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Theory of Knowlenge Essay: The Quality of Knowledge is Best Measured by How Many People Accept It

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“Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion and knowledge.” – Plato These three things from the quote really differentiate humans from other animals. Desire is what we live for and have an aim in life to achieve it and emotion is a way of knowledge which means we gain knowledge through emotions. Knowledge is the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. Knowledge is what drives us to our destination which we desire. So, without knowledge there is no desire for which we live.

In our life cycle two things don’t stop flowing: time and knowledge. Since we were born till our death knowledge never stops flowing around us. We gain and share knowledge; we gain knowledge from different places like school, college, jobs, real life situations, experience, etc. With so much knowledge around us, quality of the knowledge is very crucial as we need to choose the right knowledge for our needs. And there is a big question that who measures the quality of knowledge? This is where authority comes into play, authority can be person or group of people having power. There are different authorities for different areas of knowledge. The question that awaits to be unraveled is that who decides the quality of knowledge: is it the majority of people or is it the experts or authority. This also leads to a debate between experts and non-experts. This led to my knowledge question: “To what extent an authority plays a role in measuring the quality of knowledge derived from natural sciences and human sciences.” I have been always fascinated to study about natural and human sciences as you learn how complex is the nature in natural sciences, for example, how our body and brain functions and how human beings respond to various situations differently; Thus, the title of my TOK essay will be analyzed using natural sciences and human sciences. My first claim authority plays a major role in measuring the quality of knowledge is supported by example about Ignaz Semmelweis and childbed fever.

Ignaz Semmelweis was a physician who while his 2-year appointment as an assistant in obstetrics (related to childbirth) in a teaching hospital discovered the reason for high mortality rates of the mothers giving birth in the hospital. He found out that women delivered by physicians and medical students had a much higher post-delivery mortality rate of about 13-18% (due to puerperal fever or childbed fever) when compared to deliveries by midwifes and midwife trainees of about 2% only. After knowing this fact, he wanted to find the reason behind the huge differences in the mortality rate so I will be using reason as ways of knowing (WOK). The reason he found out was that higher rates with medical students and physicians was that before the delivery they were involved in autopsies which is the handling of the corpse and also the post-mortem examination of a corpse which lead to spread of infections. At that time, he did not know the reason for the infection which was later discovered after the discovery of germs which spread the infection. After finding this he implemented mandatory hand wash using a chloride of lime solution due to which the mortality rate reduced to 2% and he further reduced the mortality rate after cleaning the medical instruments. His senior, Professor Klein, member of academic “old guard” did not agree with Semmelweis and rejected his conclusions and gave a reason for lower mortality rated were due to new ventilation system of the hospital.

His work was revisited two decades after his death and was accepted and he was given credit. So, as Ignaz Semmelweis’s findings were correct and which also had evidence was not accepted as his senior who had authority or power did not accept it. His knowledge was not accepted as he did not have power as he worked as an assistant. So here authority plays a major role in measuring the quality of knowledge, as his senior did not accept his work it was not accepted and was then accepted when other authority (group of scientists) revisited his work and considered the germ theory.

The counter claim to state that, Authority alone does not play a major role in measuring the quality of knowledge is supported by the Phlogiston theory. This theory was proposed by Johan Joachim Becher in 1667; the theory stated that all object which can catch fire (also known as combustible objects) all contain an element known as phlogiston. While the process of burning the element, phlogiston is released which leads to the burned substance lose weight as it loses phlogiston. He came up with this theory due to reason and intuition. As he wanted to find the reasons which is behind the process of combustion led to his intuition about a substance known as phlogiston which later discovered was oxygen, so, I will be using reason and intuition as my ways of knowing (WOK). In the start of 18th century other chemists like Georg Ernst Stahl agreed with the phlogiston theory and expanded the theory furthermore by stating that corrosion of metals was another form of combustion. He believed that metals in air when converted to calx lost phlogiston element, so would lose weight of the substance.

