Précis of epistemology

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Aristotle and Plato
  1. The foundations of ethics
  2. What is knowledge?
  3. The search for reason
  4. Metaphysics for beginners
  5. Science of the soul or science of matter?
  6. Perception, imagination and reflection
  7. Instinct, learning and memory
  8. Emotions, will and attention
  9. Speech

Applications and complements :

  1. The pedagogy of autonomy
  2. Logical principles
  3. The logic of identity and similarities
  4. The incompleteness of mathematical principles
  5. The truth of relativistic principles
  6. Why is entropy real?
  7. Quantum theory of multiple destinies
  8. The origin and evolution of life and spirit
  9. The therapeutic virtues of autonomy


About this book

Epistemology is the knowledge about knowledge. If we understand the concept of science in the most general sense, all forms of knowledge, epistemology is the science of science.

Two criteria are fundamental to define knowledge: truth and proof. Knowledge must be true and proven to be truly knowledge.

Knowledge about knowledge is of fundamental importance for the development of all knowledge, because recognizing one's own capacity to acquire knowledge makes one more capable to acquire it.

To have an illusion is to believe that we know when we do not know. Whatever the illusion we may have, we always make at the same time an illusion about ourselves, since we take our own ignorance for knowledge. Illusions about our own ability to acquire and recognize knowledge are therefore at the source of all our illusions. By acquiring knowledge about knowledge, we learn to recognize the fundamental illusions that are at the source of all others, we face the problems of illusion, error and ignorance by taking them to the root.


The foundations of ethics

Ethics is the knowledge about the good of the spirit. Epistemology is ethical knowledge because knowledge is a good of the spirit.

The good of the spirit is to live well as a spirit, therefore to want well, to think well, to feel well, to act well, to perceive well and to imagine well. A good will is to want the good. The good of the spirit is to live for the good, to love the good by desire, knowledge and action. The good is the love of the good.

What is knowledge?

To know is to be able to give a conclusive justification of what one believes. A justification is a logical reasoning based on fundamental premises, or the assertion that a premise is fundamental. A justification is acceptable if it respects logic and if all its premises are acceptable. Observations that result from the ordinary use of our natural faculties in good conditions and principles true by definition are acceptable fundamental premises. A justification is conclusive if it is acceptable and if all its fundamental premises are true.

The principle of the justification of principles is that a good principle must bear fruit.

As soon as a justification leaves room for doubt, we can not hope for more than knowing without that knowing we know. We are not the masters in our own house, even in the house of knowledge.

This theory is internalist and fallibilist for acceptable justifications. It is externalist and infallibilist for conclusive justifications. It is foundationalist because it recognizes the existence of fundamental premises from which everything must be justified, and coherentist because it recognizes that all statements are justified by the totality of the knowledge to which they belong.

Metaphysics for beginners

The science of being as being must explain the nature of being, what makes that a being is a being. It is the fundamental science.

All beings except the totality are determined by their place in the totality. The nature of a being, what makes that a being is a being, is its place in the totality. The nature of the totality, what makes that it is the totality, is to give each being its place.

Mental properties are natural properties. Like all natural beings, they are determined by their place in the totality of naturally possible worlds. Like all natural properties, they are powers because they contribute to the power of beings of which they are properties. But the place of mental properties in the system of the laws of Nature is not very well understood.

The Integration Challenge is to unify science and epistemology. For each knowledge or claim to knowledge, we must explain how we acquire it, if it is knowledge, or why it is only an illusion of knowledge, if not.

Logical principles

C is a logical consequence of the premises P when there is no logically possible world such that C is false and the P are true.

A logical consequence can not be false if the premises are true. The relation of logical consequence necessarily leads from truth to truth.

To define a logically possible world, we give ourselves fundamental properties and relations and a set of individuals to whom we can attribute these properties and relations. A statement is atomic when it affirms a fundamental property of an individual or a fundamental relation between several individuals. An atomic statement can not be decomposed into smaller statements. Any set of atomic statements determines a logically possible world such that they are all true and the only true atomic statements.

