Epistemology (Theory of Knowledge)

Epistemology, the philosophical study of the nature, origin, and limits of human knowledge. The term is derived from the Greek epistēmē (“knowledge”) and logos (“reason”), and accordingly the field is sometimes referred to as the theory of knowledge.
(Encyclopædia Britannica)

Epistemology is the study of knowledge; to determine the nature and the extent of human knowledge.
The term “epistemology” comes from the Greek "episteme," meaning "knowledge," and "logos," meaning, roughly, "study, or science, of." "Logos" is the root of all terms ending in "-ology" – such as psychology, anthropology – and of "logic," and has many other related meanings.
Epistemologists typically focus on propositional knowledge. A proposition is something which can be expressed by a declarative sentence, and which purports to describe a fact or a state of affairs.
Propositional knowledge, obviously, encompasses knowledge about a wide range of matters: scientific knowledge. ….. Any truth might, in principle, be knowable, although there might be unknowable truths. One goal of epistemology is to determine the criteria for knowledge so that we can know what can or cannot be known.
We can also distinguish between different types of propositional knowledge, based on the source of that knowledge. Non-empirical or a priori knowledge is possible independently of, or prior to, any experience, and requires only the use of reason; examples include knowledge of logical truths such as the law of non-contradiction, as well as knowledge of abstract claims (such as ethical claims or claims about various conceptual matters). Empirical or a posteriori knowledge is possible only subsequent, or posterior, to certain sense experiences (in addition to the use of reason).
(Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Epistemology or theory of knowledge is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature, origin, and scope of knowledge and belief. The term "epistemology" is based on the Greek words, "ἐπιστήμη or episteme" (knowledge) and "λόγος or logos" (account/explanation); it was introduced into English by the Scottish philosopher, James Frederick Ferrier.

Much of the debate in this field has focused on analyzing the nature of knowledge and how it relates to similar notions, such as truth, belief, and justification. It also deals with the means of production of knowledge, as well as skepticism about different knowledge claims. In other words, epistemology primarily addresses the following questions: "What is knowledge," "How is knowledge acquired," and "What do people know?"

The two central questions of epistemology could be summed up as: What do humans know and how do they know it? Some of the numerous subsidiary questions include: What is knowledge? Are there different types or kinds of knowledge? Does the process of knowing differ in different domains of human knowledge and activity? Does what is knowable differ in different domains? Does genuine knowledge require justification or evidence? Must one believe something in order to know it? Is there a difference between knowledge and true belief, and if so what is it? Can one know a statement or proposition S if S is false?

The field of epistemology in western philosophy is extremely broad. From the ancient Greeks Plato and Aristotle to today, probably more has been written on this topic, broadly understood, than on any other branch of philosophy.

Many other topics fit under or are part of the broad heading of epistemology. Some of those are: analytic and synthetic statements, a priori and a posteriori statements, categories, certainty, concepts, the correspondence and coherences theories of truth, common sense, criterion, doubt, empiricism, error, experience, idealism, ideas, innate ideas, intentionality, intuition, irrationalism, memory, phenomenology, philosophy of science, pragmatism, presuppositions, judgments, statements, rationalism, realism, sensationalism, thinking, and universals.
(New World Encyclopedia)

Sense-Presentations (The Given)
↓ ↓ ↓
Sense-impression (Locke, Berkeley, Hume)

Sensed Perception
        Formed perception (Kant) - Space-Time
        Pure experience (William James) - Relation (= Space-Time relation)

Perceived Perception (Perception; Universal Perception) = The starting point of knowledge

Perceived Conception (Universal Conception)
        Kant Categoreal Understanding
        The idea of objects (Ball, Tree, House, Tiger, etc)
        The Knowledge by Acquaintance (Bertrand Russell)

Conceived Conception (Idea, Thought, Individual Conception) - What is in one's mind or The content of the mind.
(www.mesosyn.com / Lokling)


How does knowledge arise?

From Locke to Kant
How does knowledge arise? Have we innate ideas – ideas inherent in the mind from birth, prior to all experience? Anxious theologians had thought that faith and morals might be strengthened if their central and basic ideas were shown to be inborn in every normal soul. But John Locke (1632-1704), good Christian though he was, could not accept these suppositions; he announced that all our knowledge comes from experience and through our senses – that “there is nothing in the mind except what was first in the sense.” The mind is at birth a clean sheet, a tabula rasa; and sense-experience writes upon it in a thousand ways, until sensation begets memory and memory begets ideas. All of which seemed to lead to the startling conclusion that since only material things can effect our sense, we know nothing but matter, and must accept a materialistic philosophy. If sensations are the stuff of thought, the hasty argued, matter must be the material of mind.

