When the only tool you have is a hammer
“When the only tool you have is a hammer, all problems begin to resemble nails” (Abraham Maslow). How might this apply to ways of knowing, as tools, in the pursuit of knowledge? In order to approach this question sufficiently, two things need to be determined; what a problem is considered and what Maslow’s “hammer” means in his quote. If the tools are the ways of knowing, then the hammer would be the body of the knower. The knower’s conflicts in the pursuit of knowledge while using these tools will portray the “problems” in this essay. At first glance, Maslow’s quote seems to be very vast, containing many unexplained metaphors.
By limiting the knower to having control of only one tool, the hammer, Maslow restricts the knowers pursuit of knowledge. With many other tools, the knower is able to overcome many varying problems. In this quote, there is a clear problem and solution already stated; the knower is given the problem, the nails, and is also given the solution, the hammer. This simple quote also forces the knower to discover many questions: how can one identify a problem? Is the knower able to identify a problem if he/she does not possess the required tool to solve it?
When faced with this scenario, do we guide ourselves to find the correct tool? One example that correlates to these questions is the heavily debated notion that Eskimos have a large number of words that describe snow in their vocabulary. They are limited in the knowledge they know, they have only one tool (the hammer). Because of this lack of tools, they slowly progress their narrow vocabulary (the nails). Situations like this tend to guide many knowers to the infamous “the chicken or egg was first” predicament. Referring back to the quote, does the knower identify the problems first or the solution?
At first, the hammer seems to be this great and powerful “tool” that is able to solve any given problem. When a knower looks at this metaphor with a logical sense, he/she will realize that not all problems can be solved with one tool. The hammer will not work for all situations, while not all nails can be pounded into every surface. Therefore, the knower will essentially understand that the more tools he/she possesses, the more problems they will be able to take on, and in the end more solutions. Is the knower able to identify a problem if he/she does not possess the required tool to solve it?
When faced with this scenario, do we guide ourselves to find the correct tool? One problem that could be seen, however, is the friction between each of the tools such as emotion and reason. This can be illustrated by a situation where a person is faced with a problem, and his decision is influenced by their cultural background. To that person, their decision would seem logical in accordance with their reasoning. However, their responsibility to their culture would release emotion, therefore clouding that person’s reasoning. When looking at the Middle-Eastern area, many would say it is unsafe place to be.
Although this isn’t necessarily wrong, people have to first understand the religion and the culture of the people. Not every person there acts and reacts the same as others. To a few subcultures, the problems that arise are pounded back down with their form of a hammer. For example, the attacks of 9/11 were the solution to some of these terrorist group’s problems. Their hammer, the hijackers, were used to bring down their nails, or problems, that being the United States. In this situation, the emotion that comes along with the religion of these people may overpower the reasoning, therefore maybe ending with an unwanted solution.
Another example could be my presence in Spanish class. As an average Spanish speaker, I would regard the Spanish online dictionary as the hammer in Maslow’s quotation. Using this dictionary, as well as many other tools given to me, I am able to translate words or find the meanings of words that I had not understood before. Thus, the words or phrases that I have translated assume the form of the nails. In some cases, however, there are words or phrases that do not translate precisely from English to Spanish or vis versa. The hammer, or the dictionary, can help in many cases but it also can limit knowledge.
For a situation like this, the knower has to go through his assortment of tools to find the right one to solve this problem. In class, we are given many online sites to use as our “hammer” to handle different sizes of nails, or the different problems. When one builds a relationship with the ways of knowing as tools, while being completely conscious of all the ways of knowing, that knowledge will lead them to have an understanding of the problems that they will encounter pertaining to these ways of knowing. Like many other theories, there are a few knowledge questions that arise.
How much would such things like blindness or lack of taste influence one’s sense perception? Using the given theory, would someone with these given troubles still be able to recognize and face problems that involve seeing or tasting? Does any other way of knowing influence the others, such as reason? These questions all depend on the knower and his/her way of thinking, which in turn chooses the mightier tool between reason and emotion. When considering the hammer as a notion for a knower to obtain new knowledge in their pursuit of knowledge, various inquiries come up.
When the eight ways of knowing serve as the varying tools available to the knower, can the quality and quantity of knowledge obtained be restricted? Can the ways of knowing be applied to all problems we face? Are these eight ways of knowing the only method of obtaining knowledge? In the pursuit of knowledge, Maslow’s hammer metaphor is very relevant when one portrays the ways of knowing as tools because it depicts a situation where the quality and quantity of ones knowledge is restricted due to their own bias.
It is of great importance, however, to acknowledge that it is not always reasonable for every circumstance where a knower experiences a problem. In some circumstance, the opposite can occur from such a problem because the knower makes adjustments to their path to find a better result that suits to the given problem. This can also result in the knower becoming single-minded, limiting their pursuit of knowledge and their overall amount of knowledge.