Is it possible to see that p without knowing that p?

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While browsing through twitter, I came across this interesting question which I, an amateur, intend to answer:

Today’s Q: is it possible to see that p without knowing that p?

— Warwick Philosophy (@PhilosWarwick) August 28, 2013

I shall divide my answer into two parts: (1) I will treat p as a proposition, and (2) I will consider p as an object of thought.

1. P qua proposition

If seeing implies experience and knowing involves thinking, then we need to offer our reply in light of the reciprocity between thought and experience. What is experienced can shape or create what is thought and yet what is experienced can conform with what is thought. Under the scope of the thinkable, their causal relationship is indeterminate.

Hence, we must opt for an eclectic approach:

  • On the one hand, the answer is negative, because if thought guides experience, then knowledge of that p would determine the sight of that p; not the other way round.
  • On the flip-side, experience can engender new thoughts suggesting that the answer may be affirmative, in those cases where that p is a cosmic state of affairs that is seen prior to being known; and it is known in the way that it is because it manifests (or appears to manifest) as such.

It should nonetheless be noted that “knowledge” is, in this regard, relative knowledge. As I claim in the Notes on the Thinkable, my first philosophical work, “with and through logos it cannot be known what absolutely is” (my argument is not as straightforward though).

2. P qua object of thought

If we are to consider p as an object of thought, we shall couch our syllogism in terms of the fundamental taxonomy of thought.

Objects of thought do not ‘merely’ exist. They exist in a given (though variable) way. Their being has a mode. I name the simultaneity or consubstantiality of mode and being in thought, a presence.

A presence conforms with figures of the thinkable. It may be an absolute, a monad or an ensemble. If it an absolute, then it involves all possible functions and ends. If it is a monad, a function/end is ascribed to it prior to the consideration of the context. If it is an ensemble, its function/end shall only be known in relation to its milieu.

These variations are of paramount importance, as the constitution of the case depends on the way facts appear in it, in order to interoperate.

Having written so, we may now attempt to answer this question.

To see is to recognize a presence, it is to consider a thing as existing in a given way. This can originate in experience or thought, which would bring us back to the approach of section 1. It can also be examined against the backdrop of the case’s constitution, which will lead us to another exercise in eclecticism, enumerated thus:

  1. If p is an absolute figure of the thinkable, then it cannot be seen prior to being thought. “Thing-ness” originates in thought.
  2. If p is perceived as an ensemble, then it can certainly be seen, in the way that it is, to the extent that it is, for as long as it is, prior to being thought as such, by virtue of seeing/experiencing a state of affairs that is novel relative to the things thought.
  3. If p is a monad, then both of the above may be possible, depending on whether it became a monad (a specification of a function/end prior to context) as a deduction from an absolute or an abstraction of an ensemble. If it were to come from the absolute, then knowledge would precede sight. If it were to stem from the ensemble, then sight could occur prior to knowledge.

Concluding remarks

In concluding this syllogism, it seems that an answer to the question can only be provided once a frame of parameters is set in place. Students of these issues may have such preconceptions, I do not. It is this formulation of factors that was attempted here, with all answers following from it. Hence, the answers may be correct or false to the extent that they comply with this formulation or, if they do, if the formulation per se is sound or fallacious. Notwithstanding such an evaluation, these answers remain confined to this syllogism. If the authors of the question had wanted another approach, one that would differ substantially from the aforementioned, then what has been written here must be rendered void and obsolete.


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