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Plato's Epistemology: Is Faith a Valid Way to Know?
#1
Plato's Epistemology: Is Faith a Valid Way to Know?
"The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled."
                                                                                      --Plutarch


The purpose of this thread is to examine the value of faith or (at the very least) to explore its relation to true knowledge. Be forewarned, the OP goes into some boilerplate ancient Greek philosophy, so if that isn't your thing, I would recommend not reading past the next paragraph. But I will try to convey the gist of things in the first two paragraphs, so if you have a response to what is said in there, feel free to ignore the rest.

In his essay "The Will to Believe," William James tries to make the point that faith is a genuine means to attain knowledge. To argue his point, he uses the example of a young man who is interested in a woman. The question the young man wants to answer is: "Does she like me?" To answer his query, the young man might conduct all sorts of analyses, but James suggests that the best way to obtain an answer is to begin with faith that she does. Assume she likes you, James advises, and it is more likely that she will. Wallow in skepticism whether she likes you or not--and chances are she won't.



I find James's approach compelling, but (in the end) I must return to my rational roots and question the validity of faith by more conventional means. How valuable is faith at leading us to the right answer? As human beings we are confronted with the known and the unknown. How do we know that we actually know something? How do we come to know what is (by default) unknown? The concept of faith seems to undermine that which supports a genuine quest for real knowledge.

So let's ask ourselves: "What is genuine knowledge?" or "Who is the person who can best  receive real knowledge?"  Is it the faithful? Or is it the skeptical? I say the latter. And so does Plato. Let's take a look at four types of people: the knowledgeable, the philosophers, the ignorant, and the misunderstanding.

1) The knowledgeable-- (or the "knowing") these people have correct knowledge, and they know that the knowledge that they have is correct.
2) The philosophers-- do not have correct knowledge, and if they do have correct knowledge, they don't know that it's correct. They understand Socrates when he says, "The only thing I know is that I know nothing." They are empty vessels, waiting to be filled, or better yet... as Plutarch puts it... fires waiting to be ignited.
3) The ignorant-- They do not have knowledge, but nor do they want it. They don't know it. Nor do they pursue knowledge. Some of my favorite people fall into this category.
4) The misunderstanding-- These people have false knowledge. Though they mistake it for real knowledge. But they are very certain of their false knowledge.

To me, faith makes one prone to fall into the category of "the misunderstanding"... those who do not know, but think that they DO know. Those who misunderstand are worse than the ignorant, in my opinion. To think the wrong answer is correct is worse than simply admitting one does not know at all. It is better to be ignorant than mistaken, that is what I think.

We want medical doctors who are well-educated. If we were to "go under the knife" of a surgeon, we would prefer that he or she was knowledgeable. We might not care so much how inquizitive he or she was. We don't care so much if our surgeon is a philosopher. What we do care about is that he/she knows what they are doing. To use Plutarch's language, with a surgeon, we want a filled vessel. Not necessarily an ignited mind. But what about the surgeon's teachers? The surgeon's teacher's teacher's? Somewhere along the line, we need an ignited fire; we need someone who wants knowledge for its own sake. We need someone who quests for genuine knowledge to pass on to his or her pupil. Otherwise we wouldn't discover the secrets of the body. And if we don't discover that, then we can't train good surgeons in the first place.

So the best surgeons are generated when the seekers of knowledge find what they seek. But that journey towards knowledge begins with "I don't know."

"Philosophy begins in wonder." So says Aristotle. And he was right. But it doesn't end there. It ends in resolution. It ends in knowledge.

As I said before, the philosophers are those who do not know. Yet they seek knowledge. How can they be of value? Aren't the knowledgeable more valuable than they? The short answer is: no.

The knowledgeable have ended their quest to learn new things. Thus facts evade them. The faithful have decided not to learn.  Thus facts evade them. The ignorant have decided to evade facts. Thus facts evade them. The only one receptive to facts is the philosopher.

Plato Wrote:Once upon a time all of the gods were invited to Zeus' mansion to celebrate the birth of Aphrodite. One of the guests was Wherewithal, the handsome young son of the goddess Wit. Also in attendance at the gala was the goddess Want, a rather needy divine who was in the habit of arriving long after the meal had been served in order to scavenge for leftovers at the rear of the mansion. Now during the party Wherewithal became quite drunk... and staggered outside into Zeus' extensive garden where he collapsed dead asleep. When Want, peering into the garden in search of a scrap of food, caught sight of the handsome Wherewithal lying there asleep, she suddenly felt impelled by her general lack of resources to lay down beside him and conceive of Love. And that, Socrates, is the reason why Love, the god, is Aphrodite's servant and is always by her side, for he was conceived on her first birthday. It also explains why Love is constantly drawn to beautiful things, for Aphrodite is the very essence of beauty.

