Today I am going to begin work on a series of articles on epistemology. Epistemology seeks to develop a general theory stating the conditions under which people have knowledge and rational beliefs. It is the study of knowledge. During this journey I will be relying on introductions to epistemology from two authors: Richard Feldman and his book Epistemology in the Foundations of Philosophy Series and Robert Audi’s second edition of Epistemology: A Contemporary Introduction (Routledge Contemporary Introductions to Philosophy).
There are several sources of knowledge. What we know about our immediate environment comes from perception and sensation. This is our awareness of external things and comes through sight, hearing and the other senses. Yet it does not account for our knowledge of our own internal states. For instance, you know you feel sleepy. This is a result of introspection. Other times we know something through reasoning or inference. For instance, when we know some facts and see that those facts support some other fact, we can come to know that additional fact. Scientific knowledge seems to arise from inferences from observations. We know some things because we can “see” they are true. We have the ability to think about things and discern certain simple truths. Additionally, memory is crucial in the knowledge of our past and in certain facts. A person’s testimony can also be a source of knowledge. Testimony is not limited to statements made on a witness stand. It includes what other people tell you, including what they tell you about what they know from their environment. The complete list looks like this:
- Rational insight
From these sources, epistemologists develop what is called The Standard View, which basically states that there are many sources of knowledge and they include those listed above. The subject matter of epistemology arises from The Standard View.
Obviously, for the christian, there is one primary source that are not included on this list. This is metaphysical knowledge or knowledge resulting from the interaction through religious practices and experiences.
The Standard View also holds that propositional knowledge is more fundamental than other types of knowledge. In epistemology in general, the kind of knowledge usually discussed is propositional knowledge, also known as “knowledge-that” as opposed to “knowledge-how.” For example: in mathematics, it is known that 2 + 2 = 4, but there is also knowing how to add two numbers. Many (but not all) philosophers therefore think there is an important distinction between “knowing that” and “knowing how”, with epistemology primarily interested in the former. A third type of knowing is “knowing of”, or knowledge by acquaintance also exists.
In Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy, Michael Polanyi articulates a case for the epistemological relevance of two forms of knowledge (knowledge-that and knowledge-how) using the example of the act of balance involved in riding a bicycle, he suggests that the theoretical knowledge of the physics involved in maintaining a state of balance cannot substitute for the practical knowledge of how to ride, and that it is important to understand how both are established and grounded.
Philosophers admit that propositional knowledge cannot explain everything. However, it does hold a special status.