Re: Philosophy underlying LO? LO256

Jim Michmerhuizen (
Sun, 26 Feb 1995 17:03:09 +0001 (EST)

On Sat, 18 Feb 1995, Kent D. Palmer, Ph.D. wrote in LO157:

> This is the whole point of Socratic Ignorance. Socrates came to the
> conclusion that he was the wisest of men (as the delphic oracle had
> called him) because he alone knew he did not know anything.

A fine point, but perhaps relevant: Socrates' conclusion was not
unconditional. He was careful to state that it was the only way he could
find a coherent interpretation of two indubitable propositions: a) the
oracle's statement that he was wise, and b) his own perception that he
knew far less than anybody else, at least, than anybody he'd ever met in

Now, the oracle is supposed to be infallible. And, whatever the oracle
might have meant by a), Socrates clearly wasn't willing to give up b) in
any direct way. That would have meant re-interpreting the word
"knowledge". So his resolution was, in effect, to reinterpret the word
(or concept) "wisdom" instead.

None of this generalizes to anything like a denial of your statement. I
supply it because it's interesting in its own right, and because it sets
up an important and reverberating dissonance between "knowledge" and
"wisdom". (Well, actually, I guess I get two slightly different readings
of Socrates the man here. On one reading, Socrates _states_ "I am wise
because of my ignorance"; on the other, he _deduces_, in a kind of head-
scratching confessional mode, that the only way both he and the oracle can
be right is if wisdom consists in knowing that you are ignorant.)

[ snip ]

> In your post and in my response the words paradigm and episteme are used
> as if they were about the same thing. They are similar pheomena on
> different levels of knowledge generation within our tradition. But we
> should strive to keep them apart as epistemes are categorizations that
> allow us to make distinctions and paradigms are assumptions about things
> that use categories that have already been established. I think you are

Trying to translate your terms into those I habitually use to address
these kinds of issues, I find a strong tendency to map your
"epistemes/paradigms" into my "names/propositions". You will guess from
this, correctly, that we are not near neighbors in the big wide world of
philosophy. Let me urge that I'm not being a conceptual reductionist
here; my conceptual pairup is in fact a huge and almost poetic extension
of the ordinary meanings of the terms "name" and "proposition".

Anyway, if epistemes are basic or primitive (i.e. not further
decomposable) acts of distinction -- for example, the _ABSOLUTE_ kind of
"before/after" distinction each of us experiences nine months after
conception -- then I feel safe with the translation. And if that is the
case, then I also feel confident about identifying -- at least as a
best-guess starting point -- your "paradigms" with my "propositions".
Well, actually, there's a couple of alternative terms I might use, but
let's run with this one a bit.

Of course, in no way does this effort at translating reduce to a simple
algebraic sort of identity of terms. If common human natural languages
don't work that way, and there's no reason to expect that two individual
sets of usages would either. I think the basis for my second observation,
associating "paradigm" with "proposition", is that a paradigm (in your
usage as well as that of this group generally, myself included) is a kind
of model, or an image functioning metaphorically to represent the
structure of some complex system. The paradigm is simpler than what it
represents -- that's what it's for -- but it's _NOT_ logically primitive.
It has "parts". If we try to analyse the paradigm, whether for the
purpose of questioning it, rejecting it, understanding or changing it, we
wind up dealing with it in some set of propositions. The terminology of
these will be given in, or derived from, or based on, something like your
"epistemes": atomic categories or classifications.

[ big snip ]

I responded in another post to this same thread. I hope it's valuable
(the whole thread, I mean) to the group -- it connects bigtime with an
earlier thread (the one that persuaded me in fact to subscribe) on models
and metaphor and paradigm.

There are more different kinds of people in the world than there are people...