Epistemology is a philosophy which analyzes and attempts to discover the ways in which we learn and acquire knowledge. It became a popular subject for study in the 17th century, and since then has remained a contentious and lively area for scholars to study.
Why contentious? Well, there are debates as to how much of a role truth and belief play in our individual ability to learn. Our biases and preconceived notions, or what we think might be true (rationalism), are constantly in a state of contestation with our empirical knowledge (empiricism).
It’s like this: After years of hearing stories of Santa Claus, reading books about Santa Claus, and watching television shows about Santa Claus you come to the conclusion that Santa Claus exists based on what you believe to be true. You arrived at that decision based not on experience, but on belief, and that’s the definition of rationalism. Then, one day you happen to be reading your mother’s copy of “Ladies Home Journal,” and you stumble across an article about how to explain to your child that Santa doesn’t exist. Your rational belief has just been shaken, no? You question you mother, and after you scream at her for lying to you, she shows you how you’d been tricked for several years, thus providing you with empirical evidence of the non-existence of Santa. This is empiricism.
Now, between the contestation of your rational knowledge and your empirical knowledge, you eventually arrive at a location of synthesized knowledge. This is what epistemology studies.
I think most of us would admit to simply using rational, a priori analyzation in learning the majority of the time. It’s just easier, isn’t it? Empirical knowledge requires you actually go out and do something, and really, who has time for that?
Creationism (I.D.) springs to mind here. Most of us are too damn lazy to sit down and try to learn about evolution. Shit, most people wouldn’t even sit down and read “Origin of the Species” much less scientific articles explaining the intricacies and discoveries since Darwin first wrote about it. Well, for one thing it’s hard, there’s a lot of math, and besides, American Idol is on.
It’s so much easier to look in a mirror and think, “Huh. You know what? My eye looks really complicated”¦kinda like that clock that fell off my wall. I don’t think there’s any way it could have got in my head by natural selection. Someone must’ve put it here.”
But here’s the thing: While we don’t have an absolute unanimous scientific consensus regarding the veracity of evolution, the overwhelming majority of scientist-types all agree that it happened and is still happening. Not only that, but society has benefited from scientific innovations derived from the fundamental and complex aspects of evolution. Now, while I certainly don’t always think that following the herd is a good thing, I’m willing to plant my nose firmly in the ass of the cow in front of me on this one.
What would you do if you got sick, and after visiting several different doctors all but one stated you had an ulcer? The one that disagreed told you that you must have an imp trapped in your stomach, and inquired whether or not you’d like him to cut it out? What would you do? Yeah”¦you’d go with the scientific consensus, wouldn’t you?
Sometimes belief is a good thing, but at some point the dogmatist simply becomes the ignoramus.
This post is dedicated to the good people of Kansas, who two days ago voted against irrational dogmatic belief in favor of verifiable and repeatable science. Good for them.