Epistemology is the study of knowledge.
The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy summarises it thus:
Epistemologists concern themselves with a number of tasks, which we might sort into two categories.
First, we must determine the nature of knowledge; that is, what does it mean to say that someone knows, or fails to know, something? This is a matter of understanding what knowledge is, and how to distinguish between cases in which someone knows something and cases in which someone does not know something. While there is some general agreement about some aspects of this issue, we shall see that this question is much more difficult than one might imagine.
Second, we must determine the extent of human knowledge; that is, how much do we, or can we, know? How can we use our reason, our senses, the testimony of others, and other resources to acquire knowledge? Are there limits to what we can know? For instance, are some things unknowable? Is it possible that we do not know nearly as much as we think we do? Should we have a legitimate worry about skepticism, the view that we do not or cannot know anything at all?
In this series I hope to explain, in layman’s terms, the fundamentals of this fascinating subject for people who may not have encountered it before (particularly my fellow freethinkers in Kampala).
As people who pride themselves as being skeptics and critical thinkers, its highly important that we develop a good understanding of epistemology. It will help us as we dialogue with people who might have beliefs different from ours – but not only that – it will also help bring a lot of clarity in discussions among we fellow freethinkers on various issues we might disagree over. And even on issues where we agree, it will provide a valuable perspective on how best to analyze claims.
If someone makes a knowledge claim about some purported miracle or other, how might you go about engaging this person on whether or not we should take such a claim seriously? In situations like this, it would be tremendously useful to establish what criteria you would both use to determine whether such a claim was valid or not. On what grounds would such claim be said to count as knowledge?
What about when a believer says her belief in ‘God’ is based on faith, and that the rationalists’ belief in logic or science is similarly based on faith? How do we treat such an assertion, let alone respond to it?
An understanding of epistemology is precisely what you would need to engage such questions.
As a student of philosophy, I see this as a great learning experience for myself as well, so I’m really excited about doing this series.
This series page will be updated (inclusive of active links) as an when new posts pertaining to the subject matter are generated.
Posts from this series:
Epistemology – Part 3 – The Nature of Justification