Velmans on Popper’s Objective Knowledge

Max Velmans, Understanding Consciousness

p. 215. “As Popper (1972) notes, knowledge that is codified into books and other artefacts has an existence that is, in one sense, observer-free. That is, the books exist in our libraries after their writers are long dead and their readers absent, and they form a repository of knowledge that can influence future social and technological development in ways which extend well beyond that envisaged by their original authors. However, the knowledge itself is not observer-free. Rather, it is valuable precisely because it encodes individual or collective experience. Nor, strictly speaking, is the print in books ‘knowledge’. As Searle (1997) points out, words and other symbolic forms are intrinsically just ink marks on a page (see Chapter 5). They only become symbols, let alone convey meaning, to creatures that know how to interpret and understand them. But autonomous existence of books (and other media) provides no basis for ‘objective knowledge’ of the kind that Popper describes, that is, knowledge ‘that is totally independent of anybody’s claim to know’, ‘knowledge without a knower’, and ‘knowledge without a knowing subject (see quote above). On the contrary, without knowing subjects, there is no knowledge of any kind (whether objective or not).


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