All relations of logical consequence can be produced with a small number of fundamental rules of deduction from trivial logical consequences, obviously tautological

Reasoning enables us to acquire knowledge because it enables us to discover all that laws can teach us.

The conclusions of a reasoning without hypothesis are universal logical truths, always true whatever the interpretation of the concepts they mention, except for the interpretation of logical connectors. They are called logical laws, or tautologies.

Logical laws are not hypotheses. We always have the right to adopt them as premises, without any other justification except that they are logical laws, because they can not be false, because they can not lead us to error.

All mathematical knowledge can be considered as knowledge about the logically possible worlds.

The logic of identity and similarities

In order for knowledge to be possible, everything must not always be new, rather, everything must always be the same.

Two natural beings are naturally indiscernible when they have the same intrinsic natural properties. The intrinsic natural properties are the properties that they retain when the circumstances vary, when they are taken in various naturally possible arrangements.

The nature of a being is determined by its natural properties. A being is nothing without its properties. They make everything it is. Two beings with the same natural properties are essentially similar. One can always be replaced by the other. Everything that is naturally possible with one is naturally possible with the other.

The nature of a complex natural being is its structure. Two isomorphic complex natural beings have the same nature.

A structure is symmetrical when it contains distinct but essentially indistinguishable elements, because their properties and their relations within the structure determine distinct but equivalent places.

To develop empirical science, we must assume that all experimenters are equivalent in the sense that any observation made by one can be made again by another. The principle of equivalence of all observers is a foundation of all sciences, because reason requires that knowledge be universal, that all that is known by one can be known by all others.

When we understand that we are all equally capable of knowing, we understand at the same time the great principles on which we can base all rational knowledge. Everything happens just like if the truth was a generous divinity, which gives wisdom to those who really want to know it.

Two properties or natural relations are identical if and only if they are true of the same beings in all naturally possible worlds.(...)

The search for reason

Reason is to develop universal knowledge in common, honestly seeking truths and proofs, respecting the principle of equivalence of all observers, and more generally by voluntarily submitting to all the rules of critical thinking. We explore the space of possibilities whenever we examine knowledge in order to evaluate it. Critical tests are designed to select promising opportunities. Criticism is therefore a heuristic that helps us to solve the problem of the development of reason.

We are the sources, the middle and the ends of reason, the sources because reason is born of our thoughts, the middle because it develops when we work for it, the ends because it is there so that we can accomplish ourselves.

« You shall love your neighbor as yourself » (Leviticus 19:18) is not only a religious principle, it is also a rationalist principle, because the sciences and reason can develop only through mutual help and cooperation. If human beings do not want to help each other, reason can not be among them.

We do not know the range of skills that reason can give us. To know what reason makes us capable of, the best way, and the only way, is to try.

Science of the soul or science of matter?

To meet the challenge of integrating knowledge with knowledge about knowledge, epistemology must be psychological.

Cognition is the production and use of internal representations that prepare for action. A soul gives itself representations, it is what represents to itself, what perceives and imagines. To seek the soul in the brain is to look for the representations it gives itself.

Perception, imagination and reflection

Imagination is the production of internal representations. Perception is the imagination of the present. To perceive is always to conceive because perception attributes concepts to perceived beings. A concept is determined by the set of detection systems that signal the presence of an object by attributing this concept to it. This definition is general because any information processing unit can be considered as a detection system. The ability to reason can be considered as a system for detecting theoretical concepts.

Reflection is the knowledge of oneself as a soul, that is, as a being who perceives, imagines, feels and wants. Where does one find that self which must be perceived? And how does it represent itself? La Gioconda is not only a representation of Mona Lisa, it is also a representation of Leonardo da Vinci. The same goes for all our representations.

Perceptions reveal the truth about matter because the nature of matter is to be perceptible.

Instinct, learning and memory

We could not learn if we did not have the natural ability to learn. This instinct to learn is based on the ability of nervous systems to take advantage of their experience to guide their development, and thus on the plasticity of neurons and their synapses.