Further experiments when done after the discovery of oxygen done by Antoine Lavoisier, found out that the substance after burning would weigh more than before which was opposite to the phlogiston theory, Lavoisier with one of the discovers of the oxygen found that oxygen was the element which was always involved in the process of combustion. By 1800, other chemists recognized the validity of Lavoisier’s oxygen theory and phlogiston theory was rejected. In this example, authority did accept the knowledge and it was also accepted by people at that, but due to other factors like advancements over the period of time lead to the theory which accepted by authority and other people being suspended. So, here authority is alone does not play a major role in measuring the quality of knowledge. My second claim Authorities produces valid knowledge is supported by the banning of eye witness testimony in many countries by the Supreme Court. The U.S Supreme Court bans eye witness testimonial in many cases. One of them is of Darrill Henry who was convicted of murdering a woman and her daughter in 2004 in New Orleans. The only evidence present for the investigation was the testimony of the neighbors who claimed to see the incidence. The supreme court did not allow to use eye witness testimony as it is considered not reliable and also in Nebraska another US state a similar incident took place where eye witness testimony was not accepted and in Alabama, Georgia and Florida the federal courts have restricted its use. As we use sense perception to gain knowledge, I have used sense perception as my way of knowing. The reason behind this is explained by many theories stating that memory influences sense perception and our memory is not reliable. One of them is top down processing by Psychologist Richard Gregory. Top down processing also known as conceptual driven processing, happens when we form our own perceptions, we make our best guess based on past experiences or prior knowledge, beliefs and expectations.

So, in this example it is seen that as big authorities like the supreme court when accept the knowledge the knowledge produce by the psychologists was considered more valid and reliable and was accepted by more and more people and other authorities. And if this was not accepted by any courts or other authorities the theory which is valid would not be widely accepted. So, here authority produced valid knowledge.

My counter claim Authorities can produce invalid knowledge is supported by the Blank slate theory. This theory is attributed to philosopher John Locke. This theory states that when we are born our mind is blank and only gains knowledge with later experiences and learning throughout the life. It was believed as the mind was blank, all the behavior was learnt through the environment we live in and what we experience. At that point of time this was widely accepted by many psychologists at first and it was considered to be valid. Due to acceptance of the theory by many psychologists and philosophers, people at that time used to believe it without any doubt.

As it was fist found by a philosopher it would be using faith as a way of knowing as everyone just had belief in the theory even if there were no evidences present to support the theory. Over period of time after studies in genetics basic things were proven that genes and other traits are inherited from our parents. Many studies for human behavior conducted to see if we inherit traits from birth itself, and it was found that much behavioral traits were inherited from our parents and some were developed with experience, which proved that when we are born we don’t have a blank mind, we have some pre-developed traits from our parents. So, in this example the authority being psychologists and philosophers did produce invalid knowledge due to faith, which was then falsified by many experiments providing evidence. So, with this example it can be seen that authority can produce invalid knowledge.

In my opinion, the quality of knowledge mostly cannot be best measured by how many people accept it because many times people blindly believe something and can end up accepting invalid knowledge. “The dead and past stories that I have told again in divers fashions, are not set down without authority”- Marie de France. The quote is from a poet to get a different perspective, as she has said many writings of her would have been of no use if it was not accepted by authority, so here we see the importance of authority in measuring the quality of knowledge. However, sometimes the number of people accepting knowledge also can be used to measure the quality of knowledge because in many cases a common man accepts that knowledge more readily which he can easily relate with others as in here the knowledge widely accepted is generic and they consider the knowledge which is widely accepted is enough than having in-depth knowledge about it. For example, as our ancestors used stars for navigation due to lack of resources at that point of time, as many people accepted that as a way of navigating the quality of knowledge has increased which led scientists to research about it and today it is known as celestial navigation and is considered to be useful in astronomy. Rather than how many people accept it, in my opinion who accepts it matter more and can be a better way of measuring the quality of knowledge. By who accepts it, I mean the experts and the authorities in the particular field of knowledge as they have a better understanding and are experienced in their own fields, so they can decide what knowledge is right or valid for the common man.

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