4. How can the different ways of knowing help us to distinguish between something that is true and something that is believed to be true?
In order to distinguish between what is true and what we simply believe to be true we will first have to define what truth and belief is and how these two terms differ from each other. This paper will then seek to determine how the four different ways of knowing – perception, language, emotions and reason – can help us distinguish between truth and belief.
It is believed that Plato once defined knowledge as “justified true belief” – this implies that in order to obtain knowledge, we need to know a certain thing as a fact, and that merely believing it is not sufficient. The idea of truth is simply that no matter what we believe to be the case, some things will always be true and other things will always be false. Our beliefs, whatever they are, have no bearing on the facts of the world around us. That which is true is always true – even if we stop believing it. Hence, if everyone were to stop believing that all bodies on earth experience a gravitational force, everything would not suddenly float around randomly.
Belief, on the other hand, is free thought – it can be fact or fiction. If you merely believe something, then it may be true or it may be false. Simply believing that something is true does not make it so. Furthermore, if everyone were to share the same belief it could eventually turn out to be completely false. For centuries everyone thought they knew that the earth was flat, which we now know is incorrect. Additionally, on an individual level truth and belief are interchangeable terms. If I believe the sky is blue, then that is my truth. If I were to believe that an oppressive institution were actually noble and honest, then for me that, too, would be my ‘truth’. I might even be so foolish as to actively support an oppressive body, believing it to be noble and good. Someone, standing on the sideline, may see the oppression for what it is, and disagree with me.
So who is right and who is wrong? This is how conflicts can arise, as two sides disagree on the nature of ‘truth’. To test if our beliefs are real and true, we can use the different ways of knowing to confirm or abolish our beliefs. However these ways of knowing each have their own advantages and disadvantages.
The first of the four different ways of knowing that I will deal with is that of perception. Perception consists of two elements; sensation and interpretation. It is how we interpret the truth through our senses – for example: sight, sound and smell.
How we interpret what we see, however, differs from person to person. Some argue that we do not see and understand things as they are but rather as we are. If this statement is true then the construction of our individual worlds, and the people, places, and opportunities in them, is completely determined by our perspective. The mood we are in that day, the things that have happened to us in life, the way we were raised, the things we have learned or not learned, as the case sometimes may be, all affect how we view the world. In turn, each person would hold his or her own ‘picture’ of reality, and since we cannot determine which perceptions are correct and which are incorrect, this becomes a limitation of perception.
Although an appreciable amount of our knowledge is based on personal experience, another prominent limitation of perception seems to be that our senses can sometimes deceive us. The problem with perception is that there seems to be no way of distinguishing between the truth and illusion. There are three main problems within distinguishing what we think we are seeing from the actual truth: we may misinterpret what we see, we may fail to notice something and we may misremember what we have seen.
Thus, we can say that perception enables us to view and interpret our world, which of course is essential in...