Metaphysics and Epistemology

Metaphysics and Epistemology

Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:

  1. "What is there?"
  2. "What is it like?"

A person who studies metaphysics is called a metaphysicist or a metaphysician. The metaphysician attempts to clarify the fundamental notions by which people understand the world, e.g., existence, objects and their properties, space and time, cause and effect, and possibility. A central branch of metaphysics is ontology, the investigation into the basic categories of being and how they relate to each other. Another central branch of metaphysics is cosmology, the study of the totality of all phenomena within the universe.

Prior to the modern history of science, scientific questions were addressed as a part of metaphysics known as natural philosophy. The term science itself meant "knowledge" of, originating from epistemology. The scientific method, however, transformed natural philosophy into an empirical activity deriving from experiment unlike the rest of philosophy. By the end of the 18th century, it had begun to be called "science" to distinguish it from philosophy. Thereafter, metaphysics denoted philosophical enquiry of a non-empirical character into the nature of existence.

Etymology

The word "metaphysics" derives from the Greek words μετά (metá) ("beyond", "upon" or "after") and φυσικά (physiká) ("physics"). It was first used as the title for several of Aristotle's works, because they were usually anthologized after the works on physics in complete editions. The prefix meta- ("beyond") indicates that these works come "after" the chapters on physics. However, Aristotle himself did not call the subject of these books "Metaphysics": he referred to it as "first philosophy." The editor of Aristotle's works, Andronicus of Rhodes, is thought to have placed the books on first philosophy right after another work, Physics, and called them τὰ μετὰ τὰ φυσικὰ βιβλία (ta meta ta physika biblia) or "the books that come after the books on physics". This was misread by Latin scholiasts, who thought it meant "the science of what is beyond the physical".

However, once the name was given, the commentators sought to find intrinsic reasons for its appropriateness. For instance, it was understood to mean "the science of the world beyond nature (phusis in Greek)," that is, the science of the immaterial. Again, it was understood to refer to the chronological or pedagogical order among our philosophical studies, so that the "metaphysical sciences would mean, those that we study after having mastered the sciences that deal with the physical world" (St. Thomas Aquinas, "In Lib, Boeth. de Trin.", V, 1).

There is a widespread use of the term in current popular literature, which replicates this error, i.e. that metaphysical means spiritual non-physical: thus, "metaphysical healing" means healing by means of remedies that are not physical.

Origins and nature of metaphysics

Although the word "metaphysics" goes back to Aristotelean philosophy, Aristotle himself credited earlier philosophers with dealing with metaphysical questions. The first known philosopher, according to Aristotle, is Thales of Miletus, who taught that all things derive from a single first cause or Arche.

Scientific questions in ancient Greece were addressed to metaphysicians, but by the 18th century, the skeptics' How do you know? led to a new branch of philosophy called epistemology (how we know) to fill-out the metaphysics (what we know) and this led to science (Latin to know) and to the scientific method. Skepticism evolved epistemology out of metaphysics. Thereafter, metaphysics denoted philosophical inquiry of a non-empirical character into the nature of existence.

Metaphysics as a discipline was a central part of academic inquiry and scholarly education even before the age of Aristotle, who considered it "the Queen of Sciences." Its issues were considered no less important than the other main formal subjects of physical science, medicine, mathematics, poetics and music. Since the beginning of modern philosophy during the seventeenth century, problems that were not originally considered within the bounds of metaphysics have been added to its purview, while other problems considered metaphysical for centuries are now typically subjects of their own separate regions in philosophy, such as philosophy of religion, philosophy of mind, philosophy of perception, philosophy of language, and philosophy of science.

In some cases, subjects of metaphysical scholarship have been found to be entirely physical and natural, thus making them part of science proper (cf. the theory of Relativity).

Aristotle's branching

Aristotle's Metaphysics was divided into three parts, which are now regarded as the proper branches of traditional Western metaphysics:

Ontology
The study of being and existence; includes the definition and classification of entities, physical or mental, the nature of their properties, and the nature of change.
Natural Theology
The study of a God or Gods; involves many topics, including among others the nature of religion and the world, existence of the divine, questions about Creation, and the numerous religious or spiritual issues that concern humankind in general.
Universal science
The study of first principles, such as the law of noncontradiction, which Aristotle believed were the foundation of all other inquiries.

Universal science or first philosophy treats of "being qua being"—that is, what is basic to all science before one adds the particular details of any one science. Essentially "being qua being" may be translated as "being insofar as being goes" or as "being in terms of being." This includes topics such as causality, substance, species and elements, as well as the notions of relation, interaction, and finitude.

Central questions

Most positions that can be taken with regards to any of the following questions are endorsed by one or another notable philosopher. It is often difficult to frame the questions in a non-controversial manner.

Being, existence and reality

The nature of Being is a perennial topic in metaphysics. For instance, Parmenides taught that reality was a single unchanging Being. The 20th century philosopher Heidegger thought previous philosophers have lost sight of the question of Being (qua Being) in favour of the questions of beings (existing things), so that a return to the Parmenidean approach was needed. An ontological catalogue is an attempt to list the fundamental constituents of reality. The question of whether or not existence is a predicate has been discussed since the Early Modern period, not least in relation to the ontological argument for the existence of God. Existence, that something is, has been contrasted with essence, the question of what something is. Reflections on the nature of the connection and distinction between existence and essence dates back to Aristotle’s Metaphysics, and it found one of its later most influential interpretations in the ontology of the eleventh century metaphysician Avicenna (Ibn Sina).[9] Since existence without essence seems blank, it is associated with nothingness by philosophers such as Hegel.

Empirical and conceptual objects

Objects and their properties

The world seems to contain many individual things, both physical, like apples, and abstract such as love and the number 3; the former objects are called particulars. Particulars are said to have attributes, e.g. size, shape, color, location and two particulars may have some such attributes in common. Such attributes, are also termed Universals or Properties; the nature of these, and whether they have any real existence and if so of what kind, is a long-standing issue, realism and nominalism representing opposing views.

Metaphysicians concerned with questions about universals or particulars are interested in the nature of objects and their properties, and the relationship between the two. Some, e.g. Plato, argue that properties are abstract objects, existing outside of space and time, to which particular objects bear special relations. David Armstrong holds that universals exist in time and space but only at their instantiation and their discovery is a function of science. Others maintain that particulars are a bundle or collection of properties (specifically, a bundle of properties they have).

