Do You Know Anything?

…was the title of the most recent Socrates Café, the fliers for which I had the distinguished honor of tacking onto bulletin boards around the academic buildings.

I am pleased to report that our numbers are growing. Very soon we will envelop the entire school, and then take America by storm, causing otherwise industrious and well-intentioned college students everywhere to abandon their hopes and dreams and embrace a lifelong pursuit of fruitless and economically irrelevant knowledge.

But for now, it’s a bunch of guys and three boxes of pizza. So we began with “What is knowledge?” and the definition caused us some problems. It was until over an hour later that someone figured it would be useful to distinguish between procedural and (if I remember the other one correctly) propositional knowledge. We had already tried to figure out of knowledge includes things that are factual wrong, or guesses that happen to be right.

At some point we used basketball as an example for procedural knowledge (I might say “muscle memory” instead, though I didn’t then) and one point was that some kinds of procedural knowledge have to begin with propositional knowledge, i.e. learning the proper form and rules of the game before being able to play it without concentrating too hard on each individual movement. “How does a bison know how to eat a deer?” was another (hilarious) example, followed by the question of “can animals have knowledge?” When someone mentioned Shakespeare, my point was that someone who is able to create great art (whatever great means) gets their creativity by being able to treat propositional knowledge as if it were procedural knowledge. In other words the “I know that…” of propositional knowledge becomes creativity when something fuels it to unusually high levels. Another way of saying that might be “seeing relationships” where other people do not. But I’m going to continue to work that out in my head.

The idea of “justice” was discussed a lot, as in: if I have one reaction to someone’s punishment, and someone else has another, what does that say about our knowledge of justice? I don’t know if that ended up resolved. It’s a hard thing to discuss because even though almost everyone (at a liberal arts college in 2013) thinks of justice as subjective, yet we all have strong opinions about what is ‘just.’ We also have differing reasons for why we label certain things as just.

I didn’t bring this up, but I think you can often predict someone’s stance on an issue based on whether or not they are proud of their aberrations. Someone ashamed of what makes them unusual (I suspect) is more likely to approve of the death penalty, disprove of immigration, desire traditional familes and gender roles, etc. and par contre for those who have more pride in their weirdness/uniqueness.

This topic came at a time when I had recently read Descartes and his Method of Doubt, followed by a slew of empiricists who claim that we don’t know anything except by experience. I’ll need to delve into Schopenhauer and Nietzsche at some point just to get all this Modern Philosophy out of my head…

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