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

By Peter Munz | Go to book overview

2

THE DUBIOUS CREDENTIALS OF POSITIVISM

We have established that knowledge is not a relation between mind and matter, that is, between consciousness, evolution’s most astonishing production, and the rest of the world. When we started with introspection, we got consciousness, and with consciousness, we got fashioned images—natural ones or artificial ones. But however we turned and no matter how we manipulated those images, we never got beyond consciousness. Any relationship was a relation between consciousness and its images. If there was cognition, it was cognition of images; not of the world. Alternatively, we found that consciousness can be labelled by words or sentences. But such labelling is hypothetical and the determination of the labels comes from the language one is speaking—not from the constitution of the world or its properties. Labels do not lead to knowledge, and the relationship they establish between knower and known is a social, not a cognitive relationship.

Let us therefore explore what happens if we start at the other end—not with the knower, but with the known; or, more correctly, with what is supposed to become known—the world. If we take the world for granted, we can assume that the cognitive relationship results from the fact that the world stamps its image upon the knower or instructs him or her to know. This will mean that the knower is a passive recipient, and the more passively he or she receives instructions, the more correct the knowledge that is left with him or her. Now look at the other side of the relation of knowledge. Knowledge, we said, is a cognitive relationship between an inner and an outer world, between the inside of a living cell and the rest of the world. The inner and the outer are separated by a skin or a membrane, and the cognitive feature of the relationship consists in the fact that the membrane knows what to let through. It is a perfectly reasonable supposition that the membrane’s knowledge results from the fact that the outside world has instructed the cell and its membrane and that the cell, to receive the instructions correctly, has listened as passively and attentively as it can.

When Wittgenstein remarked that there is nothing specially ‘mystical’ in the way how the world is, he could not have sounded so persuasive had he not stood at the end of a very long tradition which had maintained, in one

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Introduction - Cognitive Conditions 1
  • 1 - Man’s Glassy Essence 28
  • 2 - The Dubious Credentials of Positivism 81
  • 3 - The Lure of Sociology 103
  • 4 - The Nature of the Mirror 137
  • 5 - The View from Somewhere 185
  • Notes 230
  • Index 246
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