Therefore, a direct descendant of both Wherewithal and Want, Love has not fallen far from the tree. His mother's son, he is ever wanting and, although some may find this hard to believe, he is not the least bit delicate or handsome. On the contrary, he is a vagrant with tough, parched skin. He is always barefoot and homeless, sleeping under a roof of sky or in the doorways of strangers. Sometimes you can hear him snoring in ditches by the side of the road. In all this he takes after his poor mother and is always in need.

From Wherewithal, his father, Love gets his cleverness and ingenuity and a passion for everything that is beautiful and good. He is a genius at magic and an expert in the use of words and herbs. He has a notorious reputation as a daring and ferocious hunter and is always devising clever snares for us. Endlessly resourceful, he is constantly on the trail of truth and wisdom.

By nature he is neither mortal nor god but drifts continuously between the two. On some days he blooms like a plant and is in full flower, only to wilt and die that very evening. But straightaway he revives, thanks to his father's influence. Now and then he'll come into some money, but it's always trickling away, so love is never with or without resources. Moreover, he has a middling intellect possessing neither divine omniscience nor untrammeled ignorance. The reason is that the gods and those few men whom we consider truly wise never feel any love or desire for wisdom since they already possess it. And the same holds true for the ignorant: they too have no desire for wisdom, but in their case it is due to their willingness to remain as dumb as the day they started. This golden rule applies: if someone doesn't think he needs something, he will not want it, since he cannot want what he doesn't think he needs. Do you understand?
...
Isn't it obvious by now, Socrates, that those who love wisdom are not wise nor ignorant but the ones in between, like Love himself. In addition, the young god Love loves wisdom because wisdom and knowledge are the most beautiful things we know of, and Love is always drawn to beauty. It follows that love must be a lover of wisdom and that all lovers of wisdom, that is, philosophers, like Love himself, are somewhere in between total ignorance and complete omniscience. The cause of his generally in-between state lies in Love's parents: his father, you recall, was wise and resourceful, while his mother, well, his mother was not.
The problem I see with faith is that she embodies Wherewithal too much, yet disowns Want. Therefore, faith is not a pathway to knowledge, but rather, a pathway into ignorance, for the reasons discussed above.
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#2
RE: Plato's Epistemology: Is Faith a Valid Way to Know?
Quote: "Does she like me?" To answer his query, the young man might conduct all sorts of analyses, but James suggests that the best way to obtain an answer is to begin with faith that she does. Assume she likes you, James advises, and it is more likely that she will. Wallow in skepticism whether she likes you or not--and chances are she won't.
I don;t find this compelling at all.  It;s an attempt to leverage reciprocity, not to answer the question or generate knowledge..but to produce an intended outcome.  

That it may work (questionable) is indicative of human psychology and some future state, not the state of affairs at hand or the question on the table.

Perhaps James has never heard of just asking the lady, lol. Social awkwardness and an inability to clearly communicate driving a plan to endear oneself to another in future can hardly be called a path to knowledge when such an easy and direct approach is available. It;s a path to pussy, that he;s talking about. Wink
When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for a battle to commence then KPLOW, I hit em with the illness of my quill, Im endowed..with certain unalienable skills....  

-ERB


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#3
RE: Plato's Epistemology: Is Faith a Valid Way to Know?
(June 23, 2018 at 1:49 pm)Khemikal Wrote:
Quote: "Does she like me?" To answer his query, the young man might conduct all sorts of analyses, but James suggests that the best way to obtain an answer is to begin with faith that she does. Assume she likes you, James advises, and it is more likely that she will. Wallow in skepticism whether she likes you or not--and chances are she won't.
I don;t find this compelling at all.  It;s an attempt to leverage reciprocity, not to answer the question or generate knowledge..but to produce an intended outcome.  

That it may work (questionable) is indicative of human psychology and some future state, not the state of affairs at hand or the question on the table.

