Anton Matyukhin





Международный Институт Экономики и Финансов, 1 курс,

Высшая школа экономики.



1. Epistemology.

2. History.

3. Epistemology as a discipline


5. Implications.

6. Methodology.

7. Some Mental Activities Common to All Methods.

8. Observation and Experiment.

9. Analysis and Synthesis.

10. Imagination, Supposition and Idealisation.

11. Inference.

12. Comparison and Analogy.

13. Classification.

14. Inductive and deductive methods.

15. The Deductive-inductive Method.


17. Bibliography.


Epistemology is one of the main branches of philosophy; its subject

matter concerns the nature, origin, scope, and limits of human knowledge.

The name is derived from the Greek terms episteme (knowledge) and logos

(theory), and accordingly this branch of philosophy is also referred to as

the theory of knowledge.

It is the branch of philosophy that investigates the basic nature of

knowledge, including its sources and validation. Epistemology is concerned

with the basic relationship between man’s mind and reality, and with the

basic operations of human reason. It therefore sets the standards for the

validation of all knowledge; it is the fundamental arbiter of cognitive


Epistemology as a term in philosophy was probably first applied, by J.

F. Ferrier, to that department of thought whose subject matter is the

nature and validity of knowledge (Gr. epistimum, knowledge, and logos,

theory, account; Ger. Erkenntnistheorie). It is thus contrasted with

metaphysics, which considers the nature of reality, and with psychology,

which deals with the objective part of cognition, and, as Prof. James Ward

said, "is essentially genetic in its method." Epistemology is concerned

rather with the possibility of knowledge in the abstract. In the evolution

of thought epistemological inquiry succeeded the speculations of the early

thinkers, who concerned themselves primarily with attempts to explain

existence. The differences of opinion, which arose on this problem

naturally, led to the inquiry as to whether any universally valid statement

was possible. The Sophists and the Sceptics, Plato and Aristotle, the

Stoics and the Epicureans took up the question and from the time of Locke

and Kant it has been prominent in modern philosophy. It is extremely

difficult, if not impossible, to draw a hard and fast line between

epistemology and other branches of philosophy. If, for example, philosophy

is divided into the theory of knowing and the theory of being, it is

impossible entirely to separate the latter (Ontology) from the analysis of

knowledge (Epistemology), so close is the connection 'between the two.

Again, the relation between logic in its widest sense and the theory of

knowledge is extremely close. Some thinkers have identified the two, while

others regard Epistemology as a subdivision of logic; others demarcate

their relative spheres by confining logic to the science of the laws of

thought, i.e., to formal logic. An attempt has been made by some

philosophers to substitute "Gnosiology" for "Epistemology" as a special

term for that part of Epistemology which is confined to "systematic

analysis of the conceptions employed by ordinary and scientific thought in

interpreting the world, and including an investigation of the art of

knowledge, or the nature of knowledge as such." "Epistemology" would thus

be reserved for the broad questions of "the origin, nature and limits of

knowledge". The term Gnosiology has not come into general use.


Epistemological issues have been discussed throughout the history of

philosophy. Among the ancient Greeks, questions of knowledge were raised by

Plato and Aristotle, as well as by the Sophists and the Sceptics, and many

of the chief issues, positions and arguments were explored at this time. In

the systems of Plato and Aristotle, however, epistemological questions were

largely subordinated to metaphysical ones, and epistemology did not emerge

as a distinct area of inquiry.

The scholastics of the late medieval period were especially concerned

with two epistemological questions: the relationship between reason and

faith, and the nature of concepts and universals. The major positions on

the latter issue—realism, nominalism, and conceptualism—were defined during

this period.

The Reformation and the rise of modern science raised questions about

cognitive methodology, and gave rise to a rebirth of sceptical doctrines,

trends that culminated in the writings of Rene Descartes (1596-1650).

During the modern period, from Descartes to Immanuel Kant (1724-1804),

epistemological concerns were at the forefront of philosophy, as thinkers

attempted to understand the implications of the new science. They also

attempted, unsuccessfully, to deal with sceptical attacks on the validity

of sense perception, concepts, and induction. In the 19th and 20th

centuries, epistemological issues continued to receive attention from

philosophers of various schools, including Idealism, Logical Positivism,

and Linguistic Analysis.

