Recognising that the world is unknowable presents me with a choice. How do I make sense of day-to-day observations and events that seem to emerge from it? Once I become aware of this unknowability I am confronted with – and need to make – my own choice. Options seem to cluster around three main poles.
- The first of these is to act as though that the world is more-or-less as I see it, and to ignore the incompleteness of my viewpoints and my representations. This is equivalent to saying ‘there is no epistemological issue about the way I see the world’.
- The second is to decide that the world is more-or-less as I see it but to recognise that my viewpoint is limited and the view-from-here may be misleading because it is only partial – there is no view of the roof, to use my previous metaphor. This stance accepts that I must be careful to explore the world as fully as I can because I cannot see everything and may be misled.
The choice one makes has profound implications for one’s ranges of thought and action. As humans we each find ourselves with a unique perspective – one that no-one else shares – and this enables us to each make our own unique contribution to understanding an issue holistically. But we also have to accept that our viewpoint is only ever a ‘view from here’ (a perspective) or even a ‘view from inside here’ (a perspective that takes account of some of the new insights about cognition). I have no direct access to a reality that is independent of my way of looking at things. And this is true however much I set my own desires and interests to one side in an attempt to be objective.
- The third pole is to take on fully the implications of the world’s unknowability. This stance demands that I be always aware that I will never know the world and must therefore always be trying to account for my own role in my perceptions of the world. Consciously making the choice between these poles, and all the variants in between, is an act of epistemic awareness.
Whatever stance I choose to adopt, being aware of the epistemological issues increases my range of options-for-action. It means that I can change the issue I perceive by changing the way I think about it. This isn’t the same as saying I can see the situation in whatever way I choose. If I understand some of the things that influence how I see the situation, then I can take steps to reduce the limitations of my view. I can also extend the range of possibilities I might see through alternative perspectives.
Rosalind Armson in Growing Wings on the WayCredits and references: