Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Responses 001 (Nov 2012)

The next session of questions delves deep into many complex issues. Question 1 in that list reads: Can we have beliefs or knowledge which are independent of our culture?

My gut instinct leads me first to attempt to define culture — roughly perhaps as 'that which is cultivated as a pattern of behaviour in a group of humans over time, and the manifest fruits of that pattern'. This would presumably include manifestations like the arts as well as structural behaviours such as organisational ethos.

I think the next thing to look at is that naughty little word, 'independent'. These days, it implies separation or lack of relation between two entities. It can also mean that there is no clear relationship and hence we can imagine the two entities (in this case, culture vs beliefs/knowledge) to have little to do with each other.

To me the obvious argument is this: culture is a pattern (or the results of such a pattern) formed from human intellectual activity. Human intellectual activity tends to be based on beliefs or knowledge, which in turn are developed from information constructed out of data. Or you might say human intellectual activity constructs beliefs/knowledge from information constructed from data. This data is obtained from sensory perception and the interactions of various organs (such as the brain and various chemical factories like the adrenal glands).

None of this activity requires culture. However, once enough humans get together to develop culture(s), no matter how we define culture, it will act as a feedback input to human intellectual activity.

This is why I would argue that you can indeed have beliefs or knowledge independent of culture. However, a number of fairly bright people have claimed otherwise. There is a counter-case to be made here.

Most of the stuff a baby learns through language or other forms of experience is mediated heavily by environment. This means that if a well-defined culture is present, it will colour the learning experiences of young humans. This is true even of older humans exposed to a well-defined culture — we call this acculturation (humans 'converted' by culture) or cultural propagation (culture 'converting' humans).

If this is taken to the extreme, everything we believe or know is believed or known in terms that have been mediated by our cultural filters. Not many people have no cultural filters/lenses at all, or can function while effectively neutralising any filters they might have. Yet, I still think that such cultural influences must be in some sense known (i.e. they are knowledge, whether consciously or subconsciously attained) before they make your knowledge-construction or belief-construction processes dependent on them.

The usual outcome to such discussions is the infamous Gallic shrug, especially because many of these cultural philosopher types are Francophone Europeans. But those who have to write essays on such topics must suffer towards a fairly well-defined conclusion. Ah well. *shrug*

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Blogger HATH said...

Can't wait for your 6th! Thank you sir (:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011 5:01:00 pm  
Blogger Trebuchet said...

HATH: Been reading a lot of Herman Hesse, eh? :)

Thursday, October 20, 2011 5:12:00 am  
Blogger Katharina said...

This has really helped get me thinking about my essay.
I was wondering if you had any reading or any information you recommend I access for my TOK essay?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012 3:07:00 pm  
Blogger Trebuchet said...

Katharina: Hi! Depends on which topic you're picking! :)

Tuesday, June 05, 2012 1:05:00 pm  
Blogger Katharina said...

I am choosing this question but I don't quite know what you mean by which topic. Could you please explain?

Monday, June 18, 2012 2:22:00 pm  
Blogger Trebuchet said...

Katharina: Ah, I'm sorry — I didn't realise it was this topic you had already picked for your essay. I have a suggestion: go to and do a search for phrases like "cultural influence on beliefs". This will give you a bunch of reasonably good sources.

Saturday, June 23, 2012 6:06:00 am  
Blogger Katharina said...

Thank you very much for that!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012 1:43:00 am  
Blogger CS said...

My gut instinct lead me to run and hide from this damned question.

I suspect your assessment is the same from your conclusion of the post! I guess you are saying that de jure it is possible, but de facto it is unlikely that someone can be completely independent of his culture and that at least some of his beliefs will be coloured by culture.

First pick of AoK for me would go to religion. Second... Natural sciences. But then again I would have avoided the question altogether since there are easier (and less foggy) questions to attempt

Monday, July 23, 2012 4:28:00 am  
Blogger Trebuchet said...

CS: I wouldn't hide from it... :) There is no hiding from it in real life!

I would perhaps say that two kinds of knowledge and beliefs, if carefully defined and justified, might qualify as 'independent' of 'culture' (how ever defined). 1) fundamentals (i.e. stuff preceding knowledge or belief), and 2) universals (i.e. stuff which no matter how culture develops, you will have to conclude is true). The two may overlap, although I phrase the latter in the sense of truths discovered via culture and still ending up the same despite differences in culture.

Monday, July 30, 2012 3:41:00 am  
Blogger Ronald said...

Hello sir, i would like to ask you how are you interpreting the words "OUR CULTURE" in the question. Does it mean we have to answer the question viewing "our culture' as specific cultures like MY own culture(e.g German culture , Scottish culture, Indian culture) or just the human culture in general( e.g everybody). Or even both?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012 3:30:00 am  
Blogger Trebuchet said...

Ronald: The thing about 'our culture' is that it is quite a cunning insertion. If it were just culture in general that we were talking about, then only pre-cultural knowledge and beliefs would be independent. But there is another sense in which such things would be independent: if knowledge (e.g. arithmetic or biological) or beliefs (e.g. belief in the primary right to life) can be attained through (or by way of) ANY culture, not just ours, then it can be considered independent too.

Thursday, August 23, 2012 8:41:00 pm  

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