How do we know who we are

How do we know what we know? (Henri Schmit)

My two previous MoMo lectures dealt with the three great narratives of mankind: spiritualism, naturalism and humanism, and the role of myths for intellectual orientation, individual self-understanding and the social construction of reality. I am interested in the question of what the intellectual basis of our thinking, of our self-image as human beings is, can be and / or should be: How do philosophers and scientists know what they know?

This question is even more important now than it was in the past, as we live in a knowledge society. The term 'knowledge society' describes a form of society in which individual and collective knowledge and its organization increasingly become the basis of social, economic and media coexistence.

In epistemology, knowledge is traditionally viewed as a true and justified view (justified true belief) certainly. This determination goes back to the early Plato. Plato's lifelong struggle with the sophists serves as the starting point for my investigations. The subsequent argument about the authority to define what knowledge is has lasted for 2,400 years and is fueled by two competing ideas of rationality: universal-necessary versus instrumental-pragmatic. Helmut Meinhardt, the German translator of Plato's dialogue “Der Sophist” (a groundbreaking text for this topic), describes the dimension and scope of this struggle in his introduction:

“The theme [of the dialogue is] a definition of the essence of sophistry, its separation from philosophy, in the 5th and 4th centuries BC. The central, to the core problem of the still young philosophy. Without the solution of this problem by Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, the greatest gift of the Greeks to the whole of humanity, the idea of ​​an understanding of the world and world behavior based on theoretical reason, would have come to an end after almost three centuries; It is hard to imagine how the intellectual history of mankind would then have turned out.

In order for this thesis to be plausible, it must be made explicit. For all we know, it happened around 600 BC. BC in the sea trade town of Miletus, part of Asia Minor, belonging to Greece: With ingenious, bold impartiality, Thales asked for the only, ultimate reason for everything that exists. He does not look for the answer to this primal and universal question in religious myth, but in his own reason observing the world. He discovered that the mythical traditions of interpretation are not the only source for man's orientation in the cosmos, but that through human thought one can determine something about what is and should be for what reason. This hour of birth of philosophy is at the same time that of science in general. "

How do philosophical and scientific knowledge and the claims to truth that philosophers and natural scientists make in the name of their theories differ from general knowledge? Are philosophical and scientific theories true because they correspond to reality? How can we know that theories correspond to reality if we only have indirect access to reality through our experiences? Are theories true because they take into account experience and make correct predictions? That sounds plausible, but theories that we now classify as false were considered true in the past because they lived up to the knowledge of the time and made successful predictions! Should we assume that the theories currently considered to be true will be refuted and replaced by other, then true theories, as has been the case with all previous theories? But in this case theories are not really knowledge or truth, in the strict sense of these words, but a special case of experience-tested, educated opinion.

At a time when scientific research is associated with profound social, moral, and environmental challenges to future human well-being, a misunderstanding of the positions of competing interpretations of science is an obstacle to rational action in response to these challenges.

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Henri Schmit, Born in 1969, became known as the singer and musician of the Luxembourg band "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Repairing". From 1996 he went solo in London. He has lived in Berlin since 2000 and focuses on art and philosophy.