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Knowledge lies in the answer, wisdom in the next question.

Certain truths are of the type: if you leave the apple on the tree it will go rotten. It is almost a cliche or a truism, or of triteness that makes it not very interesting. There are good reasons for this, chiefly that we know and understand most of what is to know about the apple, the tree and the growth and development of both.

In any other circumstance we do not have certainty, merely our best judgement resulting in our best conceptualisation providing the greatest understanding of the situation. And always, seek the next question, only briefly enjoying the satisfaction of the answer found to the last question. With the next question being an aspect of the last answer, and reminding us that we never achieve certainty, only a better level of judgement and conceptualisation.

It has been emphasised how the issues of cause, a general theory of psychology and a theory of knowledge are all related and to answer one is necessarily to answer them all. The only process I judged able to cope with the interactive nature of the issues and the implicit circularity is iterative, creating possible solutions and then proceeding around the loop to assess the detailed solutions that emerge. In applying this process, I adopted four rules. Initially I saw the rules as an epistemological position, paralleling that developed by say Popper or Carnap, dealing mainly with the question of validity and truth content. On full development of the theory of knowledge, I came to understand that the theory itself specified what was and was not objective. That I did not have to use rules to decide. What then, were the rules? What was their place?

Knowledge is the classification of events, and no matter how hard I pretend not to be I am and must always be implicated in every observation I make. My prejudices, preferences, my philosophy, my likes and dislikes, my opinion of this or that person, my view on the future of the world and whether or not (for example) extra-terrestrial life can or cannot exist, my knowledge and my skills. All I am is always present and in some known or unknown manner, all I am is potentially implicated in every observation I make. I am first a person, an example of an intelligent species. I am then embedded in a now understood manner in the universe that I as a scientist seek to observer. And no matter what I do as a scientist I cannot expunge myself as a person from my observations of that universe. The rules are not epistemology; they are and can only be an expression of my endeavours to conduct myself in the manner to which I aspire. The rules are ethics.

Rule 1: The purpose of the rules.

To create concepts that enable increasingly accurate prediction and understanding of the universe.

Rule 2: Without prejudice.

To avoid prejudice by approaching the universe as a complex system which must be explored for itself, independent of any bias or preference, and in particular independent of any previous knowledge or pre-existing knowledge. And where such knowledge is used, to make it apparent, to myself first and to others second, that such knowledge had been used.

Rule 3: Concept creation.

To apply known tools producing a known type of knowledge. To seek to create theory which draws together the best of existing insights and simultaneously transcends them. To search for and create such tools if necessary.

Rule 4: Multiple input to judgement.

There are inevitably a number of ways to conceptualise any system each offering some predictive value if based upon carefully selected and insightful variables. The decision as to which one to adopt can only be an act of judgement. Rules - verification or falsification or any other - can only be a guide. Other guides include:

  • Are all the variables empirically justified? Can the variables be established as having empirical validity? That is, do they exist?
  • Does the theory integrate existing views?
  • Does it point to new research?
  • Does it facilitate both broadening and consolidation relevant to other domains of knowledge? (In the case of a general theory of psychology, does it integrate into organisational theory and social theory, and provide a guide to the boundaries between biology and psychology?)
  • Is the theory logically coherent?
  • Does it have explanatory power? Does it explain major existing problems?
  • Is it created with minimum of additional ideas, variables or constructs? (Ockham's razor).
  • Does it arise and explain without strain? Does it seem to be forced? Stretching too far?

Since coming to understand these rules as an ethical position I have added a fifth.

Rule 5: Treat all views with respect.

No one person has all the correct or good ideas. To always listen to the views of others and seek in those views the best of their thinking. In any conflict of views to focus any aggressive energy on ensuring I understand the ideas being offered, to acknowledge the best of the thinking and seek a better set of ideas that takes the best of my and their views and transcends both. And where that is not possible, to respectfully agree to differ and to allow the peer process to judge the merits of each. In the striving to advance understanding as put in rule 1, the conflict has no need to degenerate to conflict of persons. The energy of any challenge needs to be poured not into attack and defence, but into creative thinking that takes the best of current views and transcends it with yet greater understanding. This alone is hard enough.



Copyright © 1999 - 2019 Graham R. Little.