Abstract objects and mathematics

Some philosophers endorse views according to which there are abstract objects such as numbers, or Universals. (Universals are properties that can be instantiated by multiple objects, such as redness or squareness.) Abstract objects are generally regarded as being outside of space and time, and/or as being causally inert. Mathematical objects and fictional entities and worlds are often given as examples of abstract objects. The view that there really are no abstract objects is called nominalism. Realism about such objects is exemplified by Platonism. Other positions include moderate realism, as espoused by Aristotle, and conceptualism.

The philosophy of mathematics overlaps with metaphysics because some positions are realistic in the sense that they hold that mathematical objects really exist, whether transcendentally, physically, or mentally. Platonic realism holds that mathematical entities are a transcendent realm of non-physical objects. The simplest form of mathematical empiricism claims that mathematical objects are just ordinary physical objects, i.e. that squares and the like physically exist. Plato rejected this view, among other reasons, because geometrical figures in mathematics have a perfection that no physical instantiation can capture. Modern mathematicians have developed many strange and complex mathematical structures with no counterparts in observable reality, further undermining this view. The third main form of realism holds that mathematical entities exist in the mind. However, given a materialistic conception of the mind, it does not have the capacity to literally contain the many infinities of objects in mathematics. Intuitionism, inspired by Kant, sticks with the idea that "there are no non-experienced mathematical truths". This involves rejecting as intuitionistically unacceptable anything that cannot be held in the mind or explicitly constructed. Intuitionists reject the law of the excluded middle and are suspicious of infinity, particularly of transfinite numbers.

Other positions such as formalism and fictionalism that do not attribute any existence to mathematical entities are anti-realist.

Cosmology and cosmogony

Metaphysical Cosmology is the branch of metaphysics that deals with the world as the totality of all phenomena in space and time. Historically, it has had quite a broad scope, and in many cases was founded in religion. The ancient Greeks did not draw a distinction between this use and their model for the cosmos. However, in modern times it addresses questions about the Universe which are beyond the scope of the physical sciences. It is distinguished from religious cosmology in that it approaches these questions using philosophical methods (e.g. dialectics). Cosmogony deals specifically with the origin of the universe.

Modern metaphysical cosmology and cosmogony try to address questions such as:

  • What is the origin of the Universe? What is its first cause? Is its existence necessary? (see monism, pantheism, emanationism and creationism)
  • What are the ultimate material components of the Universe? (see mechanism, dynamism, hylomorphism, atomism)
  • What is the ultimate reason for the existence of the Universe? Does the cosmos have a purpose? (see teleology)

Determinism and free will

Determinism is the philosophical proposition that every event, including human cognition, decision and action, is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences. It holds that no random, spontaneous, stochastic, mysterious, or miraculous events occur. The principal consequence of the deterministic claim is that it poses a challenge to the existence of free will.

The problem of free will is the problem of whether rational agents exercise control over their own actions and decisions. Addressing this problem requires understanding the relation between freedom and causation, and determining whether the laws of nature are causally deterministic. Some philosophers, known as Incompatibilists, view determinism and free will as mutually exclusive. If they believe in determinism, they will therefore believe free will to be an illusion, a position known as Hard Determinism. Proponents range from Baruch Spinoza to Ted Honderich.

Others, labeled Compatibilists (or "Soft Determinists"), believe that the two ideas can be coherently reconciled. Adherents of this view include Thomas Hobbes and many modern philosophers.

Incompatibilists who accept free will but reject determinism are called Libertarians, a term not to be confused with the political sense. Robert Kane is a modern defender of this theory.

Identity and change

The Greeks took some extreme positions on the nature of change: Parmenides denied that change occurs at all, while Heraclitus thought change was ubiquitous: "[Y]ou cannot step into the same river twice".

Identity, sometimes called Numerical Identity, is the relation that a "thing" bears to itself, and which no "thing" bears to anything other than itself (cf. sameness). According to Leibniz, if some object x is identical to some object y, then any property that x has, y will have as well. However, it seems, too, that objects can change over time. If one were to look at a tree one day, and the tree later lost a leaf, it would seem that one could still be looking at that same tree. Two rival theories to account for the relationship between change and identity are Perdurantism, which treats the tree as a series of tree-stages, and Endurantism, which maintains that the tree—the same tree—is present at every stage in its history.

Mind and matter

The nature of matter was a problem in its own right in early philosophy. Aristotle himself introduced the idea of matter in general to the Western world, adapting the term hyle, which originally meant "lumber." Early debates centered on identifying a single underlying principle. Water was claimed by Thales, air by Anaximenes, Apeiron (the Boundless) by Anaximander, fire by Heraclitus. Democritus, in conjunction with his mentor, Leucippus, conceived of an atomic theory many centuries before it was accepted by modern science. It is worth noting, however, that the grounds necessary to ensure validity to the proposed theory's veridical nature were not scientific, but just as philosophical as those traditions espoused by Thales and Anaximander.

The nature of the mind and its relation to the body has been seen as more of a problem as science has progressed in its mechanistic understanding of the brain and body. Proposed solutions often have ramifications about the nature of mind as a whole. René Descartes proposed substance dualism, a theory in which mind and body are essentially different, with the mind having some of the attributes traditionally assigned to the soul, in the seventeenth century. This creates a conceptual puzzle about how the two interact (which has received some strange answers, such as occasionalism). Evidence of a close relationship between brain and mind, such as the Phineas Gage case, have made this form of dualism increasingly unpopular.

Another proposal discussing the mind-body problem is idealism, in which the material is sweepingly eliminated in favor of the mental. Idealists, such as George Berkeley, claim that material objects do not exist unless perceived and only as perceptions. The "German idealists" such as Fichte, Hegel and Schopenhauer took Kant as their starting-point, although it is debatable how much of an idealist Kant himself was. Idealism is also a common theme in Eastern philosophy. Related ideas are panpsychism and panexperientialism, which say everything has a mind rather than everything exists in a mind. Alfred North Whitehead was a twentieth-century exponent of this approach.

Idealism is a monistic theory which holds that there is a single universal substance or principle. Neutral monism, associated in different forms with Baruch Spinoza and Bertrand Russell, seeks to be less extreme than idealism, and to avoid the problems of substance dualism. It claims that existence consists of a single substance that in itself is neither mental nor physical, but is capable of mental and physical aspects or attributes – thus it implies a dual-aspect theory.

