Humanistic Approaches to Positive Growth and Self-Acceptance

The Theory of Knowledge

Epistemology is “theory of knowledge.”  Some regard knowledge as having two parts, ourThe_Thinker,_Auguste_Rodin senses and how we process vision, hearing, tastes, and smells (body), and how perceptions are organized by formulating ideas or concepts (mind).  The “theory of knowledge” has been based on the understanding that philosophers have had on the mind-body relationship. For the greater percentage of people, the world consists of perceivable objects.  Objects can be seen, felt, analyzed and understood with a higher level of knowledge.  However, this is where the philosophical debate begins and Philosophers throughout time have yet to agree on, are the mind and the body separate entities or one and the same.

Socrates became the first great philosopher when he challenged the existing philosophy of the Sophists by implying it was possible to learn “virtue and attain truth.” Socrates pursued concise, common meaning of terms and questioned knowledge and ethics.  Today this method is called the Socratic method of learning.  Socrates teachings are based on two theories. A person is never to do wrong directly or indirectly and no one who knows what is right will act contrary to it.

Plato concluded that reality consisted of universal ideas.  People see and understand the world by ideas.  The world becomes less real because of the always changing nature of the environment, but ideas and perception are eternal and unchangeable. The most famous of Plato’s pupils Aristotle is considered the first scientist.  The study of nature allowed Aristotle to debate Plato on the reality of the material world versus creation of eternal forms.  Aristotle taught individuality, growth, and change and is considered to be the founder of formal logic.

Medieval philosophy is the period of time between ancient philosophy and the renaissance period.  The thinkers of this time rediscovered Plato and Aristotle who applied these theories into theological problems.  The medieval period was the turning point for modern philosophy.  Augustine was influenced by Plato.  Of great interest is the difference in the “intelligible realm.”  Plato asserted that this realm was perfect and could only be accessed by the mind.  The “sensible realm” was said to be imperfect and apprehensible by the senses.  Augustine argued that God’s perfection and goodness is equally manifest in both realms. While imprisoned, Boethius wrote The Consolation of Philosophy, the story of a woman who teaches that human freedoms and moral responsibilities are only possible because of God.  And Anselm the teacher of monks attempted to logically understand religious and spiritual beliefs.  Anselm’s works consisted of a demonstration of Christian truth.  Anselm argued that the existence of God is greater than a mere thought. Theologies versus the sciences.

The renaissance or enlightenment period consisted of the study of mathematics and natural sciences.  During the enlightenment period the 17th and 18th centuries focus shifted from the nature of the human mind to rationalism and empiricism views.  This era of philosophy would change the way of thinking and introduce new ideas that would permanently change society and previous philosophical views.

Galileo is best known for inventing the telescope.  Galileo understood the scientific value of this invention.  By studying the sky, Galileo changed how people perceived the world.  Galileo had proven that the earth was not the center of the universe.  Galileo proved that the earth moved and revolved around the sun.  Galileo assisted Descartes in the discovery of the scientific method, and in physics they disproved Aristotle’s theory of weight. Descartes, philosopher, scientist, and mathematician is considered to be the father of modern philosophy and is also noted as being the father of rationalism.  He declared rationalism as the theory of reason versus experience, authority, or spiritual revelations Descartes provides the foundation of knowledge by reason.

At the end of the enlightenment period Immanuel Kant attempted to differentiate rationalism and empiricism.  This would be the end of the enlightenment era and the beginning of the 19th century.  Spinoza denied creationists.  Spinoza argued against Descartes that the definition of substance makes it impossible for the mind and the body to be distinct substances.  Spinoza opposed the view that people operate in their own self-interest and declares that the good in human life is knowledge of God and that this is a belief that is open to everyone.  Hume is best renowned for his theory in ethics.  Based on an empiricist theory of the mind Hume asserted that reason alone cannot be a motive and that moral distinctions are derived from moral sentiment, and that virtues and vices are natural. Kant is one of the most influential figures in modern philosophy.  Kant argued that human understanding is the source of nature that structures our experience.  Kant’s conclusions were that human reason gives itself the moral law, which is our basis for belief in God.  Kant hypothesized that scientific knowledge and religious beliefs are consistent and that are contingent upon the foundations of human autonomy.

Socrates believed in dualism, the mind and body functioned separately.  Socrates belief was that the theory of knowledge came from the mind a rational not emotional or sensory experience.  Plato elaborated on this theory in The Republic.  Plato describes perception as ideas, or forms (Plato, p. 265).  Plato and Socrates both theorized that sensory information could not be trusted as reality can be confused with imagination.  Plato’s Allegory of the Cave describes how sensory deprivation can alter one’s perception and interfere with one rationale.  Aristotle rejected Plato’s theories including rationalism and argued that the mind does not have innate ideas.  In addition, Aristotle also rejected Plato’s thesis of forms, arguing that forms are concepts invented by man.  Finally, Aristotle rejected the premise of dualism and concluded that that the mind is part of the human body.

