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The importance of establishing incontrovertible facts is overestimated

In the process of knowledge acquisition, knowers often follow an overall framework that can be used to obtain incontrovertible facts. While it may seem that ambiguity in knowledge is undesirable, it is certainly ubiquitous. This begs the questions: why does ambiguity arise and, ultimately, how does it affect the quality of knowledge? Incontrovertible facts refer to an assertion based on empirical evidence. By and large, the acceptance or non-acceptance of ambiguity depends largely on the AOK concerned, given its purpose and methodology. The essay will look at the overestimation of incontrovertible fact with regards to two Areas Of Knowing (AOKs) — Natural sciences (NS) and the Arts.

In the NS, there is a need to establish incontrovertible facts in order for the AOK to provide a reliable description, prediction and understanding of natural phenomena. Because the NS deals with physical reality that is objective and exists beyond human experience, knowledge constructed aims to be independent of an individual’s emotions and, thus, free from biases. For knowledge in the NS to be considered valid, it is important for scientists to devise a reliable standardized method of data collection that is used in experimentation — as captured by direct observation, or instruments whose accuracy has greatly improved over the years. The use of certainty in gathering of empirical evidence and inductive reasoning through repeated experiments allows for scientific theories to be justifiable. In the case of the NS, there is an urgency for scientific rigor and fact in the construction of theories to eliminate as much bias as possible. This is especially when individuals perceive and interpret reality differently. It is therefore pertinent to consider the method that was used to derive the fact at hand. Often seen in the NS, the use of testing, peer review, repeatability and modification can lead to accuracy in knowledge acquired. In 1928, the discovery of Penicillin to possess antibiotic properties was made after observing Staphylococcus bacteria within a petri dish. Dr Alexander Fleming had proposed the hypothesis that a causal relationship might exist between substances produced by the mould and its potential antibiotic properties. His findings were followed by a period of strenuous research where further testing and peer reviewing supported facts acquired to prove his theory. The succession of scientific tests conducted by others resulted in the formation of new knowledge: Penicillin’s use in treating bacterial infections. Peer reviewing, in this case, had allowed for a deeper and focused study of the theory. The claim that the growth of the penicillin mould might be harnessed to combat infectious diseases had also been supported by a myriad of cases, following the very first in 1942 . Repeatability had furthered the claim to be true. Hence, efforts to disprove the theory, and the failure to do so when data points do not confirm the already-existing theory, allows us to establish faith in such knowledge where incontrovertible facts established can be used for medicinal purposes. Establishing a reliable understanding of the properties of penicillin is of paramount importance. Ambiguity in the form of multiple believes cannot be tolerated because it, as in the case of medicine, might lead to undesirable consequences such as death of the recipient. Inductive reasoning in evaluating the hypothesis through verification and falsification has allowed for results to be testable and repeatable. Such incontrovertible facts also can act as a foundation for which new knowledge can be derived from. Since the NS involves the study of the axiomatic, incontrovertible facts are needed and its importance is not overestimated.

On the other hand, the Natural Sciences does have areas of ambiguity. As much as how the scientific method is used to remove subjective influences, claims are arguable when one considers the validity of the manner in which facts are obtained. Errors are often seen when we solely rely on sense perception to gather empirical data. This is seen in the study of ecosystems where quadrat sampling is often used to derive posteriori knowledge.

In sampling fieldwork data, it is not plausible for scientists to survey an entire area — Only small sections are taken and used as representations of the larger population. As a result, transects and quadrats used to collect quantitative data may not be an accurate account of the real population, especially when findings can be a result of organism spatial arrangement. The collection of quantitative data is also subject to technological error, as seen in underwater visual sampling techniques that are used to estimate coral reef communities. Modern techniques often using Underwater Visual Census (UVC) have estimated errors of surveying area, fish identification, density and length. Gathering of cognitive data on reef fish assemblages is not an accurate method of data collection, since different individuals interpret their surroundings differently. However, while sensory perception here proves unreliable in the acquisition and analysis of empirical data, knowledge gathered is still valid and applied, leaving there no need for incontrovertible facts. However, where mistakes in systematic observation cannot be avoided, it is important that scientists strive to eliminate as much methodological errors as possible. When scientists consider dubiousness of knowledge at hand, it is immediately dealt with by rejecting the hypothesis. Though the manner in which we gather data is not fool proof, it is nonetheless the best. Knowledge is, thus, still considered valid. Can we accept knowledge if it is not rigorous?

The purpose of the Arts, on the other hand, is to communicate ideas through a medium of expression. In order to understand the meaning of a work of art one has to apply the artistic intention and socio-political context of which the work was created in. These facts are generally agreed upon. Contextualism suggests that an artwork should always be apprehended in its context or setting and stresses on the relationship between the artist and his work to be understood given if one were to appreciate the work itself. It can be said that any interpretation of a work of art should be founded on incontrovertible facts regarding the origins of the artwork. Such knowledge and appreciation of it can, therefore, enrich the meaning of an artwork. In paying attention to context, background context should not be repeated perusal of the work but, through emotion and deductive reason, held to better appreciate the work. This is especially when artworks are obscure in meaning, resulting in the presence of conflicting interpretations. Studying the artists’ intentions sheds light on the propositional attitude as to how he had planned to execute a work. For instance, in compiling an anthology of literary texts that surround a particular central theme, editors consult either the writer or existing records to better infer the intentions with regard to a work or passage. Through deduction, the author’s statement of intentions can provide an insight into the inner psyche of the persona of a poem. Unlike in the Natural Sciences, facts in the Arts deal much more with intangible, highly emotive subjects that often explores the depth of human nature. Knowledge in the Arts, therefore, appeals to incontrovertible facts.

On the other hand, our interpretation of art need not be based on incontrovertible facts. Even with facts, conclusions drawn from them differ from individual since they’re affected by their biases. Through the use of reason and sense perception we often navigate what the work means to us based on our personal experience. As suggested in the Intentionalist fallacy, a work of art should stand alone, without the help of the artist. Knowledge of the artists’ biography along other factors is irrelevant to appreciate the work of art and can sometimes be hindering when not reflected in the executed work. Moreover, once an idea has manifested in the artist’s’ physical oeuvre, it is no longer exclusive to the artist himself. It follows that his interpretation of it becomes one of many. And although it may be taken into consideration, it need not be taken as final authority. Hence, the value of the final work as a self-contained whole makes the presence of incontrovertible facts trivial. This is seen in the ending of novel “The Remains of the Day” , which suggests several interpretations. In particular, the use of imagination plays a large role in interpreting the text. Imagination and emotion is processed through reasoning, in order to reach a realistic and reasonable understanding of the piece of work. Discrepancies in opinion is often grounded by individual ideologies and not everyone would have the same understanding or attitude towards one interpretation. The importance previously placed on the intention of the artist has diminished when we take the presence of multiple, yet equally valid interpretations, to be paramount in fulfilling the purpose of art. The aim of arts is therefore better served by ambiguity than certainty.

To conclude, the incontrovertibility of facts and the acceptance or non-acceptance of ambiguity depends largely on the AOK concerned, given its purpose and methodology. While scientists often avoid various interpretations by omitting as much errors and biases involved, knowledge in the Arts is grounded by subjective influences in interpreting a work of art. In the end, it would be impractical to confine the aim of each AOK to establishing of incontrovertible facts.

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