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Knowledge and its theoretical reflection; Illustration from James Ayscough, A Short Account of the Eye and Nature of Vision (London, 1752), p. 30

The theory of knowledge (also epistemology or gnoseology ) is a main area of philosophy , which encompasses the questions about the prerequisites for knowledge , the emergence of knowledge and other forms of beliefs . It also examines what constitutes certainty and justification and what kind of doubt can objectively exist about what kind of beliefs.


Epistemology (from Greek ἐπιστήμη, epistéme - knowledge, knowledge, science and λόγος, lógos - also science, teaching) is a word formation that goes back to the Greek. Some languages ​​use this expression synonymously with epistemology: In English there is, for example, Theory of Knowledge next to Epistemology, in Dutch there is Kennistheorie next to epistemology. A conceptual difference was offered in the 20th century in French philosophy between Théorie de la connaissance and épistémology: The first-mentioned word should therefore rather stand for an analytical examination of the fundamentally existing possibilities of knowledge, the latter for an investigation of epochal knowledge formations, the so-called Epistems , and their Influence on the Conceptualization of the World. The French spelling épistémologie is sometimes used in German to denote special French research. However, these distinctions are hardly maintained any more, the terms are increasingly being used equivalently.

The German word epistemology did not become more common until the middle of the 19th century, when a more practice-oriented, more theory-remote approach to knowledge in the natural sciences split off from the philosophical, more theoretical. In the discussion with Immanuel Kant (namely in the work of Wilhelm Traugott Krug ) the term was pre-formulated at the beginning of the 19th century. Philosophers such as John Locke and David Hume had written their basic works on "human understanding" in the 17th and 18th centuries and saw themselves in a tradition that went back at least to ancient philosophy.

The conceptual formations on gnosis (from ancient Greek γνῶσις, gnosis, knowledge) in modern Greek Γνωσιολογία and Spanish Gnoseología refer back to the philosophical debate of late antiquity (see the chapter Gnostics and Christian late antiquity in more detail ).

Significance as a critical metadiscourse

Epistemological considerations deal in a larger arc with common knowledge, with the philosophy of science , with the neighboring fields of philosophy and with the epistemological discussion itself. The considerations apply less to concrete knowledge than to its classification, depending on whether it is based on sensory perceptions, logical conclusions , model assumptions with trial and error , the knowledge of the truth by revelation and reflection of innate ideas and categories is based, to name here intensively discussed classifications. Concrete stocks of knowledge are often only used as examples in the debates to discuss basic assumptions. Epistemological discussions develop explosive societal power wherever they question statements with a fundamental claim to truth.

Compared to everyday considerations, epistemological considerations often gain a dimension that can hardly be taken seriously at the same time. Wittgenstein addressed this with humor in 1951 in his Thoughts on Certainty (published only after his death in 1969):

“I'm sitting in the garden with a philosopher; he says again and again, 'I know this is a tree', pointing to a tree nearby. A third person comes along and hears it, and I tell him: 'This person is not crazy: we just philosophize.' "

For the epistemologist, unlike in everyday life, it is not the individual questionable fact that is interesting, but the consideration with which a whole range of knowledge can be questioned. The basic assumptions that exist in this area can be addressed more clearly at the same time:

“It would seem ridiculous to me to want to doubt Napoleon's existence ; but if someone doubted the existence of the earth 150 years ago , I might be more willing to sit up and take notice, because now they doubt our entire system of evidence . It seems to me that the system is more secure than security within it. "

The specifically designed problems are called aporias in epistemology . As a rule, after a brief reflection, they prove to be insoluble with human knowledge. Thanks to their simplicity, you can meet them all the more clearly with model solutions, the consequences of which then remain manageable in the subsequent considerations.

Whether one is dreaming or waking is one of the oldest of these problems. The fundamental answers are exciting - such as those of solipsism (from the Latin “solus ipse”, alone yourself), according to which everything that one considers to be perception only takes place in consciousness, is a single dream, and it is unprovable and therefore undecided whether there is anything besides this awareness.

The world as I see it (with one eye). Which parts of this picture belong to "me", which to the "outside world", with which interpretation of the perceptions do I make the assignment? Illustration from Ernst Mach , The Analysis of Sensations (1900), p. 15.

From an everyday perspective , this is a questionable solution, but up to a certain point it is actually assumed: The common logic of everyday life is that the world exists and that people use sensory perception to form an image of it. However, it is known that this image is never really compared to the world. You can compare a photo with what it depicts, but not your own image of the room with it - at best you get new images of the surrounding space all the time. The theory that humans have images of the world is based - from an epistemological point of view - on conclusions from analogy and a model that is built up in the interpretation of human perceptions. You observe other people and suspect that they perceive the world (as you do). When you move, your view changes, similar to the picture in a camera display, when you pan it. It makes sense to assume that one moves in the world and in doing so creates these specific changes in one's own perceptions. Ernst Mach's opening chapter to his book Analysis of Sensations (1900) outlines this as the result of a model with further questions about the rules for models developed by physicists.

With the cited puzzle games, Ludwig Wittgenstein pointed out that individual evaluations of such questions apply in everyday life. The two philosophers preferred to make it clear to the casual passerby that they did not really doubt the existence of trees, but "only philosophized". At the same time, they assumed that the passer-by had two categories for the same doubt, just like them: Either they are philosophizing here, or the doubt is a sign of a loss of reality, as it is sometimes shown by accident victims in acute stress reactions when what happened seems clearly unreal to them. In the case of the accident victim, one accepts the interpretation that what just happened is not true, as a temporary evasive maneuver, known as dissociation . If someone suspects in the long term that his thoughts are being controlled from outside, he is no longer free in his decisions, he hears voices, his world is determined by imaginations, one changes the classification of this view in everyday life. A paranoia may be here. As these examples make clear, culture does not simply provide a simple epistemology - and certainly not a coherent one: in one and the same culture, the feeling of hearing voices in the head, of being controlled in behavior, can be considered pathological classified and recognized as a religious experience. Even here one will again share and appreciate certain religious experiences and pathologize others as religious madness . Everyday logic is precisely not determined by any fundamental epistemology. Even less do we see the perception of reality as simply subjective. You continuously provide information about your own view and perception of situations and intervene responsibly if someone in this environment no longer develops culturally or personally controlled perspectives.

Heroism and Martyrdom in Explosive Science: Jacques-Louis Davids The Death of Socrates (1787)

In contrast to everyday thinking, philosophical epistemology unfolds as a “theoretical”, scientific discussion. Considerations made in this second framework do not collide with private perspectives (as they did in Wittgenstein's example with the garden fence). If successful, they collide systematically and potentially explosively with publicly represented points of view. The philosophical discipline celebrates its social explosiveness itself with the technical history, to which the process belongs, which the city of Athens 399 BC. Against the philosopher Socrates . He was accused of attacking the certainties of state and religion with his questioning philosophizing to the detriment of young people. Socrates let himself be executed voluntarily, more willing to submit to a wrong judgment than to make up for an injustice by another, that of his flight from responsibility. A heroism of its own could be celebrated here until later paintings of the nude. Giordano Bruno's execution at the stake in 1600 and Galileo Galileo's “Eppur Si Muove” are similarly handed down as references to the societal explosiveness of epistemological reflection.

The philosophical analysis of knowledge established in public is a tricky one , since epistemology appears with it as a metadiscussion : it questions the foundations of other discussions. In an explosive case, it does this in places where “undoubted truths” are dogmatically proclaimed. In terms of the history of philosophy, the arguments in which epistemologists support public perspectives are just as interesting. The proof of God formulated by the natural sciences of the 17th century effectively not only acts as an underpinning of religion, it indirectly asserts that the religion of revelation remains epistemologically problematic and offers philosophy as a universal alternative.

Thirdly, the limits of epistemology are reflected in the epistemology itself. Wittgenstein's late reflections only raise further questions here. In 1922, in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, he had demonstrated that man, whatever he perceives of the world, can translate into statements about facts. The project was exciting in terms of its completeness; At the same time, it made it clear that statements on morality and causality did not formulate facts, but belonged to a completely different project than that of depicting the world. Wittgenstein occupied himself with the question of the relationship between language and the world in thousands of small observations over the next few decades, which made problem areas recognizable. With the considerations of About Certainty , he finally questioned that epistemology begins where doubt about reality begins. One and the same doubt can gain different status in different "games" (Wittgenstein spoke of " language games " in reference to the fact that people treat each other according to different rules in different situations). One would only know practically how the game of doubt works - differently depending on the type of doubt (the Napoleon example) and differently depending on the situation (about which the philosophers agreed with the passer-by). Read in terms of the history of philosophy, the examples incorporate a thesis of pragmatism (that knowledge proves itself in practical situations). They turned it around: doubt also works in practice. In the history of philosophy, on the other hand, this consideration preceded postmodern theories, according to which there is no closed world view in linguistic exchange.

Field of scientific method and theory reflection

Representation of reality or model? Electromagnetic transverse waves , the result of experiments carried out by Heinrich Hertz in 1887

The epistemology gave decisive impulses to the modern sciences, which in turn have played a decisive role in shaping epistemology itself in Europe over the past five hundred years. The epistemological discussions of theoretical physics, biology and mathematics have been particularly influential. A series of works in physics from the late 19th and early 20th centuries marked the upheaval in the own specialist debate in epistemological chapters that preceded the investigations. Heinrich Hertz 's principles of mechanics presented in a new context (1891–1894) and several of Ernst Mach's books show statements that are milestones in the philosophical debate today. In contrast, the method chapters of regular scientific work mostly (without claiming the word epistemology) focus on the justification of work done. They combine methodological reflection (with which experimental set-ups or investigations were attempted, which proof to provide) with a theoretical discussion (which basic assumptions were made). German studies have similarities with scientific studies to define the scope of the findings.

The philosophical debate - this is its own method - usually uses abstractions ; discussions are based on examples. With a view to the examples, one makes prognoses about what reality must be like in order to behave in this way in the investigation. In the interesting case, the theoretical basic assumptions provide research impulses. Arguments are required that they open up to a “ reasonable ” reflection: Anyone who understands the prerequisites of an argument, its premises , in their implications (understands what follows from them for research) should theoretically be able to understand the following considerations in a similar way to a calculation in mathematics with an understanding of the basic arithmetic operations . Epistemology grants authorities and institutions no further power in judging arguments. In practice, discussion participants are required to know who has already carried out a particular argument. The arguments themselves are judged in terms of their logic . Settlements can be rejected if they can be proven to have fundamental consequential problems. The exchange takes place primarily with a view to assumptions. Their consistent analysis aims at the respective ultimate justification, the justification that remains when one questioned each answer on its own assumptions.

The study of epistemology requires a willingness to systematically question assumptions and a historical occupation with the subject. Most debates are only understandable in their explosiveness to outsiders when they know which thoughts have already been played through. Wittgenstein's example of the philosophers in the garden is an anecdote in everyday life . In the field of epistemological considerations, it takes up a question that was also discussed in Plato's and Descartes' allegory of the cave , in order to focus the more detailed question on individual aspects (in the concrete constellation on how doubts work in everyday life and among philosophers and to what extent both areas of the Doubt related). The preoccupation with epistemology as a pool of considerations enables discussion participants to assess what the example is about. At the same time, the history of epistemology, like the history of literature and art , has become the subject of interest in a history of epochal states of mind over the past two centuries.

Debate of historical significance

The nineteenth century look back at how man experienced the end of his medieval worldview in the Copernican period: Camille Flammarion's wood engraving from his L'Atmosphère: Météorologie Populaire (Paris, 1888), p. 163

In Western Europe, the history of epistemology gained importance as a yardstick for intellectual and cultural progress in the larger process, with the sciences becoming the central provider of public discussion. In the 1780s, Immanuel Kant noted a decisive breakthrough for the beginning of the modern age: a " Copernican turn " took place with the step towards a heliocentric worldview. The human being had to relocate himself in the universe. Scientific research and modern epistemology would have made the following intellectual breakthroughs possible. The 19th century took over the perspective offered by Kant in the 1780s and pursued competing readings of the epochal achievements and their significance in the history of ideas . The writings of Auguste Comte became influential with their drafts of his three-stage law and his encyclopedic law of human intellectual development from a historical perspective.

