But while their controlling concern was primarily cosmological in that these philosophers wrestled with the problem of explaining physical nature by asking what is the one basic material out of which the world is made their inquiry nevertheless engendered lasting impacts on the way humanity has since then understood the nature, scope and use of human knowledge (Lavine, 1982, p. 23).
In view of the foregoing, this paper aims at successfully presenting a summative account of some of the major concerns or themes of Epistemology throughout the history of Philosophy; specifically, the theories which were propounded by key philosophers as they seek to understand certain epistemic issues. Along the same vein, I would also attempt, through this paper, to evaluate, if not compare such concerns within the present context as my way of appropriating what I have learned from this course into my own frame.
Methodology and Scope This paper endeavors to firstly circumscribe three salient (among many others) themes of epistemic exploration, namely, (1) the quest to understand the nature of knowledge, (2) the compelling desire to establish certitude, and (3) the all-important need to appropriate human knowledge into a prolific use.
As such, these three elements correspond to three different epochs in the history of Philosophy the ancient, the post-Scholasticism and the modern periods respectively; and these epochs are further typified by key philosophers such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle (for the ancient epoch), Rene Descartes (for the modern epoch) and the empiricists in the likes of J. Stuart Mill and Francis Bacon. Secondly and as hinted above, this paper is an attempt to appropriate their concerns with my own present context.
The method with which this paper employs shall be both expository and analytic. The Epistemic Concerns of Key Philosophers of Knowledge At the onset of Philosophy, the overarching epistemic concern was to discover the nature of human knowledge. In order to do this, the Ionian philosophers started to put into question the things that they took for granted. Socrates tried to propound, through the infamous Socratic method, that knowledge cannot be equated with belief or personal opinion (Bruder & Moore, 2005, p. 35).
Plato on the other hand maintained that true knowledge consists not in our perception of the visible things, but in acquisition of a type of knowledge that brings us into the World of Ideas (Lavine, 1982, p. 26). Refuting Plato, Aristotle meanwhile asserted that abstraction alone does not afford true knowledge. Instead, he believed that true knowledge must be scientific; i. e. , it circumscribes the proximate and remote causes of things and events. As one author puts it, for Aristotle, to have scientific knowledge of a fact, it is not enough to know that it is true; you must also know why it is true (Robinson, 1985, p. 11).
If these ancient philosophers were chiefly engrossed with the proper definition of the nature and parameters of human knowledge, the thinkers of the modern era meanwhile sought for a kind of knowledge marked by certitude or truthfulness. Simply put, the concern shifted from the defining the contents of human knowledge into deciphering whether such contents were truthful or not. Far more critical, modern philosophers did also entertain in a fair amount of skepticism. The chief proponent to this cause was Rene Descartes; and he is usually credited for starting a new phase in the field of Epistemology.
He is known for his skepticism a vow to suspend judgment about everything so as to arrive at a knowledge which is certain, if not altogether doubt-proof (Broughton, 2002, p. 1). The crux of this doubt does not lay on the act of doubting itself; for at the very least, the act of doubting has to serve its reasoned purpose, which is to proceed from an induced skepticism into an irreducible certainty. And Descartes succinctly refers to this as the first principle of philosophy a principle which serves as a formidable base from all kinds of human knowledge stand erect (cited in Marias, 1967, p. 214).
Descartes and his contemporaries thus dedicated their efforts to establish what constitutes certainty in human knowledge. By contrast however, the philosophers after them began to focus on discovering how human knowledge can be used prolifically in life and work. Thus, from being merely speculative in approach, the philosophers after the modern era began to see the wisdom of framing human knowledge within the context of practicality. John Stuart Mill for instance asserted that the true measure of human intellect lays in the way we human persons can employ knowledge for the progress of humanity (Donner, 1991, p.
123) Still, another important facet of this utilitarian perspective would be palpable in the formulation of the Principle of Induction. Francis Bacon for instance rejected the deductive reasoning of the ancients in favor of the principle of inference: i. e. , from a serious of individual facts¦one obtains by abstraction¦the general concepts of the things and the laws of nature (Marias, 1967, p. 250). This principle is now widely known as the scientific method; and this method has in turn led to the rise of technological advancements witnessed during the Industrial Revolution.
The concerns addressed by the three epochs herein cited could be summed into these three fundamental questions: (a) what constitutes knowledge? , (b) how do we know the truth? (c) and how do we concretely apply what we know? In ways more than one, these three questions are the self-same concerns which continuously confound the present society. Now more than ever, humanity is a witness to the flood of competing information from all fronts; and it is indeed a tall challenge to decipher which information affords a knowledge that approximates the truth and/or engenders beneficial results.
For instance, in drafting key policies, any given government needs to be fed with accurate information about societal conditions; as indeed, in contemplating medical procedures, doctors and nurses need to be given precise information to avoid errors. To be sure, a thousand and one other examples may be cited to this end. But the crux of the matter lies in the fact that, even at an age when we are able to verify the veracity of information with advanced technologies, humanitys chief concern has always been about correctly obtaining knowledge, establishing the its truthfulness thereof, and putting them into practical use.