Reflection Essay on Epistemology
What is knowledge? How do we know what we know? Do we really know anything at all? These questions, as well as multiple others that arise when searching for the answers are what epistemology is all about. Various philosophers present their own positions in which they try to provide answers to these questions. From externalism to internalism, empiricism to rationalism, and even skepticism, we are exposed to a wide variety of ways that these thinkers use to find the key to truly objective thinking.
It can be said with little to no argument that knowledge implies truth. You can’t know something if it’s false; it just isn’t so. You can start by saying knowledge is true belief, but you need something more to prove your true belief. Philosophers call this something a warrant. Therefore we come to the conclusion that knowledge is warranted true belief. Now, this begs the question: what is warrant? This question leads us to a major division epistemological thinking; externalism and internalism. Internalists believe that a belief is warranted if it stands in the right sort of relation to other beliefs. They say that knowledge is justified true belief. Externalists believe that a belief is warranted if it stands in the right sort of relation to the world. They say that knowledge is true belief arising from a reliable process external to ourselves that connects us with the known (309). Every philosopher’s views fall into one of these two schools of thought.
The externalist approach is very dominant in Indian philosophy. The Nyaya philosophers practiced Externalist Realism. According to Nyaya philosophy, knowledge is true belief produced by a source of knowledge, or pramana. There are four sources of knowledge that the Nyaya Sutra, the earliest form of Nyaya work, characterizes. These are perception, inference, analogy, and testimony (310). There are guidelines to determine that our source of knowledge we use to justify a belief is genuine. A perception must be veridical, must not be mediated by language, and must arise from a direct sensory relationship with the object known (310-311). There are three types of inference; inferring the effect from the cause, inferring the cause from the effect, and inferring a general rule from its instances (311). For example, you see someone light a scented candle, so you infer the room will smell good. If the room smells good, you infer that a scented candle was lighted. From this, you infer that in general, when scented candles are lighted it makes the room smell good. We make inferences from things that we perceive, however, inference does not reduce to perception since it produces knowledge about things we do not immediately perceive (311). Analogy is restricted to the acquisition of vocabulary only because presumably one would learn of new objects through direct perception, reliable inference, or trustworthy testimony (notes class #4 9/4/13). We learn most of what we know from the testimony of others (what they say and write). Their telling us is the cause of us knowing it; we are made to know things by what other people say (311). A source of knowledge justifies both its result and itself; it is self-revealing like a self-illumining lamp. This is how they make a foundation for other knowledge to be justified by.
Nagarjuna, a skeptic, rejects projects of epistemology. He believes in the Buddhist message of interdependent origination, which states that everything is interconnected, and emptiness, which states that everything is “without a reality of its own (314).” He rejects the idea of “knowledge sources,” because there is no source for the identification of those sources. If you look for one, then what is the source for that source? Nagarjuna calls this endless search for sources an infinite regress. In response to the argument of the sources being self-proving; he argues that something to be proved cannot be a prover. (316-317) For example, if a...
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