The current technical history that caused this is restricted to the western strand of discussion that led to western-style academic life. Asiatic philosophy is sometimes conceded an opposing position, a fundamentally different way of thinking, to which the confrontational argumentative game remained alien and which therefore did not gain comparable dynamics. The conventional western history offerings mostly separate ancient , medieval and modern times as epochs. In fact, regardless of the theories to be recorded, differences in the organization of the debate, in its overall institutional structure, and with them peculiarities of Western development can be discerned.

  • Ancient epistemology developed without the framework of international university research (which emerged in the Middle Ages) and without repercussions in the natural sciences (which only became more important in the late 19th century). Most decisive here is a discussion of competing schools, in which aesthetic and ethical arguments played a major role.
  • The Middle East and Europe took a separate path with the triumphant advance of Christianity and Islam, two religions which, on a shared historical basis, declared the search for a coherent explanation of the world to be binding. In both cultural areas, international research has been working on the universal integration of knowledge since late antiquity. For Christianity, Augustine is one of the people here who ensured that new thinking took over ancient philosophies.
  • The modern age is marked by a clear move away from the Middle Ages formulated in retrospect from 1500 onwards. This was visibly reflected in the shifting of the debate. After 1500, projects of the theologically oriented philosophy of scholasticism found increasing competition from non-theological, scientific, secular research - it not only provided its own attempts to prove the existence of God , but also explanations of nature and historical offers that broke with the Bible. The 19th century intensified the confrontation with the restructuring of the scientific community. The new subjects of the natural, human and social sciences took over essential parts of the former theological field of debate. Since then, epistemology has been continued in them.
  • If there was a consensus for the Middle Ages as for the 19th century that epistemology strived for a true and complete knowledge of the world, then in the late 19th and early 20th centuries the perspective was considerably relativized: demands like those of truth were emerging the center of scientific and philosophical epistemology. New demands arose, such as the practical use of knowledge regardless of its truth. Here, projects of evolutionary epistemology (which define knowledge as the continuation of biological adaptation to the environment) agree with cultural-historical explanations that certify knowledge and the theories on which they are based have special benefits in a respective historical argumentation framework.

The main advantage of the historical perspective on epistemology in philosophy studies is that it allows the value of individual positions (as answers and counterproposals) to be grasped more clearly in historical contexts of debate.

A Discourse of the Politically Pluralist City-States: Epistemology in Antiquity

The cultural area of ​​antiquity - the area of ​​the states around the Mediterranean Sea - was decidedly more pluralistic than the occidental one that emerged from it in the first centuries AD. Although it produced a large number of epistemological offers, including a debate which Plato and Aristotle found its written fixation, which continues to the present day, epistemology did not gain any potential in it with which it could serve as a basis for a culture of international scientific progress .

The philosophical project only gained explosive power when, with Christianity and Islam, it became the object of a theological system striving for unity and universal significance, which was expanded on a missionary basis. Here Christianity differed fundamentally from Judaism, whose philosophical debates also had little international impact. Religion was local and individual in the ancient culture. Individual city-states worshiped gods with a local focus, who were believed to have a special bond with the city. Individual religious cults gained supra-regional charisma in trade through the use of mercenaries and the deportation of slaves and established themselves in all the larger places that were connected by the trade network. None of them developed an organizational structure from which a scientific enterprise could have emerged.

Centers of knowledge were well-known libraries like the Library of Alexandria . Otherwise philosophy was practiced in schools, the so-called academies , which in particular met a demand for rhetorical instruction. Here teachers taught argumentative competition as an art. The politics of Athens and Rome took place in public arenas. The political elite trained for them and needed justification options for them that would be obvious to the audience even in a marketplace. Different theorems were defended at the competing academies and answers to opposing ones were sought. For that reason alone, the debates were typically associated with an art of ethical persuasion. The antiquity did not build - formulated in the larger perspective - a system of universities in which knowledge would have been in constant cross-border comparison, although it was technologically superior to the early Middle Ages. There was natural science , but no globally connected research that shared the latest findings and produced a consistent background model of reality. Significantly enough, all of Rome's most famous philosophers were not epistemologists based on the Greek model, but moralists, statesmen and rhetoricians. Rome's technological progress was based on a craft engineering, not on an explosive amalgamation of epistemology, basic research and a centrally represented worldview. The offerings of Greek epistemology, which are still discussed today as basic epistemological options, actually lost their importance before the Middle Ages.

Pre-Socratic philosophy

The epistemologically most exciting area is usually referred to as pre-Socratic philosophy. It comprises several dozen names, of which mostly little more than the locality and one or a few central claims have been passed down that indicate that schools competed against each other in an exchange in which nationally known premises served as trademarks.

In retrospect, some of these positions appear modern, which is mainly due to their rediscovery in the early modern period. Modern philosophy provided itself with representatives of radical thought options. For the early modern scientists, the formulations of a potentially atheistic atomism together with the thesis that the world existed materially without being created were exciting . The far larger range of philosophies to be recorded here seems to be borne by the working of universal harmonies of thoughts through the matter of spiritual substances flowing through. Mathematics and music as the art of numerical proportions play a role in traditional arguments. The achievements in the field of geometry testify to a fascination with evidence processes that take place in a logical space, but obviously apply from this to the visible world.

In retrospect, the various theorems have in common that, even where they are reminiscent of modern particle physics and their modeling, they ultimately do not arise from empirical research in the modern sense. Theoretical considerations gained practical value above all through mathematics, through which they inspired a strongly theoretical engineering science. Thinking about mechanical laws, leverage, power transmission, which is noticeable in Archimedes (287–212 BC), refers to the traditions of a philosophy in which mathematics and epistemology were closely linked.


The two philosophers of antiquity who had a lasting impact on epistemological thinking a few centuries later are Plato and Aristotle. With Plato's rendering of the conversations, which he ascribed to his teacher Socrates , the fundamental doubt became the starting point for the discussion: although Socrates claimed that he was ultimately only certain of his ignorance - his dialogues, however, constantly led the discussion partners to develop systems in which In the end, the contradictions accumulated so blatantly that it seemed wiser to start from a completely different world: In everyday life one deals with sensual experience. In fact, there would be a much truer world behind this, a world of sane and stable " ideas ".

Under the influence of modern empiricism , the logic of Platonic reflection is not always immediately plausible. The opposite option asserts plausibility: According to it, people derive their ideas of things from intuition and experience. The ideas of things would therefore be more of an abstraction, a look at the essentials. Plato doubts about this in view of this essential and his own plausibility: The idea of ​​what a person is is not really a mixture of the people you saw. Aspects of an idea show up in human thought as soon as there is a more thorough argument. A person remains a person when he is in a coma - so he does not have to show reason; His body can be arbitrarily deformed by a genetic defect - one effectively assumes that people simply have to be conceived and born by people, but here too they are becoming increasingly flexible. Plato refers to this in his dialogues : In the end, people always defend concepts with logical arguments rather than experience, with arguments that gain stability in relation to experience. The question that remains is where the basic concepts are obtained from, with which one thinks about the essentials. Plato's dialogues suggest that an existing reason between people makes it possible to separate reasonable from erroneous ideas. At the same time, his dialogues led to a dualism between a world of ideas and the factually existing world, in which it lags behind the ideals, offers only a random and constantly changing reality, which is so surely encountered with language precisely because language and your own considerations belong more to the realm of concepts and ideas.


While Plato exerted an immense influence on the world of ideas of late antiquity and Christianity, Aristotle was supposed to influence the scientific community in its organizational form much more strongly. This becomes clear if one looks at the kind of textual precipitate of the considerations. Plato offers dialogues, debates in which examples are discussed.

Aristotle, on the other hand, wrote encyclopaedically ordered stocks of knowledge under topics of research, on which one could continue to work at the same moment in increasing knowledge. With physics and metaphysics , Aristotle presented a fundamental scientific differentiation that subjected Platonic thinking about ideas and phenomena of the world to a rational order. He supplemented the other topics of ethics and politics with the area of ​​human inventions of worlds, poetics , and logic as an investigation of the structures of argumentation.

For Aristotle, the question of the justification of the ideal forms remained decisive. His writings provide differentiations, definitions and arguments that support them. The question of perfection is a principle of order - human ideas formulate, according to the premise, implicit thoughts of the perfect object of its kind. The scientifically argued investigation must be able to explain why perfection is to be defined in this way. In this form, Aristotle also ponders why the sphere is the perfect shape and what properties a perfect tragedy must have. The rules of production arise from the explanations. Transfers determine the conclusions, for example when Aristotle concludes from the macrocosm to the microcosm , based on the basic assumption of overarching laws of form.

One can draw lines from Aristotle into the encyclopaedics of the Middle Ages, as well as into the modern natural sciences, which interpret experimental results with their own model assumptions of atoms and molecules. Modern Western Europe owes the reception of Aristotle, which began in the Middle Ages, to cultural contact with Arabia. Islamic scholarship learned from the Aristotelian writings from the 9th century.

Gnosticism and Christian Late Antiquity

The decisive steps in the international controversy, which ultimately gave the epistemology space as a basic project, took place in the exchange between the academic Platonic philosophy of Greece and the religious to sectarian currents of Gnosticism that spread in the southern Mediterranean region, in a controversy into which Finally, from the 2nd century onwards, Christianity interfered, ready to develop its own internationalist philosophical dimension with the detachment from Judaism and to offer the greater synthesis.

The Gnostic currents (from the Greek γνωσις, gnosis, knowledge) took up threads of debate from Greek philosophy, but were also open to religious thinking. The much older Zoroastrianism developed here influence. With the Persian empire it had temporarily become a state-supporting religion; its uniform cult spread across the Mediterranean. Philosophically, the offer to combine monotheism with a fundamental dualistic worldview was attractive . Whatever was observable was to be interpreted in the uniform interpretation offer as a struggle between good and evil, as a process in which the primordial fire separated from darkness, the spiritual triumphed over the physical world, producing knowledge, gnosis, in the separation of the spirit of matter if you wanted to see it philosophically. With the beginning of the cosmos, the opposite poles got mixed up. In every course of the world, knowledge had to break new ground, the spirit had to come together again. The same forces acted in every single observable process, so the offer which gave all natural processes a central principle.

Parts of the Gnostic currents gained greater cohesion in Manichaeism , which spread as a new religion in the Mediterranean region from the 3rd century onwards, before Christianity ousted it. Augustine 's Confessiones (397/98) sketch in an autobiographical retrospective the connecting lines that emerged for the observer in the North African Mediterranean area: At the end of the public discussion events, one could argue between Greek Neo-Platonism , current Manichaeism, various currents of Gnostics and Christianity.

Christianity had indeed developed in a split from Judaism, but in the mission process its claim to be the religion of a single chosen people was transformed into a universal claim: The knowledge of God was promised to all people with Christianity; the final process of the world declaration had just begun. The Messiah, who announced the end of the world, had just appeared with Jesus. With the expansion into the area of ​​the Greek city-states, the new religion took up the current philosophical controversies. This becomes clear with the beginning of the Gospel of John , which was written in Greek at the beginning of the 2nd century - probably in Ephesus - and already in the opening offered a bridge to the Old Testament to God's act of creation and to the current philosophical debate.

Beginning of the Gospel of John in the Bodmer II papyrus (P 66 , around the end of the 2nd century)
In the beginning was the word εν αρχη ην ο λογος
and the word was with God, και ο λογος ην προς τον θεον
and the word was God. και θεος ην ο λογος
In the beginning it was with God. ουτος ην εν αρχη προς τον θεον
Everything came into being through the word παντα δι αυτου εγενετο
and without the word, nothing came into being. και χωρις αυτου εγενετο ουδε εν ο γεγονεν
There was life in him εν αυτω ζωη ην
and life was the light of men. και η ζωη ην το φως των ανθρωπων
And the light shines in the darkness και το φως εν τη σκοτια φαινει
and the darkness did not grasp it. και η σκοτια αυτο ου κατελαβεν

λόγος could stand for God's word, it was at the same moment the word for the primordial fire and reason with which the Roman Stoics , Greek Platonists, Zoroasters, Manichaeans and Gnostics handled, where they built up dualisms between the light of reason and the darkness of the material World. Early Christianity made the offer to Platonism to recognize in God the guarantor of the realm of ideas; In return, it took on a dualistic orientation, a separation of the worldly and the clerical , according to the structure of argument that Augustine finallyperceivedin the Confessiones (397/98) as the great attraction of the new religion: it had the potential to incorporate the philosophies of antiquity the Gnostic view of history and the world. If this succeeds, then beyond the secular states with Christianity a new spiritual community should be prepared, Augustine wrote about this in De civitate Dei (413-426).

