The first kind of knowledge: opinions or knowledge

It is clear that we perceive many things and form universal notions:

  1. From singular things which have been represented to us through the senses in a way which is mutilated, confused, and without order for the intellect (see 29C); for that reason I have been accustomed to call such perceptions knowledge from random experience;
  2. From signs, for example, from the fact that, having heard or read certain words, we recollect things, and form certain ideas of them, like those through which we imagine the things (P18S); these two ways of regarding things I shall henceforth call knowledge of the first kind or imagination; (Spinoza, 1994a, pp. 57, Schol. 2)

Clearly, it is incumbent upon the learner to be aware of the fact that much knowledge is inadequate because it has been acquired by the senses or by reading “signs” and has not been situated within an adequate “context”; it has not been thought through carefully enough. What Spinoza calls “opinion” or “imaginative” knowledge is the only cause of “falsity”. But it is necessary because it is only by being aware of this false knowledge that one can be conscious of what is “true”. Thus we can see that a Spinozist pedagogy is one which embraces the learner making mistakes and learning from them. As we have seen, we make mistakes because we are not in full possession of the “truth”.

Journey into Joy

Reflections: When have you learnt by making mistakes? What’s your attitude towards making mistakes when you’re learning? Are you embarrassed by making them? Do you avoid asking questions about things because you don’t want to appear stupid? What does this say about your conceptions of learning?