Bataille and Epistemology
[NOTE: These are notes, not an essay. That is why there are so many citations.]
Notes on Part I and II of “Critique of the Theory of Knowledge”
Ontology and Epistemology
Theories of knowledge (epistemologies) have been tied to ontology all the way back to the times of Plato. Though, the Anglo-American philosophical tradition has developed epistemologies independent of ontology.
Epistemology does imply “some form of ontology”. No assumption a philosopher makes is free of a presupposed ontology. In fact, epistemology “implies ontological assumptions where reality is governed by permanent principles, which can be discerned by a systemic intellectual program”. To say otherwise to the idea that ontology (and metaphysics) are needed for epistemology is to presuppose positivism.
Epistemology “dates back to Plato’s Republic”. For Plato, knowledge is “defined in contrast to opinions”. Knowledge is about being (what is) and opinions are based on what is becoming (“what is and what is not, what both is and is not”). Based on this conception of knowledge as about what is and opinions based upon becoming, one can say “[k]nowledge is always true, and opinions can be either truthful or erroneous”. Plato wanted to know how opinions become true, how opinions become knowledge. So what are Plato’s ontological presuppositions? Plato has the ontological presuppositions that “what is real cannot be the object of change, and what most of us already suppose as real is only protean appearance”.
Epistemology, going off Plato, then has the role of helping us “decipher the stable and permanent reality underneath or beyond the appearances, for knowledge must be stable and constantly valid”.
We can therefore say that epistemology assumes that there is something which is “permanent and established under the protean surface” which can be “eventually identified” and understood via epistemological theories. In other words, epistemology assumes that there are true things wherein true knowledge can be derived from and that we can know knowledge.
Modern epistemological theory agrees with Plato that there is a “distinction between opinion and true knowledge”. Epistemology also includes “preconditions that” determine “the structure of the theory of knowledge”.
Conditions of Knowledge
Epistemology must investigate the conditions which “legitimize opinions as true knowledge”. Awet, the author of the essays Critique of the Theory of Knowledge and Critique of the Theory of Knowledge, part II, has identified four necessary conditions:
- “Opinions must be articulated in propositions in order to be considered as potential candidates for true knowledge. Sensory data is insufficient to be considered as a candidate for it is glitchy and inconsistent, and Platonic Forms are far too ill-defined and indeterminable”.
- “Propositions must be meaningful, i.e., understandable for the language user, which indicates the condition for meaningfulness is linguistic competence. Propositions like ‘The world as here before man’ cannot be verified without referring to ontological presuppositions, a conceptual scheme of philosophy”.
- “In addition to meaningfulness, propositions must also be true. Theoreticians of knowledge will never exhaust themselves over what exactly the ‘truth’ of a meaningful proposition is. At least in analytic philosophy, there are two generic positions: a true proposition expresses a real ‘state of affairs,’ and it cannot contradict another true proposition. This expression of a certain state of affairs is the first step towards a correspondence theory of truth, where a true proposition corresponds to reality. That true proposition cannot contradict each other is another step towards the coherence theory of truth, in which a true proposition is a part of a system of other true propositions”.
- For both generic positions a proposition is true by reference to something else, which means there is a reason for the truth of a proposition. In principle, it must be always possible to talk about this reason in order to be confirmed or rejected”.
For Awet, these latter four conditions “are discursive requirements that knowledge is necessarily an opinion asserted as an intelligible, true, and well grounded proposition”. This means that intelligible propositions presuppose “a society of language participants” which has a “proclivity for discursive communication”. This means that “[i]f an experience can be communicated discursively, then it is a candidate for knowledge”. Therefore, “a singular, private or meta-discursive experience cannot be knowledge”. Experiences of inner experience and non-knowledge therefore “lie beyond the bounds of modern-philosophy”.
Limits of the theory of knowledge
The modern theory of knowledge “implies that knowledge is pre-structured and it cannot be acquired independently of this structure”. Kant implies this latter statement with his categories and synthetic a priori knowledge. Husserl and his phenomenology implies this as well because it was “concerned with the transcendental conditions of knowledge”.
Awet poses the question of “can a proposition at all be true independent of the structure, the very language that expresses it?”. We realize here that “language is the limit of all thought possibilities”. Awet then asks another question, “what do we really know about this structure that makes knowledge and the” modern theory of knowledge “intelligible?”. He rephrases this latter question as “how do we gain knowledge about this structure that consists of the conditions of knowledge, if these conditions are given by the” modern theory of knowledge, “ which is intelligible only within the structure that is the object of investigation”. This reveals the impossibility of knowledge because of the question’s circular nature. In other words, if we know that language is the structure of knowledge, and we ask what we know about this structure that is language then we realize that this latter sequence is problematic because how is one able to gain knowledge about the structure of knowledge which is also a condition of knowledge.
If we go off and realize the flaw in the modern theory of knowledge which is that knowledge is impossible then we realize that only non-knowledge is possible.
Awet puts the question of how do you know you are in love? They say that the knowledge that someone loves you doesn’t come from linguistic means rather love “is communicated and experienced by extra-discursive means: with facial expressions, being caressed, the time spent together, even if the conversation happens to be mostly bad arguments and unreasonable demands”. He then goes on to say, “[w]hile it is true that we can present such experiences”, which in the latter example is love, “discursively, the knowledge gained from the discursive representation does not provoke love itself”. He believes this is also “why we are unable to explain why a particular joke is funny. The communication of something funny makes us laugh and creates an experience, but this experience is a type of knowledge that escapes propositional knowledge”. These examples of love and laughter lead to that knowledge which “escapes propositional knowledge” which for Awet is non-knowledge.
Limits of philosophy
For Awet, this means that not only is knowledge impossible but so is philosophy as it misrepresents human experience as knowledge.
For Bataille, non-knowledge is rebellion as knowledge is slavery.
Notes on “Georges Bataille’s “Nonknowledge” as Epistemic Expenditure: An Open Economy of Knowledge” by Lindsay Lerman
Generally, epistemology treats knowledge as an “acquirable good that requires a particular orientation toward utility” and “this utility orientation requires assessment of what is useful and what is not”. What is not ‘useful knowledge’ is considered by epistemologists to be waste, and Bataille’s concept of non-knowledge “is happening in that very waste”.
Virtue epistemology is concerned with the “intellectual character of knowers”. This concern is just another form of a focus on utility.
Awet. “Critique of the Theory of Knowledge.” Heterodoxia, December 17, 2016. http://www.hyperboreans.com/heterodoxia/?p=96.
— — — . “Critique of the Theory of Knowledge, Part II.” Heterodoxia, December 17, 2016. http://www.hyperboreans.com/heterodoxia/?p=97.
Lerman, Lindsay. “Georges Bataille’s ‘Nonknowledge’ as Epistemic Expenditure: An Open Economy of Knowledge,” 2015.
[1–20]: Awet, “Critique of the Theory of Knowledge,” Heterodoxia, December 17, 2016, http://www.hyperboreans.com/heterodoxia/?p=96.
[21–30]: Awet, “Critique of the Theory of Knowledge, Part II,” Heterodoxia, December 17, 2016, http://www.hyperboreans.com/heterodoxia/?p=97.
: Lindsay Lerman (2015), 4.
: Ibid., 5.