Saturday, December 27, 2008

On Epistemology

I am prepared to admit with a sense of pride that I am a lover of knowledge. However like all those with a similar affection I am mindful of ensuring that what I accept as real knowledge is in fact exactly that. Philosophy has realized this problem from the early days of its Athenian youth
The earlier Milesians had more a rudimentary understanding of epistemology and appeared to be more concerned with the nature of things - in a sense they were the first theoretical physicists.

A sceptic would have one reject all that there is and build upwards from a non-reducible point. For Descartes this was the working of his own mind, for others its the basic axioms of mathematics and logic while a third group puts faith (and indeed it is a faith) on the competency of sense. Many object to the three approaches altogether preferring an external metaphysical explanation that transcends both rationality and experience. However such a line of thought seems anathema to the Western Philosophical tradition that sees an explanations within itself.

In my thinking on this topic I have noticed that many thinkers are much better at destroying structures that have been built than creating sturdier constructs the next time round. In fact our philosophical tradition is inherently critical in a way that screams 'destruction'. Its no wonder that after 2000 plus years of bashing and building we are no further ahead in our overall understanding of some of the big questions in epistemology than we were at the times of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Yes, we have terminology and lots of it but are we much better for that?

This does not mean that all avenues of human intellectual pursuit have been so convoluted. Scientific progress is real as have been advances in other areas of philosophy (particularly ethics and politics) but I am still not convinced that epistemology itself has even progressed forward.

Perhaps it can be argued that epistemology is one of those subject areas that abhors an absolutist system of measurement. In fact it can be further articulated that its strength lies in cementing relationships between other disciplines, a process that indeed defies analysis based on looking at the field of study as a stand alone entity. This is indeed a possibility which I will investigate further.
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