Emotions, will and attention

We can define emotions from some general characters: An emotion is triggered by the detection of specific conditions, fear by the detection of danger, sadness by the detection of misfortune, anger by the detection of the unacceptable ... This detection is followed very quickly by reflex reactions and physiological changes that enable the body to adapt to the novelty of its situation. Emotions determine motives, ie desires or aversions. They tell us the goals that deserve to be pursued, and what we must flee or avoid.

The will is explained with a model of a centralized administration without a central administrator. Executive modules enforce decisions made voluntarily. These are neural circuits capable of recording decisions already made, received on their input channels, and then giving the commands that apply them to their output channels. Designer modules make proposals to evaluator modules for decision making. The evaluation modules obey the executive modules and therefore the decisions taken previously, which makes the will autonomous in its evaluations. The designer modules also obey the executive modules, which makes the will autonomous in its execution. This model also explains attention, since it is the selection of representations to make decisions and control their execution, working memory, since it is the memory used to apply decisions, beliefs, since they are representations that we voluntarily approve, and unconscious knowledge and desires, because we can sometimes deny what we have yet perceived or felt. It thus gives an explanation of the cerebral bases of the id, the ego and the superego, and of psychic dissociations.

Ethical knowledge consists of evaluating actions, behaviors and their ends. Silent ethical knowledge is the know-how-to-evaluate that results from the emotions and the will. An ethical knowledge can be defined as the knowledge of an ideal, because an evaluation system determines an ideal. One builds oneself by giving oneself an ideal of the self, a superego, by deciding the criteria of evaluation of our decisions.

If we compare the psychic organization to a human society, the ego is the state, the ideal of the ego is the ideal of the state as it is affirmed in the Constitution and in all the official declarations, the id is the civil society. Executive modules are all agents of the state that enable it to impose its decisions. Designer and evaluator modules are all citizens, whether public servants or not, who participate in the design and evaluation of decisions made on behalf of the state. Information that we are aware of because it holds our attention is information taken into account in the evaluation that leads to state decisions. Unconscious information is that which is ignored by the state in its evaluations. Beliefs are what the state officially declares to be true.


Speech is the voluntary emission of signals to influence the imagination and the will of those who receive them.

Words make sense when they awaken the imagination. When the concepts detected by our perception systems are associated with verbal expressions that name them, we can both describe what we perceive, by naming perceived concepts, and imagine what is described, by simulating the detection of named concepts. To understand words is to know how to use them, and we must imagine what they incite us to imagine.

Silent knowledge is the knowledge that precedes speech and results from perception, imagination, emotion and will. It can be translated into words as soon as the detection systems that it uses are named by verbal expressions. Silent knowledge is fundamental to the development of reason, because talking knowledge begins as a translation of silent knowledge. It can then fly on its own because it can speak about speech, but it needs silent knowledge to take off, because words must awaken the imagination to make sense.

Abstract theoretical knowledge is the talking equivalent of the silent imagination of fictions. For theoretical beings to exist and be known, it is enough to make a theory of them, to give oneself principles and to reason from them. Theoretical beings exist as objects of theory, simply because it is true that we speak of them. Theoretical beings are completely determined by our definitions and by the theories in which we have defined them. Talking ethical knowledge resembles an abstract theory, because it is stated with principles which are admitted as true by definition of an ideal.

Thought is the imagination of speech.

Just as the individual superego unifies a personality, so the rationalist ideal unifies humanity. The individual superego makes one intelligent and powerful when it makes one consistent with oneself and with reality. In the same way, the ideal of reason renders humanity capable of uniting and thus realizing reason.


Epistemological knowledge is of paramount importance for the research and evaluation of the principles of science. Basic research is always a kind of applied epistemological research. The most fundamental principles of logic, mathematics, physics and biology are presented and explained in the third part. As the principles of psychology and epistemology were presented in the first two parts, this book gives an overview of the most basic principles of the most basic sciences.

Applications of epistemology can be very concrete. In all practical areas where the acquisition and use of good knowledge is of crucial importance, so almost always, a solid epistemological knowledge can prove its usefulness. Pedagogy and cognitive therapy are directly relevant, but more generally most issues of importance to humans depend on our ability to collectively acquire and use knowledge: public health, ecology, economics and finance, justice and democracy, truth and lies in the media, reliability and safety of equipment ...

