Two Types of Knowing

If the world outside of our thoughts was of the same essence as the world of our thoughts, there would be only one kind of knowing. Yet philosophers have long recognized that knowing comes in two distinct varieties. There is knowing which is innate, Plato’s forms, Kant’s analytical knowledge—and there is knowing which is acquired through the senses, empirical knowledge.

Why should there be two types of knowing? Why should that be a feature of our existence? Yet it is. This is the key, the giveaway clue, perhaps the single most important observation in all of philosophy.

If the world and our thoughts were of the same basic stuff, there would only be one type of knowing. Yet we have a different kind of knowing for the world—one which is approximate, inexact, provisional—than we have for our thoughts themselves, and that means that the world and thoughts are different in essence. The domain of our thoughts is mental in nature, with an innate conceptual/rational/analytic framework. The world outside lacks any such framework. It is non-mental, non-rational, non-knowable in its essence.

The consequences of this are simple and significant.

We expect our thoughts to be rational and meaningful because that is appropriate for thoughts; but outside of our thoughts the world is not rational or meaningful because the outside’s essence is non-mental. Consequently it makes no sense to expect the outside world (the world outside thoughts) to have characteristics that pertain to thoughts, such as meaningfulness or rationality.

It is only common sense that the world outside our thoughts must be irrational and meaningless — otherwise we would never have developed two types of knowing.

To expect or wish otherwise is to be confused.

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