I have been endeavouring to write a paper on the epistemology (theory of knowledge) behind phenomenography and variation theory. However, as I have checked my references and understanding of epistemology, not only have I become more aware of the nuances of the epistemology debate but also of the implications for other fields of interest such as peace building and reconciliation.
According to Everitt and Fisher (1995, pp 12-13), there are three kinds of knowledge that can be debated. These are capacity knowledgeor what I would call process knowledgethat is the knowledge ofhow to do something, knowledge by acquaintance that is knowledge derived from experience, and propositional knowledgethat is knowledgebased on knowing that some sentence or proposition is true. They contend that the philosophers place their attention on the last of these propositional knowledge.
I could argue that propositional knowledge is what I am used to in computer science. We can create formal statements for each of our propositions and then prove or disprove them. We can then use a set of formal propositional statements to reason about a problem using induction, deduction, or abduction. The thing is that al our propositional arguments only have validity if our base propositions or facts are true. If they are not then regardless of how well we might argue logically, the outcome that we might prove or disprove is likely to be invalid.
In computer science, we are also concerned with capacity knowledge. The computational solutions that we develop are most often descriptions of processes of how to achieve a desired outcome or how to solve a particular problem. Capacity knowledge could include how to build a logically valid argument to support our hypothesis. Process knowledge is also required to know how to discover a way to solve problems that we can then capture as computational solutions. Capacity knowledge is extremely important to us and we need to know whether the arguments for propositional knowledge also apply to our capacity knowledge. That is does propositional knowledge overlap capacity knowledge? I would like to argue that it does in part because as part of computer science, we want to prove that our problem solving algorithms (captured capacity knowledge) solves the problems that we claim it does.
How does knowledge by acquaintance fit into this? I could argue that knowledge by acquaintance lays provides the facts from which we develop our propositional knowledge but then we need to ask what influences our interpretation of those things that we experience or are acquainted with? I have to ask this question because if we look at supposedly logical arguments in everyday use, we find that people are arriving at different outcomes supposedly from the same facts. It seems that our interpretation of the facts varies depending on something that drives the way we reason and think.
If we consider BRExit, we have remainers, leavers, and a whole lot of shades in-between. We also have those who believe that the outcome of the referendum (52% to leave versus 48% to remain) means a clear majority in favour of leaving. What percentage of support for a proposal is required in order for something to be a clear majority? Personally, I want to start by asking the question “what percentage of the eligible voters took the opportunity to vote in the referendum?” If we take that percentage and multiply it by the percentage in support of leaving then do we still have greater than 50%? Clearly not, so do a majority of people want to leave.
The next question, if I am to apply propositional knowledge, is what were the facts used by those who voted to make their decision? Were they well informed or were they mislead? The evidence being revealed suggests that the leave campaigners were basing their campaigns on lies. However, the remain campaigners are not entirely without fault for telling the truth either. It seems to be unclear what the facts of the leave or remain really are so we are left with an opinion poll and not a factual analysis. Now as we approach a vote on a BRExit agreement, we have more information available that seems more factual but is it?
When endeavouring to predict the future, there are a set of assumptions involved. We can run various models based on those assumptions. In fact, with some modelling techniques, we can experiment with the assumptions and see what the likely outcomes are. The difficulty is when someone states a benefit of leaving or remaining, do they provide us with their assumptions so we can validate their reasoning (i.e. apply propositional logic)? Generally not. This might be because their assumptions are difficult to validate or simply they want to focus on the outcome because it suites their purposes. Propositional knowledge is discarded in favour of what the person wants to see. Some might argue knowledge by acquaintance but is that are good basis on which to make decisions?
How do we know whether leaving the EU is good or bad? That is the wrong question. A better question is how do we build a society that is better for all? Do a search on sustainable communities or transition towns and you see that some are already changing the way they live and work regardless of whether they are inside or outside the EU. There is a cost to leaving and there is a cost to remaining but unless you are addressing the real issues that concern the people, remaining or leaving is not the issue. The knowledge that we currently have will not help because it seems that the objective is to be the same but separate. What does that mean if we are part of a market driven world economy?
We need to understand the impact of the markets. We need to understand the impact of our financial mechanisms and institutions. Remember it was them crashing that caused the recession and ushered in austerity. Do we want to be dependent on economic prosperity? Do we want to be driven by a need to sell more, grow bigger, consume more? Or would we be happy to live within our means and to ensure that all are able to live within the resources available to us?
The leave and remain arguments are based on a lack of knowledge. There are alternative ways of structuring society. We do not need to leave the EU to make those happen but neither do we need to be in the EU for them to work. We need to decide what is important and what the story is that we want to live by.
The problem is that how we interpret knowledge or information or events is linked with our understanding of the way that we should live or our framing story. Whether to leave the EU or remain in it has more to do with how we interpret events based on our framing story than it does to propositional knowledge. We interpret the base knowledge based on our framing story and not some global truth that cannot change. We out that story in place and we can change it. So dream a little about what you want to see.
A group of us did that during 2016 and 2017 and came up with the following principles(seeThompson,25 March 2017).
- Enabling potential
- Sustainable environment
- Equal society
- Participatory democracy
- An economy for the common good
I have also bloggedaboutbeing in our out of Europe and argued for localsustainable communities (see Thompson, 14 May2017).
I know I am not the only one who thinks there are alternatives to the road that we are taking and that those alternatives have little to do with the current debate. It is time that we focussed our attention on the real issues and the type of society that we really want to build.
Everitt, N., & Fisher, A. (1995). Modern epistemology. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Thompson, E. (25 March 2017) Economic Principles. Available from http://kiwi-et.blogspot.com/2017/03/economic-principles.html
Thompson, E. (14 May 2017) In or out of Europe? Available fromhttp://kiwi-et.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/in-or-our-of-europe.html