Not at all, said Bishop George Berkeley (1684-1753); ……. has not Locke told us that all our knowledge is derived from sensation? Therefore all our knowledge of anything is merely our sensations of it, and the ideas derived from these sensations. A “thing” is merely a bundle of perceptions – i.e., classified and interpreted sensations. …. The hammer is a bundle of sensations of color, size, shape, weight, touch, etc.; its reality for you is not in its materiality, but in the sensations. If you had no senses, the hammer would not exist for you at all; it might strike your dead thumb forever and yet win from you not the slightest attention. It is only a bundle of sensations, or a bundle of memories; it is a condition of the mind, All matter, so far as we know it, is a mental condition; and the only reality that we know directly is mind. So much for materialism.

The Scotch sceptic, David Hume (1711-1776), shocked all Christendom with his highly heretical Treatise on Human Nature. … We know the mind only as we know matter: by perception, though it be in this case internal. Never do we perceive any such entity as the “mind”; we perceive merely separate ideas, memory, feelings, etc. The mind is not a substance, an organ that has ideas; it is only an abstract name for the series of ideas; the perceptions, memories and feelings are the mind; there is no observable “soul” behind the processes of thought. The result appeared to be that Hume had as effectually destroyed mind as Berkeley had destroyed matter. Nothing was left; and philosophy found itself in the midst of ruins of its own making. No wonder that a wit advised the abandonment of the controversy, saying: “No matter, never mind.” But Hume was not content to destroy orthodox religion by dissipating the concept of soul; he proposed also to destroy science by dissolving the concept of low. Science and philosophy alike had been making much of natural law, of “necessity” in the sequence of effect upon cause; …. But observe, said Hume, that we never perceive causes, or laws; we perceive events and sequences, and infer causation and necessity; a law is not an eternal and necessary decree to which events are subjected, but merely a mental summary and shorthand of our kaleidoscopic experience; we have no guarantee that the sequences hitherto observed will re-appear unaltered in future experience. “Law” is an observed custom in the sequence of events; but there is no “necessity” in custom.

Only mathematical formulas have necessity – they alone are inherently and unchangeably true; and this merely because such formulae are tautological – the predicate is already contained in the subject; “3x3=9” is an eternal and necessary truth only because “3x3” and “9” are one and the same thing differently expressed; the predicate adds nothing to the subject. Science, then, must limit itself strictly to mathematics and direct experience; it cannot trust to unverified deduction from “law.” “When we run though libraries, persuaded of these principles,” writes the uncanny sceptic, “what havoc must we make! If we take in our hands any volume of school metaphysics, for instance, let us ask, ‘Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number?’ No. ‘Does it contain any experimenting reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence?’ No. Commit it then to the flames, for it can contain noting but sophistry and illusion.”

….. Here the epistemological tradition – the inquiry into the nature, sources, and validity of knowledge – had ceased to be a support to religion; the sword with which Bishop Berkeley had slain the dragon of materialism had turned against the immaterial mind and the immortal soul; and in the turmoil science itself had suffered severe injury. No wonder that when Immanuel Kant (1724=1804), in 1775, read a German translation of the works of David Hume, he was shocked by these results, and was roused, as he said, from the “dogmatic slumber” in which he had assumed, without question the essentials of religion and the bases of science. Were bith science and faith to be surrendered to the sceptic? What could be done to save them?


The word epistemology is derived from the ancient Greek episteme meaning "knowledge" and the suffix -logy, meaning "logical discourse" (derived from the Greek word logos meaning "discourse").
J.F. Ferrier coined epistemology on the model of 'ontology', to designate that branch of philosophy which aims to discover the meaning of knowledge, and called it the 'true beginning' of philosophy.
The word is equivalent to the concept Wissenschaftslehre, which was used by German philosophers Johann Fichte and Bernard Bolzano for different projects before it was taken up again by Husserl.
French philosophers then gave the term épistémologie a narrower meaning as 'theory of knowledge [théorie de la connaissance].'

1) Belief: In common speech, a "statement of belief" is typically an expression of faith or trust in a person, power or other entity—while it includes such traditional views, epistemology is also concerned with what we believe. This includes 'the' truth, and everything else we accept as 'true' for ourselves from a cognitive point of view.

