The methods by which knowledge can be acquired are three: sense perception, the report, and reason. We know those ways of knowledge are reliable, because when we recall the information that we know, we find that all of it has been acquired through one of those three channels.

Sense Perception

Sense perception involves the acquirement of information through the five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.

When the perceived object is detected with one of the five senses, a realization emerges in the body which the mind then interprets. The reality of perception, is this emergent realization.

For example: when light reflects off the surface of a body and enters the eye, the eye reacts and a realization emerges within it. This emergent reaction is what is called “sight”.

Sensory realizations correlate with what is perceived, since they are reactions to it. Through the mind’s interpreting of this realization, knowledge is acquired.

Notice that the senses, in of themselves, do not make mistakes. They are merely a window connecting the mind to the outside world. Rather, mistakes occur when one misinterprets sensory realizations.

Reports

Reports are accounts of events that we did not personally perceive, communicated to us by those who did perceive those events.

For a report to be a way to knowledge, it must be mass transmitted. Mass transmission (Tawatur) is a report’s being transmitted to us by so many independent witnesses, such that it would be nomically impossible[1] for them to have all conspired to fabricate it.

For example: consider the existence of a foreign country that you have never been to. Despite not having personally visited this country, you still know that it exists. This is because you have received reports about this country’s existence from various sources: whether they be reports from people who lived there, or people who visited it, or even pictures of this country that you’ve seen on TV. All of those reports, when taken collectively, form mass transmitted proof for the existence of said country.

Reason

Reason is the human ability to use axiomatic knowledge, in order to acquire complex knowledge.

For example: once the meanings of “body”, “rest”, and “motion”, are established axiomatic knowledge, one comes to know that “a body cannot be in a state of being neither at rest nor moving”.


 

[1] “Nomically Impossible” meaning: a proposition which does not accept affirmation, because its affirmation violates normalcy.

More on nomic judgements here.

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