Russell begins his analysis of reality by asking the question whether there truly exists knowledge that is in itself so certain that no man could doubt it. This question seems rather simple at first but upon further analysis of the question especially through Russell’s eyes the depth of the question manifests. Russell argues against the concept of direct realism. He argues that everything we see and then perceive is subject to our conceptualization process which is in turn subject to our experiences and point of view. This then begs the question as to whether what we see truly exists and if it indeed does exist does it exist exactly the same way that we see it or is its appearance simply a construct of our conceptualization which may be indeed totally different from the actual object that we see, that is if the object indeed does exist (Russell, questioning what we know).
Russell brings forth the simple example of a table in a room. Upon first observation the table appears to be brown. Further analysis reveals that certain parts of the table appear to be brighter than others. This is due to the reflection of light at different points of the table. Different points of the table reflect off more light than others. Therefore the table appears different from different points of view.no two different people can see the table in exactly the same way because no two people can exist at a single point of view at the same time. This begs the question as to whether the table is brown to begin with or does it just appear so based on the point of view from which it is observed. The challenge thus arises to distinguish between the real object as it appears in reality and the object as we infer it from what we see. There clearly appears to be a distinction from the color of the object in reality from the color of the object based on our perception of the table (Russell, questioning what we know.).
Another issue that Russell brings up concerning the table is the issue of its shape. The table appears to have a different shape from different points of view. Our conclusion about the shape of the table is based on our point of view of the table. This again begs the question as to what is the real shape of the table and does the table really exist?
One of the most compelling arguments brought forth by Russell is that of sense data and sensation. Sense data is information about a particular object for example the object’s color, texture, shape and size. Sense data is the only acquaintance we have with a particular object and this helps us determine exactly what the object is. Sensation is our resultant inference of the sense data. For example, a green object has a sense datum of the color green which in turn initiates sensation of the greenness of the object. Thus, what we see as the object is a result of our sensation which is influenced by the sense data. Moreover, the question arises as to whether our sensation covers all aspects of the object or any aspect at all for that matter. Our sensation may cover just one or a mere handful of aspects of the object which begs the question as to exactly what are the aspects of the object our sensation fail to cover and what more information would they revel about the object. The sense data and the actual object are however not codependent.This means that if we doubt the existence of the object yet we have proof of its sense data hen we are committing a fallacy because it is this sense data which initially initiated and inspired the idea of existence of the object to begin with. However if the object does not exist the sense data in relation to the object cannot exist either. What Russell simply means that our perception of the object based on our sensation is not the same as the actual object independent from us. Our perception of the object is merely influenced by sense data which represents a relationship between us and the object (Russell, sense experience).
As to the example of the table Russell explains that existence of the table can be established. If we walk out of the room where the table is located we cease to perceive the table. This however does not affect the state of existence of the table. The fact that we are no longer in proximity of the table sufficient enough to perceive the table does not throw the table out of existence in its entirety. The table still exists even if we walk out of the room and shut the door behind us. The only question that remains is to the actual state of the table in terms of color, shape and other physical properties. Does the table appear in reality how we see it or is what we see a mere construct of our sensation as influenced by the sense data attributed to the table? The question thus arises as to how we can indeed know for sure the real appearance of the table with absolute certainty. This knowledge must be independent of our experiences which will generate various opinions as to the appearance of the table and its properties (Russell, sense experience).
Russell by all means attacks the validity of knowledge itself. He does this by removing the aspect of absolute certainty from common knowledge. Since the answer to a particular question more often than not varies from one person to another this brings about the problem of determining which answer is indeed the actual truth.in determining which answer is the absolute truth we will subconsciously apply our bias to the matter which will in turn invalidate our conclusion as to what answer is the absolute truth. This alludes to the assertion that knowledge takes a more personal paradigm. This is because knowledge varies from one person to another and depends on a particular person’s viewpoint. Thus we cannot say with absolute certainty that the answer of a particular person is indeed the correct answer and the answers brought forth by all the other people are false. The fact that we asked the question in the first place however alludes to the existence of a universal truth. This universal truth exists in a pure form without the perceptive bias and prejudice of people. The problem arises when we try to grasp this universal truth about the question. This is because despite all our attempts our conceptualization of this universal truth will ultimately be influenced by our viewpoint. This will in turn taint the purity of this universal truth as it has now been compromised by our viewpoint, our perspective and our judgment. This thus raises doubt as to what we perceive as the universal truth is indeed in actuality the universal truth or a construction of our viewpoint subject to our sensation (Russell, questioning what we know).
Another very strong aspect of Russell’s work is his distinction of knowledge into knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description. Knowledge by acquaintance means a situation involving direct awareness of the sense data available. This is first-hand knowledge or primary knowledge that comes directly from the source which happens to be the sense data. Knowledge by acquaintance represent a more direct access to the real object as it occurs in reality without any influencing factors or distorting factors whatsoever. Knowledge by description is however based on our previous acqueintances.it is based on some knowledge of what is considered truth. This enables the observer to infer knowledge about the object in question from a distance and without absolute certainty as to the exact real state of the object. This forms an aspect of indirect realism where we base our knowledge on past acquaintances and past experiences which may relate to or appeared similar to the object in question. Thus Russell introduces the aspect of direct and indirect reality. Direct reality is based on actual sense data from the object which is completely independent of any influencing factors while direct reality is more inclined towards inference of what the object actually is in reality based on previous knowledge or related objects and subject to our point of view at the time the object is analyzed as well as our conceptualization process of the real object (Russell, 2003).
Russell’s assertion however presents a hint of weakness. He fails to explore the possibility that maybe the table in his example indeed as just one color. This one color may be affected and influenced by certain unidentified natural forces of nature. These forces of nature may affect the color of the table as seen from different viewpoints based on the nature of the forces of nature at that particular viewpoint. If this was indeed the case it would mean that the color of the table is constant.in addition to the color of the table being constant it would also mean that the color of the table is by all means independent of the person or person’s observing it. This would mean that the sense data sent out by the table is in actuality reality but only gets distorted by certain unknown forces of nature which act on the sense data and influence the way they are received by the observer at different viewpoints. This means that in the absence of these disruptive forces of nature it is possible to establish with complete certainty the real nature of the real table in term of all its physical aspects for example color, shape and texture.
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