For the last one hundred years, the dominant metaphysics has without a doubt been materialistic monism. Type identity theory, token identity theory, functionalism, reductive physicalism, nonreductive physicalism, eliminative materialism, anomalous monism, property dualism, epiphenomenalism and emergence are just some of the candidates for a scientifically informed account of the mind. (It should be noted that while many of these positions are dualisms, none of them are substance dualism.)

Prominent recent philosophers of mind include David Armstrong, Ned Block, David Chalmers, Patricia and Paul Churchland, Donald Davidson, Daniel Dennett, Douglas Hofstadter, Jerry Fodor, David Lewis, Thomas Nagel, Hilary Putnam, John Searle, John Smart, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Fred Alan Wolf.

Necessity and possibility

Metaphysicians investigate questions about the ways the world could have been. David Lewis, in "On the Plurality of Worlds," endorsed a view called Concrete Modal realism, according to which facts about how things could have been are made true by other concrete worlds, just like ours, in which things are different. Other philosophers, such as Gottfried Leibniz, have dealt with the idea of possible worlds as well. The idea of necessity is that any necessary fact is true across all possible worlds; that is, we could not imagine it to be otherwise. A possible fact is true in some possible world, even if not in the actual world. For example, it is possible that cats could have had two tails, or that any particular apple could have not existed. By contrast, certain propositions seem necessarily true, such as analytic propositions, e.g. "All bachelors are unmarried." The particular example of analytic truth being necessary is not universally held among philosophers. A less controversial view might be that self-identity is necessary, as it seems fundamentally incoherent to claim that for any x, it is not identical to itself; this is known as the law of identity, a putative "first principle". Aristotle describes the principle of non-contradiction, "It is impossible that the same quality should both belong and not belong to the same thing . . . This is the most certain of all principles . . . Wherefore they who demonstrate refer to this as an ultimate opinion. For it is by nature the source of all the other axioms."

Religion and spirituality

Theology is the study of a god or gods and the nature of the divine. Whether there is a god (monotheism), many gods (polytheism) or no gods (atheism), or whether it is unknown or unknowable whether any gods exist (agnosticism), and whether the Divine intervenes directly in the world (theism), or its sole function is to be the first cause of the universe (deism); these and whether a God or gods and the World are different (as in panentheism and dualism), or are identical (as in pantheism), are some of the primary metaphysical questions concerning philosophy of religion.

Within the standard Western philosophical tradition, theology reached its peak under the medieval school of thought known as scholasticism, which focused primarily on the metaphysical aspects of Christianity. The work of the scholastics is still an integral part of modern philosophy, with key figures such as Thomas Aquinas still playing an important role in the philosophy of religion.

Space and time

In Book XI of the Confessions, Saint Augustine of Hippo asked the fundamental question about the nature of time. A traditional realist position in ontology is that time and space have existence apart from the human mind. Idealists, including Kant, claim that space and time are mental constructs used to organize perceptions, or are otherwise surreal.

Suppose that one is sitting at a table, with an apple in front of him or her; the apple exists in space and in time, but what does this statement indicate? Could it be said, for example, that space is like an invisible three-dimensional grid in which the apple is positioned? Suppose the apple, and all physical objects in the universe, were removed from existence entirely. Would space as an "invisible grid" still exist? René Descartes and Leibniz believed it would not, arguing that without physical objects, "space" would be meaningless because space is the framework upon which we understand how physical objects are related to each other. Newton, on the other hand, argued for an absolute "container" space. The pendulum swung back to relational space with Einstein and Ernst Mach.

While the absolute/relative debate, and the realism debate are equally applicable to time and space, time presents some special problems of its own. The flow of time has been denied in ancient times by Parmenides and more recently by J. M. E. McTaggart in his paper The Unreality of Time.

The direction of time, also known as "time's arrow", is also a puzzle, although physics is now driving the debate rather than philosophy. It appears that fundamental laws are time-reversible and the arrow of time must be an "emergent" phenomenon, perhaps explained by a statistical understanding of thermodynamic entropy.

Common-sense tells us that objects persist across time, that there is some sense in which you are the same person you were yesterday, in which the oak is the same as the acorn, in which you perhaps even can step into the same river twice. Philosophers have developed two rival theories for how this happens, called "endurantism" and "perdurantism". Broadly speaking, endurantists hold that a whole object exists at each moment of its history, and the same object exists at each moment. Perdurantists believe that objects are four-dimensional entities made up of a series of temporal parts like the frames of a movie.

Styles and methods of metaphysics

  • Rational versus empirical. Rationalism is a method or a theory "in which the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive" (Bourke 263). Rationalist metaphysicians aim to deduce the nature of reality by armchair, a priori reasoning. Empiricism holds that the senses are the primary source of knowledge about the world.
  • Analytical versus systemic. The "system building" style of metaphysics attempts to answer all the important questions in a comprehensive and coherent way, providing a theory of everything or complete picture of the world. The contrasting approach is to deal with problems piecemeal.
  • Dogmatic versus critical. Under the scholastic approach of the Middle Ages, a number of themes and ideas were not open to be challenged. Kant and others thought this "dogmatism" should be replaced by a critical approach.
  • Individual versus collective. Scholasticism and Analytical philosophy are examples of collaborative approaches to philosophy. Many other philosophers expounded individual visions.
  • Parsimonious versus Adequate. Should a metaphysical system posit as little as possible, or as much as needed?
  • Descriptive versus revisionary. Peter Strawson makes the distinction between descriptive metaphysics, which sets out to investigate our deepest assumptions, and revisionary metaphysics, which sets out to improve or rectify them.

History and schools of metaphysics

Pre-Socratic metaphysics in Greece

The first known philosopher, according to Aristotle, is Thales of Miletus. Rejecting mythological and divine explanations, he sought for a single first cause or Arche (origin or beginning) under which all phenomena could be explained, and concluded that this first cause was in fact moisture or water. Thales also taught that the world is harmonious, has a harmonious structure, and thus is intelligible to rational understanding. Other Miletians, such as Anaximander and Anaximenes, also had a monistic conception of the first cause.

Another school was the Eleatics, Italy. The group was founded in the early fifth century BCE by Parmenides, and included Zeno of Elea and Melissus of Samos. Methodologically, the Eleatics were broadly rationalist, rejecting the epistemological validity of sense experience, and instead took logical standards of clarity and necessity to be the criteria of truth. Parmenides' chief doctrine was that reality is a single unchanging and universal Being. Zeno used reductio ad absurdum, to demonstrate the illusory nature of change and time in his paradoxes.

