Epistemology can be difficult to understand and maybe even harder to say. The short answer is that epistemology is the theory of knowledge. Perhaps that is too short of an answer, allow me expand. Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with questions concerning the nature, scope, and sources of knowledge. Even these concepts can be foreign to the common public. The nature of knowledge is basically the qualities that constitute knowledge. One would find this answer by asking "What is knowledge?" The scope of knowledge sets the limits on what is knowledge and is a belief, hypothesis, or guess. A person must prove knowledge. Suppose I generated a completely random number and I asked you what number I was thinking of. If you stated the correct number, does that mean you knew what I was thinking? The source of knowledge covers how we attain our knowledge. Now that we have established a basic understanding of epistemology, we can cover a few of the major schools of thought.
When you think about a persons reasoning process, some people divide a persons thoughts into rational and irrational. If you are one of these people, you would use a deductive method of reasoning. You would also be considered a rationalist. As a rationalist, you believe that you can know things for certain even if you have never experienced it yourself. If you wanted to know which object would hit the ground first, when given two objects with different masses, you could take what you know about physics and figure it out without ever having to actually perform the experiment.
There is another group that uses deductive reasoning but argue "all ideas trace ultimately back to experiences, such as perceptions and emotions."(IEP, par. 2) These are the empiricists. These individuals claimed that if we didn't have any experiences, we would have nothing to base our ideas off of. Taking a look back at the example above, you can see that we must know something about gravity. Our ideas on...
W.V.O. Quine. Epistemology. 23 Mar 2004
The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Continental Rationalism. 23 Mar 2004
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