Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that inquires into the nature and possibility of knowledge. It deals also with the scope and limits of knowledge and how it is acquired and possessed. It also investigates related notions such as perception, memory, evidence, belief and certainty. The 20th century thinker – Bertrand Russell, once remarked, ‘The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.’ What he means to say is that in a social order we commit actions and those actions have consequences, what those actions are guided by is a certain idea of knowledge, like when people say, ‘Stop bothering me I know what I am doing’. What they imply is that they know why they are doing and what are going to be the consequences of their actions, of course because of the complications surrounding the nature of knowledge we have devised the study of epistemology – the theory of knowledge through which we know for certain what knowledge can be relied upon. It is really a metaphysical process (if you can recall how we decoded metaphysics in the last write up).
When you say ‘I know’, you can take one step beyond yourself and ask yourself what is the nature of knowledge or what does it mean to know anything, this meta thinking gives birth to the theory of knowledge – Epistemology.
The traditional investigation from Plato to the twentieth century of the nature of knowledge concentrated on the question of – what is it for someone to know that something is so and so. Pervading all epistemology was a desire to provide a foundation for knowledge which would make it immune to scepticism. Today much of what we understand as ‘knowledge’ comes from the scientific method, indeed science is organized knowledge. The birth of the scientific method was an epistemological and therefore a philosophical triumph, in this regard epistemology always stands meta (super) to science. If we can have this basic understanding about epistemology it will be easy for the reader to really understand the follow up articles as we discuss how epistemology gave birth to science and how at the advent of scientific revolution the human species was able to gather knowledge about everything from unconscious activities of the human mind to super massive black holes. If we understand epistemology here, we can understand the progress of Homo sapiens from an insignificant hunting gathering and tool making tribe to the top of the food chain operating supersonic jet planes and Mars orbiter missions. This is truly fascinating, and all of that has roots in philosophical understanding.