How Can We Know Something?
Epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief and how it is acquired, either before sensory experience (a priori) or only after sensory experience (a posteriori). This section of our overall worldview determines how we perceive and process information and differentiate between truth and falsehood. Are some beliefs properly basic e.g. the knowledge of God? Or are beliefs constructed from a web of many other beliefs? Epistemology seeks to answer this question.
Select each of the terms in the circles below to reveal in the large center circle, how each of the following epistemological worldviews determine how we can know something:
Knowledge is acquired via sensory perception via direct observation
Knowledge can be acquired by both intuition and deductive reasoning. Reality has a “rational” structure and it can be “known” by logical principles.
Knowledge is just our own perception of it according to our experience as a “veil of perception” prevents first-hand knowledge of the actual existing world.
Knowledge is my view constructed of my own perception & social experience apart from any “objective” understanding
This is a view which could be
labeled as a combination of both
innatism and rationalism – It states that we are born with some knowledge, acquire some by social experience, deductive reason, and revelation from the Creator of the Universe.
Posits that one can know divine truth by way of its transcending the natural world and all physical existence and reaching my mind. The transcendentalist believes they don’t need organized religion or intellectualism.
Dualism vs Monism
Dualism, two realities
– body (material) and mind
(soul, spirit, immaterial),
vs Monism, one reality – body only (naturalism). Problematic when a psychologist is a monist and prescribes medication
for a mind issue when it is
only a "body" issue.
How Can You Justify A Belief In Something?
Select each of the terms in the circles below to reveal in the large center circle, how, using each of the following epistemological worldviews, we can justify a belief in something:
Only by sensory experience and perception. “Seeing is believing!”
We can justify a belief by way of deductive reasoning and logic.
There is no “truth” per se so beliefs can only justified to ourselves and by ourselves as it is our own internal experiences and perceptions that lead to belief
Three Biblical methods
by which beliefs are justified:
- General Revelation - this is the revelation of the truth of the existence and glory of the one and only true God and Creator (Rom 1:20)
- Conscience - knowledge of right & wrong; good & evil
- Specific Revelation: The Scriptures/Word of God
We cant justify a belief as everything outside of ourselves is illusory
Judicial evidence: eye witnesses, evidence (archaeology), testimony etc
What is Knowledge
- A Priori – non empirical – knowledge can be acquired by reason “prior” to experience
- A Posteriori – empirical – knowledge is only possible (posterior) as a part of certain sensory experience in addition to reason. i.e. geographical location.
- Belief – We can’t say, “I know that a thing is true – but I don’t believe it” although it may be a phraseology in use within the Western vernacular it is a nonsensical statement. Our knowledge of truth and our belief are inextricably tied to one another.
- Justification – reasonable belief as opposed to irrational belief based on random chance
What is Truth
- “What is truth?” – this was the question asked of Jesus by Pontius Pilate. Aristotle attempted to define truth as, “To say of something which is that it is, or of something which is not that it is not, is true.”
- Untruth: Aristotle defines falsehood/untruth as the following: “To say of something which is that it is not, or to say of something which is not that it is, is false.”
- Relative truth – This concept is embraced/developed via the constructive methodology: after sensory perception and experience (a posteriori);
- This is a truth as it exists within a person to that person but not necessarily in the external world as it truly is. e.g. “It is cold in here” or “That clown is scary!”
- Absolute truth – prior to sensory perception and experience (a priori) or a priori + a posteriori – this is a truth as it exists within the external world around us. e.g. “What goes up must come down due to the law of gravity” or “Cats give birth to cats”
Common Epistemological World Views
In contrast to empiricism, rationalism holds that reason provides the best (or only) path to truth. As reason is separate from sense and faculty, which empiricism requires, rationalism is considered a contrast belief to empiricism. Famous rationalists are Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz.
As opposed to “rationalism”, empiricism dictates that all knowledge is derived from experience and not from reason. This theory of epistemology relies heavily on sense experience and when pressed, most empiricists have to admit that they don’t entirely live their lives by empiricism and in fact no one can.
- A person inclined to question or doubt all accepted opinions.
- Philosophy an ancient or modern philosopher who denies the possibility of knowledge, or even rational belief, in some sphere.
- The doctrine that holds that true knowledge is not possible
There are primarily two types of skeptic, the “hard” skeptic who claims that objective or absolute truth cannot be obtained whereas the “soft” skeptic might claim that it is impossible to say whether objective or absolute truth can or cannot be known. Both positions are self-refuting in that the skeptic has to claim (and cling to) objective/absolute truth in order to deny its existence or its ability to be obtained!
