Rohit Dhankar

Knowledge is the central input in any decision making process. Yes, moral values are fundamentally important but; understanding, upholding or realizing values requires knowledge. Emotional anchor of values without understanding and rational justification is nothing more than indoctrination. Even to be aware of whether a value is upheld or realised one requires knowledge of the situation. No decision making process can ignore emotional angle; actually, even the need for any decision making arises out of unsatisfactory-ness of a given situation. And that necessarily involves emotional acceptance or otherwise. But without some advance understanding, however imperfect, of the new situation that is desired and how it could be brought about no decision making is possible. That is why I say that knowledge is the central input in decision making.

Being limited in both knowledge and imagination the central character of knowledge I take as Justified True Belief. Though the notions of truth and justification cause considerable perplexity we do not seem to have a better public criterion for knowledge. Of courses, there are areas of life, as well as situation, where we cannot adhere to the strict demands of JTB and make our decisions on the basis of belief in the hope that they be true somehow, even if we are uncertain of their truth at the time of action.

If the above two contentions hold any water, the quality of knowledge becomes very important in life and decision that are likely to have significant impact. The phrase “quality of knowledge” is used more as a placeholder here, rather than a fully workout idea. Some actually might find the notion ‘quality of knowledge’ as somehow inappropriate in itself. Because JTB ensures veracity, what else might matter for knowledge? Still, in the first sight it seems to me the notion is certainly useful in a decision making situation, and may have some value even generally. Therefore, keeping some room for backtracking in fuller analysis ( 😊), I will concentrate on knowledge in a decision making situation in trying to articulate the first strands in quality of knowledge.

Any decision making situation involves a given state of affairs, a desired state of affairs and ways of moving from given to desired state of affairs. And mostly a host of dilemmas involving moral values if the decision is significant. We assume, just for the sake of simplicity and limiting the scope of this cursory analysis, that the values guiding a decision making process are settled upon, the dilemmas are somehow resolved.

One can immediately say that one thing needed in the knowledge, therefore, is adequacy. An adequate understanding of the given and supposed to be unsatisfactory situation, including reasons for dubbing it unsatisfactory. Adequacy here is being used more as a quantitative term; meaning all that is relevant is known. Similarly, for the desired situation and ways of achieving the desired results.

The second strand seems to be clarity of the beliefs/information being used. One can plausible argue that clarity is actually contained in adequacy; as how something unclear be counted as part of the repertoire of the available knowledge. I am mentioning clarity here because we often have an ‘inkling’ of something being the case, but our vision of it is rather hedgy. For example, something moving towards us in the dark; we may be certain that something is there, we may also know that it is moving towards us and may be unable to determine what it actually is. May have some guess due to shape, size and movement; but exact nature of the object eludes us. We may have such lack of clarity in understanding the existing or the desired situations, and also in the ways and means of realising the desired situation. Lack of clarity actually may paralyse our decision making capability, particularly if issues of justice to others are involved and the situation happens to be highly emotionally charged.

Depth of knowledge seems to be another dimension of quality. Which again can be argued as part of adequacy. What I mean here by depth is rich web of conceptual connections that are capable of explaining not only the current state of affairs in a given situation but can also throw reliable light on the causes/reasons that produced it; be they social, historical or nature related (scientific). Similarly, this web of conceptual connection should be able to help in working out the implication of the desired situation as well as a reliable course of change.

Though justification is a necessary condition of calling a belief knowledge, it may be useful here to mention that soundness of justification may be considered a dimension of quality of knowledge in a particular decision making context. Because, most of knowledge used in practical worldly situations is fallible and only reasonably justified. Strict justification is unavailable in most cases. Therefore, reasonableness of the justification of beliefs used in a particular decision making situation is an important measure of quality.

Therefore, in a first tentative analysis we can say that quality of knowledge in a decision making situation can be understood in terms of adequacy, clarity, depth and reasonableness of justification. The the greater the publicly debatable conviction in these four, the better the quality. In other words, we can say that inadequate, obscure, sallow and unjustified knowledge helps no one.

If we consider the situation of a teacher in a classroom, there are hundreds of decisions she makes in a week, if not every day. These decisions though look small [which of the two quarrelling children to be reprimanded, for example] but may have a very significant impact on the life of the child. The teacher often makes her decisions in situations where the quality of her knowledge is rather poor in the dimensions mentioned above. Perhaps that is one of the many reasons why teaching in elementary schools is so tiring. The teacher is forced into a decision making situation and she intuitively understands the limitations of her knowledge of the situation. This may produce stress.

In personal and social relationships, which provide the bedrock of motivation for and happiness in life, again we are forced to act often with poor quality knowledge, where intuition becomes the main guide and even emotions may take over. Often in such situations one who tries to have reasonable quality of knowledge, particularly if it takes time, may be considered a foolish and dithering. However, patience and tireless efforts to understand better may be of use.

In any decision making of significant import in the face of fallible knowledge in professional and person matter, therefore, always a matter of courage of conviction.

Since it is important in both professional and personal life, may be one of the aims of education could be to teach children to enhance the quality of knowledge as much as possible in a given decision making situations, the art of taking risk in uncertain situations where action is unavoidable, and the preparedness to face the music if things go wrong.


29th December 2017