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Knowledge as a Map

My exams finished up today. I also had to turn in my final assignments. Thought I’d post an idea I came across as I was writing one of my papers. It is a shift in epistemology in recent scholarship. Rather than viewing knowledge as an unbiased description of the world, Kuhn, Polanyi, and others have argued that knowledge is like a map in that it is only a close approximation of reality. It can never possibly include all the information. Yet it can be judged by how well it helps to provide insight into reality itself. This view of epistemology can help us avoid pitfalls of arrogance in our quest for knowledge by reminding us that we will never be able to answer every question. And just as we have several types of maps (topographical, road, political, etc.) and several scales (just look at mapquest), there are all types of knowledge, none of which can lay claim to the whole truth.[1]

[1] I encountered this idea in Hiebert, Paul G. 1996. Critical Issues in the Social Sciences and Their Implications for Mission Studies. Missiology: An International Review XXIV: 65-82.

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Categories: Epistemology
  1. J. K. Jones
    December 11, 2007 at 9:29 pm

    “We can know only a close approximation of reality. It can never possibly include all the information.”

    Except for the fact that we can know that we only know a close approximation of reality. We then know that in all circumstances we only know an approximation of reality. We only know one universal absolute: we can know nothing universal about reality. This line of thinking is self-defeating. If it is true, then it is false.

    “… pitfalls of arrogance in our quest for knowledge…”

    It is arrogant to think that we can know nothing. We assume that we have all possible knowledge when we think like this. We assume that no one can ever learn something that is universal.

    “…there are all types of knowledge, none of which can lay claim to the whole truth…”

    Except that the person who makes this claim makes the absolute statement that only he knows that we cannot know the truth. Not only is he arrogant; he has embraced a self-defeating statement.

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