you’re not perceiving, instead, you’re hallucinating. Hallucinating is an internal process that is not part of perception. The argument from illusion is based on the fact that when a stick is in water it looks like its bent and when you take it out of the water it isn’t bent. Some people attribute this error to perception, but the error is really in the judgment. This perception makes you want to make a false judgment. There is also an argument that defends perception which is the argument from the relativity of perception. Imagine you have three bowls of water, one cold, one room temperature, and one warm. Then say you stick one hand in the cold bowl and one in the warm bowl. Then you stick them both in the middle bowl and one hand feels warm and the other cold. Using the viewpoint that “your senses give you the real truth”, you have a contradiction. The bowl of water can’t be hot and cold at the same time. Epistemology solves this contradiction by saying that the senses give you the truth relative to them. One hand feels warm because it was in colder water before and vice versa.
How are concepts formed?
Before I explain how concepts are formed, I have to explain why they are necessary in the first place. Concepts are formed because of two important reasons, essentialization and definitions. Essentialization is taking the core concept of something and expressing it with few words. If someone asks you what a book is about you could list the entire book word for word, but because time is precious you only explain the core concepts of the book. Definitions are a short and concise way to know what a word means. We need them because there are way too many words that you would otherwise have to remember. If we had only three words then we wouldn’t need definitions as we would be able to remember everything. You form concepts when you notice the similarity between multiple objects, but also when you notice the differences between those objects and other objects that are less closely related. For example, you notice many apples and recognize that they are part of the same concept. You also notice the oranges and that they are different from the apples. But you also notice that apples and oranges are both fruits. Then you notice the difference between the apples, oranges and carrots, which is that carrots are vegetables.
If you want to check out the entire course for yourself, you can check it out here: https://courses.aynrand.org/campus-courses/the-foundations-of-knowledge/