Philosophers of the medieval era theorized that all living things were intertwined.  Religion still had tremendous impact on these theories.  Augustine theorized that one would begin with sense perception and work to reason.  Augustine believed in the “inner sense” which had distinct parallels to Aristotle’s “common sense”.  Augustine identified with Plato and the truths that came from God and according to the “Consolation of Philosophy” Boethius stated that eternal ideas are inborn ideas that people have from the existence of the soul.

These medieval philosophers used faith and God to explain the mystery of the mind and body.  Based on the works of Aristotle, Aquinas also attempted to solve the mystery of mind and body by reinvestigating the relationship between faith and reason.  Aquinas believed that the existence of God is provable by reason.  Opposition to Aquinas’s works were condemned by the Roman Catholic Church.  Contrary to Galileo’s advances in science and mathematics, that introduced new theories that would question the works and accuracy of Aristotle and the Church.

Even though theology still consisted of Platonic ideas that the sciences continued to take form according to the teachings of Aristotle and soon these theories would be disputed by a period of new invention and discovery. Descartes now deemed the father of modern philosophy also supported dualism and re-opened the mind-body debate.  Descartes believed that one could not doubt the existence of his mind and doubting was in fact an involved thought, and one needed a consciousness to think it. In contrast, monism is the belief that nothing exists separately from the material world therefore the mind is a function of the brain.  Rejecting Descartes, Spinoza suggested an alternate theory.  Spinoza hypothesized that mind and body are not different substances that interact but are both attributes of one substance.

The 18th and 19th centuries were dominated by many different opinions and theories.  According to Hergenhahn (2009), British philosophers, empiricists, made distinct division between the mind and body. Empiricism is the theory that the origin of all knowledge is sense experience. It emphasizes the role of experience and evidence, especially sensory perception, in the formation of ideas, and argues that the only knowledge humans can have been a posteriori (i.e. based on experience). Hume insisted that it was impossible to prove the existence of a real world whereas everything known to man is based on perception making real knowledge impossible to achieve.  Kant challenged Hume’s position by arguing that there is a real world, that appearances can be perceived.  Humans and the development of organized thought which is created by the mind.  Kant’s researched has had enormous impact and influence.  His theories are now pertinent to the study of cognitive science.  Kant’s model of the whole and the claims regarding consciousness of self are essential components in today’s psychological research.

When the written works of Aristotle were translated to Latin, these works were studied by religious leaders.  This access to Aristotle’s teachings allowed access to his scientific works and to the “logical method of argument.”  More importantly this material allowed for researchers such as Roger Bacon to turn his philosophical views away from Plato and continue the research of nature. The period of the Renaissance, Enlightenment and the creation of humanism allowed for the creation of modern philosophy.

The scientific methods that emerged during the Renaissance era are still used today by those philosophers who still seek to discover the mysteries of the mind-body debate.  Without using religion or faith to explain these phenomena researchers now make hypothesis, observe, test, and make predictions of what will happen to the object of observation.  Regardless of outcomes conclusions are made and theories may be accepted or rejected.  This is the process of Descartes and is his major contribution to the sciences of today.epistchart

Today biologists and behaviorists believe that there is only one reality.  Reality is what we can see, feel, and touch, monism.  The belief that the mind and the brain are the same has produced humanists such as Carl Rogers.  This method of teaching and learning was inspired during the Middle Ages with the realization of self-identity and the individual ability to determine write from wrong.

Cognitive psychologists have placed new emphasis on the mind-body debate.  Current researchers apply the analogy of artificial intelligence to this age-old debate.  These researchers compare the brain to a computer and contend that the brain is hardwired or connected to the human body.  These researchers hypothesize that the mind is equivalent to software programs that allow different computer programs to run and that this process is what allows different reaction to the same stimulus.  This thesis has a direct relationship with cognitive thinking processes.  Today’s computer analogies affordus a new version of dualism allowing one to incorporate modern terms such as hardware and software instead of Descartes “I think therefore I am.”

Veronica Emilia Nuzzolo, M.Ed., Ph.D.

Aristotle, 1966, ‘Physics’, Books V and VI, Ross, W.D. (Ed.), Clarendon Press, Oxford
Hergenhahn, B.R. (2009). An introduction to the history of psychology (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.http://gcumedia.com/digital-resources/cengage/2008/an-introduction-to-the-history-of-psychology_ebook_6e.php
McLeod, S. A. (2007). Mind Body Debate. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/mindbodydebate.html
McInerny, Ralph and O’Callaghan, John, “Saint Thomas Aquinas”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2010/entries/aquinas/&gt;.
Plato, 1991, ‘The Republic’, Jowett, B. (trans.), Forgotten Books, Charleston

How to cite this article:
Nuzzolo, V. E., (2016).  The Theory of Knowledge.  Retrieved from, https://education-is-power.com/the-theory-of-knowledge/

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