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Philosophy Workshop: “Ways of Knowing”

March 25, 2023 @ 9:00 am - 12:00 pm MDT

Workshop Details

Most of us have the basic intuition that, because the truth “always is what it is”—because reality is objective, universal, shared in some important way—then there shouldn’t really be different “kinds” of knowing: we either know, or we don’t know, and that’s that.  Knowledge, like truth, should be objective and invariable.

Yet many of us also have another intuition: sometimes, there really does seem to be “something different” about knowing, or about acquiring knowledge, in different ways.  For example, my knowledge of some bit of particle physics might have come through conducting laboratory experiments for myself, or through “armchair reasoning” from first principles, or through the testimony of some other person… and that other person might be a researcher at CERN, or might be my uncle who read something cool in a magazine over the weekend.

Or again, my knowledge of the challenges of urban poverty might come through reading (or conducting) a careful sociological study, or through engaging with a profound work of literature (think Charles Dickens and Upton Sinclair), or through having lived through it myself.

These differences seem to matter—even if we can’t quite explain why or how they matter.  And they make it hard to reconcile these two intuitions with each other.

Luckily for us, questions about the means, processes, and instruments of knowing have been front and center in the philosophies of India for most of the last two millennia.  And so philosophers from a wide array of Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, and materialist traditions have given us a robust toolkit of terms, concepts, and arguments for exploring precisely these issues.

In this workshop:

  • We’ll apply some of those traditional tools, along with our own careful analytic skill, to see what we can salvage from both intuitions. 
  • We’ll identify, as best we can, what each intuition gets right, as well as how they fit together in a coherent way. 
  • Critically, we’ll learn to appreciate the difference between knowing, as an activity that we do, and knowledge, as a thing that we have.

Following our teachers in the classical Indian traditions, we’ll start simple, to consider the scope, limits, and interconnections of sense perception, testimony, and various forms of reasoning. 

  • Do these different ways of knowing all give us access to the same array of objects?
  • Or does each of them have a unique domain that’s entirely (or at least partly) its own? 

(Our guides will disagree on this question, in ways that will illuminate the issues much more clearly for us.)

Then, using the basic tools we’ve developed, we’ll move on to consider some trickier problems:

  • What about special “expert” testimony, when someone claims epistemic (or even moral!) authority in matters of religion, science, or politics? 
  • What about special kinds of experiences, like the ones that can result from profound meditation or magic mushrooms, and the mystical union or insight into emptiness that they might let us perceive?
  • And what about ways of knowing that are established in and through the practices and traditions of particular cultures, communities, or families?

Ways of Knowing

w/ Philosopher David Nowakowski

When & Where

This workshop led by philosopher David Nowakowski will take place in the Conference Center in Reeder’s Alley on Saturday, March. 25th. No prior background in philosophy is required to participate.

Workshop Details

Date: Saturday, March 25th 
Time: 9am – 12pm MT
Where: 101 Reeder’s Alley (Conference Center)

Registration Info

RSVP: Scroll down to RSVP…
Cost: Free (Donations Welcome)
Other: Light snacks & hot tea provided

Workshop Leader

David Nowakowski is as a philosopher and educator in the Helena area whose professional work is dedicated to helping people of all ages and backgrounds access, understand, and apply the traditions of ancient philosophy to their own lives.  David began studying ancient philosophies and classical languages in 2001, and has continued ever since.  A scholar of the philosophical traditions of the ancient Mediterranean (Greece, Rome, and North Africa) and of the Indian subcontinent, reading Sanskrit, Latin, and classical Greek, he earned his Ph.D. in philosophy from Princeton University in 2014.  His work has appeared in a variety of scholarly journals, including Philosophy East & WestAsian Philosophy, and the Journal of Indian Philosophy, as well as in presentations to academic audiences at Harvard, Columbia University, the University of Toronto, Yale-NUS College in Singapore, and elsewhere. 

After half a decade teaching at liberal arts colleges in the northeast, David chose to leave the academy in order to focus his energies on the transformative value of these ancient philosophical and spiritual traditions in his own life and practice, and on building new systems of education and community learning that will make this rich heritage alive and available to others.


Make a Donation Here

Our philosophy workshops and other activities are FREE to the community.  While donations are never expected, they are always appreciated and help to keep programs like these going. Donations help to cover workshop leader honorariums, implementation, and resource archiving, and more!   If you would like to make a tax-deductible contribution you can do so by clicking here or on the button above.  For those facing more challenging financial circumstances, we ask that you please try to “pay it forward” with acts of kindness for your neighbors and community. 


Reeder’s Alley Interpretive & Convention Center
101 Reeder's Alley
Helena, MT 59601 United States
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Marisa Diaz-Waian
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