How Can We Gain Knowledge

How can we ever know the truth or validity of any claim?  How can we gain knowledge? There would appear to be three potential sources to affirm the truth ofd any claim:

  • Supporting evidence.
  • Divine inspiration/revelation.
  • Majority Opinion

I know of no other ways to affirm the truth of claims, but if you can please comment.

As there is no possibility, by definition, to verify divine inspiration/revelation I will take this avenue no further save to say that for those that believe they have experienced it, fine. But how can this be of any help to anybody else? What I am looking for is a way people can agree to a claim as truthful knowledge.

The majority opinion may be of great importance in determining political decisions but has little merit when determining the truth. Crowds are often wrong, Governments make mistakes and mobs are notoriously poor arbiters of knowledge.

To justify anything we require supporting evidence we are sure of that support or disprove the claim. But things are more complicated than this.  Establishing the Evidence to test a Claim not enough we need to consider how this Evidence relates to the Claim, this link is the Inference.

Thus we have a chain of Evidence via Inference to Claim.

Both evidence and inferences are themselves claims which need justification by further evidence and inferences that lead us into an infinite regress. Luckily we can use existing, accepted, tried and tested knowledge as a foundation to move forward.  However, if this base knowledge is wrong, then we will be at risk of wrong conclusion about a claim. We can come back to that problem in another blog.

Thus to establish the worth of any claim we need to consider the evidence and then specify how this evidence supports (or disputes) the claim, the inference. For example:

  • Claim: My dog has fleas:
  • Evidence 1: I have some flea bites.
  • Inference 1: My dog has been sitting next to me so fleas could transfer to me.
  • Evidence 2: My neighbour’s dog has fleas.
  • Inference 2: My dog and my neighbour’s dog play together so fleas could transfer between them.
  • And so on…

Note how the inferences link the evidence to the claim. However, in many cases the inference is implicit:

  • Claim: I am not feeling well.
  • Evidence: I have a high temperature.

The implicit inference is that a high temperature is a proven symptom of illness. This can be a problem and lead one astray so it is best to identify any hidden inferences and validate or otherwise their relevance to the claim..

So when you have a claim that you wish to assess, we must consider all the evidence and the inferences.  Without this process there is no way of assessing the truth or worth of any claim and so attain knowledge.


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