What Is Epistemology?


Epistemology is the study of how a person obtains knowledge and how a person assesses and learns from that knowledge.[1]  Epistemology addresses the question of, “How do you know what you know?”  For example, the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 1 verse 22 discusses that the Jews identify signs as ways of getting at knowledge and the Greeks get at knowledge through wisdom, logic that is.  Each person’s epistemological framework can be thought of as a knowledge system that gathers data from one source or a plethora of sources.  In other words, each and every one of us derives knowledge from somewhere, such as: authority,[2] pragmatism,[3] conventional wisdom,[4] observation,[5] senses,[6] logic,[7] empiricism,[8] revelation,[9] etc…  The knowledge that we gather answers questions of truth.[10]
Now, keep in mind that people’s epistemologies are often undiagnosed.  The gathering and formation of knowledge often happens subconsciously.  Even though the working of a person’s epistemology happens intuitively, it does impact each and every one of us.[11]  The knowledge system forms and influences how a person views the world and reality.[12]  Simply put, a person’s epistemology supplies data and truth (i.e. knowledge) to one’s worldview.
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[1] The two parts of the word Epistemology are episteme and ology.  Episteme means "knowledge and understanding" and ology means, "study of."
[2] I.g. How do I know? Because Albert Einstein told me.
[3] I.g. How do I know? Because I welded it up that way in my shop, tried it out in the field, and it has never failed me since.
[4] I.g. How do I know? Because nearly everyone in my community thinks so.
[5] I.g. How do I know? Because I was there and saw it for myself.
[6] I.g. How do I know? Because I touched it, and it felt hot, and it smelled as if something were burning.
[7] I.g. How do I know? Because, since A was greater than B, and B was greater than C, I concluded that A was greater than C.
[8] I.g. How do I know? Because many studies that used very large samples of the total population of people who have this disease confirm a high statistical correlation between salt intake and the aggravation of this disease.
[9] I.g. How do I know? For the Bible tells me so; or, Thus saith the Lord.
[10] Truth is often seen as an abstract item that is drifting around in time and space that mankind stretches out to acquire, understand and harness.  However, as Christians we would funnel truth down to not an abstract ideology or philosophy but rather a person, Christ.  Jesus in John 14:6 states, “I am the way and the truth and the life…”  Jesus says that He is truth.  Furthermore, Christ not only applies the truth to himself but also uses a definite article to essentially say, “I am not ‘a’ way, ‘a’ truth…” but rather “I am ‘the’ way , ‘the’ truth…”  Andrea K√∂stenberger in the first chapter of the book, “Whatever Happened To Truth?” (Crossway, 2005) argues that truth is a person, a crucified person, rather than some abstract ideology.   In other words, truth is theocentric and Christocentric.  One could even go so far as to say that truth is crucicentric.  The idea of truth is found in the Words and actions of God as they are expressed in the Bible and fleshed out in the life, death and resurrection of Christ.  Therefore, truth is not only something that is theocentric but more specifically is Christo-centric; it is revealed by God to us in Christ in His Word
[11] T.R. Halvorson (Personal Communication, July 27th of 2012), Although most people have never heard of epistemology, everyone has an epistemology that usually combines several sources of knowledge or bases of knowledge, sometimes using them sort of mashed together, and other times alternating between them. This is a lack of epistemological self-consciousness: having an epistemology, but not being conscious of what it is; deciding whether I know something, but not being conscious of how I made that decision. We could call this implicit or unself-conscious epistemology, as opposed to explicit epistemology.”
[12] According to Paul Hiebert on page 85 of his book, “Transforming Worldviews,” a person’s epistemology or knowledge system is embedded in worldviews.

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