Theory of Knowledge Essay
Title 4: “That which is accepted as knowledge today is sometimes discarded tomorrow.” Consider knowledge issues raised by this statement in two areas of knowledge.
“That which is accepted as knowledge today is sometimes discarded tomorrow.” Consider knowledge issues raised by this statement in two areas of knowledge.
“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”1 These were the words of former American president John F. Kennedy, words that are very readily applicable to the concept of knowledge. Kennedy implies that the constantly evolving nature of our knowledge is an entirely natural process. Knowledge is often defined as ‘justified true belief’2 – implicit in this definition is the existence of three distinctive criteria – all of which must be satisfied by the knower for something to be considered knowledge. Consequently there is both a personal and collective aspect to that which is considered knowledge, as the knower must believe a knowledge claim, while it must also be justified with evidence that is universally true. Individuals obtain their own knowledge and contribute their knowledge towards a pool of communal knowledge. The fact that each individual interprets knowledge in his or her own way gives rise to the assertion that the knowledge of today is ‘sometimes’ discarded – but by no means always. The nature of our knowledge raises several issues that are linked directly to the question – to what extent does knowledge change over time? If the construction of knowledge depends on individuals and communities, to what extent does change also depend on these components? In this essay, I intend to analyze some of the knowledge issues relevant to this question.
While changes in knowledge are evident more clearly in some areas of knowledge, it is my belief that these changes do occur in virtually every area of knowledge. The fact that knowledge is ever changing, as a result of ever increasing ability to find new evidence, raises the issue of the reliability of our currently held knowledge – the idea that the knowledge of today is set to be replaced by an adapted version of that knowledge tomorrow. There is also the view that the knowledge of the present is merely a stepping-stone towards the knowledge of the future, which gives rise to the notion that knowledge is not so much discarded as it is modified. There are some extremely well known developments in knowledge, for instance in the natural sciences. The development of quantum theory in Physics as a result of the shortcomings of classical Newtonian mechanics is one such example of changes in our knowledge over time.3 I shall explore more issues in the natural sciences as well as ethics.
Ethics are understood to be the moral principles that influence our conduct.4 One of the most contentious issues with ethics is the relativity of the subject, the fact that ethical judgments, and by extension moral principles, vary from person to person. This variation would make it very difficult for communities to build consensus on ethical issues. Additionally, the uniformity of ethical judgments becomes challenging due to the inconsistent nature of ethical knowledge, while it is also important to note that ethical knowledge is powerfully influenced by emotion, which is generally not the most reliable WOK. American author and poet Maya Angelou asserted that “the needs of society determine its ethics”5 and there have been several historical examples that suggest the same. For the latter half of the 20th century, South African society was racially segregated and divided by Apartheid.6 The ruling white Afrikaner minority enforced the separation of races through legislation that was responsible for the intense oppression of the black majority population as well as other ethnic minorities. The underlying ethical imperative during this period was that some races are superior to...
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