How Have Western Views of Knowledge Changed over Time?

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How have Western views of knowledge changed over time?

Throughout history, cultures have held disparate views on the nature of knowledge. Epistemology, the branch of philosophy that focuses on basic questions such as: “What is knowledge? How do we know what we know?”, lies at the heart of these views. In Western culture, the answers to these basic questions have changed markedly over time. Throughout history, this evolution in philosophy has been inextricably linked to science and religion.

Much of Western thought has been heavily influenced by the philosophy of the Ancient Greeks. In particular, the epistemological views of the Ancient Greeks dominated Western thought for centuries. Of all the Greek philosophers, Plato was one of the most influential. In his most famous work The Republic, Plato used the Allegory of the Cave to describe the role of sensory perception in knowledge acquisition. In his analogy, Plato described a cave in which people were chained down in such a way that prevented them from looking anywhere but forward. Behind them was a fire and in front of them was a wall that reflected shadows from that fire. The prisoner’s captors manipulated these shadows to create forms and stories. The forms and stories that the prisoners saw were the only reality that they knew. Eventually the prisoners left the cave and found true reality outside. It was only then that the prisoners understood that what they had perceived until this moment was a false perception. The Allegory of the Cave served to illustrate Plato’s epistemological views. Today, we describe Plato’s philosophical views as rationalist. He argued against reliance on sensory experience because he believed that it failed to provide us with any guarantee that what we experience was, in fact, true. He believed that the information we get by relying on sensory experience is constantly changing and often unreliable. It can be evaluated only by appealing to higher principles that do not...
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