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Definitions of Knowledge

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As Walker Percy explores the "dogfish" of perception and knowledge in his essay, "The Loss of the Creature," I wonder if he realizes how slippery and feisty the topic squirming on his desk is. Although anyone who has taken a guided tour will surely agree that the traditional tourist experience is necessarily divorced from that of a discoverer, the broad epistemological claims that Percy extracts from this scenario seem more complicated than Percy gives them credit, or space, for. When Percy suggests that an individual should aim to "extract the thing from the package," he insists that the individual seek out some solid bedrock beneath the surface of perception (519). In this statement, he implicitly calls the reader to believe that such bedrock exists and is accessible to humans, a controversial position in the postmodern world.

By arguing that excavation towards a static and fixed "creature" is possible, Percy echoes the voice of Plato, who argues that humans should strive to know the essential "forms" lying beneath ephemeral existence. Plato and his mentor, Socrates, devised their theory of forms in large part to reconcile a constantly changing physical universe with the criterion of permanence inherent in the Greek definition of knowledge, an important problem for philosophers of the time, and still today. In other words, the Greeks, believing that only permanent and unchanging entities could truly be "known," needed a way to attain knowledge in light of a constantly changing natural world. With the forms, Plato provided a solution to this problem, saying that "beneath" the physical world a human perceives there exists a dimension of forms, or essences, which persist throughout time, independent of human perception but ...


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...ans or dogfish. Like the physicist, they can benefit from recognizing elements of uncertainty inherent in the "creature." In a way, the postmodern knower is much like the man in Percy's essay, who takes the Grand Canyon bus tour as "an exercise in familiarity" (513). He intakes the same interpreted information as those who are on the level below him, yet he recognizes its limitations and understands what he sees all the more because of this awareness.

Works Cited

Heisenberg, Werner. Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science. New York: Harper & Row, 1958.

Bartholomae, David and Anthony Petrosky, eds. Ways of Reading. 3rd Ed. New York: Bedford, 1995.

Percy, Walker. "The Loss of the Creature." Bartholomae and Petrosky. 423-436.

Tompkins, Jane. "'Indians:' Textualism, Morality and the Problem of History." Bartholomae and Petrosky. 584-601.


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