How do we know anything? How can we be sure? This war on the truth of the foundation of knowledge is still up in the air and difficult to grasp. The theories of skepticism, empiricism, and rationalism all confuse me to be quite honest. It’s all fun and games until my brain swallows itself whole and I’m left more puzzled than before. The question of ‘how we can be sure that we know anything’ is daunting.
Epistemology is the philosophy of knowledge. Comprehension is defined as belief which is true and justified. According to this theory of thinking, there are two types of knowledge. A priori states that knowledge is prior and does not rely on experience or sense perception. This definition matches up with the beliefs of rationalism. A posteriori knowledge is based on the idea that knowledge is acquired through sensory experiences in the world. Empiricism pairs with a posteriori. Skepticism also falls under the umbrella of epistemology.
Rationalism is defined as the belief of the universe having absolute truths that can be determined. A rationalist believes that reason is the most reliable source of knowledge. According to this, we are born with certain ideas and can gain knowledge independent of sensory influences. An interesting perspective on this is that senses can be tricked, therefore we should not solely base our truths on them. For example, take an optical illusion. When watching a magic show, our vision perceives that the woman in the box is being sawed in half. Now in reality, she is not actually being split in two, but the deception suggests otherwise. Rationalists believe that senses help us form opinions, but do not equal truth. Another example of this theory is how some people are better at certain things. How can one person be so quick to comprehend math and another struggle taking double the time to grasp the exact same concept? Rationalists explain this with having experiences and skills from past lives that carry over and affect this life. This example has to do with being born with specific concepts and ideas already embedded into our minds.
Empiricism on the other hand challenges this. Within this theory, the idea is that knowledge is particularly based upon experience or outside influences. Specifically, empiricism relies upon sensory understanding. Observation and perspective create the most reliable platform for believing what we think. We should trust our observations instead of our intuitions. Locke was a major influence on empiricism. He thought that we all came into this world as blank slates, knowing nothing at birth. His belief was that we acquired all of our knowledge throughout life from our sensory perception. If a baby was born knowing certain things already, as the rationalists say, then why can’t the infant do any of those things? This was the idea Locke was promoting. Empiricism is extremely prominent in science as well as the scientific method. When doing an experiment, you must rely on your senses to help you reach a conclusion. This is emphasized with evidence. If you were to see a car running a red light and then heard a loud crash, you could infer that the car that ran the light must have hit another car and caused an accident. This is an example of empiricism because your senses determine what you believe. You could not have known what happened if you wouldn’t have seen the car and heard the crash. It was your senses that helped you reach this conclusion.
Despite the contrasting bases of empiricism and rationalism, together they create an interesting platform for questioning perception. The quest for knowledge seems more graspable when comparing these two viewpoints.