A Qualified Proposition
The term “qualified knowledge” is my way of characterizing the nature of what we know, and how we can best express that knowledge.
Herewith, a persnickety explanation.
All of our knowledge is qualified; that is, it’s never absolute. (Okay, okay, it’s almost never absolute. No need for a self-referential paradox to complicate things.) Logically speaking, every thing that we know to be true is true only if all the necessary and sufficient conditions (qualifications) that make it true are present.
Take a simplistic example: Is the sky blue?
A qualified answer might be: Yes, but only
- on a clear day;
- while the sun is up;
- when you’re looking at it from the correct angle;
- when it’s not polluted;
- if your eyes are working normally, and your brain properly interprets the signals they send;
- and if you were raised to call the resulting sensation “blue.”
These qualifications (plus others that I might not have thought of) are necessary to the perception of a blue sky by most humans. But when we think about the blue sky, we rarely consider them. Indeed, why should we? It’s tacitly assumed that our notion of a blue sky implies all of its necessary qualifications. For practical purposes, they don’t have to be explicitly identified.
Or do they? What if you live in a heavily polluted city? Or someone close to you has optic nerve damage, or is abnormally colorblind? Or you’re discussing a culture in which different shades of blue are distinct colors represented by different words? You might have to qualify your notion of a blue sky to take your situation into account.
True, this particular piece of knowledge doesn’t warrant quite the fuss I’m making of it. But I’m presenting a point here:
The more complex a subject is, the more qualifications are necessary to support your understanding of it, and the more of those qualifications you will need to consciously address as you consider the subject and discuss it with other people.
This means considering the possibility, even the likelihood, that other people have made different assumptions about a subject than you have, and they come to the conversation with a different understanding of it. Without sufficiently qualifying your knowledge or your statements about it, your sentiments might well be viewed with a completely different perspective than you intended. You’ll fail to get your point across, and the discussion will devolve into a series of opposing assertions that don’t address each other, but serve only to aggravate the participants. That’s not a productive way to engage in discourse about the world. It won’t convince someone of your point of view, or solve a problem, or enable you to learn.
So let’s do our best to make our communications meaningful.
This blog is about what I know, what I’ve learned, plus observations about issues and events, that I think you might find interesting or useful. I’ll do my best to qualify my knowledge and provide context to my statements. If you decide to add your 2 cents, I hope that you will extend me the same courtesy. There’s never enough of it.