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55
indeed practical knowledge (skill) as
opposed to theoretical knowledge.This last
distinction is the most momentous ­ and
the least tenable.
I
t was perhaps the main discovery of
twentieth-century philosophy that all
knowledge, ultimately, is based on practical
knowledge, on knowing how rather than
knowing that, as Gilbert Ryle has put it.
54
Practical knowledge is largely autonomous.
There is a layer, or dimension, of practical
knowledge that can in no sense be cast in
the form of theoretical knowledge, and all
theoretical knowledge represents merely an
articulation of knowledge that is invariably
reducible to practice. It is this sense that
Ryle flatly states: `theorising is one practice
amongst others'.
55
T
hroughout the ages, the knowledge
possessed by humankind has primari-
ly been practical knowledge: the knowl-
edge of how to do things, and the material
culture in which that know-how was
embodied. Certainly there existed theoreti-
cal knowledge too, in the primordial pic-
torial form of cave paintings for example
56
and in the form of verbal knowledge:
handed-down sayings, myths, and the like.
However, much of that knowledge was,
indeed, not knowledge at all. Prior to the
rise of modern science, the progress of
humankind was simply not due to any
knowledge preserved in texts, oral or writ-
ten.
57
Furthermore, one of the crucial fac-
tors in the rise of modern science was
ing that, while
such access is
becoming
increasingly
attainable today, it
was never a possi-
bility in earlier
ages. In a trivial
sense, all societies are knowledge-based;
however, much of the knowledge both in
traditional societies and throughout
modernity was possessed by a minority,
and much of that knowledge was not
knowledge at all, but rather myth, supersti-
tion, lethal error or, at best, spurious learn-
ing. It does a disservice to progress to deny
that we are today in fact witnessing a his-
torical turning-point, and that past soci-
eties were ignorance-based societies rather
than knowledge-based societies.
A
s a result of the Internet and mobile
telephony, radically new forms of
knowledge are emerging. It is philosophy
and the social sciences that help us view
this phenomenon from a historical per-
spective; help us understand that the new
forms are indeed forms of genuine knowl-
edge; and help us realise that the feeling of
a cultural loss, voiced by so many contem-
porary intellectuals, is unfounded.
N
ow, of course, the term `knowledge'
refers to a family of concepts.There
is knowledge as opposed to mere informa-
tion, or indeed to raw data; multisensorial
knowledge as opposed to textual knowl-
edge; linearly and hierarchically organised
knowledge as opposed to knowledge
organised in network structures; and
P
ROFESSOR
K
RISTÓF
N
YÍRI
D
IRECTOR
, I
NSTITUTE FOR
P
HILOSOPHICAL
R
ESEARCH
,
H
UNGARIAN
A
CADEMY OF
S
CIENCES
N
ew information and communication
technologies herald the promise of,
and indeed have to a significant measure
already brought about, changes that can be
meaningfully discussed under the heading
of knowledge societies. However, the term
`knowledge societies' by now seems to
have acquired two distinct, albeit related,
meanings. In its first meaning it refers to
the trend classically analysed by Daniel Bell
in his The Coming of Post-Industrial
Society.
52
In post-industrial society ­ Bell
also uses the terms `knowledgeable society'
and `knowledge society' ­ knowledge and
technology have become the central
resources of society and economy. Perhaps
it is the currently oft-used circumlocution
`knowledge-based society' that best
expresses this state of affairs; and perhaps it
is useful to stress, as Manuel Castells does,
that what characterises this society `is not
the centrality of knowledge and informa-
tion, but the application of such knowl-
edge and information to knowledge
generation and information
processing/communication devices, in a
cumulative feedback loop between innova-
tion and the uses of innovation'.
53
I
n its second meaning, the term `knowl-
edge society' is connected with the idea
of universal access to knowledge, emphasis-
T
OWARDS A
K
NOWLEDGE
S
OCIETY
52 Daniel Bell, The Coming of Post-Industrial Society: A Venture in Social Forecasting (New York: Basic Books,
1973).
53 Manuel Castells, The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, vol. 1: The Rise of the Network Society
(Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), p. 32.
54 Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind (London: Hutchinson's University Library, 1949).
55 Ryle, The Concept of Mind, p. 26.
56 Cf. John E. Pfeiffer, The Creative Explosion: An Inquiry into the Origins of Art and Religion (Ithaca, NY: Cornell
University Press, 1982).
57 As Lynn White, Jr puts it in his Medieval Technology and Social Change: `Since, until recent centuries, technology was
chiefly the concern of groups which wrote little, the role which technological development plays in human affairs has
been neglected' (Medieval Technology and Social Change (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962) p. vii).
`Where is the wisdom we have lost
in knowledge? Where is the knowl-
edge we have lost in information?'
T.S. Eliot
Kristóf Nyíri
© Nyír
i,
2003