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Philosophical Assumptions (Week 2)


It’s been over 10 years since I’ve formally engaged the philosophical assumptions of epistemology, ontology, and axiology; however, I engage how we know, the nature of reality, and what is of value every day. I got a bit excited by the examination of my personal relationship with these areas of philosophy, and I created a Philosophical Assumptions Matrix that presents a visual representation of my take on each of these areas based on the questions presented in our text (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011, pp. 21-24). Anyone interested in a question-by-question breakdown of my take on philosophical assumptions can visit this link for the matrix.

To summarize my matrix, I find that in most issues of evaluating knowledge, reality, and value, I am often of two minds, holding positions that seem opposite to one another. Thankfully, I have a high tolerance for cognitive dissonance. Thus, I believe knowledge is both socially constructed and individual, that reality is the same, both social and individual, and that there are times that value-free scholarship is important, but that most scholarship must be value-conscious (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011, p. 24). And the fact that I sometimes belief two opposing assumptions doesn’t particularly phase me in the least. I like to think that I am in a constant state of questioning–questioning myself, my beliefs, culture, authority–to avoid finding myself living mindlessly.

The ideas inherent in epistemology, ontology, and axiology are part of our conventional wisdom. For example, take this saying:

Seeing is believing.

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This expression encompasses several epistemological assumptions:

  1. Knowledge is experienced. (The physical or mental experience of “seeing” is necessary for understanding that leads to belief.)
  2. Knowledge is uncertain. (Knowledge must be seen to be believed, so it’s not certain until seen.)
  3. Knowledge is empirical. (Knowledge arises from perception.)
  4. Knowledge is explicit. (“Seeing” is a type of articulation.)
  5. Knowledge is individual. (I may see knowledge, but you may not.)

However, sometimes our “truisms” fail the assumptions test:

When you believe, anything is possible.

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This idea suggests the ontological idea of that human beings have complete power to make their own choices, and at ANY reality can be individually constructed. From the epistemological angle, this presents a rationalist view of knowledge, “that knowledge arises out of the sheer power of the human mind” (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011, p. 22)

Whenever I hear this saying, this image pops into mind:

I can believe I will be an astronaut all day long, I can even work hard my whole life to become an astronaut, but the odds of my becoming an astronaut are slim to nil. In fact, most people who have ever dreamed of being astronauts, no matter the degree of belief, failed. There are certain choices over which we have no control. And does everyone who wishes to be an astronaut really NEED to be an astronaut? If a person is not physically, intellectually, psychologically, and emotionally equipped for the job, then she (and anyone she’d be in space with) is better served by not becoming an astronaut, no matter the level of desire or belief.

I think that this is a better version of the axiom:

If you believe in yourself, you'll feel better about your life.

This one is not nearly as sexy as the first, but I think it really captures what people mean when they say “anything is possible”–a happy life is possible.


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