In this intellectual triumphal march, Christianity took up thoughts from the entire spectrum of current debates. At the same time, however, it developed an organizational structure in which Rome and the Pope formed the center, and whose councils and controversial canon debates increasingly emitted power to marginalize competing currents. For late antiquity, this predatory competition is as significant as the thinning of the ancient knowledge base. The ancient library landscape became less important, and ancient books were no longer updated with new copies. Monasteries took over the coordination of the intellectual exchange while focusing on the scriptures of Christianity; In the end, exemplary book destruction created a distance from ancient education and led to the result that is now being discussed in science as book losses in late antiquity .

From the 4th century onwards, Christianity developed its own pluralism in a history of schisms and heretic movements , which were countered with councils , debates on the Bible canon and dogmatizations . From now on , negotiations were inherent in the system between the diverging currents . They threatened to split Christianity. The interpretation of individual Bible passages had to formulate central mediation offers. The new network of arguments was to continue into the 18th century - the Reformation movements of modern times developed out of it. The epistemology gained new meaning as a mediating debate, with which the aim was to prove the logic and validity of arguments within a supposedly closed system.

Subfield of theology: epistemology in the Middle Ages

The Septem artes liberales from Hortus Deliciarum by Herrad von Landsberg (around 1180)

With the end of antiquity, the Islamic and Christian cultural areas developed similar organizational structures in order to solve similar fundamental problems: Both areas defend a uniform monotheistic orientation in which they integrate the writings of Judaism. Both spaces establish religion as universally valid across national borders; this presupposes forms of organization that develop similarly ordered structures in individual states as well as ways of international information exchange that allow standards to be maintained across borders. In the end, antiquity was subject to new, flexible, completely different, comprehensive power structures. The network of monasteries, the standardization of training at monastery schools, the exchange of monks between the monasteries, the establishment of universities, international student travel - all of this became part of a form of organization that had no predecessor in antiquity. The Western Roman Empire expanded it with radiance to Northern Europe, Eastern Roman with influence on the Slavic region, Islam with influence from West Africa to India.

Rule was redefined in the new cultural area. It was no longer based on city-states, but on rulers who unified territories with the help of power structures that were also used supra-regionally. The new system is the nationwide rule that distributes privileges, creates centers of power through the founding of cities, subordinates itself to religion, founds universities and provides the infrastructure for the new universal scholarship.

Uniformity was and is above all an exciting fiction in the new system. It is sought after in theological-philosophical seminars with an effort that produces a growing pluralism of options. The field of epistemology, in its constitution as a research field determined solely by reason, strengthened the hope of an overarching understanding of truth. In Northern Europe and in the Arab world, the Middle Ages became the high time of the integration of ancient philosophy into modern thinking that aimed at unity and universality. Aristotle was commented on and became the core of the philosophical debate.

Centuries later, apologists of the "Enlightenment" were to lament the fall of antiquity and disparagingly use the word " Middle Ages ". From the point of view of time summarized under this term, the opposite can be said: The project of a universal, theologically founded philosophy that unites faith and knowledge created, on the one hand, cathedrals of reflection, encyclopedic buildings of thought of maximum size and at the same time maximum integration of all details. The philosophy of the Middle Ages was permeated by its own aesthetic: “ Subtlety ”, subtlety and complexity of the argument that can only be mastered after a long study, captivates with the works of Thomas Aquinas , Duns Scotus , Wilhelm von Ockhams and Nicolaus Cusanus . The philosophy of the modern age ultimately took over the central objectives of reflection: the theory of a uniform global knowledge taught at universities and produced by the sciences, the search for a final “ world formula ” are not the legacy of antiquity, but of the Middle Ages. The decisive considerations of how to think with closed world systems in a new radicalism began with late medieval philosophy. Occam's razor is one of these principles, the forerunner of the positivist thought movement. The problem of universals with its basic positions of realism , conceptualism and nominalism can be extended from scholasticism to the present. The division of positions, which became decisive for modernity, has its roots in the end in the epoch from which the decided distancing took place in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The Relocation of Theological Debates: Epistemology in the Early Modern Period

Robert Fludd's illustration of the different kinds of human knowledge (1619)

Book printing, which spread throughout Europe in the 1470s and 1480s, caused a comprehensive break in tradition in the sciences. Medieval manuscripts of the classical authorities were put to print. The perspective on her works changed with the text-critical editions that could now be worked on. Each of these editions reached criticism in all European scientific locations as an identically reproduced text. Scientific journals established themselves as a new discussion platform from the 17th century onwards and were in turn readable across borders. The construction of faithful editions of the knowledge handed down from antiquity became the first program. The new editions worked on the objectification of the textual tradition and the approximation of the lost original texts and created historical distance. The search for the current state of science became the project of scientific debate in the course of the 17th century. It took into account the scientific journal as a current medium and literary history as a medium directed towards the past (the word literature still stood for the sciences, not for poetry and fiction). In the new scientific market, epistemology succeeded

  • to establish philosophy as a denominationally independent, fundamental truth-seeking system of research,
  • From the middle of the 17th century onwards, successfully offering themselves to political interest groups who were looking for arguments with which religion could be subordinated to new forms of state organization
  • to offer itself as part of the natural sciences, with which it gained new importance from the 1760s in the process of industrialization and from the 1790s in the development of the European nation states.

In retrospect, what was achieved here is considerable: theology was ousted, the sciences were finally restructured in the 19th century from the system in which there was theology, jurisprudence, medicine and philosophy to the new system in which the natural sciences, humanities and social sciences existed and engineering coexisted, fields between which theology disappeared and which all received their own epistemological foundations.

On the other hand, one must not equate the change in retrospect with a change in individual experience. It is true that the Copernican view of the world became debatable in the 16th century . The earth becomes a single planet in it, which orbits the sun in a cosmos in which there are possibly countless such worlds. But the textbooks remained true to the old Ptolemaic worldview even after the discovery. The new model was offered as an additional option; it provided advantages in the calculation of events; it hardly changed the horizon. The epochal turning point, presumed around 1500, arises primarily from the retrospective search that has been carried out today for the first evidence of the discussions; it does not coincide with what one would have experienced when visiting universities around 1700.

In the lecture halls of European universities, theological debates dominated the epistemological questions well into the 18th century. It was not primarily about proofs of God, but about biblical passages that allowed different interpretations - with an interest in core theses that had different meanings for Europe's three denominations. The history of the church became the place of this debate from 1700 onwards. Gottfried Arnold's Unpartey Church and Heretic History , published in 1699, became a milestone with a journey of discovery down to the heretical positions of late antiquity, which now inspired current epistemology. The slow change becomes more understandable when you look at the political confrontations that culminated in the Thirty Years' War and the English Civil War with its result of a parliamentary dictatorship. They all took place under the auspices of the denominational debate, even if they centered on the question of how states would organize the coexistence of their citizens in the future.

Slight deviations from standard opinions were dangerous, especially since the newly forming state institutions of the modern age were initially based on the premise that states gain stability if their citizens held the same views - they made the experience that religious pluralism exposed them to the most massive external political tears. The “free Netherlands” were not so free until the early 18th century that a Baruch Spinoza could have spoken more freely outside the circle of friends, here atheism remained the danger that would destroy the community.

Most of today's historical accounts of epistemological retrospectives to the period between 1500 and 1800 tend to clear up the complex field of debate and write stories in which modern scientific thinking prevailed in a triumphant advance of the Enlightenment . In fact, it was not possible to study science at the universities of the 17th and 18th centuries. Individual research societies, mostly groups of enthusiasts, carried experimental physics, astronomy and mathematics forward into the 19th century. The public smiled at the experiments, Jonathan Swift's satires are typical here. The living conditions only changed more drastically as a result of natural science in the last decades of the 18th century.

The usual retrospectives, which primarily juxtapose a (Franco-German) rationalism, a (dominant English) current of empiricism and a (more German) idealism of Immanuel Kant , have meaning in the larger retrospect, because they form the present structure of thought traditions grew up in the 19th century.


The break with scholasticism began in the 17th century with rationalism , a movement that incorporated the scholastic dispute in its argumentation structures and was thus able to overcome it. The most important philosopher of the late 17th and early 18th centuries was René Descartes , whose work on the spectrum of research fields, which was brought down to a common denominator, already called for a wide-ranging discussion. Theologians, mathematicians and natural scientists had to see how they faced his claims after he brought together materialism, reflections on mind and consciousness and a proof of God of philosophical and theological significance in an explosive way. Empiricism developed among the prominent opposing positions in England in the second half of the 17th century . Almost even more important was eclecticism , which became fashionable at the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th centuries as an answer to strict options: the position that one should use reason to take the middle path of the plausible from the consistent models. At the beginning of the 18th century, eclecticism became the fashion of the elegant, gallant circles who turned to philosophy as a branch of the belles lettres and did not publish it themselves, as did the university lecturers, who shied away from a clear connection to a system, but the systems to Took note and introduced them to their students as different ways of thinking. With eclecticism, a form of pragmatism of its own finally established itself.

René Descartes

In the light of knowledge: a soulless world composed of nothing but small spheres, Renati Descartes Epistolae (Londini: 1668), vol. 1, p. 147

Rationalism gained power over scholasticism above all as a philosophy that adopted forms of argumentation from theological debate. Like the scholastics, the rationalists insisted on philosophizing in logical inference that would give ideal definitions clout. The big difference to the scholastics was in dealing with authorities. Thomas Aquinas edited Aristotle - René Descartes instead combined his philosophy with the natural sciences, mathematics and a new materialism . He pleaded for a world that could be accommodated in the Cartesian coordinate system named after him . Man was like a machine. According to Descartes, the nerve cords communicated with the brain through pressure and tension. Authorities no longer had any evidential value in this world.

The arguments which Descartes offered for philosophy compatible with mathematics , geometry, and modern physics argued from the strictest of doubt. Only one fact resisted this: That in the moment of doubt one still thinks and therefore exists: “dubito ergo sum, quod vel idem est, cogito ergo sum”, “I therefore doubt I am, which means something like, I think so am I". Proof of the world and of God could be built on the mere proof of existence as soon as it was assumed that God is the perfect being. Perfection does not allow nonexistence, nor does it allow God to let you stay in a dream. The world one perceives behaves like a material world. If God was brought into play as proven, He guaranteed their existence as the very material world that is perceived.

Thomas Hobbes and his opponent Shaftesbury

From the point of view of modern empirical natural science it is hardly plausible epistemologically to explain how his existence should follow from a definition of God and from it that of the material world. Descartes, on the other hand, could assume that his evidence put the theological debate in an awkward position: the confession of a deceitful and imperfect God was not an option for the denominations over his philosophy. If, on the other hand, you got involved with him, the next moment it was unclear what you were risking. With Thomas Hobbes, on the other hand, church representatives of all denominations found it easy: he allowed himself to be branded as an atheist . His Leviathan of 1651, a theory of the state which, with a sideways glance at the English Civil War, demonstrated that all religion in the well-organized community had to submit to the crown, Hobbes put a long chapter on epistemology in front of Descartes. He was ready to follow Descartes and explain people materialistically. How man acted, egotistically, can be explained from here - neither good nor bad, simply like matter that defends its existence as soon as it realizes that it can lose it. If original sin was no longer necessary to explain human actions, the church could be assigned the task of scarcely keeping these people in fear and terror. If she was looking for another role, she created problems for the community, which has to watch to keep individual interests in check. Hobbes was unacceptable to all parties, but that was precisely why he was influential. If one wanted to represent a different image of man, one had to break with Hobbes and the Church, which assumed a no less crude basic human nature and a pernicious materialism. If you wanted to grant the church a different position in the state, you had to do it openly. Hobbes put forward arguments from which one could only safely move away if one wanted to question the basic assumptions on which state and religion were currently based.

