As epistemology is the study of knowledge, (literally from the Greek episteme meaning ‘knowledge’1), it is important that one take in the difficulties in defining knowledge itself before attempting to connect the idea to other areas. Unfortunately, this is no easy task and has had philosophers from Plato to Descartes to Russell scratching their heads for years. Thankfully, we do have a “standard” definition, adopted mostly as the best of many incomplete options. For this definition, we let p be a proposition and S be the subject attempting to gain knowledge about p. p can be considered knowledge if and only if:
- S believes p.
- p is true.
- S's belief in p is justified.
As you can see, this definition present knowledge as the cross-section of truth and belief - as the ownership of a truth via personal belief.
While this definition does provide a useful basis for thinking on the topic, it must be noted that many prominent minds have and still do beg to differ, not the least of which being Plato’s Socrates who posited that belief was dangerously unsound by nature and had no place in the search for knowledge (see Belief and Truth for further details). In addition, this raises the very problematic question of the existence of universal knowledge. Due to the sheer range of individual experiences, peoples’ beliefs are incredibly varied and therefore their resultant knowledge will be too. And this isn't even touching on the immediately worrisome prospect of proving p is true as required by criterion 2. How can we hope to prove something is true without knowledge that the scientific theories and equipment we use to prove it is true? Then that knowledge requires proof too, providing an issue rather recursive in nature that, like much in the field of epistemology, continues to undergo rigorous debate.
1. Douglas Harper (2011-15). Epistemology. [ONLINE] Available at: www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=epistemology. [Last Accessed 01/02/2014].
Paul Pardi (2011). What is Knowledge?. [ONLINE] Available at: www.philosophynews.com/post/2011/09/22/What-is-Knowledge.aspx. [Last Accessed 01/02/2014].