Since the dawn of intellectual humanity philosophy has been characterized by a dichotomy between the realm of being (ontology) and the realm of knowing (epistemology). Ontology deals with questions like, “What exists?”, “Are there properties in nature that can be grouped under a single name, or is each instance of a ‘group’ a different group in itself?”, and, “Are properties an intrinsic part of nature, or are they nothing more than a projection of our imagination?” Epistemology, on the other hand, is concerned with questions like, “What can we truly know?”, “Of what can we be absolutely certain?”, and, “Are there universally true ideas?”
The distinction between ontology and epistemology is deeply ingrained within academic philosophy. But, when you take a closer look at the distinction, there seems to be something very odd about it.
Let me ask you the following: if you look outside of your window, what is it that you see? Let’s assume that you would say that you see a tree, a car and little boy kicking a football. Okay, now let me ask you a different question: what do you think you know exists outside of your window? “Uh, a tree, a car and a little child kicking a football?”, you will probably say. But what’s the point of this?
Well, what I am trying to show is that although there might be a difference between what exists out there in the world and what you think you know exists out there in the world, we human beings only have access to the latter. We only have access to our own beliefs. Because think about it: how could we possibly determine what the world is made of if we aren’t even sure about what it is that we truly know? How can we ever believe to gain certainty about what is out there if we aren’t even sure about what is in here, in ourselves? In our own little worlds that we call our minds? In other words: why would we even try to come up with an ontology if there are no objective means to judge the fruits of these efforts?
It is, as I’ve written about in a previous article, impossible for us human beings to detach ourselves from our own, inherently limited, first-person perspectives. That is, we are forced to see the world through our own eyes forever. It is impossible for us to leave our own points of view behind and step into “the world as it truly is“. And even if we would be able to do so, to step into the world as it truly is, how would we know that we had entered it? How could we know that there is no other world of ideas that is even truer than this one? Then we, first of all, have to be sure that we have reached the truest of worlds, right? But then again, how would we know that?
I would say that there is no reason for continuing the ontological tradition besides it being “just fun” to speculate about what might exist in the world out there, in the same way it might be fun to speculate about what Hogwarts might be like. Let’s first of all focus on what we might be able to gain at least a little bit of certainty about. That is, let’s focus ourselves on what we think we know. Let’s focus ourselves on the quest of epistemology.
But what do you think?
Note: if you have found this an interesting article, you might also enjoy this one. A warning upfront: this one might be a little more philosophical in nature.