can there be a known without a knower...?

 

Is it an ironic irony that each new 'truth' proclaimed simply forces reinterpretation of all previous 'truths'? Or, that permanence (generally perceived, not actual) is often essential to expose and illuminate flux and change?

As the rather kooky, yet oft-quoted and sometimes admired, German philosopher Nietzsche suggested in the mid 1800s: "All things are subject to interpretation whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth."

[doesn't the PR, marketing, and advertising industry know this well...most especially political parties, especially governing ones and their speech writers and spin machines.]

A currently-living philosopher, Eric Kramer based at the University of Oklahoma suggests:

"there is no meaning without interpretation and there is no interpretation without a perspective. Thus, there is no knowledge without a perspective."

Kramer makes this argument in discussing various 'methods' of interpretation, somewhat focused on literary criticism, yet quite relevant for any sort of interpretation. His specific focus is on the dominant methods of interpretation in current society - that of scientific methods and positivism - e.g. being 'objective'... [just the facts, m'am, just the facts.]

The positivist methods essentially suggest that much of everything (society, nature, individuals, etc.) operate according to general laws - of which science and method can reveal. That everything is verifiable by reliable and valid methods. Comte a philosopher from the early 1800s is largely attributed with the philosophy of positivism, suggesting: "Positivism is a way of understanding based on science"; people don't rely on the faith of god but instead of the science behind humanity.

There are multiple criticisms and deconstructions of the positivist methods - yet much of Western society (and more) still operates under the influence of it - sometimes like a driver after ten shots of whiskey.

Returning to Kramer in the present age, he feels:

"There have been modern attempts to create methods of interpretation that can aid in the positivistic dream to methodically prove the existence of only one world, one interpretation that is legitimate, real, and true and to devalue all others as false, even insane. The effort is to render, once and for all, the one correct - meaning valid and reliable - version..."

'Valid and reliable'... the number of times I have heard this marriage of terms at a meeting of fisheries scientists, for example as the latest in computer modeling and statistical equations are rolled out. The only legitimate, real, and true knowledge of fish comes from fisheries science... "well, the model is kicking out..." the scientists/experts suggest.

At one particular meeting in recent years of fisheries scientists and community members, a dreadful PowerPoint presentation ensued explaining intricacies of 'reliability' and 'validity'. Which sadly, also said, without saying it, "hey you community folks... your knowledge is not reliable nor valid."

There are, I'm sure, countless examples of processes (e.g. Environmental Assessments) or meetings where 'experts' are the one and only 'valid' and 'reliable' sources of data and methods. (or perceived perhaps...)

Kramer suggests:

"An irony is that those who invent methods do not do so methodically, but instead experimentally. The origin of geometry was not given geometrically... Science is not a scientific product, but instead an invention of philosophical reflection."

Where does, for example, fisheries science originate from?


 

Kramer provides an interesting history of positivistic methods, or science and scientific, hierarchical classifications and taxonomies - going back to Linnaeus in the 1700s, and his view that 'knowledge' consisted as a: "sort of disciplined bookkeeping, a standardized mode of classification."

This 'Linnaeun' view is about a worldview or ideology that revolves around a set of classification principles that promote categorization, order, and organization - all based on preestablished judgements (e.g. what the categories and traits consist of). As Kramer suggests,

"to know what a thing is is not just to know its name, but to name it according to its inherent characteristics. Thus, the name is logical, which is to say that it logically follows from the characteristics that constitute the nature of the thing. Herein lays the referential validity presumed in the indicative name and the credibility of the name-sayer as a knower."

From here evolved the authority of 'references' such as the dictionary, the encyclopedia, the museum - the "institutions of recorded fact (things already done), repositories of language, and culture construed as tradition in the antiquarian sense, not as lifeworld."

Knowledge is all about classification and categories. Order becomes equated with reason and knowledge (as well as reliability and validity), and as Kramer suggests, "This style has great influence via appellation [name or title] on those who categorize, name, and describe." (e.g. the experts).

Yet,

"The institutions that seek firm ground turn out to be only momentary patches maintained through social sanction within a larger field of change. While their conventional authority lasts, such textual institutions enable the privileging of those who conform to them the most."

Sound like the world of post-secondary institutions? Nothing more important than 'referencing' the 'experts' and ensuring that the language, the formats, and the logic follow the classification required. Discipline within the discipline. Shy away from 'innovation' which at its roots means 'bring into the new' - from the Latin root novus, meaning new, and innovare "to renew, restore; to change". 

Or, how about other 'institutions' such as various classifications of 'science' - say 'fisheries science' or 'wildlife biology' or various other 'disciplined disciplines'. The question becomes, where did these originate from? What is the apparent 'shoulders of giants' that each discipline is built upon? - layer upon layer upon layer.

Who 'disciplines' these disciplines...? Is it simply the indoctrinated that keep the disciplines disciplined? The experts, the 'authorities' are the discipliners within each discipline?

One of the problems that may arise is that no matter how many layers of bullshit - it's still bullshit. Or, worse yet, if the upper layers give a sense of 'stability' (or reliability and validity), but yet, are built on an original layer of bullshit - one should probably ask whether bullshit makes good foundations...

A central question still relates to the title of this post and relates to the opening illustration - as we 'learn' more, we learn more about what we don't know... and thus we are into the Donald Rumsfeldian cycle, we don't know what we don't know, and so on...

And thus are there knowns without knowers? And if one 'knows', are they not then bias, and thus not 'objective'? How do they know? What makes them a 'knower'?