Philosophical Darwinism: On the Origin of Knowledge by Means of Natural Selection

By Peter Munz | Go to book overview

1

MAN’S GLASSY ESSENCE

proud man

Dressed in a little brief authority
Most ignorant of what he’s most assured—
His glassy essence

(Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, II, ii, 117-20)


I

For a long time almost all philosophers have held that if knowledge is a relation between a knower and something that is known, the two sides of this relation are formed by mind and matter. Mental events are events which ‘know’ the rest of the world, and the main reason for the presence of mental events is the fact that they do the knowing. The world somehow presents itself to the mind and the mind, somehow, represents what has been presented to it. Knowledge of other mental events or minds is a special case. In this model, other minds are either held to be like the knower’s mind, in which case knowledge of other minds is a form of self-knowledge, or they are taken to be as different from the knower’s mind as non-mental events, in which case the relationship of knowledge is exactly like a relationship between mind and matter. This model has a forceful prima facie plausibility. For we do know that there are mental events; and we do know that knowledge is a relation. The origin and persistent plausibility of the model comes from the presumption that these two incontestable facts must be linked together, and this presumption comes from the fact that we constantly talk about our mental events as if we knew what they contained or what they intended or what they were about. This kind of talk creates the illusion that at least some of their ‘content’ is unalterably known information about non-mental events. If one analyses how we talk about mental events and how our ability to do so comes about, we will see that this presumption is not justified. There are countless variations on this model. But it is no exaggeration to say that from Plato right down to the middle of the twentieth century some such model was used to deal with the phenomenon of knowledge. The model is deeply

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