TOK – Does all knowledge require some kind of rational basis?

The knowledge issue presented in this question promotes the examination of the relationship between knowledge and reason. The question being explored is if reason is the only basis upon which knowledge can be constructed. The term knowledge is broad, but under the perimeters of the knowledge issue, it means to have certainty on a certain topic. This knowledge refers to the creation of certainty about an ambiguous situation. It can be the product of critical thinking about any of the “ways of knowing,” or it can be certainty about personal situations. Knowledge is not truth but certainty. Certainty is a personal position and this is one of the major perimeters of the knowledge issue.

Rational basis (i.e. reason) is a way of knowing in which one compiles historical information about similar situations in the past, and extrapolates to find certainty. In my exploration of this knowledge issue, I will refer to all areas of knowledge, and to the area of self awareness. I will refer to reason, and emotion to expose the elusive truth behind this question. What I will explore is the idea that knowledge doesn’t have to be formed on a rational basis, but it can be formed using belief. The most common form of believe is religion, and this represents “public” belief. It is seen less, but “personal” beliefs exists, and they show how powerful the way of knowing is.

Belief is the most powerful way of knowing, because it can cloud any logical arguments, and reason holds no weight in comparison. The problem with belief, is that most people don’t have the conviction to truly believe. A belief can and often does contradict the knowledge that others have, and it is for fear of standing out, that beliefs are killed early, in many. A belief can lead to letdown if not actualized, and the best beliefs are seen as ludicrous, because most people don’t think they possible.

People learn to kill beliefs early. An example of how strong a belief can be is religion. The reason religion has survived is because it has become normal. There is nothing outstanding about being religious, so there is no social repercussions to fear. When religions are challenged, the strength of beliefs are demonstrated. Often bible stories which feature miracles, like Jesus turning water to wine, are challenged because there has been nothing in the recent past which rationally leads people to believe the stories are possible. People use reason to try to disprove the stories in the eyes of
religious people.

They use their knowledge of science and their knowledge of history (both are based on the observations of situations, and the extrapolation of the findings to gain certainty) to prove how, since it hans’t happened recently, and there isn’t a chemical reaction which could produce wine from water, the act is impossible, and the story is false. Despite these rational arguments the religious people’s knowledge is unfazed. This is because their belief overrides any rational thought. Their need for certainty of God or the everlasting, requires that they believe stories that aren’t imperially supported because religion doesn’t allow the two to be separated. In the case of beliefs, knowledge doesn’t have to be based on reason.

The strength of religious belief is hard to counter, but whether the belief is unconditional or based on logic is debatable. Almost every religion tells stories of prophets or godly interventions and actions, such as in the bible. Many people also have personal stories, or have heard personal stories, about a spiritual power. My father’s friend, as a child, was terminally riddled with cancer. In a dream, he was in a crashing plane and he heard the voice of what he thought was God. It said that he had to turn off a number of the lights in the cockpit before the plane crashed.

He did. When he next visited his doctor, all of his cancer was gone. These stories may be due to selective attention, and the invalid attribution of holy power to a simply unlikely or coincidental circumstance, or the action of a spiritual power, but almost every religious person has experiences to back up their religious knowledge. According to the definition of a rational basis, “a way of knowing in which one compiles historical information about similar situations in the past, and extrapolates to find certainty,” their knowledge of religion is rational. They are using previous knowledge and extrapolating to validate the existence of a god or spiritual power.

Belief is a strong way of knowing and religion is an exemplification of it. In contradiction to the counter-claim, religious beliefs are often accepted and then validated, meaning that they were believed before reasoned, and the knowledge was created by belief and only strengthened by the reason generated by these personal experiences. Religion is an example of how knowledge doesn’t have to have a rational basis, but how often can knowledge be created based on belief? Is religion the only example of knowledge based on belief?

Religion is one of the only publicly accepted beliefs that creates knowledge without the influence of reason, however a personal belief can create knowledge. Personal beliefs are less common. This is because knowledge-based beliefs don’t make sense. They aren’t based on anything but inner-confidence. When millions of people share the belief, it is easy to follow, but people often won’t allow their beliefs to thrive. These beliefs often have to do with personal potential, or a situation with the odds stacked against it. Not only do people not have the unconditional-confidence in their belief, but these types of beliefs often contradict the opinion of the majority of people, and people don’t want to start conflict.

These are the reasons why personal beliefs aren’t seen often. There needs to be a person who has inexhaustible confidence and doesn’t shy away from conflict. When these conditions are met, it is shown how beliefs become knowledge in astonishing fashion. Michael Jordan is the perfect example of personal beliefs. As with any NBA player, the odds of making it are stacked against them as a child. With Michael Jordan the odds were stacked higher as he didn’t make the varsity basketball team his freshman year. Any rational thinker would take this to mean that if he didn’t have what it takes to make the high school team, how could he be a pro?

He was also 5’ 10” in high school, which stacked the odds so high they would block out the sun for most people — but Michael Jordan still saw the light. He defied the odds and became not only an NBA player, but arguably the greatest basketball player of all time. What is it that drove him? It was his belief in himself. His belief in himself, which wasn’t even backed up by his high school coach, created the knowledge that he would make it. These examples exist in the greatest comebacks and upsets in sports history, such as Muhammad Ali beating George Forman.

The sports commentator Howard Cosell was concerned that not only would Ali lose, but that he might actually die in the ring, but Ali’s unshakable belief contributed to his knowledge that he would prevail against the much younger and stronger Foreman. The examples also exist in wars, such as in the Battle of Stirling Bridge where the Scottish army, outnumbered five to one, defeated the English Army. The belief that each party had in themselves was the basis for the knowledge that they would win, and for that reasons they fought on.

Regarding Michael Jordan and the other underdogs, the belief that they had in themselves is unchallenged, but there is a counter to whether reason played a part in the knowledge of their inevitable success. Having known the extent of their own ability, they could base their knowledge off of the fact that their previous experiences proving their skill, such as pick-up games, or time spent in practice, indicated that they had what it takes to succeed. Using previous experiences to extrapolate to a knowledgeable conclusion, is the definition of reason, and their belief may not have been unconditional.

The fact that Michael Jordan was denied a spot on the team indicates that his personal opinion of his ability would have been shaken severely or shattered if he based it on logical arguments. His belief was unconditional, and that was the base for his knowledge. This is an example of how personal belief can create knowledge, not only without a rational basis, but despite it.

Knowledge can be create without a reasonable basis, on the strength of unrelenting belief. In the cases of both the public beliefs of religion, and the personal beliefs in our own power to prevail, we gain certainty about an outcome. As with religion, a logical argument doesn’t dent a religious person’s knowledge of the existence of a spiritual power, because they know they will experience life after death and therefore they believe all the religious teachings which promise that. Athletes, warriors, and others who find it worth it to believe, create their own knowledge based not on the reason of others, but the belief of themselves. Why does someone believe in the first place?

In my past I have wanted few things more than I wanted to stand on the podium, while I stood on the start line of the grade six cross country city finals. The odds weren’t in my corner, but I could fight that. My stride was shorter. It didn’t matter. I wanted it so badly that I believed I would do it — that I knew it. When you want something badly enough, you will believe that it is possible, because that is the only way that you can accomplish it. When you are certain that you will succeed there is not a force in the universe that could stop you.