Sunday, March 5, 2017

Knowledge = Sense of Self?

“Knowledge gives us a sense of who we are.” To what extent is this true in the human sciences and one other area of knowledge?

Knowledge offers the knower the unique ability of self-evaluation with the tools given to them in the knowledge they have attained. In the statement “knowledge gives us a sense of who we are,” the pull for a binary opposite is heavy. More knowledge becomes viewed as the positive, and less knowledge viewed as the negative. However, knowledge is not the sole factor, or even the largest factor, that denotes a person’s perception of his or her inner self, but rather can be seen as one of many things working together to shape a person.

The statement “knowledge gives us a sense of who we are” sets itself up to be turned into the positive half of a social binary. From the phrase, it is easy to assume that knowledge equals the ability to understand oneself. Understanding oneself (“sense of who we are”) is a positive thing, and so inherently knowledge is seen as a good thing. From the structuralist point of view, meaning (“a sense of who we are”) is derived from creating opposites, or binaries. In a binary interpretation, anti-knowledge, or the opposite of knowledge, correlates with a negative (or decreasing) sense of who we are. And therefore a lack of knowledge is seen as a bad thing.


The danger of this binary is that it implies that UN-knowledgeable people will be UN-able to develop a sense of who they are. This is not necessarily true. There are many other factors that impact a person’s understanding of him or herself. In The Tao of Pooh, by Benjamin Hoff, Hoff speaks of the members of Western Academia: “Far from reflecting the Taoist ideal of wholeness and independence, this incomplete and unbalanced creature divides all kinds of abstract things into little categories and compartments, while remaining rather helpless and disorganized in his daily life” (Hoff 25). The words “incomplete and unbalanced” suggest a lack of identity with one’s self, or an absence of sense of one’s self. This directly contradicts the binary set up by the prompt. Hoff seems to suggest that the academicians have got it wrong: they are chasing knowledge for the sake of knowledge, and in so doing lose the ability to have a whole life (“a sense of who we are.”)

On the note of knowledge and experience, Hoff writes later in the same chapter: “But sometimes the knowledge of the scholar is a bit hard to understand because it doesn’t seem to match up with our own experience of things. In other words, Knowledge and Experience do not necessarily speak the same language. But isn’t the knowledge that comes from experience more valuable than the knowledge that doesn’t? It seems fairly obvious to some of us that a lot of scholars need to go outside and sniff around - walk through the grass, talk to the animals” (Hoff 29). Knowledge does offer the knower the ability to improve or analyze their position in their world, and Hoff argues here that knowledge gained through experience is more beneficial than knowledge gained for the sake of knowledge. The thing lacking in the academicians knowledge is that he or she is not gleaning it from personal experience, and so therefore it doesn’t carry the same weight. The experience is the conduit that knowledge must use to shape a person’s sense of self. If knowledge does not have experience to assist it, it will not make an impact.

This discovery inhibits the binary created by the statement. Knowledge is not the sole factor, or even the largest factor that denotes our understanding of ourselves. Knowledge alone does not bring about a whole understanding of one’s self. This statement leaves a gap for a dangerous interpretation; it is not safe to simply say that knowledge equals a decent sense of who we are. The development of a person’s understanding of him or herself weighs heavily on many more things than knowledge; faith, emotion, and sociological factors all affect how we perceive ourselves.

1 comment:

  1. This is a fine reflection. I am glad you found the binary discussion useful here, and that you are drawing also from outside readings. Glad that you are enjoying Hoff: how fun is it, right!?

    From a TOK perspective, you are on the right track, but you miss an opportunity to sidestep (or elucidate) your binary early on when you make an early assumption of what is meant by "knowledge" in the prompt. You leave it vague (lack of concrete RLSs is another broad weakness of the response), but you seem to assume that knowledge=book smarts. But the TOK leaves room for knowledge gained through many different sources (not just reason but also emotion and intuition). Your response would feel more balanced if you granted these possibilities early, even if you explained that many would read "knowledge" and assume the sort of knowledge that Hoff decries (analytical knowledge).

    You haven't locked in a clear relationship to "the social sciences and one other area of knowledge." Use the language of the curriculum.

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