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Related to epistemology: axiology, metaphysics, positivism


(ĭpĭs'təmŏl`əjē) [Gr.,=knowledge or science], the branch of philosophy that is directed toward theories of the sources, nature, and limits of knowledge. Since the 17th cent. epistemology has been one of the fundamental themes of philosophers, who were necessarily obliged to coordinate the theory of knowledge with developing scientific thought. Réné DescartesDescartes, René
, Lat. Renatus Cartesius, 1596–1650, French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist, b. La Haye. Descartes' methodology was a major influence in the transition from medieval science and philosophy to the modern era.
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 and other philosophers (e.g., Baruch Spinoza, G. W. Leibniz, and Blaise Pascal) sought to retain the belief in the existence of innate (a priori) ideas together with an acceptance of the values of data and ideas derived from experience (a posteriori). This position was basically that of rationalismrationalism
[Lat.,=belonging to reason], in philosophy, a theory that holds that reason alone, unaided by experience, can arrive at basic truth regarding the world. Associated with rationalism is the doctrine of innate ideas and the method of logically deducing truths about the
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. Opposed to it later was empiricismempiricism
[Gr.,=experience], philosophical doctrine that all knowledge is derived from experience. For most empiricists, experience includes inner experience—reflection upon the mind and its operations—as well as sense perception.
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, notably as expounded by John Locke, David Hume, and John Stuart Mill, which denied the existence of innate ideas altogether. The impressive critical philosophy of Immanuel KantKant, Immanuel
, 1724–1804, German metaphysician, one of the greatest figures in philosophy, b. Königsberg (now Kaliningrad, Russia). Early Life and Works
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 had immense effects in an attempt to combine the two views. In later theories the split was reflected in idealism and materialism. The causal theory of knowledge, advanced by Alfred North WhiteheadWhitehead, Alfred North,
1861–1947, English mathematician and philosopher, grad. Trinity College, Cambridge, 1884. There he was a lecturer in mathematics until 1911. At the Univ.
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 and others, stressed the role of the nervous system as intermediary between an object and the perception of it. The methods of perceiving, obtaining, and validating data derived from sense experience has been central to pragmatismpragmatism
, method of philosophy in which the truth of a proposition is measured by its correspondence with experimental results and by its practical outcome. Thought is considered as simply an instrument for supporting the life aims of the human organism and has no real
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, with the teachings of C. S. Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. Sir Karl PopperPopper, Sir Karl Raimund,
1902–94, Anglo-Austrian philosopher, b. Vienna. He became familiar with the Vienna circle of logical positivists (see logical positivism) while a student at the Univ. of Vienna (Ph.D., 1928). He taught at Canterbury Univ.
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 developed the view that scientific knowledge rests on hypotheses that, while they cannot be positively verified, can be proved false and have withstood repeated attempts to show that they are. Philosophers in the 20th cent. criticized and revised the traditional view that knowledge is justified true belief. A springboard for their research was the thesis that all knowledge is theory-laden.


See A. D. Woozley, Theory of Knowledge (1949, repr. 1966); J. Dancy, Introduction to Contemporary Epistemology (1985); A. J. Ayer, The Problem of Knowledge (1956, repr. 1988).

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(from the Greek episteme, knowledge) the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory (or theories) of knowledge, which seeks to inform us how we can know the world. Epistemology shares with ONTOLOGY, which is concerned to establish the kinds of things which exist, the claim to be the bedrock of all philosophical thinking and all knowledge.

An important division in epistemology is that between EMPIRICISM and RATIONALISM or IDEALISM. Whilst empiricists make our direct experience of the world the basis of all knowledge, rationalists and idealists argue that our knowledge of the world is governed by fixed and a priori concepts or CATEGORIES (e.g. conceptions of'S ubstance’, ‘causality’) which structure our every thought and argument and therefore our experience or perception of reality (see also KANT).

In most forms of epistemology, the pure thought of the individual thinking ‘ego’, the philosopher, has been taken as providing the route to the ultimate understanding of knowledge and the bedrock on which the epistemological theory advanced is based (see DESCARTES). Recently, however, more sociological forms of epistemology have emerged which have sought to ‘decentre’ the role played by the traditional individual 'S ubject’ in philosophy (see SUBJECT AND OBJECT, SUBJECT, STRUCTURALISM, DECONSTRUCTION), emphasizing instead the way in which knowledge is shaped by social structure, FORMS OF LIFE, etc. Thus the way is now open for much of the ground previously occupied by philosophy to be taken over by sociological accounts of knowledge and of science (see SOCIOLOGY OF KNOWLEDGE, SOCIOLOGY OF SCIENCE, KUHN, FEYERABEND).

Since any theory of knowledge must of necessity refer also to itself, it would be wrong to suggest that sociological theories of knowledge can any more avoid the element of circularity that must attend any theory of knowledge than could traditional philosophy. What such a sociological theory can however achieve is to dispense with the tendency to dogmatic closure in epistemological thinking of a kind which so often have been apparent in more traditional theories, with their claims to have reached bedrock. Once knowledge, including scientific knowledge, is seen clearly as a socially constructed phenomenon, the expectation of any final doctrines about the nature of knowledge can be seen as misplaced. See also SCIENCE.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000


the theory of knowledge, esp the critical study of its validity, methods, and scope
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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The systems epistemology takes the position of recognizing and understanding the available perspectives from the 'strategic' vantage point so as to appreciate the conflicting, contradictory points of reference.
In his brief introduction, Fuller recommends that these lay readers start by reading certain entries (first and foremost the one on "Social Epistemology") and then "be free to navigate through the book." Lay readers will miss a map for that navigation, which a more substantial introduction could have provided, in which Fuller would make his intellectual biases explicit and summarize his version of social epistemology regarding the major issues covered in the book.
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On this basis, DeNicola argues in chapter 8 for recognition of new epistemic virtues, such as discretion, caution, and keeping one's counsel, as well as correlative vices, such as blabbing, nosiness, and propensity to offer "too much information." DeNicola might have made it clearer why these virtues and vices should be regarded as of epistemic rather than moral import, but the book is generally at its best when relating meditations on ignorance to current scholarship in virtue epistemology. Among the more philosophically engaging parts of the book is chapter 8's discussion of Julia Driver's provocative position on modesty and ignorance.
In Cartesian epistemology, Sosa finds a virtue-theoretic account, one that he extends beyond the Cartesian context.
The assault on African epistemology resulted naturally in the destruction of African traditional religion which is based on it [iii], and the introduction of scholastic Christianity, a perception of Christian religion which resulted also from the same supremacist process of the denial of the solar paradigm.
Each of these branches has its own bounded epistemology, which only adds to the confusion.
Falola said that the course must discuss areas including; the use of mythology in creating and bolstering an ideology and epistemology of a people, concepts of indigenous governance in various societies (af?baj?, ijoye, ade, it?A', etc., among the Yoruba, for example) must first be taught and understood as first, step to understanding the notion of ?baship, students must be given a thorough history of how sacred kingship has been perceived and how it has evolved over time, instructors must ensure that all theories on the significance of and purposes for sacred kingship are covered, there must be an emphasis on the meaning of symbolism in culture to mention a few.