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Dictionary

EPISTEMOLOGY

Maggie Sumner

A field of philosophy concerned with the possibility, nature, sources and limits of human knowledge. As distinct from ontology (the study of the essential nature of reality), epistemology is concerned with whether or how we can have knowledge of reality: questions that have concerned philosophers since, at least, the Ancient Greeks. Criteria for what counts as knowledge (rather than mere belief) normally include reference to truth and to the justification for it. A lucky guess that happens to be true might not count. Historically, a central epistemological debate has been between empiricism and rationalism. Empiricism holds that knowledge derives from the external world, albeit mediated through sensory perception. Valid knowledge is based a posteriori upon the ‘facts’ derived from systematic observations and reflection upon them: inductive reasoning from observational data allows the formulation of general laws, which can be tested and verified through further observation. One criticism is that this ...

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