A familiarity with the history of philosophy provides the best

introduction to epistemology. The following works are of special importance

for epistemology:

Plato, Theaetetus

Aristotle, Posterior Analytics

Rene Descartes, Meditations

John Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding

David Hume, An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding

Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics

Epistemology as a discipline.

Why should there be such a subject as epistemology? Aristotle provided

the answer when he said that philosophy begins in wonder, in a kind of

puzzlement about things. Nearly all human beings wish to comprehend the

world they live in, a world that includes the individual as well as other

persons, and most people construct hypotheses of varying degrees of

sophistication to help them make sense of that world. No conjectures would

be necessary if the world were simple; but its features and events defy

easy explanation. The ordinary person is likely to give up somewhere in the

process of trying to develop a coherent account of things and to rest

content with whatever degree of understanding he has managed to achieve.

Philosophers, in contrast, are struck by, even obsessed by, matters that

are not immediately comprehensible. Philosophers are, of course, ordinary

persons in all respects except perhaps one. They aim to construct theories

about the world and its inhabitants that are consistent, synoptic, true to

the facts and that possess explanatory power. They thus carry the process

of inquiry further than people generally tend to do, and this is what

saying that they have developed a philosophy about these matters means.

Epistemologists, in particular, are philosophers whose theories deal with

puzzles about the nature, scope, and limits of human knowledge.

Like ordinary persons, epistemologists usually start from the assumption

that they have plenty of knowledge about the world and its multifarious

features. Yet, as they reflect upon what is presumably known,

epistemologists begin to discover that commonly accepted convictions are

less secure than originally assumed and that many of man's firmest beliefs

are dubious or possibly even chimerical. Anomalous features of the world

that most people notice but tend to minimise or ignore cause such doubts

and hesitations. Epistemologists notice these things too, but, in wondering

about them, they come to realise that they provide profound challenges to

the knowledge claims that most individuals blithely and unreflectingly

accept as true.

What then are these puzzling issues? While there is a vast array of

anomalies and perplexities, two of these issues will be briefly described

in order to illustrate why such difficulties call into question common

claims to have knowledge about the world.


"Our knowledge of the external world".

Most people have noticed that vision can play tricks on them. A straight

stick put in water looks bent to them, but they know it is not; railroad

tracks are seen to be converging in the distance, yet one knows that they

are not; the wheels of wagons on a movie screen appear to be going

backward, but one knows that they are not; and the pages of English-

language books reflected in mirrors cannot be read from left to right, yet

one knows that they were printed to be read that way. Each of these

phenomena is thus misleading in some way. If human beings were to accept

the world as being exactly as it looks, they would be mistaken about how

things really are. They would think the stick in water really to be bent,

the railway tracks really to be convergent, and the writing on pages really

to be reversed. These are visual anomalies, and they produce the sorts of

epistemological disquietudes referred to above. Though they may seem to the

ordinary person to be simple problems, not worth serious notice, for those

who ponder them they pose difficult questions. For instance, human beings

claim to know that the stick is not really bent and the tracks not really

convergent. But how do they know that these things are so?

Suppose one says that this is known because, when the stick is removed

from the water, one can see that it is not bent. But does seeing a straight

stick out of water provide a good reason for thinking that it is not bent

when seen in water? How does one know that, when the stick is put into the

water, it does not bend? Suppose one says that the tracks do not really

converge because the train passes over them at that point. How does one

know that the wheels on the train do not happen to converge at that point?

What justifies opposing some beliefs to others, especially when all of them

are based upon what is seen? One sees that the stick in water is bent and

also that the stick out of the water is not bent. Why is the stick declared

really to be straight; why in effect is priority given to one perception

over another?

One possible response to these queries is that vision is not sufficient

to give knowledge of how things are. One needs to correct vision in some

other way in order to arrive at the judgement that the stick is really

straight and not bent. Suppose a person asserts that his reason for

believing the stick in water is not bent is that he can feel it with his

hands to be straight when it is in the water. Feeling or touching is a mode

of sense perception, although different from vision. What, however,

justifies accepting one mode of perception as more accurate than another?

After all, there are good reasons for believing that the tactile sense

gives rise to misperception in just the way that vision does. If a person

chills one hand and warms the other, for example, and inserts both into a

tub of water having a uniform medium temperature, the same water will feel

warm to the cold hand and cold to the warm hand. Thus, the tactile sense

cannot be trusted either and surely cannot by itself be counted on to

resolve these difficulties.