The predicament that is constellated here for representatives of religion becomes clear with Shaftesbury , who at the end ventured the contrary thesis to Hobbes and postulated that the existing world was the best of all possible , since God could only create such a world. According to Shaftesbury, Hobbes and the churches had painted the wrong picture of human nature: man strive for harmony with all of creation. This is not to say that man is currently living according to his nature - he is actually living as Hobbes and the churches observed, selfishly. Precisely this must be explained with epistemology: it could only be the effect of the entire state and church education that tamed people with rewards and punishments in order to gain power here. Good nature is tainted by the current form of exercise of power. The considerations were again rationalistic. They proceeded from premises and inferred reality from them.

Neither the chosen premises nor the " reason " of the epistemological conclusions could not be abandoned without problems - unless it acknowledged the irrationality of belief. That, in turn, was denied in the current debate to all three established denominations, Catholics , Protestants and Reformed , all three of whom took up their own ranks against “enthusiastic” currents such as Pietism and Quietism . If theologians of the three great denominations, however, went into the final proceedings of rationalist philosophy, this foreseeably put them in an awkward position vis-à-vis their self-definition: They represented their denominations as valid according to the revealed religion and drew political claims from this in the states of Europe. The result for the 17th century was an immense penetration of the philosophical debate with objectives of theological discussions - and a discussion in which state organs increasingly made use of philosophical arguments in order to integrate denominations.

The question of freedom of will permeated the landscape of debates as epistemologically inconclusive, with the option of the most massive denominational politics being pursued in its field. The Reformed religion stood among the three denominations solely as a representative of a radical determinism : God had subjected all creation to his plan and predetermined everything that was done. On the European map, this was the religion of the free Netherlands, the Geneva city-state. In all other European countries, Reformed people like the Huguenots of France were a threatened minority. If one did not distance oneself from the rationalist debate, one threatened to open the door to a hidden theologically explosive debate, especially here. In the end, the world of natural laws was with some likelihood more deterministic (hidden Reformed) than Lutheran or Catholic.

Baruch de Spinoza

The extreme positions of rationalistic epistemology were represented by Baruch de Spinoza and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz - Spinoza with a way of thinking that logically questioned the dualism that transcendence presupposed: assuming two separate substances ( God and nature , body and spirit ) , one must postulate that they do not share any property, since otherwise they would be partially identical and therefore not separate. A substance that exists must be able to exist for itself at the same moment. If it needed another substance in order to exist, it violated its definition of an isolatable substance. At the same moment a substance could no longer produce a different type, the produced one would no longer be independent. The existing substance must therefore exist uncreated. It must be infinite - because if it were finite, another substance would have to set the limit for it, which would again bring a dependency into its existence that would go against the concept of substance. Two different substances God and nature, one creative and one created by the latter, could not exist according to these premises. The choice is “either God or nature” - “Deus sive Natura”. Some interpreters see an atheistic tendency in this alternative, which results precisely from the definition of God . For other interpreters there is a pantheistic position in the identification of nature and the real God being .

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

Leibniz visited Spinoza in 1676 and argued intensively with Spinoza's monism (the theory of the unity of all matter). In his own philosophical assumptions he assumed a cosmos created from nothing by God. With a look at the smallest units of this cosmos, the " monads ", for whose properties he had logical postulates ready, he caught up with Spinoza again. Every single “monad” differs from all others in the way that it reflects the entire cosmos from its position. All matter consists of particles of this ultimately spiritual component of their existence. Considered as a whole, the world must, according to the previous conclusion, be the best of all possible worlds. From the fact that the planet earth shows deficiencies, it can be concluded at the same moment that there are innumerable other inhabited and far happier planets in the cosmos with which the cosmic overall plan is fulfilled and in which the earth with its objective deficiencies its meaningful ones Take up space for the best of the whole. (See the article Theodicy in more detail .)

One of the paradoxes of rationalistic epistemology was that in the extreme postulates it presupposed the limitation of the human understanding - precisely the understanding that it claimed to conclude. Human perception showed limits, the " mind " proved to be no less limited. “ Reason ”, which was ultimately based on inference, did not have the same limits. It did not belong to anyone, was not tied to any individual, was given in logic and mathematics , the two sciences that alone could allow humans to guess how the cosmos must be structured.


From the empiricists' point of view , the rationalists ventured far into areas about which absolutely no knowledge could be obtained. The very different final results they came up with made it doubtful that their evidences would work. If one argued strictly against the rationalists, one could demand to stick to the sensory data and not to venture certain conclusions. As massively as the empiricists criticized the rationalists, they were so close to them on the other side when it came to the natural sciences and dealing with authorities . Descartes and Leibniz were scientists of the new age, they were members of renowned scientific academies who were open to physical experiments and had no counterparts in the Middle Ages.

The essential steps in empiricism - in philosophy, which strictly admitted to reducing all knowledge to sensory perception - took place in England.

This has little to do with the work of the Royal Society , which has become Europe's leading institution for scientific research. Comparably interesting work has been undertaken by experimental groups across Europe. More serious reasons are likely to lie in the specific field of political interest that developed for the philosophers of empiricism in England. Hobbes had already submitted the epistemological debate with a political offer. If the epistemological proof of why man was the way he was and what the community had to be able to do, the state, which relied on this argument, was offered a basis of legitimation that did not render religion useless (Hobbes left they are considered a useful instrument of power), but still subordinated to a higher, more objective, scientific calculation of the state's exercise of power.

Locke and Shaftesbury wrote epistemology, social, moral and state theory in different argumentation structures, one more systematic, the other more concerned with the aesthetics of the argument. Their offers appeared from 1689 onwards in direct confrontation with the Glorious Revolution , the second revolution of the century, which, if successful, would refute Hobbes, who, with a view to the revolution of 1641/42, had claimed that revolutions had to fundamentally destroy a state. Locke and Shaftesbury wrote in the network of party interests that emerged in 1689: While on the continent individual rulers made alliances with individual denominations in attempts to subordinate them, in Great Britain from now on parties made alliances with rulers as well as with the religions represented in the country . Both Locke and Shaftesbury, using empiricism and their social and moral theories, produced epistemology in the interests of the Whigs , who, with an interruption from 1709 to 1714, were to retain power until the late 18th century. If Hobbes had demanded the subordination of all groups to the crown, according to Locke the representatives of empiricism demanded a state that would grant the monarch power as long as he used it in the interests of the citizens, a state that might have a state church in England, who at the same time tolerated the Whigs' most important clientele, the religious dissent. The politically intricate demands presupposed theories that did not start from one of the religious groups. The new socio-political treatises and essays were underpinned epistemologically and empirically with a view to a view that convinced the individual reader in the media - the cognitive ability of the reviewers was addressed with the new lines of argument regardless of religion. Locke was immediately received on the continent, but found significantly little interest here as an independent epistemologist. Shaftesbury came into vogue on the continent in the 1760s and 1770s as the exponent of the sensibility with which a new self-discerning and responsible citizen was challenged whose perspectives new states would accept. Locke became the American Declaration of Independence philosopher in 1776 . The slow reception of empiricism on the continent seems most clearly to do with the fact that continental philosophers up until the time of Jean-Jacques Rousseau relied on achieving far more if they convinced individual rulers. An epistemology, which was mainly offered to parties in the interdenominational controversy, remained of little interest here until the 19th century.

John Locke

The picture of the world is only one possible. “This is what microscopes clearly show us: things that have a certain color to the naked eye give a completely different picture of themselves when the senses are more acutely sharp […] the merging of different colored small parts of an object in our normal view creates of them Things completely different color impressions ... “Locke, Essay (1690), II.xxiii, § 11

The project on which John Locke began with the essay concerning Humane Understanding (1690) was explosive in two places; the author noted them both on the first pages: If he claimed that everything people knew, they knew through sensory perception, then Already at this point he drew the suspicion of atheism, because it wanted to be explained first of all how God should then become the subject of human consciousness. With his insistence on sensory perception as a source of knowledge, Locke also risked a paradox: “The Understanding, like the Eye, whilst it makes us see, and perceive all other things, takes no notice of itself” - human understanding can judge as little as it can comes about how the eye can take a look at its own point of view (on this problem, see the article image in detail ).

In fact, Locke wrote a book that was distinguished from many of the rationalists' drafts by the greatest order, such as the fact that its author hardly got beyond assertions of consistency. The first part wiped all supposedly “innate ideas” off the table. Nothing was innate, otherwise people would have to share ideas - of God, matter, good and evil - worldwide in the field of innate ideas. People see things, receive ideas from them, put their ideas together, abstract from them, have them in memory, develop ideas of causality (wax melts in the heat, moments like this make causality tangible). When people repeat a perception, they are already counting; when they count, all the math has followed . According to Locke, people deal with ideas in a conscious manner and at the same time experience that there is a material outside world and a human consciousness. When people invent something new, they put pictures together to form this new thing and then go to construction. It is as clear to them as the sum of the angles in the triangle that consciousness cannot be produced by matter, since people can finally move images in consciousness even when nothing material corresponds to them. Consciousness must exist forever and uncreated, since it does not need matter. The idea of ​​God could thus be obtained from dealing with perceptions. At the same time it must be left open what follows from a definition of God. However, before they drew conclusions from its definition, people would have already acquired the idea of ​​its existence with things and their reflection.

Locke offered a book that barely led to evidence. Rather, he delivered a plea, according to which it must be conceivable that absolutely everything that preoccupied the human being reached human consciousness just as easily through sensory perception and dealing with it. The structure of his book is striking, from today's perspective, with the shifting of problems: In the first move he banishes all “innate ideas” from consciousness, in the second he rebuilds the world - with a look at how children learn to understand them. In the third step of the argument, he turns to language as the medium in which people formulate knowledge. The fourth book of his "attempt" is for the more complex ideas and science. Long before the “linguistic turn” that epistemology carried out with Wittgenstein in the 20th century, reference is made here to the problem of language in which the formulation of knowledge takes place - and which in turn has a considerable effect on knowledge. Locke called for human consciousness to be investigated and to understand what concepts it was dealing with - one had to examine the perceptual apparatus as well as the traditional language of thought in order to understand why people from different cultures make the world similar in some respects, perceive very differently in others. Locke formulated all of this well before the emergence of perceptual psychology and cultural anthropology . Locke inspired art. Laurence Sternes Tristram Shandy (1759–1767) was supposed to celebrate the essay concerning Humane Understanding with subtle humor as one of the most important books in world literature, since it was here that it was considered for the first time how people think: rather associative, in a chain of ideas that are not always follow the advice of reason. Science was now given a new project: that of constant self-criticism. A new subject in the philosophy of science was needed to counter the ongoing contamination of scientific knowledge by establishing concepts.

David Hume

David Hume, with his moral and epistemological investigations , offered the far more consistent attempt to build on the premises that Locke set and to question the knowledge critically . Where Locke had spoken of “ ideas ” without much differentiation , Hume separated “perceptions” from “ideas” in a forward-looking manner. Where Locke explained that what was perceived enabled one to accept causality, Hume went one step further: At best, one saw that an event A. was followed by an event B. One did not see that causality was involved. Strictly speaking, one would have to state that a sequence of events was observed here. If you go one step further in terms of scientific criticism, this would have consequences for the entire formulation of natural laws: According to Hume, you might at best have seen that so far B. has always followed A. He asked what justified the assumption that this should also be the case in the future. The theory of an ordered universe was a circular conclusion from made perceptions. Otherwise it was at least as possible that the universe was chaotic, that people had observed only a lucky streak of recurring events, so to speak. This does not contradict the fact that animals are set up with their instinct for certain regularities.