Detailed contents

  1. What is knowledge?
    1. Rational knowledge must be public and proven
    2. Conclusive justifications
    3. Justification of principles
    4. Justification of observations
    5. Foundationalism or coherentism?
    6. Knowing without knowing that we know
    7. Fallible justifications and the Gettier problem
    8. Justification of knowledge about knowledge
  2. Metaphysics for beginners
    1. The biggest questions
    2. The big picture
    3. Metaphysics is a science
    4. Metaphysics takes science at the source
    5. Properties, relations, the binding problem and individuals
    6. The whole being of a being is its being in the whole
    7. Logically possible worlds
    8. Naturally possible worlds
    9. The unity of atomism and holism
    10. The power of natural properties
    11. The science of being as being
    12. The place of mind in Nature
    13. To be and to be known
    14. The Integration Challenge
  3. Logical principles
    1. Necessary consequence and logical possibility
    2. The truth of compound statements
    3. The interdefinability of logical connectors
    4. The fundamental rules of deduction
      1. The rule of particularization
      2. The rule of generalization
      3. The detachment rule
      4. The rule of hypothesis incorporation
      5. The principle of reduction to absurdity
      6. The rule of double negation suppression
      7. The rule of analysis
      8. The rule of synthesis
      9. The rule of thesis weakening
      10. The elimination rule for a disjunction
      11. The rule of direct proof of existence
      12. The elimination rule for the existential quantifier
    5. Reasoning without hypothesis and the logical laws
    6. The derivation of logical consequences
    7. Why does reasoning enable us to acquire knowledge?
    8. Justification of logic
    9. The paradox of Lewis Caroll
    10. Mathematical knowledge
  4. The logic of identity and similarities
    1. Nothing new under the sun
    2. Difference or identity of indiscernibles?
    3. Science of the individual or science of the general?
    4. Similarity
    5. Reasoning by similarity and typology
    6. Structures as properties
    7. Symmetrical structures
    8. The principle of equivalence of all observers
    9. Does Nature really obey laws?
    10. The diversity of names of the same being
    11. The principle of indiscernibility of identicals
    12. The identity of individuals in naturally possible worlds
    13. The identity of properties and relations
  5. The search for reason
    1. The will to know
    2. Problem solving
    3. Theoretical problems
    4. Criticism is a heuristic
    5. The discovery of reason
    6. Where is the grain to grind?
    7. Good knowledge is the knowledge that makes us competent
    8. The unity of reason
    9. Is reason only a human invention?
    10. What can we hope?
  6. Science of the soul or science of matter?
    1. Epistemology and Psychology
    2. The science of the soul
    3. The mystery of the alliance of body and soul
    4. Knowledge of the self as a soul
    5. Cognition
    6. The connection between the sensors and the effectors
  7. Perception, imagination and reflection
    1. Perception is the imagination of the present
    2. Silent inferences
    3. Imagine to simulate other souls
    4. Perception is conceptual
    5. Are concepts concrete beings?
    6. Schemas
    7. Creative imagination
    8. Reflection
    9. The nature of matter and the truth of perception
  8. Instinct, learning and memory
    1. What is learning?
    2. The instinct to learn
    3. Neural plasticity
    4. The development of instincts
    5. Procedural memory
    6. A neural model for episodic memory: the convergence-divergence zones
    7. Learning to perceive
  9. Emotions, will and attention
    1. Brain modules and routine activities
    2. Emotions
    3. Decision making and the autonomy of the will
    4. Problem solving
    5. Innovation
    6. A centralized administration without a central administrator
    7. Attention and consciousness
    8. Beliefs
    9. The universal simulator
    10. Silent ethical knowledge
    11. The id, the ego and the superego
    12. Are we always conscious of what we want?
    13. Unconscious desires
    14. False consciousness and unconscious knowledge
    15. Prisoners of schemas
    16. The divided self
    17. The unity of the living body and the self-protective will
    18. The mastery of oneself
    19. Power of the unconscious of of consciousness?
    20. The mastery of emotions
  10. Speech
    1. What is speech?
      1. Logic and metaphysics
      2. Everything speaks
      3. Animal communication
      4. Influence the imagination and the will
    2. Meaning through imagination
    3. Understanding words means knowing how to use them
    4. Theoretical frameworks, the a priori and the knowledge of abstract beings
    5. Freedom of interpretation
    6. Thought


