Can we really know anything in yoga philosophy?

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Warning: This is a very abstract, philosophical post. General knowledge in philosophy is recommended before reading. The views are that of an independent author and not a representation of Yoga Theory beliefs.  

yoga philosohpy

Do we really know anything?

What this post is about and how it relates to yoga philosophy?

This post will examine whether we can really know anything in yoga philosophy or life generally. The basis of this posts builds on Descarte’s foundation of knowledge which is widely accepted to be the basis of understanding anything in higher philosophical thought.

Because of this, if it’s likely that we can not really know anything, then it’s likely we can’t know anything about yoga.

So, to do this we will examine Descartes’ justification of knowledge, by assessing his method of doubt under the broader theme of scepticism in philosophy.

Descartes’ was behind the famous phrase “I think, therefore I am.” 

This was used to justify the existence of knowledge. Basically, because he could not doubt that he exists, he thinks knowledge must be real. Further, because of his mind, and a higher power giving him that mind, it would make sense that the mind would not be misleading. And therefore, that knowledge is real. 

This post concludes that Descartes’ foundation for knowledge is fallible, and therefore, fails to build a secure foundation for knowledge.

Based on that broader theme, any yoga philosophical thought may not be justified. In other words, we can not really know anything.

So any beliefs we have on yoga or life, may not even be real except that we imagine it to be so. 

Scepticism

What is scepticism in philosophy? 

Scepticism is a broad term in epistemology (the study of knowledge), encompassing the view that true knowledge is unattainable, and thus, having knowledge is not rationally justified.[1]

For sceptics, to know something as knowledge, it must be impossible for it to be mistaken. [2]

So, because our conceptual system can be misleading, such as when we are dreaming, or hallucinating – scepticism endorses the idea that we cannot truly know anything.[3]

So here, at the extreme end of scepticism, we could all be in a dream right now, even though we think we are awake reading this paper on yogatheory.com.au

Descartes

How did Descartes see knowledge?

Descartes’ attempted to refute the sceptics and give knowledge an incontestable foundation, similar to that in mathematics.[4]

He was well aware that the mind could play tricks on us and therefore became sceptical of what he could really know, as most things, to him, were doubtable. Yet, after deep reflection, he realised that there was something he could not doubt, the fact that he was thinking.[5] He believed this was enough to build a solid priori for knowledge.

At the core of Descartes’ reasoning, was that, although you can doubt perception and reason, the fact that one is thinking, is beyond doubt.[6]

From this reasoning, he argues that, although something someone sees or thinks may not be real, it cannot be denied that they think they are seeing or thinking it.

Descartes’ was well aware that this alone, would not satisfy the sceptics, so he brings God into the equation. He argues that, because of a non-deceiving God, our reasoning is clear, and therefore, our link to reality is secure.[7] To support this, Descartes’ relies on causality, and believes that, by introspect, we can see the perfection of God, in our thoughts about God.[8]

So, because of the unquestionable nature of God, being a non-deceiver, our knowledge is true, if we follow the correct reasoning process. Descartes’ not only believes this is true, but undeniably true.[9]

yoga philosophy

Closer Inspection

Is Descartes’ justification for knowledge rational? 

Descartes’ justification of knowledge is unlikely infallible. He believes that our thoughts, if they are clear and distinct, are a solid foundation for knowledge.[10]

This is a problem because something may appear clear and distinct, when it is not. Sometimes what we believe and understand can be misleading and deceptive.[11]

For example, just because you seem to be doing something, does not mean that you are, in reality, doing that thing. You could be imagining that you are doing it.

If one simply relies on first person reports of knowledge as a foundation, you can believe something as true when it is not.[12] Even if it does not fit with the outside world at all. To overcome this problem, it would have to be possible to apply neutrality to a situation.

However, as we are subjective beings, this cannot be done. Yet, Descartes’ simply argues that because of God, our reasoning will be clear, and we will not be deceived.[13]

Is there a non-deceiving God?                                                                      

Descartes’ foundation of knowledge is dependent on the existence of a non-deceiving God. His justification of God is dependent on the theory of cause and effect.

Descartes believes that, simply because we have the idea of an objectively perfect God, a perfect God must actually exist, or we would not be able to think it.

Yet, this fails to address broader concerns.

What if an idea of God does not exist, or if it is the atheist version of God, then God would be that idea.[14] What if the cause and effect theory is not as straight forward as it seems? If so, the idea of God as a non-deliver may not be true. Or, in any sense, it is almost certainly not infallible.

Further, you can get the idea of a perfect God by the concept of negation, thus the idea of a perfect god may only be illusory.[15] Again, Descartes assumes this is not the case. Yet, assumptions are fallible.

Could Descartes’ have made errors in his reasoning?

Descartes argues that, although the mind plays tricks on us, this does not mean it is right now. Yet, how do we really know when the mind is playing tricks on us, and when it is not?

By justifying knowledge, with the understanding we obtain through our own mind, it seems we cannot really get anywhere.

There is no real way to determine that what we are obtaining is real knowledge. Descartes simply responds to this by arguing that, if our reasoning is clear and distinct, it will be correct. However, for clear and distinct reasoning, it is dependent on God, which may or may not actually exist.

Conclusion

Based on the foregoing arguments, it seems that Descartes’ has failed to provide an incontestable foundation for knowledge.

Descartes’ method of doubt requires something extra than mere common sense, it requires faith in something beyond ourselves, and relies on assumptions, such as causality and God.

Although there are strong arguments to suggest that this may be the case, we cannot be certain of this. Thus, Descartes’ attempt to provide a solid foundation for knowledge is fallible.

It seems, if we do know anything, it is in knowing we do not really know anything.

 

 

If you made it through this article, let us know what you thought below! 

Footnotes

[1] E Sober, Core Questions in Philosophy (3rd Ed, 2001) 149.

[2] A Moreton, A Guide through the Theory of Knowledge (3rd Ed, Blackwell, 2003).

[3] D Pritchard, What Is This Thing Called Knowledge, (1st Ed, 2014).

[4] R Descartes, Meditations On First Philosophy, (2008) 26.

[5] R Descartes, Meditations On First Philosophy, (2008) 30.

[6] E Sober, Core Questions in Philosophy (3rd Ed, 2001).

[7] Rene Descartes, The Philosophical Works of Descartes: Volume 1(Cambridge University Press, 1985).

[8] E Sober, Core Questions in Philosophy (3rd Ed, 2001).

[9] E Sober, Core Questions in Philosophy, (3rd Ed, 2001) 149.

[10] Descartes’ Epistemology (24 September 2014) Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/descartes-epistemology/>.

[11] O Mannoni, Freud: The Theory of the Unconscious (1st Ed, London) 55-58.

[12] Richard Fumerton, Foundationalist Theories of Epistemic Justification (13 December) Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy.

[13] R Descartes, Meditations On First Philosophy, (2008) 20.

[14] R Descartes, Meditations On First Philosophy, (2008) 25.

[15] A Moreton, A Guide through the Theory of Knowledge (3rd Ed, Blackwell, 2003).

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