RESEARCH METHODS 2800
Ways of Knowing
Part 1: How do we know?
Part 2: The scientific way of knowing
Part 1: How do we know things?
- Is an orange round?
- Do kangaroo’s have livers?
- Are we sitting in this course?
- Charles Peirce (1877) asked this question in his essay “The Fixation of Belief”
which talked about how we come to know things
One method of ‘knowing’
a) Authority (i.e., as children as believe most of the things our parents tell us, as
students we accept the textbooks that our teachers prescribe us).
- Although authorities can often be right, they can also be wrong.
b) Logical Discourse (the “a priori” method)
- Knowledge that’s ‘agreeable to reason’
- Example, use of deductive logic (syllogisms); we begin with general premises
(believed, a priori, to be true). Then we deduce specific conclusions leading us to
new knowledge through the syllogistic reasoning process.
Example: Do kangaroos have livers?
Premise 1: All kangaroos are mammals
Premise 2: All mammals have livers
Conclusion: All kangaroos have livers
Problem #1: The premises might not be true. If the premises are false, then the
conclusion will not be true.
P1: Socrates was a dog
p2: Dogs are not human
c: Socrates was not human
- We can see that the syllogism is not true, and therefore the conclusion is not
Problem #2: “Logical errors”
P1: All welfare is ‘giving to the poor’
p2: All charity is ‘giving to the poor’
c: All welfare is charity.
- Although this is a logical conclusion, it is not necessarily true.
p1: All Canadians are people
p2: All Egyptians are people
c: All Canadians are Egyptians
- However, we cannot draw this conclusion from these 2 premesis c) Empiricism - Relying on direct experience and observations to gain knowledge
about the world
- Problems occur when we rely too much on ‘subjective empiricism’
- This means relying on our informal, ‘intuitive’ experiences and observations
1) The knowledge we gain is too general (it describes everything but predicts
E.g., Common Sense *conventional wisdom) - common sense often is
contradictory. ‘Haste makes waste’ but ‘he who hesitates is lost’. ‘Two heads are
better than one’ but ‘too many cooks spoil the soup’.
Note: It’s not that common sense is wrong; but instead we don’t know when it’s
right because we don’t know the specific conditions when it applies. As such, it
can never be disconfirmed.
2) Our subjective experiences and observations are often biased. For example,
the empirical philosopher could have been very wrong if they looked in the
horses mouth to see how many teeth it had if the horse had gum disease or was a
baby horse in both cases teeth may have been missing
- The availability bias: events that are easily available in memory are judged to
be more frequent (but this is not always the case)
Example 1: Which is more common - words beginning with ‘k’ or words with ‘k’
as the third letter?
- Most people choose ‘words beginning with k’ because these words are easy to
retrieve from memory, but the fact is that ‘words with k as