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. Here we will elaborate the definition of epistemology and its examples.
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 according to Jean Piaget
The Swiss biologist and psychologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980) developed a theory of knowledge and expounded it in his work “Genetic Epistemology” in 1950.
In this book, he theorizes that human beings go through four stages of knowledge acquisition:
- Sensorimotor : 0 to 2 years old, where knowledge occurs through external and internal stimuli.
- Preoperative : 2 to 7 years old, when speech appears, games with other children with simple rules and magical and fanciful thinking, which includes fairy tales.
- Concrete surgery : 7 to 11 years old, in which it is possible to solve problems internally, acquiring writing and calculations associated with concrete symbols such as apples.
- Formal or abstract operative : 11 to 14 years old, understand abstract concepts such as society, love, the State, citizenship.
For Piaget, these stages are not reached in a linear way and each child has his own pace of learning. It also argues that not everyone reaches the last step.
In the same way, knowledge is a decentralization of the person. It is about moving from a stage where the child naturally wants everything for himself towards the human being who thinks about his surroundings.
More than overcoming a state, Piaget said that the most important thing is to observe how the child passes from one stage to another. To characterize this phenomenon, he coined two terms: assimilation and accommodation.
- Assimilation : when being introduced to a new toy, the child makes “tests” to understand how it works.
- Accommodation : once knowledge is acquired, the child finds an application for this skill and transfers it to other areas.
In the sensory phase, the book can be just another object to pile, bite, throw. Already in the preoperative period, the child learns that this object has stories and, therefore, another use.
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.
Examples of epistemology
1-What Does It Mean To Know Someone?
What does it mean to know someone ?
Knowing too many facts about Napoleon Bonaparte , for example, doesn’t mean you really know him. That’s because he died a long time before you were born.
Still, chances are you know more facts about Napoleon than those who knew him intimately.
This shows that knowing a person is different from knowing a lot of facts about that person. And this is one of the aims of the study of epistemology .
In fact, maybe I know my neighbor, and yet I don’t realize he’s an undercover criminal . In that case, everything he told me about himself is false.
I know my neighbor, although I cannot distinguish him from his identical twin : if they were together, I would not know who is who.
2-What Does “Know How” Mean?
According to epistemology, knowing something is different from knowing a set of facts .
You can know everything about how to swim, for example, and still not know how to swim. At the same time, you can know how to swim even if you don’t know many facts about swimming.
After all, what does it really mean to know how to swim ?
3-The Epistemology of Knowing the Facts.
John believes he has a serious illness .
He believes this not because he was told by a doctor, but because he is a hypochondriac . Despite the lack of diagnosis, João’s serious illness was always a truth for him.
Then John discovered he was right: his serious illness is real.
This brief history demonstrates two important elements about the epistemology of a fact:
However, John’s belief was accidentally right.
So, therefore, knowledge requires a third element to connect belief with truth:
- First, knowledge requires belief.
- Furthermore, knowledge requires truth.
- Finally, knowledge requires justification.
So justification is the third essential element in ensuring that John’s belief is not true just because of chance.
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 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.
Main Approaches of Epistemology
At above you read about the definition of epistemology and its examples now read about its main approaches
There are two main approaches within epistemology. Each leans towards a different origin of knowledge.
His posture indicates that only exposure to the object will produce the experience. In this sense, experience becomes the only source of knowledge.
The rationalist position posits that knowledge must be acquired methodically. According to this theory, the truth can only be learned through a systematized process, with a specific method and in a conscious way.
This approach posits study as the only way to attain wisdom. According to rationalism, no truth is knowledge if it is not universal.
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.
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.
Difference between ontology and epistemology
While epistemology is concerned with the nature of knowledge, where it came from, how it was formed and on what basis, ontology, a branch of metaphysics, is concerned with identifying the things that actually exist.
For example, ontology takes care of answering questions such as “what is the nature of existence?”, “is there a god?”, “what happens after death?”, while epistemology is concerned with the true bases of a knowledge, example : “how can we say that this is true?”, “why did common sense come to this conclusion?”.
We hope that you have grasped the definition of epistemology and its examples.