Heraclitus of Ephesus, in contrast, made change central, teaching that "all things flow". His philosophy, expressed in brief aphorisms, is quite cryptic. For instance, he also taught the unity of opposites.

Democritus and his teacher Leucippus, are known for formulating an atomic theory for the cosmos. They are considered forerunners of the scientific method.

Socrates and Plato

Socrates is known for his dialectic or questioning approach to philosophy rather than a positive metaphysical doctrine. His pupil, Plato is famous for his theory of forms (which he confusingly places in the mouth of Socrates in the dialogues he wrote to expound it). Platonic realism (also considered a form of idealism) is considered to be a solution to the problem of universals; i.e, what particular objects have in common is that they share a specific Form which is universal to all others of their respective kind.

The theory has a number of other aspects:

  • Epistemological: knowledge of the Forms is more certain than mere sensory data.
  • Ethical: The Form of the Good sets an objective standard for morality.
  • Time and Change: The world of the Forms is eternal and unchanging. Time and change belong only to the lower sensory world. "Time is a moving image of Eternity".
  • Abstract objects and mathematics: Numbers, geometrical figures, etc., exist mind-independently in the World of Forms.

Platonism developed into Neoplatonism, a philosophy with a monotheistic and mystical flavour that survived well into the early Christian era.

Aristotle

Plato's pupil Aristotle wrote widely on almost every subject, including metaphysics. His solution to the problem of universals contrasts with Plato's. Whereas Platonic Forms exist in a separate realm, and can exist uninstantiated in visible things, Aristotelean essences "indwell" in particulars.

Potentiality and Actuality are principles of a dichotomy which Aristotle used throughout his philosophical works to analyze motion, causality and other issues.

The Aristotelean theory of change and causality stretches to four causes: the material, formal, efficient and final. The efficient cause corresponds to what is now known as a cause simpliciter. Final causes are explicitly teleological, a concept now regarded as controversial in science. The Matter/Form dichotomy was to become highly influential in later philosophy as the substance/essence distinction.

Scholasticism and the Middle Ages

Between about 1100 and 1500, philosophy as a discipline took place as part of the Catholic church's teaching system, known as scholasticism. Scholastic philosophy took place within an established framework blending Christian theology with Aristotelean teachings. Although fundamental orthodoxies could not be challenged, there were nonetheless deep metaphysical disagreements, particularly over the problem of universals, which engaged Duns Scotus and Pierre Abelard. William of Ockham is remembered for his principle of ontological parsimony.

Continental rationalism

In the early modern period (17th and 18th centuries), the system-building scope of philosophy is often linked to the rationalist method of philosophy, that is the technique of deducing the nature of the world by pure reason. The scholastic concepts of substance and accident were employed.

  • Leibniz proposed in his Monadology a plurality of non-interacting substances.
  • Descartes is famous for his Dualism of material and mental substances.
  • Spinoza believed reality was a single substance of God-or-nature.

British empiricism

British empiricism marked something of a reaction to rationalist and system-building philosophy, or speculative metaphysics as it was pejoratively termed. The sceptic David Hume famously declared that most metaphysics should be consigned to the flames (see below). Hume was notorious among his contemporaries as one of the first philosophers to openly doubt religion, but is better known now for his critique of causality. John Stuart Mill, Thomas Reid and John Locke were less sceptical, embracing a more cautious style of metaphysics based on realism, common sense and science. Other philosophers, notably George Berkely were led from empiricism to idealistic metaphysics.

Kant

Immanuel Kant attempted a grand synthesis and revision of the trends already mentioned: scholastic philosophy, systematic metaphysics, and sceptical empiricism, not to forget the burgeoning science of his day. Like the systems builders, he had an overarching framework in which all questions were to be addressed. Like Hume, who famously woke him from his 'dogmatic slumbers', he was suspicious of metaphysical speculation, and also places much emphasis on the limitations of the human mind.

Kant saw rationalist philosophers as aiming for a kind of metaphysical knowledge he defined as the synthetic apriori — that is knowledge that does not come from the senses (it is a apriori) but is nonetheless about reality (synthetic). Inasmuch as it is about reality, it is unlike abstract mathematical propositions (which he terms analytical apriori), and being apriori it is distinct from empirical, scientific knowledge (which he terms synthetic aposteriori). The only synthetic apriori knowledge we can have is of how our minds organise the data of the senses; that organising framework is space and time, which for Kant have no mind-independent existence, but nonetheless operate uniformly in all humans. Apriori knowledge of space and time is all that remains of metaphysics as traditionally conceived. There is a reality beyond sensory data or phenomena, which he calls the realm of noumena; however, we cannot know it as it is in itself, but only as it appears to us. He allows himself to speculate that the origins of God, morality, and free will might exist in the noumenal realm, but these possibilities have to be set against its basic unknowability for humans. Although he saw himself as having disposed of metaphysics, in a sense, he has generally been regarded in retrospect, as having a metaphysics of his own.

19th Century philosophy was overwhelmingly influenced by Kant and his successors. Schopenhauer, Schelling, Fichte and Hegel all purveyed their own panoramic versions of German Idealism, Kant's own caution about metaphysical speculation, and refutation of idealism, having fallen by the wayside. The idealistic impulse continued into the early 20th century with British idealists such as F. H. Bradley and J. M. E. McTaggart.

Followers of Karl Marx took Hegel's dialectic view of history and re-fashioned it as materialism.

Early analytical philosophy and positivism

During the period when idealism was dominant in philosophy, science had been making great advances. The arrival of a new generation of scientifically minded philosophers led to a sharp decline in the popularity of idealism during the 1920s.

Analytical philosophy was spearheaded by Bertrand Russell and G. E. Moore. Russell and William James tried to compromise between idealism and materialism with the theory of neutral monism.

The early to mid 20th century philosophy also saw a trend to reject metaphysical questions as meaningless. The driving force behind this tendency was the unabashedly materialist philosophy of Logical Positivism as espoused by the Vienna Circle. See "The Value and Future of Metaphysics" below.

At around the same time, the American pragmatists were steering a middle course between materialism and idealism. System-building metaphysics, with a fresh inspiration from science, was revived by A. N. Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne.

Continental philosophy

The forces that shaped analytical philosophy — the break with idealism, and the influence of science — were much less significant outside the English speaking world, although there was a shared turn toward language. Continental philosophy continued in a trajectory from post Kantianism.