According to Hume, the identity of things and people also had to be reconsidered. One could not prove that this is "the same" person whom one met years ago - there is at most a "bundle" of perceptions with which one asserts identity, while other perceptions always speak of differences. That was a massive attack on the remnants of Platonic thought, which assigned a " essence ", a "self" to any object and assumed that one could at least deal with this purer essence in thinking.

Hume ultimately devalued reason with regard to all moral judgments. Reason may advise people to take certain actions with a view to certain goals, but when one sets other goals it advises other actions at the same time. The epistemology project ended on empirical ground not with new certainties, but rather with uncertainties and a very pragmatic approach to them. Logic was not the ultimate premise of dealing with reality. Hume asks whether it was assumed that people acted with free will and why penalties for certain forms of wrongdoing were announced. At best, people acted on a trial basis with a view to desired developments. The premises according to which action is taken were largely unmet. The project of a strict epistemology, as soon as it was carried out thoroughly, was best suited to prove the unprovability of the basic assumptions.


Idealism can be understood both as a counterposition to empiricism and as a continuation of it. In the extreme case, idealism denies that there is an outside world that can be meaningfully talked about. The empiricists start from the existence of the outside world - from this perceptions should come. The idealists, however, object: You deal with perceptions, not with the outside world. At best one can conclude from the perceptions that there is an outside world. For this conclusion, however, you need ideas and these in turn belong to the subject that evaluates the perception.

George Berkeley

The step into idealism took place on the basis of the English debate from an isolated theological position. George Berkeley was a theologian and in 1734 became Bishop of Cloyne (who worked in Oxford). The fact that Locke had hardly thought clearly - in order to demonstrate this, Berkeley only had to cite the famous predecessor in his essay towards a New Theory of Vision (1709), § 125 with his attempt to derive the triangle Euclidean geometry from perceived triangles. In any case, it was easier to think the options of the triangle first, and then to find them again in perception.

With the Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710), Berkeley put the ax to Locke's explanations point by point: He asks the question of how one knows how human perception comes about - that is, that there is a material external world that exists in creates an image, first on the retina, then in consciousness. He wanted to know if there was ever more than the image in consciousness. Berkeley went one step further towards the knowing subject , following Descartes. A subject, whether you want to call it " Mind, Spirit, Soul or Myself ", the consciousness, the spirit, the soul or myself, you have to admit as soon as you think about it (as a subject).

Descartes' next step to prove the world in its materiality through a definition of God, the theologian omitted: "The table at which I write, I may say that it exists, that is, I see and feel it." Berkeley asked the question but whether one had thought through to the end, if one wanted to deduce from it that it still existed when one left the room and whether such a statement was worthwhile at all. You could say that it is worthwhile because you can send anyone into the room to fetch something from this table - you don't want to say that the table will then begin to exist from scratch. Strictly speaking, according to Berkeley, the only thing that counted again was that the table only occupied someone when and only as much as anyone perceived it. What is with him outside of his being perceived remains open.

For as to what is said of the absolute existence of unthinking things without any relation to their being perceived, that seems perfectly unintelligible. Their esse is percipi nor is it possible they should have any existence out of the minds or thinking things which perceive them.
Because [...] whether non-thinking things exist for themselves (absolutely), regardless of whether someone perceives them, no knowledge at all seems to be able to go there. Their being is being perceived ; nor is it possible for these things to have any existence outside of the particular consciousness or thinking thing that perceives them.

It is not worthwhile to think about what this table is outside of moments in which it is perceived, because no one perceives it outside of these moments. The external world became obsolete in the same consideration as the assertion of its materiality: if there is an external world independent of human perception, then in precisely this form it never becomes the object of perception. You don't learn anything about them. You can imagine that it exists anyway, but you have the same reasons to think so when it exists as when it doesn't (and you just imagine the outside world). In short, if there were external bodies, it is impossible we should ever come to know it; and if there were not, we might have the very same reasons to think there were that we have now.

It must have seemed unclear at first glance what such a radical position would be for. Berkeley explicitly did not direct them against everyday ideas, but only against the philosophical considerations about matter and three-dimensional space:

I do not argue against the existence of any one thing that we can apprehend either by sense or reflection. That the things I see with my eyes and touch with my hands do exist, really exist, I make not the least question. The only thing whose existence we deny is that which Philosophers call Matter or corporeal substance. And in doing this there is no damage done to the rest of mankind, who, I dare say, will never miss it. The Atheist indeed will want the color of an empty name to support his impiety; and the Philosophers may possibly find they have lost a great handle for trifling and disputation.
I am not arguing against the existence of anything we can perceive, whether through the senses or through reflection. That things that I see with my own eyes and touch with my own hands exist, really exist, I do not in the least question. The only thing I deny existence is what philosophers call matter or physical substance. And in doing so, I am not doing the slightest harm to the rest of humanity, who, I dare to say, will not miss this concept for a day. The atheist, however, will miss the vividness of a meaningless word on which to build his unbelief; and the philosophers are likely to miss the grandiose manipulation with which they are now leading a completely insignificant debate.

Berkeley now asked the question of whether one should therefore say in future that one only eats and drink "ideas" and dress in "ideas". In addition, one should perhaps stop talking about "things" any longer. At least in philosophical considerations, so Berkeley. He also asked whether this was supposed to mean that things were no longer having any effect. It cannot all consist of ideas if one distinguishes between the idea of ​​fire and the real one, which causes burns. Thinking consistently, one has to say, according to Berkeley, that one has different ideas about fire and pain. An idea that you handle as an imagination and an idea that you handle as a "real fire".

Berkeley's reflections on religious matters had consequences. God was much easier to prove at this point than the existence of any other human being. To other people one made assumptions from certain perceptions. The idea of ​​God, on the other hand, remained tied to all perceptions and all ideas, not to any particular perception.

All of this was conceived consequently and irrefutably, but for the contemporaries it was above all an affront to common sense , which, on the other hand, could be elevated to a saving philosophical premise.

Immanuel Kant

Ultimately, Berkeley could hardly differentiate the “idealistic” philosophy he brought into play from solipsism , from the position according to which there is only myself, the perceiving subject with my sensations (which cannot be a non-objective dream).

Kant reads to Russian officers, painting by I. Soyockina / V. Gracov. Kantmuseum Kaliningrad (formerly Koenigsberg)

Following on from David Hume, Immanuel Kant entered the epistemological debate. With Berkeley, he shared the focus on the cognitive subject and on several starting positions - such as the fact that the room itself is not the object of visual perception and only takes on its shape as an imaginary, infinite three-dimensional space in human consciousness. Things in themselves , things as they are for themselves, even if no one perceives them, with all the qualities that no one has perceived in them, people never perceive them. Metaphysics as transcendental philosophy must take care of them. Unlike Berkeley, however, he noted a need to go beyond solipsism: “ Thoughts without content are empty, ideas without concepts are blind. “Pure thinking, for example in mathematics, is enriched by the“ bathos of experience ”(Kant), ie by sensuality. The understanding concepts are not receptive, but productive, that is, in Kantian terminology, "the spontaneity of the concepts", which through its creative function generates the perception when the senses are "affected" (excitation). Sensuality and concepts of understanding thus establish the “transcendental aesthetics” of the critique of pure reason .

In the terminology introduced by Kant, the empiricists insisted that there were only two kinds of judgments: Synthetic judgments a posteriori - judgments that rely on sensory perception that extends a given concept (e.g., "the ball is black" ). In addition, empiricism would like to admit analytical judgments, that is, those in which the predicates are already included in the term (e.g. “The ball is round”).

The question of a scientifically operated metaphysics was under this specification whether there were also synthetic judgments a priori .

Space, time and causality, argued Kant, are not objects of perception, but their condition. One cannot imagine how perceptual processes should run without space, time and causality. As subjects conditioned in this way, humans determine their perceptions a priori. Space and time are the inner perceptions, causality and other categories are the a priori concepts of the understanding, the ideas, on the other hand, are regulative guidelines of reason, which have no effect on perception, since they transcend it ( transcendental dialectic of Critique of Pure Reason ).

The clear demarcation from idealism, as Berkeley had led him to the edge of solipsism in the purely philosophical argument, was provided by Kant in the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason in 1787 in the chapter "Refuting Idealism".

The argument should meet Descartes' assertion that one can only be certain of one's existence, like Berkeley's doubts about the outside world. " The mere, but empirically determined, awareness of my own existence proves the existence of objects in space outside of me, " said Kant's offer of a "proposition" that could be put in advance of the evidence of the outside world from the consciousness of one's own existence.

The argument went back to the preceding reflection on time. People need something “persistent” for time, time filling through its continued existence, and that cannot lie within themselves “ because my existence in time can first and foremost be determined by this persistence. “You don't know time if something doesn't change, while something else remains stable in the same time independently of you. “ Consequently, the determination of my existence in time is only possible through the existence of real things that I perceive outside of myself. “Kant made three notes to the proof, the first of which noted that he was using his own philosophy here to reflect on its limits. The second remark applied more specifically to the time, which was defined in sequence and precisely not in the persistent. That is not a contradiction - a passage that separates time, matter and the self from one another in the shortest possible space:

“Note 2. With this, all use of experience of our cognitive faculties in determining time is completely in agreement. Not only that we can determine all time only through the change in external relationships (movement) in relation to the persistent in space (e.g. the movement of the sun in relation to the objects of the earth), we have absolutely nothing persistent That which we could subordinate to the concept of a substance, as intuition, as mere matter and even this persistence is not drawn from external experience, but a priori as a necessary condition of all determination of time, and consequently also as determination of the inner sense with regard to our own existence presupposed by the existence of external things. The consciousness of myself in the imagination I is not an intuition at all, but a merely intellectual representation of the self-activity of a thinking subject. Therefore, this ego does not have the least predicate of perception, which, as persistent, could serve as a correlate of determining time in the internal sense: such as, for example, impenetrability of matter, as an empirical perception. "

The proof was not valid in every case, this added the third note, which noted that people can dream naturally and then cannot assign an external world to perception. In this case, however, the question must be asked where the dreamed comes from in its apparent objectivity - " merely through the reproduction of former external perceptions ", he added, and the above evidence applies to these, that they need an outside world. He asks how one can tell whether a certain experience is a dream or whether it goes back to a perception of the external world that has just been made. This can only be said in the larger perspective of all human perceptions, so the extremely pragmatic suffix: “ Whether this or that supposed experience is not mere imagination must be averaged out according to the special provisions of the same and by adhering to the criteria of all real experience . "

Kant's reflection became explosive in his systemic claim. The Critique of Pure Reason subdivided categories and conditions of knowledge and its security in terms of the logic of possible conclusions. The new vocabulary made it possible to think more precisely about the limits of knowledge. In addition to the critique of pure reason , the critique of practical reason came as a complementary project of ethics. Kant again combined both areas with a fundamental reflection on aesthetics . In his own position, the philosopher was no longer any partisan like Hobbes or Locke, nor the universal genius in public services when Leibniz had worked for Hanover. With Kant's era, the philosophy project gained new status as an academic science from which impulses should emanate in all areas of social life. Kant became the worldly authority in matters of reflection, a voice that should be heard on any problem. The image of the philosopher giving a lecture to Russian officers was a novelty from a historical perspective.

Epistemology in the Age of Nation-States: 19th and early 20th centuries

At the turn of the 19th century, the science system was reorganized. Up until now there were three faculties of theology , jurisprudence and medicine as well as the basic philosophical studies, the " artes liberales ", to which the languages ​​belonged as well as the natural sciences, which until then had been called "natural philosophy".

The humanities , natural sciences , social sciences and technical engineering were founded in the 19th century . Philosophy came to the humanities, the scope of which has now expanded.

Up until well into the 18th century, almost all political and social debates in the field of theology were conducted. At the turn of the 19th century, the state, as the new regulatory power, took control of society-wide discussions. He guaranteed his citizens equal rights. Religious freedom was added almost everywhere in Europe - it meant downgrading the denominations previously privileged in every territory, but offered minorities equal rights. The culture of debate in the nation-state was from now on determined by the humanities. Your training goes through whoever has their say in the media, discusses art and literature and teaches at universities in the subjects that are discussed.

