Knowing why we know what we know

descartes

Descartes (above) famously said, “I think, therefore I am”, but reasoning is not the only way we come to know things. We get knowledge in various ways, but don’t often stop to analyse the process. How Do We Know? (James Dew and Mark Foreman, IVP Academic) is a fairly straightforward, easily accessible short book on epistemology (the study of knowledge), with an emphasis on religious knowledge.

This is an area often skipped over too quickly. Whenever we talk about truth or knowledge it may be helpful to step back and try and understand what exactly knowledge is. By this, the authors suggest, we don’t simply mean the content of our minds, but what it actually means to know something. For Plato, this meant not only believing something, but understanding why it is that we believe something; in other words, connecting the dots so that, as Plato also suggests, this line of thinking remains embedded in our minds.

The authors go on to talk about, helpfully, how we come to know things, and in particular comment about inference, revelation, perceptions and knowledge that is passed on and that we accept not because we have all the facts but because we trust the messenger. This they then relate to the concept of faith, which they suggest can get confused with knowledge and which, they suggest, is “a response to knowledge, but not a source of it”.

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