2) Truth: Whether someone's belief is true is not a prerequisite for (its) belief. On the other hand, if something is actually known, then it categorically cannot be false. For example, if a person believes that a bridge is safe enough to support him, and attempts to cross it, but the bridge then collapses under his weight, it could be said that he believed that the bridge was safe but that his belief was mistaken. It would not be accurate to say that he knew that the bridge was safe, because plainly it was not. By contrast, if the bridge actually supported his weight, then he might say that he had believed that the bridge was safe, whereas now, after proving it to himself (by crossing it), he knows it was safe.
Epistemologists argue over whether belief is the proper truth-bearer. Some would rather describe knowledge as a system of justified true propositions, and others as a system of justified true sentences. Plato, in his Gorgias, argues that belief is the most commonly invoked truth-bearer.

3) Justification: In the Theaetetus, Socrates considers a number of theories as to what knowledge is, the last being that knowledge is true belief "with an account" (meaning explained or defined in some way). According to the theory that knowledge is justified true belief, in order to know that a given proposition is true, one must not only believe the relevant true proposition, but one must also have a good reason for doing so. One implication of this would be that no one would gain knowledge just by believing something that happened to be true. For example, an ill person with no medical training, but with a generally optimistic attitude, might believe that he will recover from his illness quickly. Nevertheless, even if this belief turned out to be true, the patient would not have known that he would get well since his belief lacked justification.

The definition of knowledge as justified true belief was widely accepted until the 1960s. At this time, a paper written by the American philosopher Edmund Gettier provoked major widespread discussion.


The Nature of Propositional Knowledge

What constitutes knowledge?

1) Belief: Knowledge is a kind of belief. If one has no beliefs about a particular matter, one cannot have knowledge about it.

2) Truth: Knowledge, then, requires belief. Of course, not all beliefs constitute knowledge. Belief is necessary but not sufficient for knowledge. We are all sometimes mistaken in what we believe; in other words, while some of our beliefs are true, others are false. As we try to acquire knowledge, then, we are trying to increase our stock of true beliefs (while simultaneously minimizing our false beliefs).
We might say that the most typical purpose of beliefs is to describe or capture the way things actually are; that is, when one forms a belief, one is seeking a match between one's mind and the world.
Note that we are assuming here that there is such a thing as objective truth, so that it is possible for beliefs to match or to fail to match with reality. …. This assumption is not universally accepted – in particular, it is not shared by some proponents of relativism. ….. However, we can say that truth is a condition of knowledge; that is, if a belief is not true, it cannot constitute knowledge. Accordingly, if there is no such thing as truth, then there can be no knowledge. Even if there is such a thing as truth, if there is a domain in which there are no truths, then there can be no knowledge within that domain. (For example, if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then a belief that something is beautiful cannot be true or false, and thus cannot constitute knowledge.)

3) Justification: Knowledge, then, requires factual belief. However, this does not suffice to capture the nature of knowledge; … it also requires success with regard to the formation of that belief. In other words, not all true beliefs constitute knowledge; only true beliefs arrived at in the right way constitute knowledge.
What, then, is the right way of arriving at beliefs? In addition to truth, what other properties must a belief have in order to constitute knowledge? We might begin by noting that sound reasoning and solid evidence seem to be the way to acquire knowledge. By contrast, a lucky guess cannot constitute knowledge.
Note that because of luck, a belief can be unjustified yet true; and because of human fallibility, a belief can be justified yet false. In other words, truth and justification are two independent conditions of beliefs. The fact that a belief is true does not tell us whether or not it is justified; that depends on how the belief was arrived at.

The Gettier Problem

For some time, the justified true belief (JTB) account was widely agreed to capture the nature of knowledge. However, in 1963, Edmund Gettier published a short but widely influential article which has shaped much subsequent work in epistemology. Gettier provided two examples in which someone had a true and justified belief, but …… luck seems to play a role in his belief having turned out to be true.

Consider an example. Suppose that the clock on campus (which keeps accurate time and is well maintained) stopped working at 11:56pm last night, and has yet to be repaired. On my way to my noon class, exactly twelve hours later, I glance at the clock and form the belief that the time is 11:56. My belief is true, of course, since the time is indeed 11:56. And my belief is justified, as I have no reason to doubt that the clock is working, and I cannot be blamed for basing beliefs about the time on what the clock says. Nonetheless, it seems evident that I do not know that the time is 11:56. After all, if I had walked past the clock a bit earlier or a bit later, I would have ended up with a false belief rather than a true one.

This example and others like it, while perhaps somewhat far-fetched, seem to show that it is possible for justified true belief to fail to constitute knowledge. To put it another way, the justification condition was meant to ensure that knowledge was based on solid evidence rather than on luck or misinformation, but Gettier-type examples seem to show that justified true belief can still involve luck and thus fall short of knowledge. This problem is referred to as "the Gettier problem." To solve this problem, we must either show that all instances of justified true belief do indeed constitute knowledge, or alternatively refine our analysis of knowledge.