The phenomenology of Husserl and others was intended as a collaborative project for the investigation of the features and structure of consciousness common to all humans, in line with Kant's basing his synthetic apriori on the uniform operation of consciousness. It was officially neutral with regards to ontology, but was nonetheless to spawn a number of metaphysical systems. Brentano's concept of intentionality would become widely influential, including on analytical philosophy.

Heidegger, author of Being and Time, saw himself as re-focusing on Being-qua-being, introducing the novel concept of Dasein in the process. Classing himself an existentialist, Sartre wrote an extensive study of "Being and Nothingness.

The speculative realism movement marks a return to full blooded realism.

Later analytical philosophy

While early analytic philosophy tended to reject metaphysical theorizing, under the influence of logical positivism, it was revived in the second half of the twentieth century. Philosophers such as David Kellogg Lewis and David Armstrong developed elaborate theories on a range of topics such as universals, causation, possibility and necessity and abstract objects. However, the focus of analytical philosophy is generally away from the construction of all-encompassing systems and towards close analysis of individual ideas.

Among the developments that led to the revival of metaphysical theorizing were Quine's attack on the analytic-synthetic distinction, which was generally taken to undermine Carnap's distinction between existence questions internal to a framework and those external to it.

The philosophy of fiction, the problem of empty names, and the debate over existence's status as a property have all risen out of relative obscurity to become central concerns, while perennial issues such as free will, possible worlds, and the philosophy of time have had new life breathed into them.

The value and future of metaphysics

A number of individuals have suggested that metaphysics as a whole should be rejected.

David Hume argued with his empiricist principle that all knowledge involves either relations of ideas or matters of fact:

If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.
— David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

However, Hume's assertion may be self-defeating if it itself is not self-evident or empirically verifiable.

Immanuel Kant prescribed a limited role to the subject and argued against knowledge progressing beyond the world of our representations, except to knowledge that the noumena exist:

...though we cannot know these objects as things in themselves, we must yet be in a position at least to think them as things in themselves; otherwise we should be landed in the absurd conclusion that there can be appearance without anything that appears.
— Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason pp. Bxxvi-xxvii

Proceeding from Kant's statement about antinomy, A.J. Ayer in Language, Truth and Logic using the verifiability theory of meaning concluded that metaphysical propositions were neither true nor false but strictly meaningless, as were religious views. However, Karl Popper argued that metaphysical statements are not meaningless statements, but rather not fallible, testable or provable statements i.e. neither empirical observations nor logical arguments could falsify metaphysical statements to show them to be true or false. Hence, a metaphysical statement usually implies an idea about the world or about the universe, which may be reasonable but is ultimately not empirically testable.

Rudolf Carnap, in his book Philosophy and Logical Syntax, used the concept of verifiability to reject metaphysics.

Metaphysicians cannot avoid making their statements nonverifiable, because if they made them verifiable, the decision about the truth or falsehood of their doctrines would depend upon experience and therefore belong to the region of empirical science. This consequence they wish to avoid, because they pretend to teach knowledge which is of a higher level than that of empirical science. Thus they are compelled to cut all connection between their statements and experience; and precisely by this procedure they deprive them of any sense.
— Rudolf Carnap

John Locke, a founder of empiricism, expressed that most of the doctrine of innate ideas in the metaphysics, such as Cartesian dualism and the Platonic realm were ridiculous and nonsensical.

Epistemology

Epistemology /ɨˌpɪstɨˈmɒlədʒi/ (from Greek ἐπιστήμη (epistēmē), meaning "knowledge, understanding", and λόγος (logos), meaning "study of") is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope (limitations) of knowledge. It addresses the questions:

  • What is knowledge?
  • How is knowledge acquired?
  • To what extent is it possible for a given subject or entity to be known?

Much of the debate in this field has focused on analyzing the nature of knowledge and how it relates to connected notions such as truth, belief, and justification. One view is the objection that there is very little or no knowledge at all—skepticism. The field is sometimes referred to as the theory of knowledge.

The term was introduced by the Scottish philosopher James Frederick Ferrier (1808–1864).

Knowledge

Knowledge that, knowledge how, and knowledge by acquaintance

In this article, and in epistemology in general, the kind of knowledge usually discussed is propositional knowledge, also known as "knowledge that." This is distinct from "knowledge how" and "acquaintance-knowledge." For example: in mathematics, it is known that 2 + 2 = 4, but there is also knowing how to add two numbers and knowing a person (e.g., oneself), place (e.g., one's hometown), thing (e.g., cars), or activity (e.g., addition). Some philosophers think there is an important distinction between "knowing that," "knowing how," and "acquaintance-knowledge," with epistemology primarily interested in the first.

Bertrand Russell is famous for distinguishing "knowledge by description" (a form of knowledge that) and "knowledge by acquaintance" in Problems of Philosophy. Gilbert Ryle is often credited with emphasizing the distinction between knowing how and knowing that in The Concept of Mind. In Personal Knowledge, Michael Polanyi argues for the epistemological relevance of knowledge how and knowledge that; using the example of the act of balance involved in riding a bicycle, he suggests that the theoretical knowledge of the physics involved in maintaining a state of balance cannot substitute for the practical knowledge of how to ride, and that it is important to understand how both are established and grounded. This position is essentially Ryle's, who argued that a failure to acknowledge the distinction between knowledge that and knowledge how leads to vicious regresses.

In recent times, some epistemologists (Sosa, Greco, Kvanvig, Zagzebski) have argued that epistemology should evaluate people's properties (i.e., intellectual virtues) and not just the properties of propositions or propositional mental attitudes.

Belief

Statements of "belief" sometimes mean the speaker has faith that something would prove to be useful or successful in some sense—perhaps the speaker might "believe in" his or her favorite football team. This is not the kind of belief usually addressed within epistemology. The kind dealt with is when "to believe something" simply means any cognitive content held as true in spite of the absence of proof or even evidence. For example, to believe that the sky is blue is to think that the proposition "The sky is blue" is true even if the sky is visibly red.

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, a person believes that a particular bridge is safe enough to support him, and attempts to cross it; unfortunately, the bridge collapses under his weight. It could be said that he believed that the bridge was safe, but that this 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 he “thought” that the bridge was safe, and now after proving it to himself, he knows.

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. But belief is the most commonly invoked truth bearer, since Plato's day.

Justification

In many of Plato's dialogues, such as the Meno, and in particular the Theaetetus, Socrates considers a number of theories as to what knowledge is, the last being that knowledge is true belief that has been "given an account of" — 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. See theories of justification for other views on the idea.

