You know in “The Shape of Water” how a mute woman manages to communicate with a fish-man? Or how in “Arrival” Amy Adams manages to understand the aliens’ weird ink blot language and somehow see the future? Well, this week’s Way of Knowing is language. Language is one of the most important ways of knowing. Without language, we not only wouldn’t be able to read, write or speak, but we also wouldn’t be able to share our knowledge with each other. Without the ability to communicate, how would it be possible for vital knowledge that is required to survive to pass on to others? Language is a key way of knowing because without language we may not even have a reality because nothing could be defined.
Another interesting aspect about language as a way of knowing is relativism. This is when the same concept is interpreted differently by people because of the difference in language. Some people believe that this means that to truly understand another person’s version of reality, you have to be able to speak their language. This is is due to the difference in or lack of words used and their direct translation. Some concepts are completely different, for example, in Pormpuraaw, where the Kuuk Thaayorre language is spoken they don’t have spatial terms such as ‘left’ and ‘right’ they instead interpret space using North, South, East and West. Noam Chomsky believes that people, no matter what there native language is or the languages they speak, will have the same view on the world and that their spoken language has no affect on their interpretation of the world.
There is much debate about our ability to learn language. Nativists believe that people are born with the ‘ability’ to learn a language and that it is already hardwired into a person’s brain. People such as Noam Chomsky and Stephen Pinker believe in this theory because it would explain how easily young children can pick up a language. Empirical thinkers such as John Locke believed that we were born with no language acquisition skills whatsoever. The theory that language is just a result of our interaction with the environment around us, developed by Dermot Barnes-Holmes and Steven C. Hayes, is a more modern theory as to how we learn language.
Although science can provide proof that certain parts of these theories might be true, it is unlikely that they will ever be able to prove if language can affect someone’s interpretation of the world or if we are born with the ability to learn a language already in our heads. Language is a vital form of knowledge not just for the taking in of knowledge but also for the sharing of knowledge.
So, back to the question, “Is knowledge objectively good?”, and we can start by asking, what is good? People seem to have very strong opinions about what is good and what is bad, but can you really say that one thing is good for everyone? I think that you can’t. I think that “good” is too big of a word because there is no such thing as just good or bad, there is a lot of grey area in-between. Some things are “ok”, some things are “not bad” and some things are seen as “beyond terrible”. So how can you say something is good?
The next part of this big question is, is knowledge good? Most people think that it is because without knowledge, we wouldn’t be alive. We wouldn’t know what we need to survive. So knowledge is good, right? In this sense yes, knowledge is good, because it is vital to the continuing survival of the human race. There is some knowledge that is bad. Knowing that a loved one is dying and that there is nothing you can do to save them. Is that bad knowledge because it makes you upset? Or is it good knowledge because it will give you time to accept it rather than their death being shocking and sudden? It seems that in both of these cases, that knowledge is good but sometimes people believe it is bad. People believing that it’s bad might make it seem like it is but I think that without knowing we wouldn’t be here, and that’s definitely not good.
TOK, the one lesson where it is ok to question the entire existence of mankind and what we ‘know’. Do we know anything? Are we really here? Do we even exist? Ok, that’s taking it a bit far but you get the picture. So, how is questioning the entire fabrication of the universe going to help me with life? I haven’t quite figured that out yet, but understanding how all knowledge came to be as it is today, that doesn’t sound half bad.
Is knowledge objectively ‘good’? How can we say that anything is ‘good’? Is it as black and white as ‘good’ versus ‘bad’? Who decides what’s ‘good’ and what’s ‘bad’? Is it you? Is it me? Is it some other worldly power that decides? ‘Good’ is not a simple word. There is so much weight behind calling something ‘good’. You might think it’s ‘good’, but the person standing next to you might think it’s not Some people are viewed as ‘good’, but surely, there is one thing about that person that isn’t perfect.
Can knowledge be ‘good’? Or is knowledge just the truth, a fact that can neither be ‘good’ nor ‘bad’? Can you say that knowing one thing is good whilst knowing another is bad? Truth is one way that people define knowledge, but surely sometimes it is better not to know certain things. Does that therefore make truth bad? All of these questions fall under the question of “Is Knowledge Objectively Good?”. We can think that we know the answer to this, but will ever really know?