Philosophy developed into an integrative science within the humanities. This is where the basic method debates take place. In the end, philosophical epistemology made it possible to define legal systems in a non-denominational way, to set standards for the natural sciences and for the educational system. Epistemology combined with the philosophy of history and created the framework in which a completely new debate about the future arose. So far there had been none - with the late 18th century this changed: the states developed an interest in development leeway. In the field of philosophy, the most important discussions about setting the course took place around 1800.

Germany and France set the tone. With the revolution of 1789, France found itself in the new situation of having to plan and organize the future in a break with the past - positivism as a great idea of ​​a world ordered by the sciences developed out of the French revolution. In Germany, the future of a secular, secular nation-state acquired a much more ideal component at the beginning of the 19th century. What was sought was the counter-model to France and to the domestic fragmentation into territorial rule, a large state that absorbed the individual countries with different cultural traditions. In the areas opened up, philosophy provided the 19th century with options for thinking and discussion forums. Epistemology offered itself as a discipline that set new traditions and allowed breaks with its promise to realize the worldview generally considered to be reasonable regardless of all prejudice structures (and thus regardless of all traditions).

From Hegel to Schopenhauer: Reception and fragmentation of idealism

The so-called " oldest system program of German idealism ", a manuscript rediscovered in 1917 or 1797, which in the manuscript refers to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel as the author, but does not necessarily have to come from him ( Friedrich Hölderlin and Friedrich Wilhelm Schelling were other authors ), throws light on what gave idealism enormous explosive power around 1800: not its thinking about "things in themselves" and terms that could be made of them, but the fact that it was difficult to foresee what followed when an area ideas could be set as securely as the realm of natural phenomena just explored by the natural sciences. With this shift, ethics would become the central science, with consequences for all discussions in society:

"Since the whole of metaphysics will in future fall into morality - of which Kant gave only one example with his two practical postulates, and exhausted nothing - this ethics will be nothing more than a complete system of all ideas or, what is the same thing, of all practical postulates . The first idea, of course, is the idea of ​​myself as an absolutely free being. With the free, self-confident being, a whole world emerges at the same time - from nothing - the only true and conceivable creation from nothing. - Here I will descend into the fields of physics; the question is this: what must a world be like for a moral being? I would like to give wings once again to our slow physics, which is laboriously progressing through experiments.

So if philosophy gives the ideas, experience gives the data, we can finally get the physics on a large scale that I expect in later ages. It does not seem that current physics can satisfy a creative spirit such as ours is or should be. "

Physics had to subordinate itself to the wishes that a freer humanity had to make of it. Self-liberation was the romantic program that had to affect the state no less:

“I come from nature to the work of man. With the idea of ​​humanity ahead, I want to show that there is no idea of ​​the state, because the state is something mechanical, any more than there is an idea of ​​the machine. Only what is the object of freedom is called an idea. So we have to go beyond the state! - Because every state has to treat free people as mechanical mechanisms; and he shouldn't; so he should stop. "

Hegel, the author of the Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) was supposed to justify the philosophy of history as a new genre based on epistemology: it assumed the theory that history does not proceed by chance, but as a directed process towards a target point to be determined. The future had been completely uninteresting territory for authors until the 1750s, a time from which one no longer expected anything after one could already invent everything in the present. The manuscript culminated in statements about the aesthetics:

“Finally, the idea that unites everyone, the idea of ​​beauty, the word taken in a higher platonic sense. I am now convinced that the highest act of reason, the one in which it embraces all ideas, is an aesthetic act and that truth and goodness are only siblings in beauty. The philosopher must have as much aesthetic power as the poet. "

Philosophy would establish new mythologies, so the programmatic text. Over the next few decades, Germany found itself in a phase in which it was more of interest as a project, as an object of forming political ideas, than as a reality. The question was what political reality would emerge in this process - the most diverse interest groups and behind them territorial rulers mingled in this discussion, in the course of which a revolution in the middle of the 19th century failed and a larger nation-state was established under the aegis of Prussia . Idealism splintered, the individual directions of idealism as well as those of the successors of Hegel separated. The epistemology project offered optimistic currents among the left and right Hegelians and a pessimistic one under Arthur Schopenhauer , whose title The world as will and idea (1819) already reveals in the title how far the subject of epistemology is at this point of questions the ethics, morals and the image of man was permeated. Schopenhauer resorted to Berkeley's subjectivism and at the same moment turned his gaze to the will of the subject, without which the cognitive process in the directions it took would have to remain incomprehensible. Compared to the more optimistic views of the Hegelians, the pessimistic positions themselves with a negation of free will: "Man can do what he wants, but he cannot want what he wants," said Schopenhauer.

From Marx to Lenin: Dialectical Materialism

If the previous philosophical schools - allegedly - were concerned with a position that was solid and therefore true in the face of any doubt, then with communism in the middle of the 19th century the question arose whether this was not a fundamental fraud. Philosophies that supposedly only considered the thinkable and thereby left more room for doubt - the uncertainty about the world - flirted with a purely logical consideration which in any case gained political significance in the world. There was no apolitical stance - one had to be able to afford to doubt the outside world first. The question was what epistemological decision could be expected from someone who did not evade political responsibility, who conceded to the masses that their material livelihoods were meager and their share in the means of production was completely underrepresented.

The decision had to be made at this point in favor of materialism. That already required the question of how to deal with religion. In the days of the German Revolution in Heidelberg, Ludwig Feuerbach read about "The Essence of Religion" and provided options for thinking how people could have developed ideas of God from their own experience. God became a natural part of the human psyche, an idea that was obvious to man in dealing with the world. Whether God was more than this projection from human imaginations could not be decided. And whether it was still a contemporary human invention, that had to be doubted.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels radicalized Feuerbach's considerations. Religion was not only to be understood in terms of the individual, it was above all a social phenomenon, "the opium of the people", a collective experience that responds to social-wide experiences - Marx 1844:

“The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. In fact, religion is the self-confidence and self-esteem of people who have either not yet acquired themselves or have already lost them again. But the human being is not an abstract being crouching outside the world. The human being, that is the human world, the state, society. This state, this society produce religion, a wrong world consciousness, because they are a wrong world. Religion is [...] the fantastic realization of the human being because the human being has no true reality. The fight against religion is thus indirectly the fight against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

Religious misery is one of the expressions of real misery and the other is a protest against real misery. Religion is the sigh of the afflicted creature, the mind of a heartless world as it is the mind of spiritless states. She is the opium of the people .

[...] So it is the task of history, after the beyond of truth has disappeared, to establish the truth of this world. It is first the task of philosophy, which is at the service of history, after the holy figure of human self-alienation has been exposed, to expose self-alienation in its unholy forms. The criticism of heaven is thus transformed into the criticism of the earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics. "

The epistemology of the ideologically explosive positions developed in a connection and a criticism of Hegel and German idealism . Dialectical materialism, which became official epistemological doctrine in the communist states in the 20th century, is accompanied by a commitment to matter as the starting point for all experience. Image processes create an image of the material world in consciousness. It is a matter of progressively objectifying this image in a critical process and banishing prejudices from the worldview, individual prejudices that can be psychologically understood, such as those that are produced by politically powerful groups through ideological setting. A larger view of history corresponded with the epistemological decision.

The plea for matter as the sole object of empirical perception was combined with the plea for a policy that accorded material living conditions the value they had to have for the exploited masses. It had to be up to the materialists to recognize the material need of the workers and peasants and to bring it onto the political agenda. In the historical process of the class struggle, so the prognosis of Marxism, the class, which provided the material basis for the life of all strata of society, would ultimately take over power; With her workforce, she already had the power effectively in her hands and was at best not yet clearly aware of it.

Representatives of the churches and the bourgeois nation-states saw their long-cherished enemy image take shape in communism: the first decidedly atheistic philosophy, which would initiate a brutalization of the masses with the rejection of religion and the commitment to the material, to whom power is at best promised here.

Epistemologically more sensitive was the criticism that arose in positivism at the turn of the 20th century against materialism. In dialectical materialism there were decisions in favor of matter and a dedicated theory of mapping that leads to objective knowledge. The Philosophical Dictionary of the GDR reproduced the doctrine until the collapse of socialism - for example in the article "image", which wanted to be considered more fundamental:

" Image - basic concept of every materialistic, especially the Marxist Leninist theory of knowledge. Images are ideal results of the reflection process in which people spiritually appropriate objective reality through social awareness in various forms, such as science, ideology, morality, art, religion, on the basis of social practice. They arise in a complicated process of translation and conversion of the material into the ideal (Marx / Engels 23, 27), which is determined in its course both by the structure and mode of operation of the human sensory and nervous system as well as by the level of development of social practice. "

From an epistemological point of view, it was astonishing what corresponded to matter: an area of ​​"spirit" and "ideas" for which the same philosophy could hardly have room with an orientation towards matter. In fact, the entry “Geist” is missing in the same lexicon, probably because one would have to go deep into the thoughts of German idealism with it. "Soul" and "spirit" are only dealt with under "consciousness". In the 19th century, in the field of epistemology, the decision to make “unnecessary” statements neither about matter nor about spirit and to deal with perception in a much more determined manner than that given alone became interesting.

It is often overlooked that it was Lenin who first formulated the concept of matter (philosophy) as objective reality - in physics only a synonym for matter - as the disjoint to consciousness at the beginning of the 20th century. Since the terms matter and consciousness, as basic philosophical terms ( categories ), cannot be traced back to other terms, they can only be determined by comparing and clarifying their relationship to one another. This becomes more acute in the basic question of philosophy , the question of the primary: whether matter or consciousness. Only two answers are possible when matter and consciousness are defined as disjoint terms - which is what makes these terms meaningful. The materialists see the primary in matter, the idealists in consciousness. The materialists explain consciousness as a product of matter. The objective idealists separate human consciousness from the subject as an independent objective entity, the subjective idealists explain the contents of consciousness by emphasizing sensory knowledge as the primary.

From Comte to Mach and the Vienna Circle: Positivism

Positivism only became more interesting as an epistemological position at the end of the 19th century. The word that had been around for a long time was still being avoided at this point. It was too closely connected with the French beginning of positivist philosophy as Auguste Comte's project for a scientific substitute for religion.

" Empirio-criticism " was the word that Ernst Mach tried to shape for the new trend. In contrast to empiricism, with the new theory there was no insistence on the depiction of the outside world in consciousness. Compared to Marxist materialism, the stipulation that everything people dealt with should have a material basis was omitted; compared to the idealists, the search for truth behind the phenomena was omitted. The classification "positivism" deserved the new schools of thought in physics, since they assumed only one reality - that of the positively verifiable. “Positive” was not meant in any other way than in the context of a medical examination, in which one speaks of a “positive finding” when detection, for example of a certain pathogen, is successful under previously defined conditions. One deals with sensations - whereby it remains open whether they are dreamed or produced by matter. What caused it was the subject of modeling. Under the new theory, physics would be operated with “as if” statements: one's own data situation can behave “as if” matter existed. What matter in turn would have to be clarified in experiments. In the end there would be model assumptions. Atoms are part of such a model assumption, they evade any perception with their atomic nuclei and electrons circling around them ; the best optics are of no help here, as a light beam is already too coarse to make an atom visible in its individual parts. People make experiments and design atomic models that are compatible with them. The models are designed in such a way that they can be calculated satisfactorily.

The epistemological considerations that Heinrich Hertz and Ernst Mach gave to their physical work preceded the revolutions in chronology that followed with Niels Bohr's atomic model, Albert Einstein's theory of relativity and Heisenberg's uncertainty relation. Einstein wrote late to Mach that the theory of relativity would hardly have been conceivable without his philosophy. With the new positivism there was the option of no longer looking for a plausible, descriptive picture of the world, but of strictly conceiving calculation and model spaces in which data could be processed " economically " with little effort on assumptions. Positivism here follows on from a tradition that goes back to the universal dispute; Wilhelm von Ockham had already spoken out against all explanations with the argumentative “ straight razor ” named after him under the motto “pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate”, which claimed unnecessarily many effects.

