Whether a knowledge claim should be open to rational criticism relies on the area of knowledge being considered. In areas of knowledge, such as natural sciences, if a claim is not justified rationally then it can not be regarded as truth. Therefore these knowledge claims should be open to rational criticism. In other areas of knowledge such as aesthetics, a knowledge claim does not depend on reason or logic, so for it to be open to rational criticism may be unsuitable. In this essay, I will explore the effect rational criticism has on areas of knowledge and to see whether this should be the basis for knowledge claims to be accepted as truth.
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Rational criticism plays a huge role in the advancement of scientific knowledge. This is because the scientific method of accumulating knowledge is by producing a theory for which to use reason and induction can not disprove. However if it is disproved by rational criticism or experimental data then the theory must be adapted or rejected. Therefore, any knowledge claims should not contradict any established facts. An example of this would be Democritus who was one of the first to propose the theory of the indivisible atom1 using rational ideas. However at the time, this statement did not have any observational implications and so could not be proved using empirical evidence. His theory that the atom is indivisible should be open to rational criticism if it is to be used to explain rational events in the world. However due to advances in technology, empirical evidence found by Rutherford in 1911 showed that the atom was made of protons, neutrons and electrons2. Therefore to confirm the validity of scientific knowledge claims, the claim itself must survive rational criticism and fit the empirical evidence. However, most of the time, scientific knowledge claims rely on assumptions and so the validity of Rutherford’s claim relies on assumptions that his method and instruments were reliable. So for scientific knowledge claims to be accepted as truth not only must they be open for rational criticism but any evidence or justification should be valid.
Rational criticism relies on the way of knowing of reason to produce a point of conflict with a knowledge claim. However if the knowledge claim does not concern reason then rationally criticising it would not be suitable. This is the case in aesthetics where a knowledge claim relies on emotion rather than reason to prove it. For example, the claim that Leonardo Da Vinci is a better artist than Damien Hirst is difficult to prove using rational criticism. Of course if the criteria for being better were the number of pieces of art they produced or the amount of skill required to produce the pieces of art then one may be able to come to a conclusion as to which artist is better using rational criticism. However, if the criteria for being better was which set of art affects the audience greater, often reason is not included in the decision and emotion is used to judge which set of art creates a bigger emotional effect on the audience. To reach a conclusion, evidence can be collected in the form of a survey but because this is such an unreliable and invalid method, someone can not disprove this knowledge claim at a later date using rational criticism as it is unreasonable for it to be open to rational criticism. Aesthetic knowledge claims therefore rely more on emotion than on reason and so it does not need rational criticism for it to be rationally justified. So, just as the evidence for scientific knowledge claims must be proved valid we must check to see if the emotions used to justify the aesthetic knowledge claim are valid.
Moreover, aesthetics and science are different in respect to how they progress. Whereas science uses past data, present theories and reason to prove and improve scientific claims, aesthetics make use of emotions not to improve art but to evoke different emotions in the audience. Therefore, if one assumes that the price of a piece of art is directly proportional, to how “good” it is (i.e. the amount of satisfaction received from it), this would mean, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa should evoke more satisfaction than Damien Hirst’s “For the Love of God”. However, in my opinion I find that Damien Hirst’s “For the Love of God” is more aesthetically pleasing than a dull and tacky painting and so I will claim that it is better. However, the lack of justification and reasoning would mean my conclusion is irrational but it can not be proven incorrect. In this way, aesthetic knowledge claims can be irrational but true as it is inappropriate to use rational criticism.
Contrastingly, with regard to scientific knowledge claims, the opposite may be true. Knowledge claims in the area of knowledge of science rely almost entirely on reason and rationality. Therefore it is possible for a knowledge claim to be rational yet untrue. For example, J.J. Thomson in 1987 rationally proved at the time that the atom consisted of electrons suspended in a soup of positive charge3. In fact, the idea was so rational that up and until 1910 student studying chemistry would learn the “plum pudding model” as truth. So even though the claim was rational yet wrong leading to the idea that in order for scientific claims to be accepted as truth rational criticism is required as without it incorrect theories would be accepted as fact. Moreover, Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity has yet to be disproved after decades of rational criticism which has concluded his findings as scientific truth. However, the recent anomaly experienced by two German physicists suggest that Einstein and his many followers may not be correct after all in an experiment where a particle exceeded the speed of light4. This experiment was dismissed as its findings were against Einstein’s theory of relativity and do not fit the existing data. Of course even if I were to be rational I would say that it is just an error with the empirical data from the German scientists as the paradigm shift that Einstein is may be wrong is unlikely and irrational as he has not ever been proven wrong. This highlights another problem with human reason which tends to look to satisfy preconceived ideas by manipulating evidence and so is not completely objective. Scientific knowledge prides itself for being accurate due to not relying on subjective data but this example shows how humans can be susceptible to subjective ideas and therefore may distort scientific claims of truth. Therefore, for any scientific knowledge claim to be accepted as truth the evidence or justification given must not be erroneous or subjective.
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In conclusion, science as an area of knowledge is heavily reliant on rational criticism as method of improving the body of knowledge as well as confirming it and so should be open to rational criticism even if the knowledge is considered factual. Moreover, any justification or evidence used to enforce a knowledge claim should be clear of errors and subjective methods The area of aesthetics is slightly different as most knowledge claims within this field are made emotionally in the absence of reason which rules out rational criticism as a method of achieving the advancement of it because in aesthetics, unlike science, the aim is not to improve knowledge but to celebrate and appreciate creativity. However, the use of reason and rational criticism where it can be applied in aesthetics should be encouraged to achieve a well justified conclusion even if the validity of the claim does not depend on reason.
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