In college, I took quite a few
philosophy courses. While they were interesting, by the end of class I
usually had a headache and when the lack of sleep kicked in, I would
start to question if I actually existed. But one topic that surprisingly we
didn't cover (or at least I don't think we did...I may have just
forgotten) that someone asked me about is epistemology.
In short, epistemology is the area of philosophy that questions what knowledge is, how it is obtained and questions if a person can actually know anything.
There are three types of knowledge that are typically discussed and it's worth mentioning them before going any further. The knowledge that, knowledge how, and acquaintance-knowledge. For example, respectively, you can know that the grass is green, you know how to make bread and you know your friend.
How is that we know these things? One way is that a person holds a belief. A belief is something someone holds as truth despite it being independent of any fact. Hence, you can believe that 2 + 3 = 6 even though it is 5.
Typically, people want the knowledge they possess to be truth and not based on belief. Truth, is something that is based in reality or fact and is not classified as false. I'm going to discuss some of the arguments for what is truth but this list is not by any means complete.
would argue that if something is custom,
it is truth. A good example of this is moral truths; why something is
good or bad. Tradition, a similar argument to custom, says that if something has always
been done one way then it must be truth. Majority rule theorizes that if a majority of people believe something than it must be
truth. I think it is obvious that none of
these are very good definitions of truth. Widely held beliefs in
science are disproved quite often and different societies have very
different customs, traditions and opinions of what is truth. They cannot all be simultaneously truth.
has been used as an argument to say that if a belief is not tainted
by the passage of time it
is truth. Of course, we know that people hold beliefs for centuries
that later turn out to be false. An example would be that we
disproved that theory that the Earth is flat. However, there are people that still
believe that it is.... a good reason beliefs cannot be defined as truths.
revelation are all theories with subtle differences but have the same feel to them. One's emotions
can give them a false sense of truth. Just because you feel that your
race horse is the best doesn't make it so. I think many people would
argue that emotions are actually detrimental to truth. Basic
instincts tell us when
to eat, sleep and drink. So if we have the instinct that we are
hungry we believe is so and eat. While that might help us stay alive instinct certainly doesn't help you figure out how to get to work. A hunch
is a spontaneous believe of something that doesn't stem from any
actual fact. Intuition
is similar to a hunch but is a judgement someone makes without concern for
the facts. The major distinction between intuition
and revelation is that
revelations come from a known source... God. Sometimes one of
these do lead to truth but that can be attributed to coincidence
or someone not realizing the facts that actually lead to the truth. Overall, these theories have the same problem. They can define
individual truths but not universal truths.
Realism is a theory of truth
that states: if you sense something it must be truth. But there are
many things that we cannot see, hear, smell, taste or feel that
exist; we can only see a limited range of the electromagnetic
spectrum and there are
sound waves that exist that we cannot hear.
pragmatic criterion of truth
is the belief that if something works it must be true. While this
isn't always the case, we can say if something does not work then we
know it is not truth. So there is some merit there.
Lastly, correspondence is the idea that something is truth if the statement accurately describes the object it's referring to. The statement that the sphere is on top of the block is truth if the sphere is indeed on top of the block. I'd say it is the most widely accepted theory of truth, but there is still the need to prove that the statement itself is truth.
Someone might also know something by having some justification for it. A good example would be a person believes that touching a hot stove can result in a burn because in the past they were burned because of this action.
There are many theories of justification, much like those of truth. There are also other ideas on how we know something. Plus there are theories on if someone can know anything and how knowledge is obtained. But I think I'm going to stop here and we can address more of this in a later blog...