Methods of obtaining knowledge

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Knowledge may originate or be derived from the following origins or methods:

  • Observation or experience. This may be more or less sophisticated, ranging from a simple, "I saw" to carefully designed controlled experimentation.
  • Reason or logic. Taking other knowledge as data, by logical operations knowledge can be inferred. For example the theoretical construct, the electron, is derived by logical inferences from observations and experiment. Such knowledge, being derivative, can not be better than the knowledge upon which it is founded.
  • Testimony. Knowledge based on the acceptance of testimony involves accepting what others say. For example, I only know that Kent is a county of England, that the First World War was horrendous. This seems to be a common way we get knowledge but is seen by philosophers as problematic. See Testimony, philosophical problems of.
    • Authority. Knowledge based on authority may rely upon the reputation of an individual such as Aristotle or Einstein or perhaps on institutional authority such as that of the Roman Catholic Church or Oxford University. Note that an authority may adopt knowledge upon other criteria such as divine revelation or observation as well as upon authority. Authority may have a political basis in the sense that some political process, perhaps involving status as well as simple voting, peer review, or comment. This is familiar to participants in academia.
  • Revelation. Many people believe knowledge may be obtained via revelation or even divine revelation, which may be directly from God or another spirit, perhaps conveyed through a religious text or texts, such as the Bible, although there is no evidence to support this claim.

There is a view that all seeming knowledge is less than certain. Though individuals may feel a high degree of confidence in a seeming fact, this is not the same as certain knowledge, so much as a feeling or attitude. This is often demonstrated in courts of law, sometimes years after the fact of seeming evidence. It is also demonstrated by history, in terms of strongly held beliefs that later lost credence, to be replaced by other beliefs (such as the movements of the planets, first being the activity of gods, then simply descriptions of their changing direction and circling the earth daily, and eventually an explanation {theory} suggesting that they revolve about the sun.)

Knowledge of medicine, seen centuries later, also reveals that the "knowledge" was in fact knowledge of what had been said or written, and not knowledge of nature. Though we may feel that what we experience in the modern time is finally knowledge of nature, centuries in the future people may look back on what may be seen as 21st-century folly by that time, and the current day will not be considered "modern times."

Differences in religious faith also illustrates the difference between strongly held belief and certain knowledge. One may "know" that religious facts are written in a current document. He may believe it is an exact replica of what was written millennia ago. He may believe that what was originally written exactly reported on actual events of the time. He may believe that the events of the time demonstrated with certainty certain theological truths.

This is not exactly the same as knowing those things with certainty, other than that certain things are currently written. The fact that a person of a different religion may believe differently illustrates the uncertainty of all those facts other than that certain things are written.

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