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In present ay society, everywhere you look people in our society are engulfed in the mass media and receive many kinds of information. Newspapers, magazines, TV. computers and also teachers and friends are always filling us in on the latest information. All this information raises fundamental questions on the information itself. How much of this information is true? What sources can be trusted? From all of these opinions and propaganda we are exposed to each day, how much of it has turned into our knowledge? What is the difference and how can we distinguish between it? First of all to define the terms so that we can see the differences.

Although most people around us know what knowledge is , it is a very hard thing to define. Knowledge is often defined as expertise, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education. It can be what is known in a certain field or in total; facts or information. Is this what knowledge really is? The best I can do is that knowledge is information gained from the sources of knowledge. The sources of knowledge are sense experience, testimony, reasoning, instincts, memory, introspect, intuition and emotion. There are also different types of knowledge; practical, theoretical and rational.

It may have started as an oral tradition, limiting the amount that could be stored, but this all changed dramatically with the discovery of writing in the Near East some 6,000 years ago. For the first time, man was no longer dependent upon individual memory and oral tradition. With accessibility to written records it was possible to store much greater amounts of information than any individual could reliably remember. Since the invention of writing we have access to many different forms of information. There is the information we store in our heads and also the information we McMullin 2

find in books, newspapers or on the internet. With other forms of retaining knowledge we are freed from the burden of carrying around great masses of detailed information “in our heads” simply in order to avoid its being lost. We are free to forget, confident that if we need some particular item of information, we shall be able to find it. This means that an educated person is not necessarily someone who remembers a lot but someone who is able to access and utilise information efficiently. So far we have talked about the many different forms of how knowledge can be passed on. We have seen that it is a collective enterprise.

Once acquired, it is passed on to others, who in turn use what they have received as stepping stones to further knowledge. But is knowledge only merely passed on in interaction with others? The answer is no, it is created in interaction with others. During arguments and debates, ideas are tried and tested. Old ideas may be shown to be inadequate, old ways of looking at things exposed as barren and old theories discarded. New concepts may emerge, new perspectives come to be adopted and new lines of thought are developed. This is why it is important to have class discussions and always question everything!

An opinion or belief is a person’s ideas and thoughts towards something. It is an assessment, judgement or evaluation of something. An opinion is not a fact, because opinions are either falsifiable, or the opinion has not been proven or verified. If it later becomes proven or verified, it is no longer an opinion but a fact. Unfortunately many of our beliefs are groundless. We have no adequate reasons for holding them at all. As many people say, you are a product of you environment. It is through our environment that we develop many of our beliefs or opinions. More often McMullin 3.

then not your religious and political beliefs, attitudes and commitments have been absorbed from your social environment. How else can you explain that those born in Christian countries tend to become Christians, while those brought up in Muslim countries tend to become Muslims? People born in Canada think Canada is the best country ( which it OBVIOUSLY is ), when those born in the USA award the prize to their own country. People also always think that their child is the best. Although people may deliver this information as if it is knowledge, but how can this be so? These are more a matter of opinion.

Most times our real motive for believing something to be true is because it is in our best interest for it to be so. You also have to take into consideration the situations where people may know something deep-down but chose to believe something else. Let’s take smoking for example. People who smoke know it is harmful to them, but chose to look the other way. If they have smoked for awhile they chose to believe that it can harm them no further, The same as the director of a cigarette manufacturing company is likely to believe against all the evidence, that smoking tobacco does not cause health problems.

The evidence says we are very good at believing what is in our best interest to believe. We are also very reluctant to change our beliefs. So, now you can see that beliefs are what we wish to be true. They are not necessarily true and they are unproven. It is only the beliefs which we consider to be particularly well founded, and which we do not expect to change, that we call knowledge. We also have to take into consideration the testimony that is deliberately and systematically contrived to distort the picture of the world we receive in the interest of McMullin 4 some group or organisation.

We call such deliberately manipulated testimony propaganda. Propaganda is commonly used by the government or marketing companies. These people wish to persuade others to the believe their own beliefs and to influence their actions. Governments desire our obedience, co-operation and support, particularly when they are about to do something they think will be unpopular, so they use it. Everyone who uses propaganda wants something. Political parties want to solicit our votes, special interest groups want our support, advertisers want our money and religious groups our souls.

All of these organisations are out to convince us that their beliefs are true, that their programs are right, their causes just and their products are the best. They may do this using all of the media at their disposal; public speeches, posters, newspaper articles, books, movies, radio advertisements and television programs or advertisements. Propaganda is communication in which considerations of truth and reason are subordinated to effectiveness of persuasion. The aim of the propagandist is to govern or control our beliefs and desires, and hence to control our actions.

All of this being said, propaganda is not necessarily false or wrong information. The most effective propaganda messages contain a substantial amount of the truth which gives the propaganda it’s credibility and helps us swallow the fabrications presented to us. All of this being said we have to realise that propaganda cannot be considered as a type of knowledge because it is logically incoherent. In conclusion you now know the difference between knowledge, opinion and propaganda. Sometimes it is easy to tell the difference between them, you can often see McMullin 5 that there is no proof behind what a person is saying.

This does not mean that it is not true, but it is also not knowledge. Also remember that knowledge is not always correct but it is the best thing at the time. Watch out for propaganda, for it exists in excess in our society. Be careful and do not believe everything you hear from people, television or newspapers. Remember always question everything!

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