The Nature of Justification

One reason that the Gettier problem is so problematic is that neither Gettier nor anyone who preceded him has offered a sufficiently clear and accurate analysis of justification. We have said that justification is a matter of a belief's having been formed in the right way, but we have yet to say what that amounts to. We must now consider this matter more closely.

We have noted that the goal of our belief-forming practices is to obtain truth while avoiding error, and that justification is the feature of beliefs which are formed in such a way as to best pursue this goal. If we think, then, of the goal of our belief-forming practices as an attempt to establish a match between one's mind and the world, …….. then there seem to be two obvious approaches to construing justification: namely, in terms of the believer's mind, or in terms of the world.


…….. The view which maintains that justification depends solely on factors internal to the believer's mind, is called internalism. ……
In order to be justified, a belief must be appropriately based upon or supported by other mental states.

There are four possibilities as to the structure of one's justified beliefs:
1.The series of justified beliefs, each based upon the other, continues infinitely.
2.The series of justified beliefs circles back to its beginning (A is based on B, B on C, C on D, and D on A).
3.The series of justified beliefs begins with an unjustified belief.
4.The series of justified beliefs begins with a belief which is justified, but not by virtue of being based on another justified belief.

Let us, then, consider each of the four possibilities mentioned above.
Alternative 1 seems unacceptable because the human mind can contain only finitely many beliefs, and any thought-process that leads to the formation of a new belief must have some starting point.
Alternative 2 seems no better, since circular reasoning appears to be fallacious.
Alternative 3 has already been ruled out, since it renders the second belief in the series (and, thus, all subsequent beliefs) unjustified.
That leaves alternative 4, which must, by process of elimination, be correct.

This line of reasoning, which is typically known as the regress argument, leads to the conclusion that there are two different kinds of justified beliefs: those which begin a series of justified beliefs, and those which are based on other justified beliefs. The former, called basic beliefs, are able to confer justification on other, non-basic beliefs, without themselves having their justification conferred upon them by other beliefs. As such, there is an asymmetrical relationship between basic and non-basic beliefs. Such a view of the structure of justified belief is known as "foundationalism." …..

Accordingly, it follows that at least some beliefs (namely basic beliefs) are justified in some way other than by way of a relation to other beliefs. Basic beliefs must be self-justified, or must derive their justification from some non-doxastic source such as sensory inputs; the exact source of the justification of basic beliefs needs to be explained by any complete foundationalist account of justification.

A coherentist sees justification as a relation of mutual support among many beliefs, rather than a series of asymmetrical beliefs. A belief derives its justification, according to coherentism, not by being based on one or more other beliefs, but by virtue of its membership in a set of beliefs that all fit together in the right way. …..

Coherentism is vulnerable to the "isolation objection". It seems possible for a set of beliefs to be coherent, but for all of those beliefs to be isolated from reality. Consider, for instance, a work of fiction. All of the statements in the work of fiction might form a coherent set, but presumably believing all and only the statements in a work of fiction will not render one justified. Indeed, any form of internalism seems vulnerable to this objection, and thus a complete internalist account of justification must address it. Recall that justification requires a match between one's mind and the world, and an inordinate emphasis on the relations between the beliefs in one's mind seems to ignore the question of whether those beliefs match up with the way things actually are.


This alternative view is that at least some factors external to the believer's mind determine whether or not the belief is justified. A proponent of such a view is called an externalist.
According to externalism, the only way to avoid the isolation objection and ensure that knowledge does not include luck is to consider some factors other than the individual's other beliefs.

The most prominent version of externalism, called reliabilism, suggests that we consider the source of a belief. Beliefs can be formed as a result of many different sources, such as sense experience, reason, testimony, memory. More precisely, we might specify which sense was used, who provided the testimony, what sort of reasoning is used, or how recent the relevant memory is. For every belief, we can indicate the cognitive process that led to its formation. In its simplest and most straightforward form, reliabilism maintains that whether or not a belief is justified depends upon whether that process is a reliable source of true beliefs. Since we are seeking a match between our mind and the world, justified beliefs are those which result from processes which regularly achieve such a match. So, for example, using vision to determine the color of an object which is well-lit and relatively near is a reliable belief-forming process for a person with normal vision, but not for a color-blind person. Forming beliefs on the basis of the testimony of an expert is likely to yield true beliefs, but forming beliefs on the basis of the testimony of compulsive liars is not. In general, if a belief is the result of a cognitive process which reliably (most of the time – we still want to leave room for human fallibility) leads to true beliefs, then that belief is justified.