Epistemology: Philosophy of Knowledge

Introduction

Philosophies are schools of thought, brought up by people who wish to go into the depth of things and analyze with their own outlook. They are not influenced by other’s thoughts, but come out with a new and significant expression pertaining to a certain area considered for study.

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All the activities that a human carries out are based on the knowledge one possesses. Knowledge can be attained from various sources, whether it is from our surroundings, or from a specific source, such as a ‘knowledge provider’, which we may also call a ‘teacher’. The source of the knowledge does not matter as much as knowledge itself, its authenticity, and its value. We will look into the depth of what knowledge is, and what are the ways of optimum attainment of knowledge.

Philosophy of Knowledge

Knowledge in general terms, means an acquaintance with certain things, and of ‘knowing’ something about other things; it is basically information that is obtained and stored in the brain. It is the belief of a person, regarding things or happenings surrounding him (Potter, V., 1994).

In the past, there have been numerous prominent educationists who have brought about their viewpoints on what knowledge is, and how it is promulgated into one’s life. I opine, that knowledge is the information we ‘wish’ to acquire, related to the lives we are living. We obtain information from other sources, and call it our own knowledge, after developing belief in it. The faith that we have in that piece of information and its source, are essential factors that affect the acceptance of that fact. We fail to realize the truth behind all scenarios of life, and are all entrapped in believing what we hear from others. The second philosophical factor I would like to put forth is that knowledge depends on the person’s capacity and interest for learning. Giving or taking knowledge is not executed forcefully.

Knowledge that is attained throughout our life spans is based on what other people have taught us, in accordance with their thinking. We have to adhere to what we have obtained from reading, knowing, and generally accepting the viewpoints of our elders, who have left us memories of how they thought. But is there evidence and justification for the information that has been till now, been provided to us? The judges are us human beings ourselves, and we are the ones who state whether a thing is good, or bad, or pass various comments regarding scenarios that are encountered.

The philosophy of knowledge is a specific field of study in itself, like all other philosophies. Basically a philosophy is what the general thinking of a certain aspect or subject is. It is the view of another person or persons, about science, knowledge, happiness, and the like. All the areas of human existence contain one philosophy or the other, and since each person thinks differently, the philosophies put forth by each person also differs, except in some cases, where opinions stand to be more or less the same. When a philosophy has been proposed and set forth, it is justified with reasoning and examples that may relate to real life incidents may also be provided, for elaborate reasoning of elements.

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The term ‘epistemology’ refers to the philosophy of knowledge that great thinkers, philosophers, or the ordinary man, have given. Epistemology deals with the origin and structure of human knowledge, and all the associated phenomena, which include perception, thinking, and organization of thoughts while understanding (Kurtus, R., 2002).

Knowledge and its Attainment

Knowledge is what we know. Knowledge is what we have understood, according to our brain’s capacity. The exact amount of knowledge one possesses is not transferable. Knowledge is gathered and accumulated in the brain cells with each passing day, and with time, the amount of knowledge a person has, differs, and increases through various means.

Attaining knowledge can be through three varying methods, namely, empiricism, logical positivism and apriorism. Empiricism states that knowledge is based on one’s experiences. Logical positivism also signifies the importance of experience-based knowledge, but additionally states that everything is measurable, and everything holds importance if measurable. Apriorism is the school of thought that states that knowledge is innate, and is based on logic, and relations of objects to one another (Kurtus, R., 2002).

Knowledge is not an end in itself. It is an ongoing process, and its attainment is also a lifelong process. There is no age limit for gaining knowledge, nor is there a set criterion for distribution of knowledge.

Belief, Truth and Justification

According to the philosophy proposed by me, knowledge is our wishful gain of information. This is also based on past experiences, and our preferences for certain things. What is essential is to know whether what we believe about a certain thing is true and justified or not. If an amount of information is gained, how we judge for its authentication will only be based on our personal belief, and how we ourselves wish to perceive that information. For every piece of information gained, proper justification is required, for its acceptance.

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Different Theories of Knowledge

The various theories of knowledge given by scholars over centuries ago have different aspects. Here are a number of theories laid by some eminent philosophers, which are generally accepted and followed by students even today. They are an important part of present day curriculum, each holding its specific eminence in modern day philosophy.

  • Theory of Plato 

Plato’s theory of knowledge stressed on the perception of the sense, having two levels, either the impression of something, or its genuineness. He stated that our body organs are able to sense things, which leads to sensory knowledge. The reasoning of these sensory perceptions, including the curiosity regarding these objects being dealt with, lead to some non-sensory points. For example, if one wonders the “what’s, how’s and when’s” of objects it becomes a non-sensory aspect.

Next, he stated that true knowledge is based on the elements which are used to differentiate between, and judge the objects of sense perception. These elements have been called ‘forms’, and are natural, mathematical, or transcendental norms like justice and beauty, along with truth.

