0708-Nature of Knowledge

Background reading material for Yr 1 PPSD session on 08th August 2007 by Professor Omar Hasan Kasule Sr.


There are other terms used in connection with knowledge such as: wisdom, insight, opinion, speculation, certainty, remembrance, awareness, evidence, truth, and world-view.



There are terms that are associated with lack of knowledge: ignorance, doubt, speculation, whims, and falsehood. Lack of knowledge is called ignorance. Ignorance can be simple when the person knows he does not know. It is compounded if the ignorant person is not aware of his ignorance. The term ignorance has been used to refer to a state of ignorance with respect to specific information or explanation. This state of ignorance could be temporary ending with the acquisition of the missing information or explanation. The term has also been used as an attribute of a person who may have some moral reason for ignorance.



SUPREMACY OF KNOWLEDGE: Knowledge has supremacy over everything else. Knowledge is the basis for leadership. Those who know are a grade higher than those who do not know. Possessing correct knowledge is a virtue.


GRADES OF KNOWLEDGE: There are grades of knowledge. Certain knowledge is the highest grade. It is certain with no doubts and represents finality. The next grade is empirical knowledge. This is based on observation by human senses that are not perfect. Scientific empirical knowledge being based on human observation using imperfect sensory organs and interpretation by imperfect human intellect cannot reach the level of absolute certainty. We therefore call it empirical certainty. In most scientific measurements the level of absolute certainty cannot be reached. In medical work treatments are based on evidence that is classified as at a high level of speculative truth but not absolute certainty because a higher level of certainty cannot be reached.


EVIDENCE-BASED KNOWLEDGE: True knowledge must be evidence-based. Those who make claims or allegations are challenged to produce their evidence.


VARIATION IN AMOUNT OF KNOWLEDGE: Human knowledge is potentially wide and is continuously expanding. The limit of knowledge is with the Creator. An individual or community can only know a little bit of the knowledge and must have the humility to know and acknowledge that there is a lot that is not known. There is a difference in knowledge (quantity and quality) among humans as individuals and as communities. Some humans know more than others. Many do not know. A few individuals possess very deep knowledge.


OWNERSHIP OF KNOWLEDGE: Any human knowledge is public property. Knowledge is not property that can be traded. It is a common property of all and those who have it must disseminate it to others. Payments made to teachers and researchers are not in exchange for the knowledge they have; they are for the purposes of maintaining them and their families so that they may concentrate on research and teaching. It is unethical to hide or try to monopolize knowledge.


DEVIATION FROM KNOWLEDGE: It is obligatory to act according to knowledge. Knowledge is always the source of strength and leadership if used well and with good intentions. Deviation from the truth represented by knowledge is severely condemned. It is better to get knowledge and understanding than to follow blindly. Blind following contradicts true knowing.


KNOWLEDGE AMONG NON-HUMANS: Knowledge is not confined to humans. Spiritual beings (angels and jinn) have limited knowledge. Living animals also have some forms of knowledge. We have no textual or scientific evidence for existence of knowledge in plants or micro-organisms. Our thinking is that knowledge does not exist in plants or micro-organisms because they lack purposive and pre-meditated action. Purposive action is found only in humans, animals, and spiritual beings.



CONCEPT: A concept is a logical entity used in logical or philosophical analysis and to aid understanding. Concept formation involves sorting human experience and ideas into classes or rules. Concepts are abstract as contrasted to concrete classification based on sensory input. In practice humans mix the abstract and the concrete in usual classification of things. Humans can learn concepts instead of working them out for themselves. Concept formation improves with age from childhood but declines in late age. Language is a very important tool in concept formation and development. Computers can be programmed to form concepts (ie make classifications according to some rules).


PARADIGM: Paradigm is a term used by many people to convey different meanings. It is generally used to refer to a thought pattern in a discipline of knowledge. Paradigm shifts occur when new discoveries or explanations bring about new patterns of thought


INDUCTION: Induction is reasoning from the part to reach conclusions about the whole or from the specific to the general or from the individual to the universal. It is the method used by empirical science.


DEDUCTION: Deduction is reasoning starting from premises to reach conclusions with the conclusions necessarily following from the premise. Deduction has also been defined as reasoning from the general to the specific of from the universal to the particular.


OBJECTIVITY: Objectivity is staying on the path of truth and not being swayed by whims and desires



The concept of relativity has caused much confusion both in social and natural sciences. What needs to be emphasized is that some knowledge and some facts are absolute and do not change by time or space. Other facts change when the frame of reference changes. Relativity refers to this change of facts with the change of the reference frame. Thus for complete description of a physical fact, the frame used must be defined. The problem facing contemporary epistemology is that nothing is fixed or is absolute. Everything is relative and changeable. In such a flux there is no meaning to the concept of truth.



Each piece of knowledge has a calculable probability of being correct. The higher this probability, the nearer it is to the truth. The probabilistic nature of knowledge arises out of limitations of human observation and interpretation of physical phenomena. The challenge to intellectuals is to relate the concept of probability to the concept of grades of knowledge mentioned before.




There have been periods in human history when humans deviated from the correct ways of getting knowledge and therefore lived in ignorance and superstition. Neglect of empirical observation and experimentation led to deficiency of empirical knowledge. Failure to use their intellect properly deprived humans of full understanding of empirical knowledge.



Rapid growth of the corpus of human knowledge in the past 150 years is several-fold the growth of knowledge since the start of recorded human history. This momentum is likely to continue into the next century. It could slow down or stop altogether when human mistakes, social or physical, lead to destruction or drastic change of the ecosystem and human social organization as we know them today. History is full of examples of previous civilizations that attained a high degree of scientific and social sophistication only to fail and fall later.

ŠProfessor Omar Hasan Kasule, Sr. August 2007