Another possible response is that no mode of perception is sufficient to

guarantee that one can discover how things are. Thus, it might be affirmed

that one needs to correct all modes of perception by some other form of

awareness in order to arrive at the judgement, say, that the stick is

really straight. Perhaps that other way is the use of reason. But why

should reason be accepted as infallible? It also suffers from various

liabilities, such as forgetting, misestimating, or jumping to conclusions.

And why should one trust reason if its conclusions run counter to those

gained through perception, since it is obvious that much of what is known

about the world derives from perception?

Clearly there is a network of difficulties here, and one will have to

think hard in order to arrive at a clear and defensible explanation of the

apparently simple claim that the stick is really straight. A person who

accepts the challenge will, in effect, be developing a theory for grappling

with the famous problem called "our knowledge of the external world." That

problem turns on two issues, namely, whether there is a reality that exists

independently of the individual's perception of it--in other words, if the

evidence one has for the existence of anything is what one perceives, how

can one know that anything exists unperceived?--and, second, how one can

know what anything is really like, if the perceptual evidence one has is


The "other minds" problem."

The second problem also involves seeing but in a somewhat unusual way. It

deals with that which one cannot see, namely the mind of another. Suppose a

woman is scheduled to have an operation on her right knee and her surgeon

tells her that when she wakes up she will feel a sharp pain in her knee.

When she wakes up, she does feel the pain the surgeon alluded to. He can

hear her groaning and see certain contortions on her face. But he cannot

feel what she is feeling. There is thus a sense in which he cannot know

what she knows. What he claims to know, he knows because of what others who

have undergone operations tell him they have experienced. But, unless he

has had a similar operation, he cannot know what it is that she feels.

Indeed, the situation is still more complicated; for, even if the doctor

has had such a surgical intervention, he cannot know that what he is

feeling after his operation is exactly the same sensation that the woman is

feeling. Because each person's sensation is private, the surgeon cannot

really know that what the woman is describing as a pain and what he is

describing as a pain are really the same thing. For all he knows, she could

be referring to a sensation that is wholly different from the one to which

he is alluding.

In short, though another person can perceive the physical manifestations

the woman exhibits, such as facial grimaces and various sorts of behaviour,

it seems that only she can have knowledge of the contents of her mind. If

this assessment of the situation is correct, it follows that it is

impossible for one person to know what is going on in another person's

mind. One can conjecture that a person is experiencing a certain sensation,

but one cannot, in a strict sense of the term, know it to be the case.

If this analysis is correct, one can conclude that each human being is

inevitably and even in principle cut off from having knowledge of the mind

of another. Most people, conditioned by the great advances of modern

technology, believe that in principle there is nothing in the world of fact

about which science cannot obtain knowledge. But the "other-minds problem"

suggests the contrary--namely, that there is a whole domain of private

human experience that is resistant to any sort of external inquiry. Thus,

one is faced with a profound puzzle, one of whose implications is that

there can never be a science of the human mind.


These two problems resemble each other in certain ways and differ in

others, but both have important implications for epistemology.

First, as the divergent perceptions about the stick indicate, things cannot

just be, as they appear to be. People believe that the stick, which looks

bent when it is in the water, is really straight, and they also believe

that the stick, which looks straight when it is out of the water, is really

straight. But, if the belief that the stick in water is really straight is

correct, then it follows that the perception human beings have when they

see the stick in water cannot be correct. That particular perception is

misleading with respect to the real shape of the stick. Hence, one has to

conclude that things are not always, as they appear to be.

It is possible to derive a similar conclusion with respect to the mind

of another. A person can exhibit all the signs of being in pain, but he may

not be. He may be pretending. On the basis of what can be observed, it

cannot be known with certitude that he is or that he is not in pain. The

way he appears to be may be misleading with respect to the way he actually

is. Once again vision can be misleading.

Both problems thus force one to distinguish between the way things

appear and the way they really are. This is the famous philosophical

distinction between appearance and reality. But, once that distinction is

drawn, profound difficulties arise about how to distinguish reality from

mere appearance. As will be shown, innumerable theories have been presented

by philosophers attempting to answer this question since time immemorial.

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