This weeks Module is on Epistemology. According to Runes, the scope of epistemology may be indicated by considering its relations to the allied disciplines; metaphysics, logic and psychology. Runes says:
Speculative philosophy is commonly considered to embrace metaphysics and epistemology as its two coordinate branches or if the term metaphysics be extended to embrace the whole of speculative philosophy, then epistemology and ontology become the two main subdivisions of metaphysics in the wide sense. Whichever usage is adopted, epistemology as the philosophical theory of knowledge is one of the two main branches of philosophy. The question of the relative priority of epistemology and metaphysics (or ontology) has occasioned considerable controversy: the dominant view fostered by Descartes, Locke and Kant is that epistemology is the prior philosophical science, the investigation of the possibility and limits of knowledge being a necessary and indispensable preliminary to any metaphysical speculations regarding the nature of ultimate reality. On the other hand, strongly metaphysical thinkers like Spinoza and Hegel, and more recently S. Alexander and A. N. Whitehead, have first attacked the metaphysical problems and adopted the view of knowledge consonant with their metaphysics. Between these two extremes is the view that epistemology and metaphysics are logically interdependent and that a metaphysically presuppositionless epistemology is as unattainable as an epistemologically presuppositionless metaphysics. Despite the fact that traditional logic embraced many topics which would now be considered epistemological, the demarcation between logic and epistemology is now fairly clear-cut: logic is the formal science of the principles governing valid reasoning; epistemology is the philosophical science of the nature of knowledge and truth. For example, though the decision as to whether a given process of reasoning is valid or not is a logical question, the inquiry into the nature of validity is epistemological.
In my own words, epistemology is simply, but not at all simple, the study of knowledge.
While studying epistemology, you determine the difference between what is knowledge and what is opinion. This module discusses the different on epistemology depending on if one is a rationalist or and empiricist. A rationalists view on epistemology is that knowledge is obtained from our thoughts and ideas. An example, in this module of a rationalist is Rene Descartes, who prefers ideas to the senses. Descartes say, “Cogito ergo sum.” This is the Latin translation of “I think therefore I am.” John Locke and David Hume are both empiricists who are discussed in this module. To me, Locke was a bit easier to understand than Hume. Locke’s theory was that we gain knowledge from the senses, which leads to ideas. In a way I agree with him, which probably explains why I find him the most interesting.
After I’ve been introduced to these three philosophers, here comes Immanuel Kent who agrees and disagrees with Descartes, Locke and Hume and claims that there are two types of knowledge. Kent says the two types of knowledge are a priori and a posteriori. According to the module, a priori refers to begin independent of sensory experience while a posteriori refers to being dependent upon specific information derived from sense perception.
This module content is important because it helps me to understand how I determine knowledge. I makes me think deeply about how I how I behave based on the way I believe I gain knowledge. I never actually thought about knowledge, I just believed it was all intuition. This module relates to Module #3 – Logic and Critical Thinking, Module #4 – Metaphysics I and Module #5 – Metaphysics II. It relates to Module #3 – Logic in that logic governs reasoning which goes hand in hand with knowledge. This topic also relates to Module #4 and 4 – Metaphysic I and II in that in a metaphysicist most likely presents their theory based on the way they believed knowledge is gained. For example, Spinoza is a rationalist so obviously he would metaphysicist who believes that the mind (idea) has a vital role is explaining the substance of the world.
Runes, D. D. (1942). Dictionary of Philosophy.