The Gettier problem

Edmund Gettier is remembered for his 1963 argument, which called into question the theory of knowledge that had been dominant among philosophers for thousands of years. In a few pages, Gettier argued that there are situations in which one's belief may be justified and true, yet fail to count as knowledge. That is, Gettier contended that while justified belief in a true proposition is necessary for that proposition to be known, it is not sufficient. As in the diagram above, a true proposition can be believed by an individual (purple region) but still not fall within the "knowledge" category (yellow region).

According to Gettier, there are certain circumstances in which one does not have knowledge, even when all of the above conditions are met. Gettier proposed two thought experiments, which have come to be known as "Gettier cases," as counterexamples to the classical account of knowledge. One of the cases involves two men, Smith and Jones, who are awaiting the results of their applications for the same job. Each man has ten coins in his pocket. Smith has excellent reasons to believe that Jones will get the job and, furthermore, knows that Jones has ten coins in his pocket (he recently counted them). From this Smith infers, "the man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket." However, Smith is unaware that he also has ten coins in his own pocket. Furthermore, Smith, not Jones, is going to get the job. While Smith has strong evidence to believe that Jones will get the job, he is wrong. Smith has a justified true belief that a man with ten coins in his pocket will get the job; however, according to Gettier, Smith does not know that a man with ten coins in his pocket will get the job, because Smith's belief is "...true by virtue of the number of coins in Jones's pocket, while Smith does not know how many coins are in Smith's pocket, and bases his belief...on a count of the coins in Jones's pocket, whom he falsely believes to be the man who will get the job." (see p. 122.) These cases fail to be knowledge because the subject's belief is justified, but only happens to be true by virtue of luck. In other words, he made the correct choice (in this case predicting an outcome) for the wrong reasons.

Responses to Gettier

The responses to Gettier have been varied. Usually, they have involved substantive attempts to provide a definition of knowledge different from the classical one, either by recasting knowledge as justified true belief with some additional fourth condition, or as something else altogether.

Infallibilism, indefeasibility

In one response to Gettier, the American philosopher Richard Kirkham has argued that the only definition of knowledge that could ever be immune to all counterexamples is the infallibilist one. To qualify as an item of knowledge, goes the theory, a belief must not only be true and justified, the justification of the belief must necessitate its truth. In other words, the justification for the belief must be infallible. (See Fallibilism, below, for more information.)

Yet another possible candidate for the fourth condition of knowledge is indefeasibility. Defeasibility theory maintains that there should be no overriding or defeating truths for the reasons that justify one's belief. For example, suppose that person S believes he saw Tom Grabit steal a book from the library and uses this to justify the claim that Tom Grabit stole a book from the library. A possible defeater or overriding proposition for such a claim could be a true proposition like, "Tom Grabit's identical twin Sam is currently in the same town as Tom." When no defeaters of one's justification exist, a subject would be epistemically justified.

The Indian philosopher B K Matilal has drawn on the Navya-Nyaya fallibilism tradition to respond to the Gettier problem. Nyaya theory distinguishes between know p and know that one knows p – these are different events, with different causal conditions. The second level is a sort of implicit inference that usually follows immediately the episode of knowing p (knowledge simpliciter). The Gettier case is analyzed by referring to a view of Gangesha (13th c.), who takes any true belief to be knowledge; thus a true belief acquired through a wrong route may just be regarded as knowledge simpliciter on this view. The question of justification arises only at the second level, when one considers the knowledgehood of the acquired belief. Initially, there is lack of uncertainty, so it becomes a true belief. But at the very next moment, when the hearer is about to embark upon the venture of knowing whether he knows p, doubts may arise. "If, in some Gettier-like cases, I am wrong in my inference about the knowledgehood of the given occurrent belief (for the evidence may be pseudo-evidence), then I am mistaken about the truth of my belief – and this is in accord with Nyaya fallibilism: not all knowledge-claims can be sustained."

Reliabilism

Reliabilism is a theory that suggests a belief is justified (or otherwise supported in such a way as to count towards knowledge) only if it is produced by processes that typically yield a sufficiently high ratio of true to false beliefs. In other words, this theory states that a true belief counts as knowledge only if it is produced by a reliable belief-forming process.

Reliabilism has been challenged by Gettier cases. Another argument that challenges reliabilism, like the Gettier cases (although it was not presented in the same short article as the Gettier cases), is the case of Henry and the barn façades. In the thought experiment, a man, Henry, is driving along and sees a number of buildings that resemble barns. Based on his perception of one of these, he concludes that he has just seen barns. While he has seen one, and the perception he based his belief on was of a real barn, all the other barn-like buildings he saw were façades. Theoretically, Henry doesn't know that he has seen a barn, despite both his belief that he has seen one being true and his belief being formed on the basis of a reliable process (i.e. his vision), since he only acquired his true belief by accident.

Other responses

The American philosopher Robert Nozick has offered the following definition of knowledge:

S knows that P if and only if:

  • P;
  • S believes that P;
  • if P were false, S would not believe that P;
  • if P is true, S will believe that P.

Nozick believed that the third subjunctive condition served to address cases of the sort described by Gettier. Nozick further claims this condition addresses a case of the sort described by D. M. Armstrong: A father believes his son innocent of committing a particular crime, both because of faith in his son and (now) because he has seen presented in the courtroom a conclusive demonstration of his son's innocence. His belief via the method of the courtroom satisfies the four subjunctive conditions, but his faith-based belief does not. If his son were guilty, he would still believe him innocent, on the basis of faith in his son; this would violate the third subjunctive condition.

The British philosopher Simon Blackburn has criticized this formulation by suggesting that we do not want to accept as knowledge beliefs, which, while they "track the truth" (as Nozick's account requires), are not held for appropriate reasons. He says that "we do not want to award the title of knowing something to someone who is only meeting the conditions through a defect, flaw, or failure, compared with someone else who is not meeting the conditions.". In addition to this, externalist accounts of knowledge, like Nozick's, are often forced to reject closure in cases where it is intuitively valid.

Timothy Williamson has advanced a theory of knowledge according to which knowledge is not justified true belief plus some extra condition(s). In his book Knowledge and its Limits, Williamson argues that the concept of knowledge cannot be analyzed into a set of other concepts—instead, it is sui generis. Thus, though knowledge requires justification, truth, and belief, the word "knowledge" can't be, according to Williamson's theory, accurately regarded as simply shorthand for "justified true belief."

