Epistemology is the study of knowledge and belief, a branch of philosophy that asks, “what is truth, how do we know, and how can we prove it”.

This includes examining what we know, what we can know, how we can know it, how we can prove we know it, what we can’t know, how we can prove we don’t know, what the difference between opinion and fact are, what the difference between empirical and reasoned evidence is, what the difference between truth and belief is, and more.

Some of the most important philosophical works are epistemological, as a theory holds a lot more weight when you can actually prove it by accepted measures. See our page on Hume’s fork and Kant’s a Critique of Pure Reason for a starter kit, or see Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s page on Epistemology for the AP version, or see this article on knowledge, opinion, and fact.

  • Knowledge: Objective. Something we know to be true with a high degree of certainty. EX. A well worn scientific theory like F=ma, 1+1=2, a ripe apple taste sweet. Subjective. Something we know, even with conviction, but that is not known with a high degree of certainty. EX. “All humans have a natural a right to life, liberty, and happiness.”
  • Truth: Objective. Something that is undoubtedly proven to be so through facts. When we combine our tools of knowledge, belief, reason, and sensory data, along with acceptance, verification, justification, and perspective, the end result will ideally be truth. The key difference between knowledge and truth is that, unlike knowledge, truth exists regardless of our ability to prove it with certainty.
  • Belief: Subjective. Broadly, ideas we feel to be true, but can’t fully prove empirically or rationally with facts, but hold a high sense of certainty anyway. We may have faith in our beliefs, and may be able to prove them with reason, but we don’t have objective and certain evidence of their truth. Even a scientific theory can be a belief, after-all, theories are falsifiable despite all the facts pointing to them.
  • Opinions: Subjective. Ideas we feel to be true, we can use facts to back them up, but we are using arguments based on our beliefs and emotions, not pure facts.
  • Empiricism: Knowledge through empirical evidence (information from the senses). Facts about the world.
  • Rationalism: Knowledge through ideas (information originating in our minds). Facts about ideas.
  • Skepticism: In this case, being skeptical that rationalism (pure reason) can result in true knowledge about the world. Can be interpreted broadly of skepticism about both empirical and rational knowledge. For instance, Kant suggests fusing the two styles as, “our senses themselves could be tricking us”.
  • Justification: Our ability to justify our reasoning using any of the above technologies and more epistemological tools. We can’t just say we know something, we must give a justification.
  • Myth: Subjective. Beliefs we are certain about, but are based on misinformation and opinion rather than fact. Common knowledge that isn’t in fact truth.
  • Absurdity: Treating belief as fact, or being certain of a belief (but accepting the belief on faith), even going as far as to provide reason-based justification to prove the belief (see Newton’s Arian beliefs for example), when ultimately it is accepted that the belief can never be proven true. It is absurd to accept things within the sphere of belief as truths, treating them like they are in the sphere of fact, and actually basing our lives (ethics, morals, actions) around something of which we can never be certain. The basis for existentialism.

Factoids tagged with "Epistemology"

Whatever is the Case, is the Case Fact

Whatever is the case, is the case. That is to say, whatever is true is true within a system, is true within that system (for example, whatever is the case, in reality, is the case in reality; or, whatever is true in mathematics, is true in mathematics).

You Can’t Prove a Negative Myth

The saying “you can’t prove a negative” isn’t accurate. Proving negatives is a foundational aspect of logic (ex. the law of contradiction).

There is No Such Thing as Objective Truth Myth

The idea that all truth is subjective, that there is no objective truth, is a myth. Everything either has an absolute truth value (even if we can’t know it) or is an opinion or belief.

Politics Can be a Science Fact

Politics can be treated as a science (political science), but it must always seek data that can be confirmed by our senses (empirical evidence).

Machines Can Think Fact

Whether or not machines can think, depends on our definition of “think.” Generally we can say, machines can think, but they think differently than humans.

Your Vote Doesn’t Count Myth

It is a myth that your vote doesn’t count. Despite the electoral college electing the President directly, every vote counts. It just counts in complex ways that differ by election, state, and region.

Human Behavior can be Random Fact

Human behavior can be random to some extent, but most behavior is based on prior input, and thus is “deterministic” (meaning not totally random).

There are Different Types of Good and Evil Fact

There are different types of good and evil. The way to understand the types of good and evil differs by culture and text, but we can find general similarities by looking at major works and belief systems.

A Person Can be a “Lone Genius” Myth

A person can be a “lone genius”, but as an essay called “Deconstructing the Lone Genius Myth” points out, genius is in many ways a collective process.

People Can be Truly Unbiased Myth

People can’t be truly unbiased; we are hardwired with bias and create bias constantly as part of the natural neurological process of learning.

Bayes’ Theorem Can Calculate Probable Truth Fact

Bayes’ theorem is a probability theory used to calculate the likelihood of an event being true or not true based on conditions related to the event. (i.e. an equation used for calculating conditional probabilities).

René Descartes Slept in an Oven Myth

René Descartes didn’t sleep in an oven, but he did invent analytical geometry while sleeping in a room with an oven (likely a masonry heater).

Blog Posts tagged with "Epistemology"

The Difference Between Truth and Facts

Truth and facts have a lot in common, but they are not exactly the same. Truth is something that is the case. Facts are true statements. Truth is best described using facts and logical reasoning.

Should We Dismiss a Source Due to Some of Its Content?

I would argue that most sources of information and any information they contain should not be dismissed due our thoughts on them in general or a portion of their content. Instead, I would argue that any source is capable of presenting good and useful information, even if they typically don’t.

The Difference Between Fact and Opinion

Facts are things that are the case for sure, they are stated plainly and without bias. Opinions meanwhile inject subjectivity and bias. Since most content in any form contains at least some subjectivity and bias, it is rare to find pure facts and common to find opinion.

Inductive Reasoning Explained

We explain inductive reasoning, a bottom-up reasoning method that reasons by consistency, comparing particulars and probabilities to find likely truths.

What is a Truth-Value?

A truth-value is a label that is given to a statement (a proposition) that denotes the relation of the statement to truth.

The Spheres of Human Understanding

All knowledge, all human understanding, can be said to be of four types: physical (empirical), logical (reason), ethical (philosophy in-action), and metaphysical (pure philosophy).

Giving Names to Concepts

We discuss “giving names to concepts” (defining terms), identifying with terms, be identified by terms, and the implications of this.

What is an Alternative Fact?

Alternative facts describe inconsistent sets of information submitted as plausible evidence for competing sides of a case/debate/argument.

What is Reason?

Reason is the application of “pure logic”, empirical evidence, experiment, and skepticism to find truths, facts, and theories (AKA “critical thinking”).

Hume’s Fork Explained

“Hume’s fork” describes how we refer to Kant’s critique of Hume, who separated knowledge into two types: facts based on ideas and facts based on experience.

A List of Dualities

Here is a list of the fundamental dualities relating to human nature and the physical and conceptual universe.

The Branches of Philosophy Overview

The major branches of philosophy can be denoted as: metaphysics (what is), epistemology (what we can know), logic and reason, ethics and morality, and aesthetics (beauty and art).

Book Reviews tagged with "Epistemology"