“Nothing proceeds from itself. Nothing is given” – Gaston Bachelard
A fairly recent view of epistemology which contends that knowledge is “constructed” by way of human perception and social experience along with external convention. It is this view that is embraced when positing “subjective” truth in contrast to “objective” truth. Constructivism holds that there is no one single superior methodology in that there may be equally efficient methodologies held by someone with a different societal or experiential “construct”. In some veins of constructivist thought, change can only occur in a person’s life if they engage in experiences outside their world view. In a sociological sense the constructivist might claim that those things which appear “obvious” and “natural” to a person are nothing more than manifestations, invention, and influences of that individual’s culture.
Materialism (sometimes referred to as physicalism) is the epistemological theory that physical matter is the only reality and that psychological states such as emotions, reason, thought, and desire will eventually be explained as physical functions. Some strict materialists might cling to the notion that reality is only comprised of those entities or particles discovered by physicists.
An epistemic view that a belief can be justified if based on a basic or foundational belief or set of beliefs which needs no justification as they are a foundational belief which is of a different sort of belief than a non-foundational one. Only non-foundational beliefs require being justified even if they are a “chain of beliefs” so long as they are supported by a foundational belief. Those that adhere to and propagate this epistemology claim that some basic propositions must exist (i.e. Reformed Theology’s argument for the existence of God). Opponents claim that it falls into “Agrippa’s Trilemma” of either becoming an infinite regress, circular reasoning, or a dogmatic stopping point which are all logical fallacies.
Postmodernism / Relativism
A belief system that stretches across epistemology, ethics/morality, and religion which holds to the idea that absolutes do not exist in the realms of knowledge, morality, & truth but rather exist only in direct relation to the culture, history, and society in which they are encountered. Critics point out that the flaw of this belief system is that it requires “absolute” knowledge and truth to claim there is “no absolute” truth or knowledge.
“The meaning of a proposition is its method of verification”
This epistemic view holds that all propositions are cognitively meaningful either by definitional analysis or verifiable by the senses. If a thing appears to be untrue/false by definition (falsifiable) and is itself not verifiable by sensory experience it is false. This approach to ‘meaning’ has been used in an effort to discount philosophy of religion and metaphysics. Both Metaphysicians and theologians have pointed out that the problem with this epistemology is that verificationism renders itself false by its own criterion. To which proponents of this position allowed for a “weak sense” of verifiability in which a proposition can be rendered verifiable if sensory experience could cause that proposition to be “probable”. This weakening of a flawed position then opened the door for both metaphysics and religion to be verifiable.
Moral truths or external objects exist independently of the individual mind or perception and that which can’t be “demonstrated” apart from one’s perception of it, cannot be classified as “provably real”. The primary founder of this epistemology was Ayn Rand who was influenced greatly by Aristotle. In order to be an objectivist one must endeavor to be emotionless, neutral, detached and avoiding of presuppositionalism in their thinking.
A somewhat obscure and simple system of belief that by its very simplicity affects nearly every category of one’s world view that adheres to it. Solipsism is simply the belief that nothing can be known outside of one’s self. In fact nothing can be known to even exist outside of one’s self. Its as if the individual wanders around in their own tiny world of reality and all their surroundings are just a dream! Because of its odd simplicity I have placed it in a number of categories. In this case, with regards to religion, it is similar to the hard agnostic view that knowledge of God cannot be known, obviously because he would exist outside of one’s self.
This view rejects objective moral values and structures. It has been referred to as epistemic “nothingness”. Ambivalent transcendentalist thinker Friedrich Nietzche described nihilism as a “fate that haunts Western civilization. The second definition of nihilism in this case is a sub-category of epistemology in the sense that it asserts that nothing in the world has a real existence. Christian Science holds a nihilistic view with regards to sin, sickness, and pain. They assert that these things do not exist but are a figment of the imagination. It is for this reason that traditional medical aid (doctors) are rejected. c.f. Church of Scientology.
A step-sister of empiricism, this view holds that knowledge can be acquired only through direct observation and experimentation rather than through metaphysics and theology. This group tends to be skeptical of anything which cannot be directly observed.
A worldview which stresses that human existence is the sum of the actions that one takes. It can be either atheistic (normative) or religious (rare) and places an emphasis on the freedom and precariousness of the human situation. Famous existentialists are Friedrich Nietzche and Soren Kierkergard.
This view believes that the highesdt (and only) knowledge that exists is that which is derived from science – particularly natural science. This view utterly rejects the idea that knowledge can be derived from moral, religious or aesthetic experiences. It should be noted that those that claim this epistemology usually do not live consistently according to scientism. It is utterly impossible to have informed preference or even to claim to “love” or “hate” a particular thing when these emotional responses cannot come from the sciences.
Various philosophical worldviews will always lead the inquisitor to the same questions:
- How did we get here?
- Why am I here?
- What is my future, in life and after death?
It is for these questions that we have created this site that visitors may learn of the Biblical worldview which is the most correct and fully answers the three questions above.
Select the graphic below to be taken to a page to learn what the Biblical worldview is:
Take a look at the other systems of belief that comprise your world view:
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