Epistemology is a subject that has always intrigued me, and to be honest, has often left me more baffled than satisfied when all is said and done.
The main thing that puzzles me is how to go about finding the right criteria for knowledge (this is a problem not only in epistemology, but in all areas of study; it just is doubly pronounced when seeking for the right criteria for knowledge about knowledge). It seems that whatever criteria are ultimately settled upon are settled upon for some other consideration outside of themselves. As one goes about the task of seeking knowledge, he must be willing to assume that he will know it when he discovers it, or will know how to know it. The puzzle is that we have to already have knowledge in order to begin gaining knowlege, but it we stop to reflect on how we have that original knowledge or how we know that it is knowledge, we suddenly are left running in a rather viscious circle.
Roederick Chisholm presents a few ways of dealing with this Problem of the Criterion.
Methodism: one must have a method based on certain critieria in order to determine what coutns for knowledge and what does not; one chooses a method that will enable him to sort his beliefs into true and false categories
Particularsim: one must have particular instances of knoweldge from which to derive a method; one chooses particular beliefs that seem to be clear instances of knoweldge and then discovers the criteria for knowledge based on a study of these beliefs
The particularist interests me because he is willing to assume that he has knowledge even if he doesn’t know what knowledge is nor does he know the criteria by which he has come to have this knowledge. What are the grounds of the particularist’s optimism? Perhaps it is not optimism so much as pragmatism. After all, unless we are willing to gamble with what we seem to know to be true, we will be immobilized. It seems the completely rational response would be to play the skeptic and remain immobilized. The skeptic says, “I don’t know what knowledge is, so I am unwilling to begin spinning any theroies of knowledge based merely upon what seem to be instances of knowledge.” It takes an act of faith, faith in the faculties and properties of the human mind, to begin such a risky enterprise as the study of knowledge without already certainly knowing either what knowledge is or what are clear instances of knowledge; yes it takes an act of faith, or of desperation.
From whence cometh this faith and the courage to act upon it? I hate the frozen world of the skeptic but have not the faith to leave it behind.