Alvin Goldman writes in his Causal Theory of Knowing that in order for knowledge to truly exist there must be a causal chain between the proposition and the belief of that proposition.

Externalism and internalism

Part of the debate over the nature of knowledge is a debate between epistemological externalists on the one hand, and epistemological internalists on the other. Externalists think that factors deemed "external", meaning outside of the psychological states of those who gain knowledge, can be conditions of knowledge. For example, an externalist response to the Gettier problem is to say that, in order for a justified true belief to count as knowledge, it must be caused, in the right sort of way, by relevant facts. Such causation, to the extent that it is "outside" the mind, would count as an external, knowledge-yielding condition. Internalists, contrariwise, claim that all knowledge-yielding conditions are within the psychological states of those who gain knowledge.

While unfamiliar with the internalist/externalist debate himself, many point to René Descartes as an early example of the internalist approach to justification. He wrote that, because the only method by which we perceive the external world is through our senses, and that, because the senses are not infallible, we should not consider our concept of knowledge to be infallible. The only way to find anything that could be described as "indubitably true," he advocates, would be to see things "clearly and distinctly". He argued that if there is an omnipotent, good being who made the world, then it's reasonable to believe that people are made with the ability to know. However, this does not mean that man's ability to know is perfect. God gave man the ability to know, but not omniscience. Descartes said that man must use his capacities for knowledge correctly and carefully through methodological doubt. The phrase "Cogito ergo sum" (I think, therefore I am) is also commonly associated with Descartes' theory, because in his own methodological doubt, doubting everything he previously knew in order to start from a blank slate, the first thing that he could not logically bring himself to doubt was his own existence: "I do not exist" would be a contradiction in terms; the act of saying that one does not exist assumes that someone must be making the statement in the first place. Though Descartes could doubt his senses, his body and the world around him, he could not deny his own existence, because he was able to doubt and must exist in order to do so. Even if some "evil genius" were to be deceiving him, he would have to exist in order to be deceived. This one sure point provided him with what he would call his Archimedean point, in order to further develop his foundation for knowledge. Simply put, Descartes' epistemological justification depended upon his indubitable belief in his own existence and his clear and distinct knowledge of god.

Acquiring knowledge

The second question that will be dealt with is the question of how knowledge is acquired. This area of epistemology covers:

  1. Issues concerning epistemic distinctions such as that between experience and apriori as means of creating knowledge.
  2. Distinguish between synthesis and analysis used as means of proof
  3. Debates such as the one between empiricists and rationalists.
  4. What is called "the regress problem"

A priori and a posteriori knowledge

The nature of this distinction has been disputed by various philosophers; however, the terms may be roughly defined as follows:

  • A priori knowledge is knowledge that is known independently of experience (that is, it is non-empirical, or arrived at beforehand, usually by reason). It will henceforth be acquired through anything that is independent from experience.
  • A posteriori knowledge is knowledge that is known by experience (that is, it is empirical, or arrived at afterward).

Evolutionary psychology makes a novel approach to the problem. It says that there is an innate predisposition for certain types of learning. "Only small parts of the brain resemble a tabula rasa; this is true even for human beings. The remainder is more like an exposed negative waiting to be dipped into a developer fluid".

Analytic–synthetic distinction

Some propositions are such that we appear to be justified in believing them to be true just by understanding their meaning. For example, consider, "My father's brother is my uncle." We seem to be justified in believing it to be true by virtue of our knowledge of what its terms mean. Philosophers call such propositions "analytic." Synthetic propositions, on the other hand, have distinct subjects and predicates. An example of a synthetic proposition would be, "My father's brother has black hair." Kant stated that all mathematical and scientifical statements are synthetic a priori propositions because they are necessarily true but our knowledge about the attributes of the mathematical or physical subjects we can only get by logical inference.

The American philosopher W. V. O. Quine, in his "Two Dogmas of Empiricism", famously challenged the distinction, arguing that the two have a blurry boundary.

Branches or 'tendencies' within epistemology

Empiricism

In philosophy, empiricism is generally a theory of knowledge emphasizing the role of experience, especially experience based on perceptual observations by the senses. Certain forms treat all knowledge as empirical, while some regard disciplines such as mathematics and logic as exceptions.

There are many variants of empiricism, positivism and realism being among the most commonly expounded but central to all empiricist epistemologies is the notion of the epistemologically privileged status of sense data.

Idealism

Idealists believe that knowledge is primarily (at least in some areas) acquired by a priori processes or is innate—for example, in the form of concepts not derived from experience. The relevant theoretical processes often go by the name "intuition". The relevant theoretical concepts may purportedly be part of the structure of the human mind (as in Kant's theory of transcendental idealism), or they may be said to exist independently of the mind (as in Plato's theory of Forms).

The extent to which this innate human knowledge is emphasized over experience as a means to acquire knowledge varies from idealist to idealist. Some hold that knowledge of any kind can only be gained a priori, while others claim that some knowledge can also be gained a posteriori. Consequently, the borderline between idealist epistemologies and others can be vague.

The main concept, however, central to all idealist epistemologies is the centrality of Reason: (i.e.: 'Reason' with a capital 'R'): a priori Reason: Knowledge can only be, ultimately, a product of the mind and is therefore, by definition, 'ideal'. Ie: What is 'known' is, by definition, 'ideal'.

Rationalism

By contrast with empiricism and idealism, which emphasize the epistemologically privileged status of sense data (empirical) and the primacy of reason (theoretical) respectively, modern rationalism adds a third 'system of thinking', as Gaston Bachelard has termed these areas and holds that all three are of equal importance: The empirical, the theoretical and the abstract. Rationalism makes equal reference to all three systems of thinking.

An example of abstract thinking is Pythagoras' concept of 'pure' geometric forms: perfect triangles, squares, circles. Etc. Another example is imaginary numbers, in mathematics.

(See, esp. Scientific Rationalism (article needed) intended by its authors, Bachelard, Louis Althusser, Dominique Lecourt etc. as an attempt to walk the narrow tightrope between these two opposing dogmas of empiricism and idealism).

Constructivism

Constructivism is a view in philosophy according to which all "knowledge is a compilation of human-made constructions", “not the neutral discovery of an objective truth”. Whereas objectivism is concerned with the “object of our knowledge”, constructivism emphasises “how we construct knowledge”. Constructivism proposes new definitions for knowledge and truth that form a new paradigm, based on inter-subjectivity instead of the classical objectivity, and on viability instead of truth. Piagetian constructivism, however, believes in objectivity—constructs can be validated through experimentation. The constructivist point of view is pragmatic; as Vico said: "The norm of the truth is to have made it."

