How do we come to know the world? Can the world be known? What is the nature of knowledge? What role do our senses play in obtaining knowledge? Is the world out there to be known, is it internal to the subject, what are the relationships between the two? Answering these and related questions constitute the goal of Epistemology. In its most simple formulation, epistemology isthe study of knowledge. It attempts to clarify the basis upon which we can claim to know the world and gain true beliefs. As a philosophical discipline, epistemology searches to account for how beliefs may be true and justify in relation to knowledge of the objects in the natural world and/or in the world of the knowing subject. Traditionally, philosophical epistemology privilege knowledge ofpropositions (that a subject posses knowledge of P as a proposition) over other kinds of knowledge, like the knowledge of how to do X.
It has been widely accepted in the study of epistemology that three conditions need to be satisfied for a proposition to be called knowledge: it needs to be true, it requires belief, and it needs to be justified. One knows a proposition p if and only if pis true and one is justify in believing that p is true (p meets the necessary and sufficient conditions of being true). True beliefs are then justify as long as sufficient and compelling evidence lend support that belief (practice know as evidentialism).
Foundationalism, a common way of grounding justification, affirms that some beliefs are basic while others are non-basic. Non-basicbeliefs rest upon the basic ones for their justification. Basic beliefs do not rely on other beliefs for their validity; instead they are justified in lieu of their intrinsic worth (logical necessity) that endow them with a kind of epistemic privilege (among which are indubitability, infallibility, incorrigibility).
Another method of justification relies in our cognitive abilities. Ourcognitive abilities are of such nature that more often than not they provide with reliable knowledge about the world and subjects; recent scientific developments have shaped and solidify aspects of this view. In an age of rapid scientific discoveries, many dealing with the nature and structure of the human brain, epistemology attempts to make sense of how traditional epistemological theories needreworking in light of new scientific discoveries. Evolutionary epistemology surfaces as the attempt to explain human knowledge after Darwin. Availing itself with scientific methods, epistemology makes inroads that bring biology and philosophy closer together.
As a theological approach, epistemology seeks to answer the question of the possibility of gaining knowledge of God. It attempts to givean account of the nature of knowledge of the divine? Is knowledge of God true in the same way that mathematical knowledge is considered truth? How about proofs for the existence of God, do they share the same warrant of scientific proofs?
A clear view of what knowledge might be bears significant impact in disciplines other than philosophy and theology. A solid theory of knowledge willweigh in ethics, politics, sociology, the natural sciences, and other areas of inquiry, making of the discipline of epistemology a prime candidate for interdisciplinary endeavors. An understanding of knowledge gathering and transmission is basic to any human anthropology; human societies are organized around vast reservoirs of knowledge (to which new materials are always added) that enable social,political, economic, cultural, and religious activities.
The first section in this article is an overview of the history of epistemology. Surely, it can only hope to skim the surface of a substantial body of literature, history, and theories; the focus then, will be on a number of key figures and issues within the study of knowledge: the question of cognitivism/non-cognitivism, beliefs,...