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Knowledge of Appearances

This post is part of the series Knowledge in Philosophy

Other posts in this series:

  1. Knowledge of Appearances (Current)
  2. Pure Appearances?
  3. Comparing Theories of the World

In my last post, I proved that the mind is active and seeks out relevant information. But further progress on the nature of the mind required investigating the knowledge of appearances. There is no real distinction between knowledge of appearances and theories of the world because some appearances are also theories of the world.

Appearances cannot neatly be separated from our knowledge of the world or distinguished easily by sensory modality. Appearances are the way the world appears to us. I might claim “I am seeing myself type on a computer right now”. But I am not merely seeing, I am also hearing the keys being struck and feeling myself strike the keys. In addition to the many modalities of our sense experiences, it is not easy to distinguish between the way the world appears to us and the way the world is. This is especially obvious with vision. No one claims “A white patch appears to me”. Instead, we claim “My computer screen is white”. But the second sentence implies that there is a real computer with a real screen and it has a real property – being white. The first sentence implies nothing of that sort.

We naturally unify our perceptions of singular objects. This means that we claim to see, hear and feel the same thing. But this unification is not established by any kind of reasoning. It simply seems self-evident that these sensations are caused by the same object and our sensations accurately describe that same object.

This has implications for our knowledge of these appearances. We obviously know our appearances because they are conceptual rather than imaginary. Anything conceptual can be described using words. We may not be able to describe what we see very well, but we know that we see various colors and shapes. We hear sounds of various pitches and feel various temperatures and pressures. Each one of these things can be described using our concepts, and apply to more than one particular thing. Imaginary concepts are always particular and apply to exactly one thing. This is why everyone’s imaginary constructs are different.

This means that there is no clear distinction between our knowledge of appearances and our theories of the world. I might say that “A computer appears to me” which is a statement of appearance. But there is also plenty of evidence from the appearances that I am actually seeing a computer. This evidence includes my hands typing on the computer, the sounds the computer makes and the visual evidence. Furthermore, this evidence is persistent and predictable. This means that I am not relying on a single sense experience, but on a continuous stream of sense experiences that have predictable and understandable properties. But if something can be both a sense experience and a theory of the world, there is no way of placing sense experiences in one category and theories of the world in a separate category.

Next, I will discuss whether or not there are any appearances that are not also theories of the world and what this might mean.

Continue reading this series:

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