Towards a distinction in the social value of knowledge

We could distinguish, or at least attempt to distinguish, a priori between two different kinds of knowledge – those knowledges which comport independence, and those which do not. The former we might call independent knowledges, the latter dependent knowledges, both in and for the knowers who profess them. Thus, independent knowledges are not independent of each other – they produce independence for those who know them.

Much of what passes for “knowledge” simpliciter in modernity is a distinctly dependent knowledge. Of course, at the broadest level of abstraction, all knowledge is dependent, since all knowledge is afforded by discursive communities and their linguistic practices. However, a lower-level, perhaps ground-level, dependence is afforded by those who demand that some know other things as the first declare them. It is this stance, that knowledge be known to any B as an A demands it, that I truly mean by dependent knowledge. It is that knowledge which cannot proceed unless B knows what A wills that he know exactly as A wills it, preferably without B’s consciousness that A wills it as such.

Example: my father wills that I do the dishes at 5pm, and thus wills that I know how to do so. He tells me that I must do so because of cleanliness, not because he conceives of cleanliness in this or that way. He (A) wills that I know about cleaning the dishes as he desires, though he would never qualify this. Thus, he prefers that I (B) conceive of his knowledge as though it were an absolute knowledge. In this way he makes me dependent on him, since he is aware of his arbitration.

Example 2: A philosopher writes about the structure of agency for other philosophers. He tells them that they must assess his writing as he has written it, and on no other term. For there is no proof of his writing except in and how the others around him believe it. He has produced a dependent knowledge, since the knowledge must depend on him as philosopher and not on any possible reader as agent independent of him. If the philosopher attempted to write towards such an end, he would (at least) be attempting to produce independent knowledge. (Only Plato and the Stoics have done this; Nietzsche attempted it).

Example 3: An economist writes about the summation of marginal utilities across an arbitrary time frame. He in no way tells me as reader how I can practice such summation, since I (allegedly) will perform the summation without my wanting to do so. The economist has made me dependent on him, since I must know his laws if I am to “know” if what I would do without my knowing it is to be “rational,” on his terms. I cannot act independently of him, since he has written me in such a manner that, if I do, I deny him his account of rationality.

In each example, knowledge is essentially patriarchal, parochial, and paternalist. Each knowledge producer wills that the reader suckle his teat like a babe to its mom, for he is the fount of wisdom. Each is a kind of epistemic slavery, doubly. First, the slavery is temporally dependent since I must read what is said to be “up to date” with the literature. Second, the slavery is metaphysically dependent since the pre-conditions for any spatial action (metaphysics) proceed quietly (in a Derridean trace) as I enchain myself in time to reading the relevant work. I cannot begin to think otherwise except as I have “refuted” the writer, and thereby willed that he believe me instead of the contrary. Robert Nozick has aptly pointed this phenomenon as, in my view, a lurking monarchism beneath all speech acts – “You, dear mortal, be my slave! For I know the truth, to which you must submit!” Michel Foucault calls it “the fascism in our heads.”

What sham, phony, childish thinking! Knowledge ought to be in all senses free, liberty-inducing. Give me such liberty, or give me death!

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