How Do We Know? An Introduction

“All men by nature desire to know.” Thus Aristotle began The Metaphysics. Our desire to know drives all our inquiry, all our scientific endeavors, our existential rumination and philosophical pondering. It is, indeed, our distinctive human feature, that which makes us what we are as rational animals.

But what exactly is it to know? How do we know what we know? What can we know?

These are the questions which ignited the modern philosophical project, and in many ways continue to shape and define the intellectual dispositions of our world. Especially in the West, our culture persists in its nearly unbridled acclaim of skepticism for the sake of skepticism, doubt for the sake of doubt, and questioning of all things (or, at least, of all things which it is currently in favorable custom to question).

Of course, we seem to have forgotten that the point of skepticism is truth, the point of doubting is certitude, and the point of questioning is to find answers. All men by nature desire to know; and we cannot know anything if we are always doubting everything. And yet skepticism remains the fashionable mark of intellectual maturity and superiority. Why?

The fact is, we have absolutely no hope of even attempting to answer life’s big and important questions — Does God exist? Does life have meaning or purpose? What is good and right? What does a good society look like? How ought we live? — if we cannot even answer fundamental questions like: Can we trust our senses? Does the external world exist? Is the scientific method reliable? Is there truth which can be arrived at in ways other than the scientific method? Are the laws of logic true and absolute? Etc.

So this is an introduction to a series which will be aimed at answering some of those more fundamental epistemological questions, in the ultimate hope that doing so will better enable us to answer some of the big questions. In the series we will be looking at some of the questions and problems raised by various modern philosophers (Descartes, Locke, Hume, Kant, etc.), exploring their practical and theoretical implications, and then seeking a way forward.

Why?

Because all men by nature desire to know.

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