Do we need to grow up in a human community in order to develop ways of knowing? Sense perception, language, reason and emotion) Or are we born “hard wired” to be able to use them? Is community more important in some ways of knowing than others?
Man is a social being, so it is very difficult to claim to be sure about the development of the ways of knowing in a completely detached from society human being, given that, since the beginning, technical problems arise within fields such as psychology as, according to the evidence of the US National Science Foundation, “humans have a more prolonged period of infant dependency than other species”, and in order to survive, need their mother until the age of 10.
This means that if the mother is not present, the baby dies, and if the mother is present, it therefore means that through the mother’s experience (that is sure to have been built in a certain society for the reasons above) will implement on the baby the reality approach of her community of knowers. However, we can argue about community’s impact in certain ways of knowing more than in others and I can use my own perception experience and evidence to speculate which ways of knowledge babies are born with and which are acquired by community.
Language determines our world vision, and therefore, reason, emotion and sense perception are molded (yet not created, let me affirm). The vocabulary is the means of expressing a community’s way of thinking and beliefs, and therefore, just by learning the “common” language of a region, your vision of the world narrows or takes a certain specific perspective, according to the community’s needs, beliefs, etc. For example, the Eskimos have dozens of different words for “snow”, and in some regions, none for “pollution” (Marla Cone’s, Silent Snow: The Slow Poisoning of the Arctic).
Language is within man’s nature as a community, as it can be proven by the fact that in the 1400s, different communities of knowers, completely independent from each other, developed their own languages both in Europe and in America. This means that it is through community’s culture and experience that a language is forged, and therefore community has the greater impact on this way of knowledge, since it creates language (and although humans have the potential ability to learn it, we are not born knowing any language, nor each individual creates its own language independent from everyone else’s)
We are born with sense perception and emotion, as a baby is susceptible to touch, can see, smell and taste, as well as it laughs and cries. However, these ways of knowing are developed depending on the community he/she is brought up in, or on its own personal context: This can be proven by the fact that the blind develop their other senses more acutely in order to be more conscious of their surroundings, or that in the community of knowers of psychologists that treat mentally ill people, their emotive perception is sharper in order to identify certain patterns of behavior or approach their patients with more delicacy.
Reason can be said to have certain coherent steps that take you to a coherent conclusion. However, in practice, reason is based on our world-view and what is coherent within our knowledge, thus it is relative as our knowledge can be based on bad judgment and wrong second-hand knowledge taken as truth.
For example, someone can base their beliefs on Christian religion, be absolutely sure that the “absolute truth” is the Bible, and can guiltlessly claim that all Jews will go to hell because it is reasonably coherent within the Bible (which is the absolute truth), and is pragmatic because it works in practice: “if you are blasphemous you are punished”, end of story. So as we can see, reason is also based on context and on language (as it is the limitation of knowledge and information, and therefore language, that confines groups of knowers to certain patterns of thought).
Taking a deeper look at language and the way it determines our world vision, it is through language that we obtain information from other people, from cultural tradition, school, the internet, expert opinion and the news media, and consequently, as we relate this information, learn background assumptions to make sense on the facts, and reflect on the information (these steps obviously integrating the other ways of knowing), we obtain knowledge.
With individual experience, one’s reflection over it and ability to learn from it, one might develop good judgment; and by also developing self knowledge (having the courage to question our convictions), responsibility and intellectual humility, one can therefore obtain wisdom, attain great achievements, and consequently, through culture, his community of knowers makes progress by building on the accumulated achievements of past generation and nourish the community he was once determined by.
As I mentioned before, the other ways of knowledge (sense perception, reason and emotion) take part in our individual acquisition of knowledge as we individually process the information that is given to us. Also, much of our knowledge is based on personal experience, we reason the facts in order to understand them, and many times we learn from our emotions.
However, as language is the only “community way of knowledge” and the only predetermined one that is imposed by the outer world, this molds the other ways of knowledge, and is their basis. Humans grow up limited to their community’s perspective of reality, who’s frontiers are parallel to those of their own language (as language is their tool for describing their reality).