From a traditional epistemological point of view, the presentations that Hertz and Mach published in the field of natural science remained precarious. Empiricists and idealists could deal with the fact that the human image of the world consists of model assumptions. The question of the subject who heeded a principle like that of the “thought economy” remained unanswered. The subject first made itself felt as part of the mass of sensations; it was itself the result and object of the “analysis of sensations”. Here, then, an interpretation result judges the interpretation, which raises the question of how one should prove what is “economic in terms of thinking” about any particular explanation. That was the feeling of the subject who was itself asserted according to this principle. From a dialectically materialist point of view, all of this was unsatisfactorily thought out, worse than any clear decision - according to the Marxist materialists around Lenin , who saw empiricism as a disguised relapse into solipsism, a “bourgeois relativism ” typical of capitalism .

From Wittgenstein to Poststructuralism: The "Linguistic Turn"

“The linguistic turn ” found its starting point in epistemology at the beginning of the 20th century; from here it spread far into the humanities, which it eventually permeated with poststructuralism and postmodernism . The turning point in the field of logic had been prepared by Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell ; Ludwig Wittgenstein carried it out decisively with the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922). To put it briefly, it consisted of a shift in the previous questions of epistemology to the field of propositional logic in particular and language in general.

It was astonishing that such a shift should be possible. It is complained that language is hardly sufficient to express what one wants to express. “ A picture is worth a thousand words, ” they say. With the Tractatus , Wittgenstein pointed out that everything that a picture tells you can be expressed in statements.

“Why is picture A in the adjacent row a picture of Cologne Cathedral ? Why is picture B not that? ”At the moment when you give answers to these questions, you refer to aspects of the pictures that for you equate to statements of the picture about facts. “According to picture B, Cologne Cathedral should only have one tower, but that is not the case,” may be the first statement. The architecture connoisseur will follow up and refer in detailed statements to all the aspects on the basis of which he can recognize that picture B actually shows the Strasbourg cathedral . "Why is picture C identical to picture A?" In short: "Because everything is the same on picture C as it is on picture A." Every pixel into which picture C can be broken down could be formulated as a statement about a fact. "Pixel 1 in image C has color value # 123456 - as far as the corresponding pixel 1 in image A is concerned, the same turns out to be the case."

Just as people perceive the properties of something, they deal with statements about it - you notice that when a substitute is slipped on you. You can immediately say: "These are not my trousers, they had a label there, one more seam here, that is how I would recognize them." If you can no longer identify your own under two trousers in a laundry, then that is exactly it Problem: "As far as I was aware of it, it can be this or the other, in all matters that I remembered, both are the same."

People produce a grid of statements. In this you formulate your own knowledge. The centuries-old dispute between empiricists and idealists collapsed at the same moment. Statements, as Wittgenstein stated, are only meaningful for oneself as one knows what should be the case when they are supposed to be true. In order to produce statements, one does not need empirical evidence. “On the moon you have only one sixth of your weight.” The statement turned out to be the case when you were there, but it was sensibly formulated beforehand. Wittgenstein was an empiricist when it came to the facts, but an idealist when it came to the statements that must first be meaningful for oneself before one can say whether things are true or untrue when looking at things.

The limits of knowledge could be defined smoothly in terms of the statements - Wittgenstein no longer needed words such as “transcendence”, “metaphysics”, “ thing in itself ”, he stayed with his words and considerations within the limits: where statements are produced in which one does not know in which situation of things one wants to consider them to be true or false, one no longer moves in the area for oneself meaningful depicting statements. Insofar as the world becomes the object of knowledge, it does so in the area of ​​the facts which, when examined, turn out to be "the case". One can therefore say, looking at the statements on possible facts: "The world is everything that is the case" (as Wittgenstein said in the first sentence of the Tractatus 1922). At the same time, one could exclude projects from epistemology: As Hume had already postulated, statements about causality offered no added value in terms of information on what should be the case when compared to statements of the type “ if x happens, then y” they are true. Claims about causality cannot therefore be made in meaningful representative statements. Moral statements can be made meaningfully with a view to objectives, but taken in isolation they remained unverifiable statements. Wittgenstein noted that these final results were banal - but why, he asked in the preface to the Tractatus , should the insoluble problems of epistemology hide particularly deep truths. Ultimately, for centuries it had been dealt with that they could be solved insofar as the project was not burdened with the wrong questions. It would take some time, he speculated, to demystify the problems of epistemology. At this point in time, science had long dealt with statements like the ones he had outlined.

In the Tractatus , Wittgenstein had dealt with the question of the extent to which statements in the representation of facts can be meaningful, then in the 1930s he turned to the larger question of how people learn to play such statements - like language in general in human interaction with World works. The impression that it depicts only arises in the practical use of language and it distorts the view of the constitution of meaning - on how one learns to attach meaning to linguistic utterances. The considerations that Wittgenstein made to his students in his lectures in Cambridge in the late 1930s and early 1940s relativized concepts as cultural. The word of the language game served him to grasp the regularity that exists in a linguistic context of use in which one observes a concept.

In the considerations that were published after his death under the title Philosophical Investigations (1953), Wittgenstein analyzes simple language games such as asking for an object, which is then handed to one in order to pose the question of how knowledge develops among participants in communication. The idea that individual language games can exist in a large area of ​​language that can follow their own rules of the game found a parallel development in the formulation of structuralist and poststructuralist discourse theory over the next two decades - with it it is assumed that in the larger area human exchange there are competing strands of tradition and discourses in which meaning is produced differently.

Current debates

Up until the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s, there was at least one remaining philosophical epistemological theory represented by the state: that of the dialectical materialism of Marxist - Leninist philosophy. A specific epistemological theory of the western states, however, did not establish itself. Even western “left” currents hardly looked for bridges in the dialectical materialism propagated by the philosophical lexicons of the Eastern bloc states. “Left” Western philosophers like Michel Foucault appeared, viewed from the harsh standpoint of dialectical materialism, committed to a bourgeois relativism. The shift of philosophical problems to the field of statements or the deconstructive reflection on formations in the history of ideas and on power in general remained unacceptable thought movements in the Eastern Bloc.

In western societies, epistemology, for its part, lost its place in public perception. The natural sciences became the place of questions about spirit, matter and energy. Individual, confusing theorems penetrated into the philosophical debate of the day from the sciences in this position distribution. One reads in philosophical essays of the “ wave-particle dualism ” when it comes to spectacularly demonstrating the relativity of today's perspectives. When it comes to free will, neurologists and chaos researchers have their say. In the public eye, physicists like Stephen Hawking advanced to become the new wise men who were most likely to be trusted to explain all things. Today, university-run epistemology is often characterized by a balancing act between a strict focus on historical debate and a search for questions and answers from modern science. Impulses go far more often from these modern sciences into philosophy than vice versa. With the epistemological debate, the ethical project became independent in the course of the 20th century. While Wittgenstein provided evidence that epistemology reaches its limits where it wants to penetrate ethics, the question today is whether ethics is not needed as an independent authority vis-à-vis the sciences in order to set these limits. Ethics committees are convened to decide where research should stop.

Under these external conditions, the spectrum of current epistemological directions did not emerge seamlessly from the discussions of the 19th century. It can currently be divided into three areas of debate, which correspond to a certain geography of the places of discussion.

There are fields

  1. a left-wing, history and society-centered discussion; Here, the “bourgeois” direction of cultural anthropology and cultural historiography of the German style contrasts with an ideology-critical one based more on Marxism , whose most important representatives were the French theorists around Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida ;
  2. a discussion focused on the cognitive apparatus, the brain, the mind - with a spectrum from evolutionary epistemology and the philosophy of mind to artificial intelligence research ;
  3. a discussion based on the philosophy of science with a spectrum of positions that continue the positivism debate of the 19th century, but now have the - postmodern - break with the theoretical fixation in play as a new option: pragmatism, anything goes , method pluralism in this field, Richard Rorty , Thomas S. Kuhn , Paul Feyerabend are representatives of well-known directions.

All three areas offered themselves to the ongoing social confrontations such as research in the natural sciences as cooperation partners with varying degrees of openness.

Focus on the cultural constitution of knowledge

Structuralists such as Ferdinand de Saussure , Claude Lévi-Strauss , Roman Jacobson and post-structuralists such as Jacques Derrida , Roland Barthes or Michel Foucault do not count among the epistemologists in the conventional sense of the modern history of philosophy. Her work set the course in the fields of linguistics, literary studies and current cultural studies . To mention them in an article on epistemology makes sense from a historical perspective. What they have in common is a reflection on language as a medium for the production of meaning, as well as a fundamental reflection on epoch-making cultural knowledge formations. Michel Foucault called these knowledge formations " episteme " and asked about the logic that they impose on discourse participants. Discourse theory also makes it possible to build bridges to Ludwig Wittgenstein and his reflection on language games as sub-units of knowledge (comparable to discourses). Jean-François Lyotard offered this bridge in his book La condition postmoderne: rapport sur le savoir (1979) as part of the history of epistemology in the 20th century.

The philosophical turn that took place here came in the discussion of the limits of structuralism as a scientific method. The post-structuralism thereby became the epistemological position of the postmodern. Niklas Luhmann's system theory emerged from structuralism in German in a separate development .

Structuralism and Poststructuralism

If Wittgenstein had thought about how it is possible for people to use language in dealing with the world, and what they need to know in order to make sense of an utterance, the structuralists shifted the further questions to the area of ​​possible sign systems . The basic premise was that a sign system must always allow differences to be formed in binary oppositions . Otherwise people cannot create meaning differences in it.

With this basic assumption, the language of images could be examined like spoken language. Structuralist interpretations noted the levels on which sign systems were built and statements made. One could very quickly criticize a precarious handling of the context. The specific meaning of a poem depends entirely on the individual statements that can be identified in it, while complexity develops in the simultaneous handling of different systems of meaning such as everyday language and metaphorical meaning. The problem with the analysis offered here, however, is that it always requires contexts. If you ask about the meaning of any sentence, it becomes clear. The explanation always only makes sense in the moment in which it looks for the meaning elsewhere, creates a context. The phrase “a house is a house” does not help to understand what a house is, one needs an explanation that creates a context of comparison. With the question of the contexts, the step into post-structuralism took place, which saw a new problem in the fact that viewers approach any object with their own context.

Structuralist and poststructuralist interpretations had one thing in common: they understood any objects presented for evaluation as linguistic utterances. On the one hand, languages ​​arise when objects are used meaningfully - the dress code, for example, as a system of clothing with which detailed statements can be made about gender, occupation, taste and belonging to fashion. On the other hand, it was considered here that people only perceive what there was already a linguistic concept for. Roland Barthes analyzed under these premises in Mythen des Everyday 1957 exemplarily title covers, photographs, car bodies critically ideology as messages in all understood languages ​​of pictures and modern design.

The investigations gained a critical and epistemological component to the extent that they raised the question of large cultural contexts, of epochal organizations in the production of meaning, of the power of individual discourses, to make decisive guidelines here.

Michel Foucault's work on the upheavals between modern epistemes built bridges into epistemology. With them one had to assume that thinking could be described less in terms of progress towards the correct mapping of the world than under the conditions of large patterns of thought and order to which individual perceptions are subordinated and which are subject to very complex cultural requirements. The titles of his books already refer to the epistemological dimension of the project: The Order of Things: An Archeology of Human Sciences (1966) asks a whole field of science about epochal assumptions. Surveillance and punishment (1975) is, on the one hand, a historical study of thinking about state punishment; at the same time, Foucault presents an experimental study under the premise that discourses are determined by the transfer of technologies. Foucault's late work on sexuality relativized the supposed biological function as an essential cultural construct that societies use for their organization.

From the 1960s onwards, deconstruction - which had a critical effect on culture and ideology - was named as a fundamental movement of thought . In the various investigations, it usually takes place with a specific view of the construction of importance. At the moment when it is traced how a certain meaning was constructed, it shows itself dismantled, deconstructed in its aporetic construction efforts. This has political and ideological explosive power wherever areas of human coexistence are assigned a natural order or (as in Marxism) the order at the end of an inevitable historical process. Ideas of “natural” and “unnatural” sexuality exist as cultural constructs as soon as they can be addressed in this way. As long as that is the case, there is no reason to consider them to be indispensable.

