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Contextual observations: Perceptual and conceptual knowledge

I have found a most illuminating-and at the same time a most challenging-solution to the epistemology-ontology question in Lorenz (1993), in which Lorenz depicts polarities in human experience and gives a profound analysis of the distinction between perceptual knowledge and conceptual knowledge with respect to language use.

In an attempt to distinguish perceptual knowledge from conceptual knowledge, Lorenz (1993) introduces the difference between actions (for acquiring practical knowledge) and sign-actions (for acquiring theoretical knowledge). Both types of actions are “ways of world making” in the sense of Goodman (1978). Making reference to Peirce, Russell, Wittgenstein, Broch and Goodman, Lorenz makes the claim that language exerts both its ontological side as the level of objects and its epistemological side as the level of signs.

The level of objects is the realm of object competence (dependent on situations) in which we talk about symptomatic representational features yielding knowledge by acquaintance (Erleben). This object competence is based on perceptual knowledge in which something becomes known perceptually, using language as a means (and object) of perception, not a means of conception.

The level of signs is the realm of meta-competence (not dependent on situations) in which we talk about symbolic representational features yielding knowledge by description (Erkennen). This meta-competence is based on conceptual knowledge in which we proceed from something perceptually known to something known conceptually, involving a scientific reorganization of “world versions”. This proceeding or transition from situation to context entails a transition from event-ontology to context-ontology, with a possible middle-stage of language-ontology, as delineated and discussed above.

The distinction between perceptual knowledge and conceptual knowledge sheds light on an inevitable consequence according to which pragmatic inferences are impossible without recourse to contextual observations. Pragmatic knowledge, which is learned or acquired, draws on perceptual information (Erleben). However, it undergoes

generalization with the help of conceptual knowledge which draws on a meta-level of contextual information, which is observed and inferred (Erkennen). The acknowledgement of these two types of knowledge is of paramount importance in designing scalable context-adaptive systems that could model humans applying intelligent reasoning processes for interpretation cum contextualization.

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