Law of Knowledge

by Walter R. Dolen

The Law of Knowledge can be stated:

(1) Generally the Law of Knowledge can be stated as:

Knowledge of A is dependent upon knowledge of non-A. Or to know A you must also know non-A. Or the knowledge of A presupposes knowledge of non-A. Or you know what is A because you know what is non-A. Or you know what is A because you know what is non-A. In order to "know" A you must compare A with non-A. Correlatively, the knowledge of A is proportional to the knowledge of non-A; or the more you know about non-A the more you understand the uniqueness of A; or the extent of your knowledge of A is dependent on the extent of your knowledge of non-A; or the more you compare A with non-A the more you know A).

(2) In the case of opposite qualities the Law of Knowledge can be stated as:

In the case of opposite qualities (light and darkness, etc.) you must know both qualities to know either: you must compare each with the other to know either. Thus, in the case of opposite qualities: to know light ("A") you must compare "light" with non-light (non-"A"); "darkness" (the opposite of light) is included in what is non-light (non-"A"); and it is with the knowledge of "darkness" and the knowledge of "light" that we are able to know either "light" or "darkness;" but to know light ("A") you must compare light with "darkness" (opposite of "A" or opp-"A") and vice versa - you must know both qualities to know either.

In explaining the Law of Knowledge, we will first deal with how one obtains knowledge of opposite qualities. Next we will explain in a more general manner or it most broadest sense how one obtains knowledge of anything.

Knowledge of Opposite Qualities

Blind: Light & Darkness

To amplify on this law we will use the example of a blind person. Try to empathize with a person that was totally blind from birth. Try to put yourself in such a person's mind. Close your eyes and imagine yourself as being blind. Now such a person has never seen light. Light is the quality that allows one's eyes to see objects. Without light no one would see even if they had perfect eyes. Light is the quality that the totally blind person cannot perceive or comprehend.

If you had never seen light, how would someone explain light to you? What choice adjectives would describe light to someone who has never seen light? To explain anything to someone who has never seen it, you have to use comparison, and say it is like this or like that. But there is no comparative quality in the universe that compares with light. It would be impossible for someone to explain light to you, let alone sight, if you had never seen light.

Knowledge of Each Presupposes Knowledge of Both

Yet at the same time one truly does not know what darkness is until one has seen light. The very definition of dark is: "without light." Darkness means without light as light means "without darkness." Each definition is dependent on its opposite quality. A definition of something is a statement of the knowledge of that thing. To know light or darkness by their very definition presupposes knowledge of each other. A blind person in order to know what darkness is, would have to see light. He knows darkness only if he sees light, for it is only then that he will understand what people were talking about when they spoke of darkness. The only reason that you can close your eyes, and call the result darkness, is because you have seen light. One cannot know darkness or light unless one has seen both and compared both qualities with each other.

Thus, specifically in the case of opposite qualities, your knowledge of darkness ("A") is dependent upon your knowledge of light (opposite-"A"), and vice versa. Because they are opposite qualities, you must know both to know either quality, but in order to know either quality, you must compare each with the other.

Furthermore, remembering that a blind person is blind because he cannot see light, it also follows that if there was only white light we would also be blind because we would not see or recognize any object, since in order to see anything, we need different shades of light and darkness, or more correctly since most of us see in color, in order to see anything, we need different shades of light and darkness and different hues of color.

Sound And Silence

The same applies for sound and silence. If you had never heard sound, how would you know what silence was like? Sound and silence are opposite qualities as light and darkness are opposite qualities. You must know both to know either, and you must compare each with the other to know either. Since these two qualities are interrelated, one has to know both to know one. The very basic definition of sound ("without silence") and silence ("without sound") need the opposite quality to define it. To know sound or silence by their very basic definition presupposes knowledge of each other.

Hot and Cold

The same can be said about hot and cold. "Hot" and "cold" are relative opposite qualities. One knows something is cold only so far as he has something hot to compare it with. You can place your hand into a container of water that is 90 degrees and it will feel warm to you. But if you place your hand into a container that is 110 degrees and keep it there for a while, and then place it again into the container of water of 90 degrees, the 90 degree water will then feel cool while before it felt warm. Your knowledge of hot or cold is obtained through contrast and comparison of both qualities. Knowledge of hot or cold presupposes knowledge of the other quality.

Life and Death

Further, one does not know what life is until he has seen death. To have knowledge of life you must have knowledge of death. One is very aware of life only if one has seen or become aware of death.

Adam and Eve didn't know death and that is one reason why they chose the tree of good and evil in the garden of Eden. Adam had never seen or felt the pain of losing a loved one. All he saw around him was life. This is very difficult for us to perceive today, for all around us are the living, the sick and dying as well as our remembrance of dead friends and relatives. Because of this we know a lot more about life and death than Adam and Eve. It is difficult for us to put ourselves into Adam's position.

