Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that is concerned with the study of knowledge, that is, theories explaining it, different propositions held by philosophers about knowledge, it definition, how it is acquired, and how one can tell he or she knows what he or she claims to know. Generally it is an area of study that is greatly faced with different ideals on what knowledge should be hence bringing up the issue of trying to define knowledge with most philosophers defines it as a justified true belief.
This further necessitates the need to know what is a belief, truth and justification which then forms the basis of discussion and argument on various criticisms held by people with different views and opinions. Therefore, a belief can be regarded as a proposition held by an individual and thinks that it is true. On the other hand, truth is a proposition in which there are no reasonable doubts that the belief is logic and finally justification is offering a supportive evidence of what one claims to be true and to believe in.
The above discussion brings in the issue of coherentism and evidentialism where by there are conflicting argument on what is true and relevant for one to claim to be in possession of knowledge. First and foremost, coherentism is an argument that any belief held should cohere or fit together with any other belief that may be held in the system and that justified belief should be evidentially supported by other beliefs. On the other hand, evidentialism is a proposition of justification in which the belief is justified depending on the evidence or support one has.
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Therefore from the above observation, it is possible to be a coherentist who is not an evidentialist. This is from the fact that sometimes the evidence that one may offer to support or justify a belief may fail to be approved at some point and that it may fail to be relevant at that point. In addition a belief can be justified without necessarily having to give any supportive evidence for instance religious beliefs. Human beings have got different religious beliefs and therefore are justified depending on what they believe in. No one can disapprove the justification because no one has got tangible evidence on which religious belief is true.
Although evidentialism is meant to differentiate justified beliefs from unjustified ones, evidentialism is not itself evidenced and this disqualifies it as a prerequisite for coherentism. Finally the reason why it is possible to be a coherentist who is not an evidentialist is because of cognitive dissonance. That is, based on the human nature. The human mind is not naturally made to come up with beliefs based on evidence1. In conclusion therefore, any belief can be justified without having to provide any supportive evidence depending on the context and the matter in question, thus the possibility of being a coherentist who is not an evidentialist.
Theories of knowledge
In epistemology, various proponents have come up with different schools of thought to explain what true knowledge or most important knowledge essentially is. There are various theories of knowledge that have been brought forward some of which include rationalism theory, empiricism theory, and a combination of both the empirical and rational theory of knowledge.
The rationalism theory
This theory is based on mental reasoning as opposed to mental perception. One of the proponents of this theory is Descartes who holds the view that true knowledge is independent of mental perceptions. This brings up the issue of priori truths which refers to truths that cannot be inferred from sense perceptions and they hold true independently of sense experiences. Rationalists hold the view that what is known is a fact and that it does not change with time or depending on the conditions in the environment. They also believe that it is universal, necessary and sure. Therefore in this theory of knowledge, the proponents emphasize on the logical reasoning of the mind whereby one acquires knowledge through an analysis of the objects, forms and the situations around him or her and then making the correct and relevant inference and conclusion from ones observation.
In rationalism, knowledge can be acquired through a number of ways which can be either through intuition, deduction, innate knowledge or innate concept. Intuition is a rational insight gained by individual whereas deduction is whereby one comes up with a conclusion from the intuited propositions. Innate knowledge is knowledge that is already in existence within an individual and innate concept is knowledge that one applies in a particular subject area but is independent of sense experience. Thus the proponents of rationalism view reason as being superior to experience as a source of knowledge.
The empirical theory of knowledge
The theory is opposed to reason as a source of knowledge and therefore its proponents emphasize on the sense experience as the source of knowledge. Empiricism is a theory of knowledge which opposes other theories of knowledge such as rationalism, idealism and historiasm. It argues that knowledge is acquired through sensory experience as opposed to rationalism which purports that knowledge comes from pure reasoning. Empiricism emphasizes the importance of experience and evidence more so sensory perception in the coming up with ideas over the idea of innate thinking or culture.
Thus it stresses those aspects of scientific know-how that are closely associated to evidence especially discovered in experiments. The proponents of this theory argue that knowledge about the world is discovered through empirical research and not by reason .according to Aristotle and Aquinas, knowledge is acquired through mental perception through sense experience. Therefore according to the proponents of this theory, knowledge is said to be acquired posteriori, that is, a belief is seen to be true and justified based on the sensory experience. Thus proponents of empiricism are opposed to intuitive, deductive and innate knowledge.
The theory argues
All hypothesis and aspects must be tried against observations of the natural world instead of testing purely on a priori reasoning as in rationalism. Empiricism is also opposed to dogmatism and depends on the observation of happenings as perceived in experiences. According to John Locke1, human mind is an empty slate (tabular Rasa), that is, does not contain anything at the time of birth hence one cannot claim to be aware of something without reference to experience. According to empiricists, for any knowledge to be acquired or deducted, it is to be gained completely from one’s sense based experience. Thus knowledge is acquired through past experiences that one has and can be able to retrieve the same conclusion any time confronted with the same experiences.
Finally is the combination of the two theories, the rationalism theory and empiricism theory. Proponents of this ideology argue that no proposition is superior to the other, between reason and sense experience when it comes to the acquisition of knowledge. Thus mental reasoning and sense experience are equally good when it comes to knowledge acquisition as they complement each other. Generally speaking, there is some knowledge which cannot be acquired through sense experience such as mathematical knowledge and at the same time there is knowledge which cannot be acquired through reasoning only but also through sense experience such as social sciences.
Therefore from the above observations, one can conclude that of all the three theories discussed above, the one that has the best chance of offering an explanation of why knowledge may be either more intrinsically or instrumentally valuable than mere belief is the combination of the two theories, both rationalism and empiricism theory. This because it involves the application of sense perception which is very important in the acquisition of knowledge. The knowledge acquired in the world is based on what is perceived by senses of the objects, forms and situations and this justifies one to believe that whatever the proposition is true. Equally important is the mental reasoning that involves priori truth. It is in the human nature to hold some knowledge within even before the senses are exposed to the experiences. Thus, this forms the best source of knowledge, offering more intrinsically and instrumentally source of knowledge than just a mere true believe.
The one that has the worst chance however, is the empiricism theory. This is because it puts a lot of emphasis on sense experience as a source of knowledge whereas senses are deceptive and can easily misleads an individual. In addition, sensory data cannot be understood without considering and paying attention to the historical and cultural circumstances in which observations are made. Without this consideration, it is not easy to justify any belief to be true thus making this view of lesser power when it comes to the acquisition of knowledge. One cannot just claim a belief or proposition to be true just because of the past experiences that one holds because times and situations might have changed and therefore the experience becomes irrelevant to the current situation. Moreover, one could have held false perceptions with no justification in it thus rendering sense perception weaknesses as a source of knowledge.
In conclusion therefore, for one to claim to have acquired knowledge, every aspect of human nature should be inclusive, with a combination of all the theories of knowledge as each of them has got a contribution to how one can acquire knowledge.