Epistemology is the branch of philosophy interested in the study of knowledge, that is, it is the theory of knowledge. Its name comes from the Greek words epistḗmē (“knowledge”) and lógos (“study”). That which has to do with the processes of obtaining or formulating knowledge is called epistemological. Epistemology concept history schools
Epistemology deals with problems of various kinds about the way we understand knowledge, the way we acquire it, and validate it. It always seeks to answer the question about what is possible to get to know and through what means or mechanisms.
In that search, epistemology can cross or combine its field of study with that of many other disciplines. In addition, it can serve as a basis for them to think about themselves.
Concept of epistemology
Epistemology is one of the four great traditional branches of philosophy, along with metaphysics, logic, and ethics. It is a discipline that studies human knowledge and its capacity for reasoning to understand precisely how said knowledge and said capacity operate, that is, how it is possible that knowledge exists. Practically all the great philosophers of history have contributed to it in one way or another, proposing concepts and various mechanisms for the validation of knowledge. Epistemology concept history schools
History of epistemology
The history of epistemology is long and begins together with philosophy, in Ancient Greece (1200 BC – 146 BC), especially with the works of the Perménides philosophers (5th century BC). and Plato (4th century BC).
At that time, a distinction was made between two types of knowledge: Doxa or vulgar knowledge, lacking critical support; and the episteme, the reflective knowledge fruit of the rigor of thought. However, there was no equivalent discipline to modern epistemology.
This branch of philosophy took its first formal steps in the European Renaissance (15th-16th centuries). This was due to the emergence of human reason as a method of understanding the world, replacing medieval faith.
Its impetus is largely due to the works of philosophers and scientists such as Johannes Kepler (1571-1631), Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Francis Bacon (1561-1626), René Descartes (1596-1650), Isaac Newton ( 1642-1727), John Locke (1632-1704), Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1717) and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804).
Later, epistemology was key in the formulation of the concept of science and scientific knowledge, which prevailed in the thought of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Schools of Epistemology
Starting in the 20th century, three different schools of contemporary epistemology were founded, still in force today, and which are:
- The logical neopositivism. As a result of the studies of Bertrand Russel (1872-1970) and Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), it was formed around the Vienna Circle, which turned the positivism inherited from the 19th century into a doctrine that later found an echo in the Berlin Circle and the Prague Circle.
- Critical rationalism. Fruit of the work of Karl Popper (1902-1994), who stood up critically against logical neopositivism, contributing a decisive turn to the foundations of the Vienna Circle.
- Postpopperianism. Philosophers fall into this category who, although they are inspired by positivism or by Popper’s work, do not fully subscribe to them.
The object of study of epistemology
As we have said, epistemology focuses on the nature, origin, and limits of human knowledge. The latter is understood as the point of intersection between human beliefs and truths acquired in one way or another. Epistemology concept history schools
Epistemology then determines the types of possible knowledge, the mechanisms through which we can form them, and the logic that allows us to determine whether it is valid knowledge or not. In this sense, its four most common concepts are truth, objectivity, reality, and justification.
Epistemology addresses general problems of knowledge and specific to the field of different sciences or disciplines. They can be summarized as follows, starting from the most general to the most specific:
- Problems about the relationships between the various fields of scientific knowledge, how the sciences are classified, what points of contact they have, etc.
- Problems about formal and concrete sciences.
- Problems about the conceptual loan between the sciences and how the change of perspective between them also modifies the meaning given to certain “common” ideas.
- Problems related to the theoretical and experimental aspects of science, that is, around the verification, objectivity, scientific truth, and the formulation of laws, theories, and hypotheses.
- Problems are inherent to formal thought: logical and mathematical, the limits between them and their ontology.
- Problems inherent to the sciences of reality: everything related to experimental verification, scientific methodology, and inductive processes.
- Problems inherent to life and human sciences, in which the need to distinguish between facts and realities, evaluations and interpretations arises. Epistemology concept history schools
Functions of epistemology
Some of the functions of this discipline in the field of study and research have to do with:
- The limits of knowledge. You can review and question accepted methods of formulating knowledge from the real world.
- The methodologies. Epistemology is concerned with putting into judgment the methods we use to distinguish valid knowledge from a belief or an assumption or to distinguish knowledge according to where it comes from.
- The epistemic currents. This discipline contributes enormously to the eternal debate regarding how ideas are constructed and how human beings create knowledge.
Importance of epistemology
Epistemology is key in understanding how the sciences operate, which in today’s world are perhaps the greatest force of theoretical and applied knowledge available to human beings.
In that sense, epistemological knowledge is at the heart of contemporary philosophy, allowing us to know the way we think about knowledge itself. This search is translated into innovation, scientific questioning, and new methodologies to understand the universe.
Types of knowledge
Depending on the epistemological point of view, it will be possible to distinguish between different types of knowledge, for example:
- Radical point of view. There are no types of knowledge.
- Empiricist or logical positivist point of view. There are two types of knowledge, which are analytical (a priori) and synthetic (a posteriori).
- Kantian point of view. There are three types of knowledge, which are analytical a priori, synthetic a posteriori, and synthetic a priori.
Examples of epistemology
A very obvious example of the use of epistemology is the differentiation of scientific, official, proven, and accepted knowledge from pseudoscientific. In this way, epistemology proposes models of distinction, judgment, and analysis of knowledge, which allow us to differentiate a belief, a personal deduction, and a scientific truth. Epistemology concept history schools