Right and Left & More Examples

The right side has no meaning unless there be a left side. You don't know what the meaning of right is until you know about left; you don't know what left is until you know what about right. You need knowledge about both to know either. You don't know something is "high" unless you know there is something "lower." You don't know something is "low" unless you know something is "higher." You don't know a "plus" quality until you know its "minus" quality. You don't know a "minus" quality unless you know its "plus" quality. You don't know light if you don't know darkness. But you can know light if you know darkness. You don't know or realize harmony, if you have never known confusion. Think on what is being said. If you had always lived in an environment where there was no confusion, where there was harmony, would you realize the goodness of that harmonic environment? Would harmony mean anything to you in such a harmonic environment? Can you really appreciate harmony if you have never lived in confusion?

If you had good vision for forty years, and then lost your sight, you would truly know the value of sight, as does a blind person who miraculously gains his sight. But how does someone, after he loses his sight, come to appreciate the sight he once had?


What does it mean to appreciate something? Webster's Dictionary says that to appreciate something one must: "recognize it gratefully; estimate its worth; estimate it rightly; be fully aware of it; and notice it with discrimination." Thus, when one comes to appreciate something (especially if it is good), one in fact comes to know that thing. To appreciate something is to really know it; to know something is to appreciate it.

When one loses a loved one, one by the loss of the loved one knows the worth of the loved one. The same with good. One comes to know the worth of good only after he has lived in evil.

How can we know joy, until we have lived sorrow? How can you really become happy unless you have been sad. How can we know good until we know evil? Opposite qualities need to be compared to each other to know either.

The Law of Knowledge not only explains knowledge of opposite qualities, but also knowledge of everything capable of being known. The follow is a short explanation of how learn, not only about opposite qualities, but about everything we learn.

Knowledge of Opposite Qualities

How Children Learn

One way to understand the Law of Knowledge is to understand how a child learns. Children's simple generalizations reflect lack of differentiation. That is, a child's wrong generalization about A (cow) reflects lack of knowledge of the difference between a cow and all that is not a cow (non-A) such as other four legged animals.

A child when he is first learning about four legged animals sometimes may mix up a cow and a horse, or a cow and a deer, or even a cow and a dog. This is because the child does not know what a cow is not. When parents first begin telling their child what a cow is, they point to a cow and say, "that is a cow." The child with the aid of other knowledge in his memory and his senses "sees" this living animal with four legs. Depending on how many other four legged animals are pointed out to him, he may mix the cow up with any or all other four legged animals.

After a cow is pointed out to him he may call a horse a cow, after all, to the child a horse is a four legged living animal (not a two legged animal or a toy animal or stuffed animal) just like the one pointed out earlier by his parents. But the child is wrong. This four legged animal is a horse, not a cow. The child fails to differentiate between a cow and a horse. How does the parent correct the child? The parent says, "no, it is not a cow, it is a horse." The parent is telling the child what a cow is not. The parent by telling the child what is not a cow is helping the child to learn what is a cow. Normally, after the child learns that a horse is not a cow, he doesn't call a horse a cow again. But the child may call a deer or other four legged animals a cow. When the child does this he is again corrected, "no, it is not a cow, it is a deer." The child has learned something else is not a cow (A); he has learned one more of the non-A's (all else besides cows). The more the child learns about other four legged animals not being cows, the better he is able to understand what a cow is. A cow is a four legged animal of a certain size (a cow is not a dog because for one thing a cow is bigger than a dog, etc.), but it is not any other four legged animal: it is not a dog, it is not a horse, it is not a deer, it is not an elephant, it is not a bear, etc.

But further the child from other knowledge knows a living cow is not a mountain, it is not dead (not a dead toy, not a dead stuffed animal, etc.), it is not a rock, it is not the sky, it is not a two legged animal, it is not an ant, it is not a fish, it is not fog, it is not a color, it is not a quality like "good," it is not a plant, it is not water, etc. The child knows more what a cow is, by the more he knows what a cow is not. Thus, the knowledge of a cow (A) is dependent on the knowledge of what a cow is not (non-A); or the child knows more about what is a cow (A), by the more he knows what is a cow is not (non-A).

The Color Green

Let's take another example, the color green. The more we know what the color green is not the more we know the uniqueness of the color green. The only way to point green out is to show what green is not. Since most of us know what the color green is (because we know what green is not), we will again try to understand how a child learns about the color green.

GREEN a color is "A"

The knowledge of GREEN (A) is dependent upon the knowledge of all that is not green (non-A).

Now assuming that the child knows what "color" is we will continue:

[Copyright 1977, 1989, 2000-2011 by Walter R. Dolen]

Law of Knowledge

(Pertaining to Opposite Qualities)

Both sides complement the other and give meaning to each other;

you must know both qualities to know either: you must compare each with the other to know either

One Side Opposite Side
love hate
light darkness
right left
front back
up down
affection contempt
good evil
peace war
kind unkind
forgiving unforgiving
thankful unthankful
reconciliatory revengeful
lawful lawless
hope hopeless
truthful liar
fairness (impartial) unfairness (partiality)
brave coward
temperance overindulgence
honorable dishonorable
unpretentious pretentious
elegant crude
patient impatient
harmony disharmony
sympathetic unsympathetic