The Value of Knowledge and the Pursuit of Understanding

The Value of Knowledge and the Pursuit of Understanding

The Value of Knowledge and the Pursuit of Understanding

The Value of Knowledge and the Pursuit of Understanding

Synopsis

Epistemology has for a long time focused on the concept of knowledge and tried to answer questions such as whether knowledge is possible and how much of it there is. Often missing from this inquiry, however, is a discussion on the value of knowledge. In The Value of Knowledge and the Pursuit of Understanding Jonathan Kvanvig argues that epistemology properly conceived cannot ignore the question of the value of knowledge. He also questions one of the most fundamental assumptions in epistemology, namely that knowledge is always more valuable than the value of its subparts. Taking Platos' Meno as a starting point of his discussion, Kvanvig tackles the different arguments about the value of knowledge and comes to the conclusion that knowledge is less valuable than generally assumed. Clearly written and well argued, this 2003 book will appeal to students and professionals in epistemology.

Excerpt

The history of epistemology centers on the concept of knowledge, especially on the difficult questions of whether knowledge is possible and, if it is, how much of it there is. a presupposition of this inquiry is that whether and to what extent we have knowledge is deeply important. Philosophers reflect on the nature and extent of knowledge not simply because they have free afternoons to fill but (also) because questions about what we know and how we know it touch on the deeply significant questions about the relationship between mind and world and the possibility of success in determining what is true and what is not. in a word, knowledge is valuable, and philosophers reflect on what we know because they share this viewpoint.

Given the centrality of this presupposition to epistemological inquiry, it is surprising to find so little discussion of the value of knowledge in the history of epistemology. Given the singular importance of the concept of knowledge to the history of philosophizing about the nature of cognitive success, we might have expected such inquiry to be preceded by a defense of the idea that knowledge constitutes an (almost) unsurpassable achievement with respect to the connection between mind and world. Such expectation disappoints, however. the question of the value of knowledge is simply not among the questions that dominate the history of epistemology.

Part of the reason for this omission may be that the answers to questions about the value of knowledge can seem to be rather short and sweet. Francis Bacon is credited with the idea that knowledge is power, illustrative of opinions that understand the value of knowledge in terms of the practical benefits it brings. Others, academics in particular, speak of the value of knowledge for its own sake, suggesting a further, nonpractical basis for . . .

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