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Ful lco l o u r editi on

Theory of Knowledge
for the IB Diploma
Richard van de Lagemaat

Cambridge University Press 978-1-107-66996-3 - Theory of Knowledge for the IB Diploma Richard van de Lagemaat Excerpt More information

1

The problem of knowledge
‘It is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions.’ T. H. Huxley, 1825–95

‘The greatest obstacle to progress is not the absence of knowledge but the illusion of knowledge.’ Daniel Boorstin, 1914–2004

‘The familiar is not understood simply because it is familiar.’ Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, 1770–1831

‘There are two ways to slide easily through life: to believe everything, or to doubt everything; both ways save us from thinking.’ Alfred Korzybski, 1879–1950

‘By doubting we are led to enquire, and by enquiry we perceive the truth.’ Peter Abélard, 1079–1142

‘We know too much to be sceptics and too little to be dogmatists.’ Blaise Pascal, 1623–62

‘All men have opinions, but few think.’
George Berkeley, 1685–1753

‘What men really want is not knowledge but certainty.’
Bertrand Russell, 1872–1970

‘Man is made by his belief. As he believes, so he is.’
Bhagavad Gita, 500 BCE

‘A very popular error – having the courage of one’s convictions; rather it is a matter of having the courage for an attack upon one’s convictions.’ Friedrich Nietzsche, 1844–1900

‘To know one’s ignorance is the best part of knowledge.’ Lao Tzu, c. 600 BCE

‘Common sense consists of those layers of prejudice laid down before the age of 18.’ Albert Einstein, 1879–1955

‘To teach how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralysed by hesitation is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy in our age can still do for those who study it.’ Bertrand Russell, 1872–1970

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Cambridge University Press 978-1-107-66996-3 - Theory of Knowledge for the IB Diploma Richard van de Lagemaat Excerpt More information

Introduction
We live in a strange and perplexing world. Despite the explosive growth of knowledge in recent decades, we are confronted by a bewildering array of contradictory beliefs. We are told that astronomers have made great progress in understanding the universe in which we live, yet many people still believe in astrology. Scientists claim that the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago, yet some insist that dinosaurs and human beings lived simultaneously. Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969, but it is rumoured in some quarters that the landings were faked by NASA. A work of art is hailed as a masterpiece by some critics and dismissed as junk by others. Some people support capital punishment, while others dismiss it as a vestige of barbarism. Millions of people believe in God, yet atheists insist that ‘God is dead’. Faced with such a confusion of different opinions, how are we to make sense of things and develop a coherent picture of reality? Given your school education, you might think of knowledge as a relatively unproblematic commodity consisting of various facts found in textbooks that have been proved to be true. But things are not as simple as that. After all, if you had attended school one hundred or five hundred years ago, you would have learned a different set of ‘truths’. This suggests that knowledge is not static, but has a history and changes over time. Yesterday’s revolution in thought becomes today’s common sense, and today’s common sense may go on to become tomorrow’s superstition. So what guarantee is there that our current understanding of things is correct? Despite the intellectual progress of the last five hundred years, future generations may look back on our much-vaunted achievements and dismiss our science as crude, our arts as naive, and our ethics as barbaric. When we consider ourselves from the perspective of the vast reaches of time and space, further doubts arise. According to cosmologists, the universe has been...
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