Theoretical knowledge consists of two levels, which include the proper discipline involved in knowing the theory, including definitions, and secondly, direct awareness of the forms (Theories of Knowledge, 1998).

  • Theory of Aristotle 

Aristotle’s theory of knowledge is based on the perception of physical objects. He stated that natural kinds do not exist without some form of link to the physical objects. If they do exist separately, it is only in those minds who have abstracted them as such. If sense perception is under consideration, it is necessary to look into the proper reasoning of things with scientific justifications, sense perception itself is not sufficient to be termed as ‘knowledge’.

The forms are always necessary aspects of physical things, matter and structure of objects is countable, and the mind cannot accept these things, but can only take out abstracts from sense perception. The full knowledge of things needs a systematic order and detailed explanation of whatever is under consideration, and the justifications regarding specific elements in relation to the information that is thought to be true to everyone, is crucial.

  • Theory of Descartes 

Descartes theory of knowledge is in relation to doubt. He states that only those things which cannot be doubted in this world are a part of knowledge. This is the distinctive feature of Descartes’ theory that the aforementioned philosophers did not take undoubtability as a prerequisite for knowledge. He doubted God, as there was no confirmation of God’s existence, when he came about with his theory. But later after one of his meditating sessions, he believed that there is an external force that is causing him to think the way he is thinking. Thus his belief in God arose again, pertaining to his theory of knowledge.

Descartes was of the opinion that nothing should be believed until there is full certainty of it. But he had a positive outlook on the aspect of ‘thinking’, and considered himself as an authentic means of thinking. For this belief, the famous notion “I think, therefore I am” came into existence.

  • Theory of Nonaka, Konno and Toyama 

An opposing thought was brought up by Nonaka, Konno and Toyama. They did not accept the knowledge philosophy to base on justified beliefs. Rather, they stated that this was an inhuman approach to creating philosophies. They said that knowledge is the justification of personal beliefs towards the truth, and towards facts, not just relying on one’s own beliefs (Nonaka & Nishiguchi 2001).

Comparison of Personal Philosophy with Other Philosophers

My personal philosophy states that knowledge is acquired by choice to quite an extent. If a person is unwilling to gain knowledge, or attain information that may increase his knowledge, he cannot be forced to do so. It is one’s perception, as to how authentic or not some piece of information is to him, and how truly he believes in whatever is surrounding him.

The theory I have come up with does not match any of the theories aforementioned. My theory is distinctive because there is no justification needed in it, as in the theories of the philosophers. Aristotle looked for proper reasoning of things, and gave value to physical objects, whereas in my theory there is no mention of any physical or natural or unnatural objects. In my theory, it is all about perception, and belief, but no justifications needed. Plato’s theory spoke of sensory perceptions and their links to objects and then their reasoning. However, my theory may somewhat match that of Nonaka, Konno and Toyama, as they believed in the ‘truth’ being significant, rather than ‘beliefs’. I state that a person believes whatever is true and significant to him, and that becomes his knowledge. Hence, there is a similarity between our theories.

My theory is justified because this is how the world is in reality. People do not wish to accept things they do not like, and contradict those things which go against their will. That is how one gains or loses information. If a person is to accept only the favorable things in life, he is knowledgeable only to that extent.

Personal Attainment and Utilization of Knowledge

Knowledge in my view is a very personal thing, and differs substantially from one person to the other. Personally, the knowledge I have gained till date is surely what I believe in, and what I have believed in so far, with the experiences of life and everyday happenings. I have not accepted anything which I do not believe in, and that keeps my level of knowledge sparse. Nevertheless, I am a staunch believer of the fact that ‘knowledge is nothing without application’, and whatever knowledge I have acquired till now has to be put into action in whatever I am doing.

If I fail to put my thoughts and whatever I have gained as ‘knowledge’ into what I am practically doing, I would feel like a hypocrite, who is thinking differently, and performing in another way. In respect of my thoughts and viewpoint, I would say that more attention should be paid to my practical life now, and make certain that my practical and theoretical lives are coherent with one another.

For my youngsters, and all the upcoming youth, I would recommend the same, to hold on to the thoughts and knowledge once attained, and then progress in life accordingly, never to look back and never to rely on what other people are thinking. It is extremely essential for each individual to have his or her own school of thought, and work to maintain it.

Conclusion

It can be seen that each person has his or her own thoughts which have to be respected, and at times, accepted. If one religiously follows one’s own philosophy, as long as it is right, and not harming anyone, the world would become a place full of diverse ideas coming into implementation, and daily happenings would be so full of variety.

References

  1. Moser, P. & Nat, A. Human Knowledge: Classical and Contemporary Approaches 2003. 
  2. Nonaka, I., & Nishiguchi, T. (Eds.). (2001). Knowledge emergence: Social, technical, and evolutionary dimensions of knowledge creation.
  3. On Understanding
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