Perhaps James has never heard of just asking the lady, lol. Social awkwardness and an inability to clearly communicate driving a plan to endear oneself to another in future can hardly be called a path to knowledge when such an easy and direct approach is available. It;s a path to pussy, that he;s talking about. Wink

It looks to me like that may be more of an issue of confidence when it's put into action. I don't speak for everyone but personally I'd say confidence is more attractive than the lack of it... so the difference... in real life actions... between the wallower (eg worrying and vacillating) and the one who assumes she likes him... is confidence and maybe even arrogance. For instance if a man proposes marriage he could either do it in private or do it in public... say in a restaurant with figurative bells and whistles. The latter shows the man has balls... willing to risk public rejection for his beloved, shows he cares more about her (or him Wink) than his own fears etc. The former... shows the opposite... that he's afraid of losing face more than her happiness... he's got a wall around him basically. So if it were me I'd definitely find the confident approach more endearing and more meaningful... it would show he had my back. So yeah, I think that's more a comment on psychology than anything else in the romantic connotation.

But where knowledge is concerned, I think there is a place for faith... but perhaps not in the way meant by the OP... or maybe it is; I'm thinking as I'm writing Wink When I was learning to drive I got hung up on the details (as you know I tend to do Wink)... which is maybe the equivalent of the wallowing part... and had very little confidence that I would ever learn it. (I haven't passed my test btw and am no longer learning Wink but I did learn what I'm talking about here so this example is not a complete bust Wink). Anyway I got hung up on things like what was the perfect position for the biting point of the clutch etc... little things that I obsessed about... but eventually the 'knowledge' came through actually doing (ie practice and familiarisation... and maybe 'muscle memory')... so I learnt to have faith in those sorts of situations that even if the knowledge wasn't apparent to me now it could be in the future... and sometimes that sort of knowledge simply cannot be gained by direct reasoning. Same thing with a new song for instance or exploring a new place... you start off unfamiliar and it takes time for you to become familiar enough to feel like you know the thing (or place) rather than thrashing around in the dark. Once you know it you have expectations about it and how it fits together but before that, you only have the superficial aspects of it and very little idea of how it fits together or even if those superficial aspects can fit together. So anyway I'm just saying that, whether this is strictly what the OP is talking about or not, but if not maybe it's a stepping stone to it, where knowledge acquisition is concerned, there's room for a certain type of faith... a faith in the other and less immediate processes of the mind (such as familiarisation or muscle memory)... and sometimes that sort of faith is actually necessary to move forward because some things learned that way are not really suited to logical analysis.
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#4
RE: Plato's Epistemology: Is Faith a Valid Way to Know?
Suppose we take James' example of the young man and the object of his affection as a single case of a general principle (James doesn't appear to be arguing for knowledge, per se, in the example):  Does having faith in a particular outcome affect the chances of that (presumably desired) outcome actualizing?  Resoundingly - no.

The young man can have all the faith imaginable that his intended likes him, but I disagree that this will increase the chances of her actually liking him - changing his behaviour towards her, based on faith, may actually push her away, or make her indifferent toward his advances.  Suppose I have a mountain of faith that I will win tonight's lotto drawing, or that I won't be involved in a car crash tomorrow, or that my best mate Jimbo will be the first Maori in space by the end of next week.  The odds of these events aren't going to change depending on my faith that they will or won't come to pass.

But let's give James the benefit of the doubt that faith is in fact a means to knowledge.  It strikes me that this can be the case only by happenstance.  Trees are made of wood, not wool.  A burning, passionate, faith-based belief that trees are made of wool isn't going to change anything.  The same level of faith that trees are made of wood is simply comporting with what we already know to be true, irrespective of faith.

If you have faith, you're unlikely to care much for knowledge.  If you have knowledge, you have no need for faith.

Boru
'A man is accepted into a church for what he believes.  He is turned out for what he knows.' - Mark Twain
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#5
RE: Plato's Epistemology: Is Faith a Valid Way to Know?
Faith doesn't jibe well enough with reality and facts to be useful as a way to gain knowledge.
I never thought I'd live long enough to become a grumpy old bastard. Here I am, killing it!
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#6
RE: Plato's Epistemology: Is Faith a Valid Way to Know?
(June 23, 2018 at 12:24 am)vulcanlogician Wrote: In his essay "The Will to Believe," William James tries to make the point that faith is a genuine means to attain knowledge. To argue his point, he uses the example of a young man who is interested in a woman. The question the young man wants to answer is: "Does she like me?" To answer his query, the young man might conduct all sorts of analyses, but James suggests that the best way to obtain an answer is to begin with faith that she does. Assume she likes you, James advises, and it is more likely that she will. Wallow in skepticism whether she likes you or not--and chances are she won't.

