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What is Epistemology?

Epistemology is a modern term for the theory of knowledge, the branch of philosophy that studies the possibility, nature and scope of human knowledge. The first extant attempt to account for knowledge is recorded in the works of Plato. His view is that knowledge consists of a set of abstract entities that are 'Ideas' (which is Greek for pictures) of things we ordinarily experience. These Ideas or Forms are eternal, unchanging and resident in a realm of their own; and they alone are real.

Aristotle maintained that forms cannot in fact be separated from real things, but only considered abstractly apart in thought. The forms are what were later called Universals. In medieval philosophy, the nature of universals was much debated. It was not until the advent of the scientific revolution at the turn of the 17th century that philosophers began to take a renewed interest in epistemology. In the rationalist theory put forward by Rene Descartes, nothing was to count as acceptable unless it complied with the principles of reason which are regarded as innate. This runs directly counter to the empiricist notion, developed in the later 17th century, that all knowledge comes ultimately from sense experience.

With Kant the problem of knowledge is subjected to a new and critical approach. He admits that all knowledge arises through experience; but it is not the world impressing itself on the mind, but the mind impressing itself on the world that produces knowledge. Contemporary philosophy has attempted to seek a solution within language itself, by analyzing the meaning of claims to knowledge.

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