Foundational in philosophy, epistemology raises the questions what knowledge is, and how and to what extent we have it. There is a focus on related notions such as belief, justification, evidence, and warrant.
Other themes includes skepticism - especially whether we can have knowledge of the external world (Descartes raised this in First Meditation), and inductive skepticism (see Hume's Treatise and First Enquiry). One can also be skeptical about other minds and about the past.
Another area of focus in epistemology is on sources of knowledge. These include sense-perception, introspection and self-knowledge, memory, testimony, a priori knowledge (see e.g. Kant in Critique of Pure Reason). See also the process of induction and the so-called 'new riddle of induction.' Confirmation, and probability.
Knowledge of unobservables - highlighting the distinction between theory and observation.
What does it mean to explain something - explanation.
Methodology in its turn can be seen as applied epistemology, the study of scientific method, a basis for Philosophy of Science.
Focus also on nature of scientific explanation and the status of theories. Should we be committed to those entities posited by our theories, and can theoris be incommensurable? Incommensurability.
- Empiricism vs. Rationalism - Should (natural, computer, social) scientific research be deductive or inductive? Are the theories falsifiable? Popper , Quine
- Objectivism vs. Subjectivism - How do social and technological structures interact with individual agency and interpretation? Can (should) structuralism and socio-constructivism be reconciled? Karl Popper’s (2002) insights on ‘objective method’ can function as a reference for objectivism, whereas Hans-Georg Gadamer’s (1975) philosophy of subjective hermeneutic interpretation is a reference point for subjectivism. Anthony Giddens’s (1984, 1991) work is taken as a reference point in finding a constructive way to reconcile these positions. Wilhelm Dilthey' 'critique of historical reason, which reflects on what makes possible sciences that take the human mind as their object, i.e. that conflate the objective subjective division.
- Individualism vs. Structuralism/Collectivism - To what extent can individualistic (market-driven) and collectivist/structuralist (open source, community-oriented, relations of production-dependent) processes be reconciled in DEs? Giddens
- Symmetry vs. Context-dependence -Order vs evoluton - How might the absolute values of the physical sciences translate into situations demanding open-ended evolution? discussed by Holland (1975) and Schreckling and Dini (2009) as principles of order construction in biology, the former being associated with universalism and invariance of pattern and the latter with open-ended evolution and relativism.
Anthropology and Sociology of Knowledge
Philosophy conventionally approaches knowledge in an epistemological way. It is interested in the preconditions for acquiring true knowledge. However, there is another philosophical mode in which knowledge is not understood as a matter of reference, but as one of manipulation. The driving question no longer is "how to find the truth?" but "how are objects handled in practice?" The Anthropology and Sociology of knowledge, in their own ways, see idea systems as the outcome or expression of certain interests. Max Weber, Karl Mannheim. The notion of the Knowledge Society, how science, especially social science is appropriated by capitalist modes of knowledge production and management, is used to highlight such processes. One example is universities that are serving interests, rather than being independent research institutions. The notion of the commodification of knowledge. Knowledge is not an objective entity ‘out there’ in the world but a product of social practices, of classification (Bowker and Star, 2000). For an anthropological ethnography concerned with how knolwedge objects are handled see Annemarie Mol, The Body Multiple.
- Steve Fuller http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/sociology/staff/academicstaff/sfuller/fullers_index/audio/pst7nov04.wav Sociologist, focus on social epistemology ;
- Bent Flyvbjert, Making Social Science Matter http://flyvbjerg.plan.aau.dk/mssmexcerpt.php
A fundamental question in epistemology is how social systems are constructed. Is it only through communication, by human agency, language and action, or also or instead through relations of production or collectively defined or managed structures?
- Charles Taylor - any comparative study of the political must be grounded in local interpretations of local meanings. “our incapacity to understand is rooted in our own self-definitions." - in "Interpretation and the Sciences of Man in Philsophy and the Human sciences 1971.
Internet technology and epistemology
Impact of internet? The knowledge of humanity accessible to humanity.