My main concern is that William James' mention of faith is that of a secular nature rather than that of a religious nature.  The woman clearly exists, and the argument of faith relies more on the inability to read another person's mind than the religious nature of faith where there is zero evidence for god's existence.
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#7
RE: Plato's Epistemology: Is Faith a Valid Way to Know?
Quote:My main concern is that William James' mention of faith is that of a secular nature rather than that of a religious nature. 

I'm actually more comfortable with faith, so called, in a secular sense than a religious one.  But secular 'faith' has also been termed 'reasonable expectation based on experience' (I forget by whom), which is a hideously clumsy phrase.

A classic example is that of a light switch.  When I enter a darkened room, I turn the light switch to the 'on' position.  I have 'faith' that the lights will come on, because I've flipped that same switch thousands of times before and the lights come on much more often than they don't.  It is therefore a reasonable expectation that the room with get brighter.

But theists (generally right after being backed into a logical corner and just before they abandon argument for invective) pounce on this like a starving ocelot on a distracted mouse and go, 'Aha! You're a person of faith!!', conveniently ignoring the HUGE gulf between expecting a light switch to come on and believing that all human misery is the result of a tricky snake and a misplaced apple.

Boru
'A man is accepted into a church for what he believes.  He is turned out for what he knows.' - Mark Twain
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#8
RE: Plato's Epistemology: Is Faith a Valid Way to Know?
The only case in which faith might lead to actual knowledge is if the Universe responds to faith-- i.e. a Universe which manifests our will, rather than a will which responds to the state of the Universe.

The current view is that this is not the case, surely.
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#9
RE: Plato's Epistemology: Is Faith a Valid Way to Know?
I agree, the type of faith, that is described I would call blind faith. There may be times for that, but it must be tempered with wisdom, knowledge, and skepticism.
It is said that an argument is what convinces reasonable men and a proof is what it takes to convince even an unreasonable man.  - Alexander Vilenkin
If I am shown my error, I will be the first to throw my books into the fire.  - Martin Luther
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#10
RE: Plato's Epistemology: Is Faith a Valid Way to Know?
(June 23, 2018 at 12:24 am)vulcanlogician Wrote: The purpose of this thread is to examine the value of faith or (at the very least) to explore its relation to true knowledge. Be forewarned, the OP goes into some boilerplate ancient Greek philosophy, so if that isn't your thing, I would recommend not reading past the next paragraph. But I will try to convey the gist of things in the first two paragraphs, so if you have a response to what is said in there, feel free to ignore the rest.

...

So let's ask ourselves: "What is genuine knowledge?" or "Who is the person who can best  receive real knowledge?"  Is it the faithful? Or is it the skeptical? I say the latter. And so does Plato. Let's take a look at four types of people: the knowledgeable, the philosophers, the ignorant, and the misunderstanding.

1) The knowledgeable-- (or the "knowing") these people have correct knowledge, and they know that the knowledge that they have is correct.
2) The philosophers-- do not have correct knowledge, and if they do have correct knowledge, they don't know that it's correct. They understand Socrates when he says, "The only thing I know is that I know nothing." They are empty vessels, waiting to be filled, or better yet... as Plutarch puts it... fires waiting to be ignited.
3) The ignorant-- They do not have knowledge, but nor do they want it. They don't know it. Nor do they pursue knowledge. Some of my favorite people fall into this category.
4) The misunderstanding-- These people have false knowledge. Though they mistake it for real knowledge. But they are very certain of their false knowledge.

To me, faith makes one prone to fall into the category of "the misunderstanding"... those who do not know, but think that they DO know. Those who misunderstand are worse than the ignorant, in my opinion. To think the wrong answer is correct is worse than simply admitting one does not know at all. It is better to be ignorant than mistaken, that is what I think.

Knowledge is a belief that is true because there are good reasons to think it is true.  
Faith is a belief based on confidences (warranted or unwarranted) that some state of affairs is correct. 
Everybody has plenty of both categories of belief.

When you say "So let's ask ourselves: "What is genuine knowledge?" or "Who is the person who can best receive real knowledge?"  Is it the faithful? Or is it the skeptical? I say the latter." you are making a category error. Beliefs fall in two categories but you think somehow having faith in one set of propositions somehow affects the ability to distinguish between the two categories. I don't think you can come close to making that case.
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