One non-answer

One commenter on Josh’s post asked for just one example of another “way of knowing” and another was ready with an answer.

Let’s see … do you has a “significant other” … a person you love? How do you know that you “love” that person? Note that I am not asking about hormones or brain chemistry (unless, in fact, you have measured your hormone levels or your brain chemistry in order to decide if, in truth, you “love” that person … in which case, I feel very sorry for you). The question is how YOU know you love that person.

So…the claim is that there are “other ways of knowing” and one of them is knowing you love someone.

But there’s so much wrong with that it’s hard to know where to begin, so I won’t bother trying to say all that’s wrong with it. But one thing is that knowledge of one’s own emotions is not automatically or necessarily really knowledge – in other words, we can get our own emotions wrong. Another thing is that it’s not really the kind of knowledge that’s at issue (which is probably why it’s not usually even referred to as knowledge). A more relevant kind of knowledge would be knowledge that a person you love loves you. That’s more relevant because it is knowledge about a part of the world outside the self, so it’s more closely related to science than introspection is. So – the question then becomes ‘how do you know that person loves you?’ Well guess what – sometimes you don’t!

This is not a big news shock, right? We can get these things wrong. It happens. And in any case, we’re not going by some special spooky kind of knowledge – we’re going by various kinds of empirical knowledge. We don’t decide that people love us for no reason – we don’t decide that some random acquaintance loves us just because we have an intuition or an insight. We “know” that particular people love us for reasons – we have reasons for the “knowledge” – and those reasons are hooked up to the world; they’re not weird or special or supernatural. They’re rooted in history and behavior and words and actions.

And even with all that, we can be wrong. We don’t know, and we often know we don’t know. Suppose X starts acting like someone who doesn’t love us a bit – suppose X becomes distant and cold and irritable. We may want to decide that we still “know” X loves us; we may decide that X is acting this way for reasons that are nothing to do with us. We may be right – and we may be wrong. By the same token, we may decide that X does not love us, and there again we may be right or we may be wrong. In other words – we don’t know. Knowledge that people love us isn’t inherently reliable knowledge at all, not of its nature. Of course it’s good to trust people’s love unless there’s a good reason not to, but that’s not because it’s reliable knowledge – it’s for other reasons.

So, no, the ‘love’ answer doesn’t cut it.

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