How Do We Know?
By Dr. Patti Amsden
Life is complex. Any person who has entered the real world of adulthood can testify to its complexities. There is no prince charming to the rescue, no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and no four-leaf clover that makes our wishes come true. If we could magically find our true love, our fortune, or our heart’s dream, we would have to manage and steward any or all of those blessings. Eventually, the miracle would morph into the reality that we would create. What we would do with what we were given would build the world in which we would live. We would be forced to return from the land of wishes and dreams to the land of reality and again testify that life is complex.
Therefore, we must know how to deal with life. We must have knowledge, understanding and wisdom. Right application of truth yields good results. We all want that! We want to find the keys that unlock life’s complexities so that we can build our ideal worlds. The question that begs to be answered is: Where do we go to find those keys of
To find answers, we customarily go to those whom we deem to have knowledge. We view a parent, teacher, doctor, pastor, or some professional as reliable sources. Before we would accept life’s answers from anyone, we should have already deemed that person to be a qualified authority. Authority should only be authority to us if we had predetermined that our source had the right to claim authority. We could say that the epistemological question – or how we know – rests upon the ontological question – the being from whom the knowledge arises. Thus, we should have a theory of being already established before we began our inquiry.
On any given day or any average decision, we probably don’t think to ourselves that ontology precedes epistemology. Nonetheless, we base our decisions upon some presupposition. Unless we consciously think about how we know the facts, from whom did the facts arise, what is the authority level of the person giving the facts, and other such pertinent
questions, we may find ourselves making life more complex rather than actually unlocking its complexities.
The Genesis story about Eve and the Tree of Knowledge gives us insight into this belief that who is speaking lays a sure foundation for the reliability of the knowledge being spoken. God had given her information about the tree. He had told her not to eat of its fruit, and He had spoken the consequences of her actions. The serpent also offered information. He encouraged her to eat and promised almost magical results.
Eve was given two theories of knowledge. How she knew and what she knew – her epistemology – was derived from two authoritative sources. However, Eve failed to investigate the ontological question or the beings that were her source. Apparently, she concluded that what she knew could be decided outside the framework of ontology. Had she examined
the being of serpent against the being of God, she would have compared the created with the Creator, measured imputed knowledge against Original Truth, contrasted a dependent being with the Independent One; weighed temporal life
against Eternal Life, distinguished a subordinate being from the Omnipotent One.
Which key is the right one to use to unlock the complexities of life? Before we decide that question, we should ask
ourselves who is offering the key. Ontology precedes epistemology.
Principle: There are absolute and objective principles that undergird the created order of matter, personal and social
relationships, and the possibilities of sustainable freedom and prosperity within nations.