Epistemological Theory

Epistemology is the study of the nature, origin, and limits of human knowledge. The name is derived from the Greek episteme (“knowledge”) and logos (“reason”), and according the field is something referred to as the theory of knowledge. Epistemology has had a long history, spanning the time from the pre- Socratic Greeks to the present.

Along with metaphysics, logic, and ethics, it is one of the four main fields of philosophy, and nearly every great philosopher has contributed to the literature on the topic. The major issue with respect to the origins of knowledge is whether all knowledge is derived from experience. There are two sharply opposed traditions; empiricism, which affirms this view, and rationalism, which rejects it.

Rationalist believes there are innate ideas such as the notion of equality, which are not found in experience. Some rationalists contend that these notions derive from the structure of the human mind, others that they exist independently of the mind and are apprehended by the mind when it reaches a certain degree of sophistication. Empiricists, by contrast, deny that there are any concepts that exist prior to experience, and accordingly they assert that all knowledge is a product of human learning in which perception plays the main role.

Perception itself is problematic, however, since visual illusions and hallucinations show that perception cannot always depict the world as it actually is. Another problem for empiricists is the status of mathematical theorems whose truth conditions do not depend on experience and seem to be known a priori. The empiricist response to this claim is that mathematical theorems are empty of cognitive content and merely express the relationship of certain concepts to one another. The great achievement of the 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant was to have worked out a compromise between these competing views. He argued that human beings do have knowledge that is prior to experience and yet is not devoid of cognitive significance, the principle of causality being one such example. Kant’s view can be summarized in the maxim that there are a priori synthetic concepts.

The issues about the origins of knowledge are connected with questions about the limits. Many empiricists, such as David Hume and non-empiricists, such as Kant agree that the human mind has the capacity to generate questions that no possible appeal to experience could answer, such as whether there is God, whether the world has a first cause or is uncaused, and whether there is a reality behind the apprehended by the sense. Kant labeled such questions transcendental (beyond the limits of rational inquiry), and in the 20th century, so called logical positivism, such as Moritz Schlick, Rudolf Carnap, and A.J. Ayer, have declared such questions to be metaphysical and devoid of cognitive significance. Questions about the nature of knowledge span a wide range, including inquiries as to whether knowledge is a type of belief or is different from belief, and whether knowledge is a special faculty in the mind or is a disposition to act in certain ways. There is some measure of agreement in dealing with such questions.

Epistemological concerns threatened to divide poetry (subjectivity, expressional or irrational) from reality (objectivity, real word for science and scientific method). Epistemological phase focused attention on the mind giving sanction to an interest to subjectivity. The rise of aesthetic was one such attempt, particularly Kant’s effort to establish what he oxymoronically called “subjective universality” in aesthetic response. Epistemological phase gave rise to critical discourses by rescuing it from mimetic interpretive mode.

There are number of theories related to epistemological concern of the texts. Literary texts, like philosophical discourse, exhibit particular domain of knowledge. Moreover, these theories aim at revealing such domain philosophically. The canonical texts related to this mode are discussed process by theorist to theorist.