We have all heard of the term epistemology at least once . The complexity of the word in itself already gives it a halo of importance which is indeed found in reality. Even though many are unaware of the epistemology they follow, some have already studied it. But what is epistemology? This is the branch of philosophy whose object of study is knowledge.
Knowledge is that body of knowledge that we accept as true. However, for one knowledge to be accepted as true, others must be regarded as false. Thus, epistemology centers on the criteria that validate knowledge.
Its opposite, that is, the destruction of knowledge, is called epistemicide. An epistemicide occurs, for example, when, in Europe, women were burnt because they were thought to be witches. In reality, they were burned because they had knowledge that did not appeal to those in power. By doing this, they were putting an end to knowledge.
Types of epistemological knowledge
Epistemology studies knowledge. And, more concretely, the way in which we obtain knowledge (the criteria that must be followed). It defines concepts like “truth”, “objectivity”, “reality” and “justification”. Thus, epistemology serves to define, among other things, what science is.
In the beginning, to know what is and what is not knowledge, one has to ask oneself whether it is possible to attain knowledge of any truth. If we think that is not possible, we will be part of the school of skeptics. On the other hand, if we consider that the truths exist, two new questions will arise.
The first of these questions is: how can we reach this truth? If we decide that truth can only be obtained from the use of the senses, we will be empiricists. And, on the contrary, if we think that the truth can be reached through the use of reason, we will be rationalists.
The second question refers to the object of truth. If we consider the object of this truth to be internal, such as our opinion of something, we will be idealists. And if we believe that the object of truth is an external reality, we will be realistic.
The implications of each epistemology
In psychology, as in other sciences, defining oneself from an epistemological point of view is fundamental. In general, the sciences are considered to be those which come to the knowledge of truth with the use of the senses. In other words, they are empiricists, in addition to being realistic; they consider the truth to be found in external reality.
However, not all sciences have taken this position. Some schools like interpretivism, constructivism or humanism do not offer the same answer to epistemological questions. On the other hand, positivism and post-positivism are located closer to the epistemology that we named in the previous paragraph. Therefore, there is a debate about which epistemology offers true knowledge.
The point is, the knowledge that comes out of each of these schools is going to be different. Although they may coincide in many ways, the ways of obtaining knowledge (or methodologies) are going to be distinct. Therefore, knowledge of some schools may be rejected by others.
Implications in psychology
While we may get the impression that epistemology is nothing more than an unanswered discussion of old sages, in the news we are facing a very relevant debate. This is the debate concerning alternative therapies, such as the one based on homeopathic products.
The effectiveness of these homeopathic products has recently been questioned. Are they really effective? According to post-positivism, this is not the case. Several experiments confirm that they have no real effect, beyond the placebo effect. However, a school whose epistemological position is based on rationalism and an internal object might argue that if the people who consume these products think they work, then they actually work.
Thus, the debate on alternative therapies is situated on an epistemological level. Depending on the answer to the questions presented at the beginning, it can be considered whether or not these therapies produce the desired effect. Therefore, it is necessary to know the epistemological position from which to defend a cause. It is also necessary to be critical and aware of the limits that the different methods encounter when providing real knowledge.