Native American Epistemology Through Dreams

In Andrea Sullivan-Clarke (ed.), Ways of Being in the World: An Introduction to Indigenous Philosophies of Turtle Island. Peterborough, CA: Broadview Press. pp. 159-167 (2023)
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In Meditations on First Philosophy, René Descartes argues that one cannot trust one’s senses since they are not a reliable source of obtaining knowledge of the world. One of Descartes’s main contentions to support such an argument is from his explanation of dreams, where one can feel one is awake but instead one is dreaming. Native Americans, however, may argue that the experiences one has in dreams are real and are a source of knowledge of the real world. Although Descartes uses dreams to support his argument, some Native Americans have a different take on dreams. Dreams for Native Americans are a source of knowledge as well as a source for obtaining one’s identity. Gregory Cajete, in American Indian Thought, notes that “Dreams and Visions are a natural means for accessing knowledge and establishing relationship to the world. They are encouraged and facilitated.” In other words, it is through dreams that individuals are guided, destined, and informed. Therefore, dreams as understood by some Native Americans are an extension of reality that anticipate events that will happen or can happen. The focus of this paper is an exploration of the philosophical and religious epistemology pertaining to Native Americans as described in their accounts of dreams.

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Joel Alvarez
University of South Florida


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