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Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that deals with knowledge. It studies the nature of knowledge and the extent of its application, as well as how it is acquired, disseminated and, applied. Also, it tries to show the difference between true and false knowledge. On the other hand, knowledge is defined as the awareness and understanding of a phenomenon, a situation, or an event. It requires belief, truth, and justification. For an aspect to be considered as knowledge, it has to have some evidence to back it up. This theory is referred to as evidentialism. Another theory, referred to as reliabilism, requires knowledge from reliable sources or processes. From the earlier definitions of knowledge postulated by the philosophers, epistemology can be divided into two main branches. They include rationalism and empiricism. Rationalism refers to the outcome or result of viewing and addressing knowledge as a product of rational thinking and interpretation. On the other hand, empiricism refers to the perception of knowledge as an aspect of the intellectual being, the sensory aspect.
Under empiricism, knowledge is considered to be based on the ability of the sensory organs to perceive, interpret, and draw conclusions on the surrounding objects and ideas. The key organ involved in this process is the brain or the mind. Through constant and continuous interaction of a person and his/her environment, he/she develops a close association with the surrounding, and soon finds the perception of the routine. The mind analyses and interpretations of such experiences give rise to reflections of the subjects' perceptions. This postulation is commonly referred to as the reflection-correspondence theory. It asserts that knowledge has no predetermined existence and that it comes due to repetitive interaction with the external environment. The definitions of knowledge and epistemology underwent variations and incorporations over time.
Later, a new division of epistemology called pragmatic epistemology emerged. This branch has commonly been associated with the current scientific and technological advancements and various cognitive functions including the intellectual aspect of the brain. In this context, knowledge was presumed to be a cast of findings that enabled the development of solutions to problems and answers to questions regarding the environment. This branch of epistemology opines that in the event of problem-solving, the use of a particular model is necessary to enable the approximate values to be reached. It acknowledges the fact that no single model can be accurate enough to give desired and reliable values. Therefore, it advocates for the corroboration and blending of various models to give near-accurate results. Alternatively, a model that gives approximate values can be employed at the expense of the rest that does not exhibit as much efficiency. In this light, pragmatic epistemology bases its argument on a trial and error basis. However, there is an alternative perception of constructivism. This approach depicts knowledge as made out of simple elements to come up with an understandable and perceivable model.
Social epistemology is further divided into individual knowledge and social knowledge. In individual knowledge, an individual reaches a comprehension by collecting knowledge from various sources and constituting his/her own summarized understanding of the subject under study. Social knowledge, on the other hand, takes into consideration a body of knowledge from various sources and uses it as a compromise to get the final interpretation. The acceptance of knowledge as true stems from this branch since for knowledge to be considered factual, it has to be proven and accepted by most people.
Another approach to knowledge, memetics, postulates that knowledge can be disseminated and therefore, can be transmitted or spread from one person to another. Thus, in the event of the death or incapacitation of the holder of such knowledge, the knowledge does not depart with him/her.
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Studying epistemology, epistemologists emphasize several factors. They emphasize the definition of knowledge and its characteristics. For instance, epistemologists seek to find out, when it is said that someone knows or does not know something, whether someone is knowledgeable or not knowledgeable. Also, they seek to find out the criteria used to base a finding, a phenomenon, or a given subject matter as worthy of the reference knowledge or not. Besides, epistemologists question the extent and boundaries of knowledge. After finding a definition of knowledge, the next task becomes to find out how much a person can know at a time, and how many aspects, which people are not yet averse to, there are. Also, the search for the sources of the various forms of knowledge comes into play. Epistemologists make it a point of finding out the basis of given postulated information, whether it is from perception, from experience, from reasoning, and the like.
Epistemology and culture go hand in hand in many aspects. The two have a significant bearing on the way people within a society think and reason. It has been said that knowledge is power. However, in the presence of culture, knowledge becomes not only a source of power but also a way of expression. The interaction of philosophy and epistemology in particular with culture gives rise to the development of ideas. Ideas undergo procession in the cognitive parts of the brain. In turn, culture as the way of life is incorporated within the idea to culminate into a thought. For instance, when an individual who hails from a community in which polygamy is accepted and tolerated is exposed to the theoretical aspect of marriage, the resultant effect is the culmination of the idea in his/her mind. The idea lodged in the person due to the culture becomes a possibility, a thought that can be conceptualized into an action
There is an array of cultural factors that triggered the inception of epistemology as a field of philosophy. The need to understand the basis of human life and human existence was key to this inception. Further, several arising questions on the social setting, such as the formulation of laws to govern the people's existence and explanation of various phenomena, catapulted the rise of epistemology.