Summary of ‘ The Nature of Knowing’

W. Martin Davies and Kenneth H. Sievers; Melbourne: Ibid Press, 2004; ISBN 987 1 876659 01 1 (SB)

The Nature of Knowing is a holistic endeavour: it aims to make connections between the ways of knowing  and various areas of knowledge . In conventional philosophical terms, it might be termedpractical epistemology  (“epistemology” = study of knowledge). In contrast to the dry debates with which philosophers of knowledge concern themselves, this book attempts to understand knowledge as an organic process involving situated knowers in a world of facts and information , which require interpretation. The knower begins to interpret this information by means of various ways of knowing and drawing upon, and influencing, a number of areas of knowledge.

The four ways of knowing  are emotion , reason , language  and perception. It is taken for granted that each of these facets of knowing is crucial for determining our knowledge  and knowledge claims. Knowledge is more than rationality , though reason too is a vital part of knowing. Quite often we base our judgements on things other than reason, as this book will make plain. The means by which each of these ways of knowing contribute to what we take to be knowledge is a matter of considerable importance to both individual human life and civilisation. An understanding of these processes, and the role they play in knowledge, is part of what it means to be an “educated person”.

The six areas of knowledge are broadly categorised into the human and natural sciences , history , the arts , mathematics and ethics . These areas of knowledge largely parallel the discipline divisions in all major world universities. The “Natural Sciences “ cover physics , chemistry , biology , geology , etc. “Mathematics “, the natural counterpart to the hard sciences, covers the abstract properties of nature (numbers  and their relationships). By contrast, the “Human Sciences “ cover psychology , economics  and sociology , “The Arts” consist of literature , philosophy  and languages , while “Ethics” consist of practical considerations in the “moral sciences”; that is, the implications of what we do and our actions on daily life. “History”, of course, consists of reflections on the path of human progress to date, and the issues that arise from historical events and their relevance to contemporary life.

In The Nature of Knowing we are not interested in presenting subject matter in the areas of knowledge . This is done in individual textbooks in the subject areas themselves. What we are interested in doing is exploring the connections between issues in the areas of knowledge and our variousways of knowing  in those areas. In particular, we identify seventeen ways of knowing throughout the book. We call these The Paradigms of Knowledge. Throughout the book we introduce each paradigm in a suitable context. In the final chapter, we draw together the threads of the book by returning to each paradigm and discussing them in detail. The methods of reasoning for each of these paradigms in each of the areas of knowledge will be outlined and discussed by means of practical examples and exercises. This will, by necessity, cover issues in the various areas of knowledge themselves (mathematics , physics , history , and so on). But subject content is not itself the main focus; instead, the emphasis is always on connections.

An exploration of connections between the areas of knowledge  and the ways of knowing —between the knower as epistemic agent, and knower as emotional, perceptive, rational and language-using being—has several benefits for students: 1. A deepening understanding of the various “academic tribes” and their methods of knowledge acquisition; 2. An appreciation of the relevance that the areas of knowledge have to the students‘ personal life as a knowing agent; and 3. Perspectives on subject content from the vantage point of a “situated knower”—one in the centre of the circle and not at the edges. Too often it is said that to be a good scientist, for example, one must be dispassionate, objective and unemotional, whereas the reverse is really the case, as the history  of major scientific advances testifies. This book develops understanding of such things. In doing so, it teaches humility and critical appreciation of the many factors which influence knowledge and our daily lives.



Part 1: Introduction

1.     Knowledge and Information

Part II: Language and the Nature of Knowing

2.    Language and Communication
3.    The Characteristics of Language
4.    Language and Meaning
5.    Language and Culture
6.    Definitions

Part III:  Knowledge, Truth and Perception

7.    Truth, Rigour and Justification
8.    Perception, Emotion and Values

Part IV:  Knowing and Reasoning

9.     Knowledge and Coherence
10.   Inference and Reasoning
11.   The Evaluation of Reasoning
12.   Deductive Reasoning Made Simple
13.   How to Lie with Statistics

Part V:  Systems of Knowledge: Mathematics and the Natural Sciences

14.    Mathematical Knowledge
15.    Natural Sciences and Causal Explanation
16.    Theories and Scientific Knowledge

Part VI:  Systems of Knowledge: Human Sciences, Ethics and the Arts

17.    Knowledge in the Human Sciences
18.    Knowing the Past in History
19.    Knowledge and the Arts
20.    Ethics and Practical Reasoning


21.   The Paradigms of Knowledge

Appendix: The Difference Forms of Knowing