  1. The pedagogy of autonomy
    1. The arguments of authority
    2. The authority of reason
    3. The foundationalist error
    4. Becoming a teacher for oneself
  2. The incompleteness of mathematical principles
    1. The first incompleteness theorem of Gödel
    2. The uncountable infinite
    3. Tarski's theorem of the undefinability of truth
    4. How to prove the unprovable?
    5. Consistency proofs
    6. The second incompleteness theorem of Gödel
    7. The science of everything that can be imagined
    8. Zermelo's theory of sets
    9. Russell's paradox
    10. The truth of Peano's axioms
    11. The truth of Zermelo's axioms
    12. The axiom of choice
    13. Are consistency proofs caught in a vicious circle?
    14. The independence of the continuum hypothesis
    15. Theories, software and recursively enumerable sets
    16. Undecidable sets and problems
    17. Universal machines and theories
    18. The undecidability of the halting problem
    19. The undecidability of the set of all logical laws
    20. Universality is the cause of undecidability
  3. The truth of relativistic principles
    1. The principle of general relativity
    2. What is a tensor?
    3. A misunderstanding about the relativity of truth
    4. Newtonian physics and Galileo's principle of relativity
    5. Minkowski space-time
      1. The constancy of the velocity of light
      2. The relativity of simultaneity
      3. Spatio-temporal measurement devices
      4. All lightlike intervals are equal
      5. Minkowski's metric and the tensors of space-time
      6. Why is Newtonian physics nevertheless true?
    6. The curvature of space-time and gravitation
      1. Free fall and the orbits of planets
      2. Einstein's great idea
      3. The equality of inertial and gravitational mass
      4. Special relativity and general relativity
    7. Relativistic principles are confirmed by their fruits
  4. Why is entropy real?
    1. The reality of thermodynamic entropy
    2. The three definitions of statistical entropy
    3. The reality of accessibility entropy
      1. Statistical ensembles, ergodicity and time averages
      2. The principle of polls and the Monte Carlo method
      3. Quantum decoherence
      4. Microscopic entropy
      5. The independence of microscopic constituents
      6. Lack of information, laisser-faire and equilibrium
    4. The difference between thermodynamic entropy and accessibility entropy
    5. Information as fuel
      1. Maxwell's demon
      2. Amount of information and work
    6. Why can not Maxwell's demon reduce total entropy?
    7. The conservation of the subjective entropy of an isolated system
    8. Why can entropy increase?
    9. Do irreversible computations always reduce the thermodynamic entropy of a computer?
    10. Maxwell's demon and the impossibility of a perpetual motion of the second kind
    11. Thermodynamics is a physics of observation
    12. Complements
      1. The perpetual motion of the second kind
      2. Entropy increase and the microcanonical distribution
      3. The reality of entropy increase
      4. Entropy is an extensive quantity when the parts are statistically independent
      5. The Szilard's engine
  5. Quantum theory of multiple destinies
    1. Taking the Schrödinger equation seriously
    2. The existence theorem of multiple destinies is empirically verifiable
    3. One space-time for all parallel worlds
    4. Everett's theory is unified quantum theory
  6. The origin and evolution of life and spirit
    1. Evolution through natural selection
    2. The molecules of heredity
    3. The spontaneous generation of life in the primitive ocean
      1. Autocatalytic networks
      2. Amphiphilic molecules and vesicles
      3. The first living cells
      4. The origin of DNA
      5. How to know if this theory is true?
    4. Life is at home in the universe
    5. Cooperation is more fundamental than competition
    6. The infinite tolerance of life
    7. The origin of spirit
  7. The therapeutic virtues of autonomy
    1. Psychic disorders
    2. To heal oneself
    3. Criticism as a means of healing
    4. Inner peace
    5. Inner reactions
    6. Biographical and autobiographical truth
    7. The therapeutic virtues of narration