ICEF, GROUP 3,
ENGLISH GROUP 1.
ESSAY IN PHILOSOPHY
EPISTEMOLOGY AND METHODOLOGY: MAIN TRENDS AND ENDS.
Международный Институт Экономики и Финансов, 1 курс,
Высшая школа экономики.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Epistemology as a discipline
TWO EPISTEMOLOGICAL PROBLEMS
Some Mental Activities Common to All Methods.
Observation and Experiment.
Analysis and Synthesis.
Imagination, Supposition and Idealisation.
Comparison and Analogy.
Inductive and deductive methods.
The Deductive-inductive Method.
RELATION OF EPISTEMOLOGY TO OTHER BRANCHES OF PHILOSOPHY
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 method.
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:
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.
TWO EPISTEMOLOGICAL PROBLEMS
"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?