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      Typologies of knowledge: a reexamination from the perspective of cognitive materialism

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            The aim of this paper is to reexamine some typologies of knowledge as a means of framing the presentation of our own typology, which arises from a particular theoretical framework – cognitive materialism. In a somewhat arbitrary route through the economics of innovation, organizational and management studies, the typologies of Lundvall, Machlup, Mokyr, Spender, Blackler and Chartrand are reviewed and criticized. Then, picking up on some elements which arise from the previous analysis, the proposal of a cognitive materialist typology is introduced, based on distinguishing types of knowledge on the basis of the material medium or bearer in which they exist. A division into four types is suggested: knowledge with a biological, subjective, inter-subjective and objective bearer, each with its own respective sub-types.


            Author and article information

            Pluto Journals
            1 March 2017
            : 35
            : 1 ( doiID: 10.1080/prometheus.35.issue-1 )
            : 3-20
            CONICET/ CCTS/ e-TCS/Maimónides University, Buenos Aires, Argentina
            © 2017 Pluto Journals

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            Computer science,Arts,Social & Behavioral Sciences,Law,History,Economics


            1. A fortunate update: thanks to Christian Fuchs and the University of Westminster Press, a theoretical book on cognitive materialism will be published in early 2017 (Zukerfeld, 2017). The book and this paper are complementary.

            2. This option is not without risks. One is that literature reviews can be, as in our case, much more extensive than one or even two papers can cover. The other is that the analysis of texts can seem to be an end per se rather than a means to demarcate the new approach.

            3. I am grateful to an anonymous reviewer for this point.

            4. Leaving to one side Plato's division between doxa and episteme (which makes a separation only between knowledge and that which is not knowledge) and his tangential remarks about techne, one of the first significant typologies is from Aristotle, between episteme, techne and phronesis in Nicomachean Ethics. While the first refers to abstract knowledge, located along the truth-falsity axis and with a universal character, the second is associated with skills, to know-how in the productive processes (both those that today we call economic and those we call artistic). Phronesis marries knowledge with practical abilities and with axiological beliefs. While the first is not relevant to our schema, we will return to the second as knowledge with an implicit subjective bearer, and to the third as inter-subjective axiological knowledge.

            5. Scheler distinguishes among (i) inductive and instrumental knowledge, ‘knowledge for the sake of action or control’ of an object (herrschaftswissen); (ii) cultural knowledge, understood as intellectual formation (bildungswissen); and (iii) metaphysical, spiritual knowledge, for the sake of salvation (erlösungswissen) (Scheler, 1980/1926, p.250). While the first form includes instrumental knowledge, the other two exceed it. This aspect represented an advance for Scheler over philosophical distinctions based only on scientific knowledge. Here culture in general and metaphysical sentiments are considered legitimate forms of knowledge. However, it is clear that the distinction lacks any consideration of material bearers of knowledge.

            6. Further, it is coupled to the question about types of action. The first category is consonant with knowledge that serves Weber's instrumentally rational action and the rest is connected in an imperfect way with value rational action, traditional and affective action.

            7. In an enumeration of reasons for his curiosity being stirred to study the production and distribution of knowledge in terms of economics, Machlup includes with numbers 6 and 7 the following motives:(6)The production of one type of knowledge -namely, technology – results in continuing changes in the conditions of production of many goods and services. (7) One may advance the hypothesis that new technological knowledge tends to result in shifts from physical labor to ‘brain workers’ (Machlup, 1962, p.9, emphasis added).

            8. Facing this difficulty, Mokyr recognizes the impact of some disciplines; for example, economics (Mokyr, 2002, p.6). However, once this is done, it is difficult to decide which social knowledge to include.

            9. This distinction follows the usual interpretation of Polanyi (1967) in the field of social studies of science, technology and innovation.

            10. On the other hand, the prototypical protection for tooled knowledge is patents.

            11. With regards to intellectual property rights, organic biological knowledge can be partially protected by plant breeders' rights. Post-organic knowledge can be protected in many countries by biotechnology patents. The ethnobotanic knowledge of diverse communities can be protected by a new collective right called ‘traditional knowledge’.

            12. Capitalist regulations protect knowledge with a subjective bearer through trade secrets, confidentiality agreements, aspects of certain laws that deem an industrial invention to be a possession of the employer, and other related mechanisms. In some cases, subjective knowledge can be protected by patents, and in others as traditional knowledge. Likewise, professional qualifications (awarded by labor unions, the state, companies or other organizations) are highly relevant to the regulation of subjective knowledge. Of course, this subjective knowledge may also be in the public domain.

            13. There are some norms particularly relevant to our approach. These are the norms that provide the backbone for the functioning of capitalism, that regulate different types of access (private, public) and resources (material/energy and knowledge). They are the norms related to different kinds of property.

            14. Inter-subjective knowledge has a complex relationship with regulations. Take just two examples: linguistic and recognition inter-subjective knowledge. Under capitalism, linguistic knowledge is not directly protected by intellectual property rights. As with the majority of inter-subjective knowledge, this is explained by Metcalfe's Law: in general, dissemination benefits those who possess the knowledge, including in economic terms. Thus, natural languages have no owner. However, there are two kinds of regulation that should be mentioned. On the one hand, the regulation of what is permitted or prohibited in each language, the linguistic rules and corresponding accreditations. For example, in Spanish, the Real Academia Española determining which terms are permissible is inseparable from the forces wielding power over other aspects of the Spanish language. Likewise, the regulation of English language by various institutions (for example, Cambridge University or TOEFL) intervenes decisively in the capitalist dynamic. On the other hand, in computing, the coded version of some languages (not linguistic IKs, but a derivative of them) is subject to copyright, recognition of the intersubjective knowledge most susceptible to capitalist regulation. One of the forms through which this occurs is the right to trademarks. This is nothing less than a crystallization of the recognition that a company or a subject has achieved. Some associated rights are geographical indication and appellation certification that, above all, protect reputation. In a complementary, and increasing, fashion (particularly associated with celebrities), rights and contracts arise which are related to public image.


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