Ch.1 - The Status of Knowing (The Philosophy of Knowledge by Kenneth T Gallagher)
"Philosophical wonder is not primarily before the complicated and abstruse, but before the simple, the obvious, the close at hand. It is the obvious which is most unfathomable, and it is in the region of the near at hand that the great philosophical questions have emerged and in which they continue to dwell."
"What is change, being, motion, time, space, mind, matter? Of such questions has the career of philosophy been made. Among them all, perhaps the paramount one is that which Socrates singled out for primacy at the beginning through his adoption of the maxim "Know thyself": Who am I? What does it mean to be a self, and to be just this self which I uniquely am? Here we have a perfect coincidence of the obvious and the mysterious: the maxim "Know thyself" turns us to that which is at the same time nearest at hand, and yet most distant."
The Situation of Common Sense
Historically this self-reflection and birthing of epistemology as its own discipline happened when man become aware that reality and his "common sense" perceptions of reality were not necessarily the same thing. There are a certain set of common sense presuppositions which seems to be universal to human experience. Gallagher lists these as:
"Common sense thinks it knows lots of things: I exist; I have a body; I have a past, with which I am in contact through my memory; my five senses put me in touch with an external world which is outside me and independent of me, but which I can understand as it is in itself; other men exist â there is experience beyond my experience; there is a past of humanity, history; I am certain of various moral and political principles by which I live and conduct myself in respect to the rest of humanity;"
In beginning this journey toward the foundations of truth as such, it is important to address the objections of skepticism at the outset. Gallagher points out that it is true, truths cannot infinitely be affirmed by other truths, the position of realism comes down to a truth which cannot be proven but which is nonetheless self-evidently true. It's an openness to being, with truth being tied to being itself. This does not mean, though, that skepticism has the upper hand.
Rather, he points out that skepticism is self-contradictory in several ways. Whatever the skeptic tries to affirm that his position is the correct one ends up refuting himself in the same act. Even if this is an agnosticism towards truth, if he insists that it is the right disposition, he is then insisting that the objective truth is to be agnostic towards truth. Even if the skeptic were to choose to remain silent to show his skepticism, he would affirming that skepticism is true by that act, thus refuting skepticism. Once we begin to see this reality, we can proceed forth with the view of realism, that being and truth are tied together in their fundamental reception by the mind.
The Existential Aspect
Having shown that truth is possible, epistemology then seeks to lay out the boundaries and limitations of knowledge. What is it that is able to be known? If the skeptics point meant anything, it should cause serious reflection as to the question, "How closely is my knowledge to that of reality?". As a being which is finite and limited by time, death, suffering, is not the truth that I am most certain of still full of doubts itself? "Man is a becoming which never at any moment coincides with itself: man is not what he is. Time is possible because man is not a simple self-identity but a being forever non-coincident with himself."
We want certainty, but if we try to see knowledge as something that is "objectified formulas atemporally straddling the minds which think them..." then we will fall into error. Rather, we must realize that, just like our being which is spread out in time and limited in so many ways, knowledge too is going to follow the same mode of our being. It too will be spread out in time and limited, but that does not mean that it doesn't exist at all.
Analogy of Knowledge
What exactly does it mean to "know?" In a sense "knowing" cannot be broken down into more fundamental concepts, according to Gallagher. "Since knowing is an ultimate and irreducible event, it cannot be conveyed in terms more fundamental than itself." Rather, we can use other synonyms to explain this fundamental reality more. Some, like Russell, define knowing only as scientific knowledge. Others, as only knowledge which can be objectively verified by others.
Method in Epistemology
Finally, Gallagher closes out chapter one by pointing out that it is a mistake to equate epistemology with the neat categories of rational knowledge, ie those of concept, judgment, and reasoning. While these categories or true and helpful, they are not the most fundamental experience of the knowledge ofbeing. Rather, there is a connatural and dynamic experience of being which is the foundation of knowledge because it is the foundational experience of being. It is not enough to just skip over experience, we must take the knowledge gained in this connatural relationship as important as well for epistemology.
1 Gallagher, Kenneth T. Philosophy of Knowledge. Ch 1. The Status of Knowing.