It originated in sociology under the term "social constructionism" and has been given the name "constructivism" when referring to philosophical epistemology, though "constructionism" and "constructivism" are often used interchangeably. Constructivism has also emerged in the field of International Relations, where the writings of Alexander Wendt are popular. Describing the characteristic nature of International reality marked by 'anarchy' he says, "Anarchy is what states make of it."

The regress problem

"... to justify a belief one must appeal to a further justified belief. This means that one of two things can be the case. Either there are some epistemologically basic beliefs that we can be justified in holding without being able to justify them on the basis of any other belief, or else for each justified belief there is an infinite regress of (potential) justification the nebula theory. On this theory there is no rock bottom of justification. Justification just meanders in and out through our network of beliefs, stopping nowhere." The apparent impossibility of completing an infinite chain of reasoning is thought by some to support skepticism. Socrates said, "The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing."

Response to the regress problem

Many epistemologists studying justification have attempted to argue for various types of chains of reasoning that can escape the regress problem.

Infinitism

It is not impossible for an infinite justificatory series to exist. This position is known as "infinitism". Infinitists typically take the infinite series to be merely potential, in the sense that an individual may have indefinitely many reasons available to him, without having consciously thought through all of these reasons when the need arises. This position is motivated in part by the desire to avoid what is seen as the arbitrariness and circularity of its chief competitors, foundationalism and coherentism. In mathematics, an infinite series will sometimes converge – (this is the basis of calculus) – one can therefore have an infinite series of logical arguments and analyze it for a convergent (or non-convergent) solution.

Foundationalism

Foundationalists respond to the regress problem by claiming that "foundations" or "basic beliefs" support other beliefs but do not themselves require justification from other beliefs. These beliefs might be justified because they are self-evident, infallible, or derive from reliable cognitive mechanisms. Perception, memory, and a priori intuition are often considered to be possible examples of basic beliefs.

The chief criticism of foundationalism is that if a belief is not supported by other beliefs, accepting it may be arbitrary or unjustified.

Coherentism

Another response to the regress problem is coherentism, which is the rejection of the assumption that the regress proceeds according to a pattern of linear justification. To avoid the charge of circularity, coherentists hold that an individual belief is justified circularly by the way it fits together (coheres) with the rest of the belief system of which it is a part. This theory has the advantage of avoiding the infinite regress without claiming special, possibly arbitrary status for some particular class of beliefs. Yet, since a system can be coherent while also being wrong, coherentists face the difficulty of ensuring that the whole system corresponds to reality. Additionally, most logicians agree that any argument that is circular is inherently invalid. That is, arguments must be linear with conclusions that flow directly from stated premises.

Foundherentism

A position known as "foundherentism", advanced by Susan Haack, is meant to be a unification of foundationalism and coherentism. One component of this theory is what is called the "analogy of the crossword puzzle." Whereas, say, infinitists regard the regress of reasons as "shaped" like a single line, Susan Haack has argued that it is more like a crossword puzzle, with multiple lines mutually supporting each other.

What do people know?

The last question that will be dealt with is the question of what people know. At the heart of this area of study is skepticism, with many approaches involved trying to disprove some particular form of it.

Skepticism

Skepticism is related to the question of whether a certain knowledge is possible. "If we cannot move on to point B until we have proved point A, and if in order to prove point A we must establish it with absolute certainty, then it looks as though we will have a very hard time proving any point at all." Skeptics argue that the belief in something does not necessarily justify an assertion of knowledge of it. In this skeptics oppose foundationalism, which states that there have to be some basic beliefs that are justified without reference to others. The skeptical response to this can take several approaches. First, claiming that "basic beliefs" must exist, amounts to the logical fallacy of argument from ignorance combined with the slippery slope. While a foundationalist would use Münchhausen Trilemma as a justification for demanding the validity of basic beliefs, a skeptic would see no problem with admitting the result.

Developments from skepticism

Early in the 20th century, the notion that belief had to be justified as such to count as knowledge lost favour. Fallibilism is the view that knowing something does not entail certainty regarding it. Charles Sanders Peirce was a fallibilist and the most developed form of fallibilism can be traced to Karl Popper (1902–1994) whose first book Logik Der Forschung (The Logic of Scientific Discovery), 1934 introduced a "conjectural turn" into the philosophy of science and epistemology at large. He adumbrated a school of thought that is known as Critical Rationalism with a central tenet being the rejection of the idea that knowledge can ever be justified in the strong form that is sought by most schools of thought. His two most helpful exponents are the late William W Bartley and David Miller, recently retired from the University of Warwick. A major source of on-line material is the Critical Rationalist website and also the Rathouse of Rafe Champion.

Epistemic culture

Epistemic culture distinguishes between various settings of knowledge production and emphasizes their contextual aspects. Coined by Karin Knorr-Cetina in her book Epistemic Cultures; she defines epistemic cultures as an "amalgam of arrangements and mechanisms - bonded through affinity, necessity and historical coincidence - which in a given field, make up how we know what we know". The term provides the conceptual framework used to demonstrate that different laboratories do not share the same "scientific" knowledge production model, but rather each is endowed with a different epistemic culture prescribing what is adequate knowledge and how it is obtained. Since its introduction, the term has been picked up and used by various researchers engaging in Science and technology studies.

Practical applications

Far from being purely academic, the study of epistemology is useful for a great many applications. It is particularly commonly employed in issues of law where proof of guilt or innocence may be required, or when it must be determined whether a person knew a particular fact before taking a specific action (e.g., whether an action was premeditated). Another practical application is to the design of user interfaces. For example, the skills, rules, and knowledge taxonomy of human behavior has been used by designers to develop systems vague that are compatible with multiple "ways of knowing": abstract analytic reasoning, experience-based 'gut feelings', and 'craft' sensorimotor skills.

Other common applications of epistemology include:

  • Education Theory
  • Education Technology
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Cognitive science
  • Cultural anthropology (do different cultures have different systems of knowledge?)
  • History and archaeology
  • Intelligence (information) gathering
  • Knowledge management
  • Mathematics and science
  • Medicine (diagnosis of disease)
  • Neurology
  • Behavioral neuroscience
  • Product testing (how can we know that the product will not fail?)
  • Psychology
  • Philosophy
  • Linguistics
  • Logic
  • Literature
  • Theology and apologetics
  • Sociology
  • Testimony

 

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