The epistemology practiced here was equally far removed from the ideological criticism of Marxism, as it persisted in the Eastern Bloc, and the traditional bourgeois historical philosophy . Both fields of classical epistemology and social theory pushed for a progressive objectification of knowledge, for its approach to reality, for the endpoints of a logical development. With the postmodern, poststructuralist offers of reflecting on knowledge formations in their historical premises, it became unclear how anything other than specific historically based knowledge formations should be conceivable at all. Postmodern was under the same question that no single culture can be granted a special right to general validity of its point of view. Individual historical formations of knowledge had their own plausibility. On closer inspection, subsystems develop within every society, groups with their own perspectives that look to existing discourses in very different ways. That was found with Jean-François Lyotard's La condition postmoderne (1979), German The postmodern knowledge in the end claimed as a separate condition of knowledge in postmodern pluralistic societies.

Systems theory

Structuralism and poststructuralism were theoretical approaches strongly oriented towards culturally traditional formations of (claimed) knowledge. The system theory rezipiert some elements of structuralism. She analyzes all subject areas as "systems". A “system” is understood as being created by operations of differentiation and observation. Systems theory approaches draw inspiration not only from structuralist theories, but from a wide variety of research areas. These include in particular the “general system theory” and the theory of “complex adaptive systems” in the natural sciences ( Ludwig von Bertalanffy , John H. Holland , Murray Gell-Mann ) as well as Jean Piaget's genetic epistemology , cybernetics ( W. Ross Ashby , Norbert Wiener , Heinz von Foerster ), various other logical and mathematical impulses (such as the calculations of Gotthard Günther and George Spencer-Brown ), some information (such as Gregory Bateson ) and engineering and economic basic ideas. As a sociological theory, the modern systems theory was founded by Talcott Parsons and worked out by Niklas Luhmann , who analyzed important subsystems of the functional modern society and developed this into a general theory of society.

In a specifically German-speaking competition with French discourse theories, it was Luhmann and his successors in particular. Discrimination and observation operations are central. First of all, a system differs from its respective environment - through an operation of distinction which this system itself produces. In subsequent steps, a system then forms further distinctions. Distinctions have a two-sided form. One of the two sides is accentuated for each distinction. The distinction can then be continued at this point. For example, a system can differentiate its environment more finely. In doing so, only individual forms of distinction are used and are based on one's own distinctive achievements. This autonomy (see also autopoiesis ) corresponds to a constructivist epistemological position.

Structuralism, poststructuralism and systems theory were subjected to identical criticisms in the 1990s: their explanations are arbitrary, empirically meaningless and uncheckable. Who determines which relation to be observed forms a system - here everything can be explained by the investigator to be a system and everything to the respective environment of the observed system. Some systems theorists say that people only perceive what they (as structuralists believe) have linguistic categories or construct forms for. Although meaning lies in utterances, or in a larger language that gives context to each statement, it is still difficult to train computer programs to translate between languages. Questions such as “What is the relationship like? Were asked from the scientific and technical-oriented debate, from the classic left philosophy interested in living conditions, from the camps of a new , stricter historical research emerging under the label New Historicism , the“ theory-heavy ”schools from the observed 'system' or 'discourse' to the 'real world', can one still talk about them at all, must or can there still be a relationship at all? Didn't you rashly decide not to think about the 'real world' any more and to stick with the knowledge formations and linguistic images of this world? "

Focus on information processing and the cognitive apparatus

The evolutionary epistemology , the philosophy of mind , the Artificial Intelligence -Research can be, even where they are connected through their representatives with the natural sciences, much clearer on the classic epistemological debates refer back as structuralism, post-structuralism and systems theory.

Evolutionary Epistemology

The evolutionary epistemology forms an initially comparatively German line of tradition. Konrad Lorenz , Rupert Riedl , and Gerhard Vollmer continued to grapple with German idealistic philosophy, especially when they tried to demystify its questions scientifically. People think in terms of space, time, and causality. Kant recognized these categories as a priori of human thought: they are needed before one thinks in them. The evolutionary epistemology gives the same categories in a bridge to biology and positivism (Ernst Mach's empirical criticism anticipated essential positions here) an ultimately materialistic history: space, time and causality are, according to the explanation, patterns of perception that change in the course of evolution just proven practical. The biological cognitive apparatus, the human sensory organs, the brain functions create the categories and dimensions of human perception. Thinking the way humans do it simply proved to be a survival advantage. This could be extended to culturally bound patterns of perception: Cultures develop knowledge and patterns of knowledge and are in an evolutionary competition with these in a confrontation with their environment and with each other. The evolutionary-historical approach - in connection with cognitive science and epistemological perspectives - was further developed and differentiated by the neurobiologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela (see also: The Tree of Knowledge ) under the aspect of autopoiesis as a principle of life with constant biological, communicative and cognitive feedback processes.

From the point of view of deconstructive , language-oriented discourse theories, as well as from the point of view of post-structuralist historiography, the theorems obtained here appeared oppressively simple: They create a lower level of universal patterns of perception that should apply to humans and animals. It is hardly explained here why there is a considerable diversity in “knowledge” between different cultures. At the higher level, at which cultural forms of perception patterns are allowed, - according to the critics on the part of discourse theory - not much more complex is thought: Darwinism is transferred here to cultural history. It is therefore unclear whether the different perceptual patterns of different cultures are in competition for “survival” with one another and whether it can be said that all knowledge is “useful” in dealing with the world. The evolutionary epistemology shows circular conclusions from the point of view of the strict idealistic or positivistic philosophy: matter, the existence of bodies, their evolution - all this is presupposed by the evolutionary epistemology. It needs the evolution-subject matter for the production of the biological cognitive apparatus, which at the end of evolution should think in categories such as matter, space, time and causality. A belief in the scientific explanatory models stabilizes the evolutionary epistemology.

There is also a more critical position in evolutionary epistemology. It was represented by the supporters of Critical Rationalism , predominantly Karl R. Popper and Donald T. Campbell . They deny that there is reliable evidence - not even in scientific or naturalistic and especially not evolutionary explanations. Any attempt to separate out certain opinions as true and certain (as “knowledge”) must fail. In particular, even in the context of evolutionary modeling, there is only blind variation together with selective, exclusively negative feedback. The evolution of living beings and the evolution of human knowledge merge into one another; they both represent an objective problem-solving and learning process based on essentially the same principles. The selection in natural evolution corresponds to the criticism in the area of ​​human knowledge: “This type of information - the rejection of our theories by reality - is [...] in my eyes the only information we can get from reality: everything other is our own ingredient. ”The development is therefore based on the correction of errors in relation to an objective problem situation. Linked to the position is a radical, but unfounding a priorism: all knowledge is viewed as “a priori content, namely genetically a priori”, but not as valid or justified a priori. Because of this epistemological stance, this position is commonly criticized as total skepticism or total irrationalism and largely ignored. David Miller , the most prominent contemporary advocate of this position, has affirmed it and rejected the criticism. (In the event that it is only about words, he is ready to accept the designation 'irrationalist'.) He takes the position that the view is the only one that currently exists that - despite many unsolved problems - seriously asserts itself can be logically tenable.

Artificial Intelligence Research

Tandy radio shack 1650 from the 1980s
Circuit diagram of the Tandy radio shack 1650 - you will be able to get closer to the heart of the device and sketch out its procedural procedures - however, it is unclear when the processes themselves are called thinking.

Artificial intelligence research penetrated its own problem area, which was more determined by technological projects. At one point, however, it is linked to evolutionary epistemology: Coming from the natural sciences and the construction of machines , it asks where understanding begins and where consciousness begins. Both questions arise where machines are used that relieve people of thought processes and are available for interaction: Chess computers, for example, play chess, but one does not assume that they are thinking. Neither the illustration of the device nor its circuit diagram show the basic ideas behind the game of chess. People communicate with machines when they place an order over the phone using a voice recognition process. The machines constructed by humans react to these, and vice versa. The basic epistemological question is when such constructed machines start to think, when they “know” what they are talking about, when a “consciousness” arises on the part of correctly reacting machines. The question arouses commercial interests: Search engines record the pages of the Internet - it would be an immense advantage if they could "understand" what the evaluated Internet pages are about. Language programs that provide translations would make life a lot easier. The question arises as to whether they need to be able to understand what they are translating. One branch of research (the article machine translation in more detail ) optimizes the simple assignment of already existing text passages recognized as having the same meaning: the machine searches through a supply of parallel language material until it finds a passage in it that it can offer as a translation. The other branch of research simulates an understanding of the source text: sentences are analyzed, their meaning is broken down to the point at which the machine can form a correct and complete chain of statements about the content - it needs knowledge of the language and “ world knowledge ” “Knowing what is actually meant. In the third step, she expresses her knowledge of the statements made in the target language. That seems to simulate understanding; and so far works worse than the first method - because real understanding still does not come about. Already in the 1950s, Alan Turing noted in an epistemological turn the problem towards which the development was advancing on the part of the observer: Whether one knows whether the person with whom one communicates is endowed with a consciousness (like oneself) . One assumes to be able to deal with it appropriately. The moment a machine will consistently answer a person's questions, one will simply no longer be able to say (long before the answer to the question of whether machines can think or not is known) whether there is thinking behind the answers , or whether only convincing responses to questions are constantly being delivered - "without any awareness behind it". Since 1990 the Loebner Prize has been exposed to the first successful Turing test . No computer has yet succeeded in even imitating a person's answers. It looks like a certain world knowledge is necessary, where sensible responses to questions should be made or where appropriate translation should be made. At the moment, one can still argue about the extent to which this knowledge is more than a game according to rules in which answers are linked to possible questions about previously defined objects of knowledge.

Renaissance of the philosophy of mind

The philosophy of mind summarizes the currents that refer back to biology, linguistics or the classical idealistic philosophy, which presupposes the mind over matter, and pursue the question of how mind and body, body and soul, language and thought relate to one another. The entire research area here links historical debates of the body-mind debate with current issues from the natural sciences and technology and has developed in this cooperation in recent years largely independently of the decidedly political and ideology-critical discourse theory.

Focus on the theory and sociology of science

The advocates of pragmatism , “anything goes”, methodological pluralism and so-called post - analytical philosophy continued the debate that began with classical positivism in the early 20th century in a mainly Anglo-American, and to a lesser extent also German, tradition. Important names here are William James , FCS Schiller , George Herbert Mead and John Dewey , Richard Rorty as philosophers of pragmatism and Paul Feyerabend and Thomas S. Kuhn as representatives of a more method-pluralistic, relativistic epistemology.

Knowledge has to remain manageable: pragmatism

Like John Dewey, pragmatists can argue biologically and Darwinistically: Findings “prevail”, they do so not so much as “true” than as “useful” (hence the word “pragmatism”), which provide advantages. You can also be close to the analytical epistemology of late positivism and put questions about mind and matter aside from a search for mathematically manageable models of reality.

Paul Feyerabend and Thomas S. Kuhn share some intuitions of pragmatism and were particularly interested in the history of science and the change in theory: knowledge is organized in large formations, paradigms . The term “paradigm” apparently not only describes a specific theory, but everything that makes it immediately possible, plausible, specified and applicable. Paradigms are maintained as long as possible. Only when too many phenomena occur that do not fit into an existing paradigm are new paradigms made available. The decision for one or the other paradigm is then not a matter of better or worse reasons, because two paradigms are not comparable, only their rhetoric. Later, Kuhn wants his main work to be understood differently: it implicitly provides criteria for good theories: accuracy, range, simplicity, fertility. As a rule, a new paradigm also results in new formulations in other or all established areas of knowledge. For example, the modern atomic theory put the old theory of the four elements in a paradigm shift - at the same time completely new research was necessary in all areas of natural sciences and medicine. If the majority of researchers join a new paradigm, a paradigm shift is complete.

With regard to the expansion of the object of investigation to include pre-discursive, non-explicit possibility conditions and the emphasis on the dependence of knowledge production on these, the thinking is similar to that of some French theorists. For many representatives of pragmatism, knowledge and theory building are essentially subject to use. The change of knowledge is therefore subject to the criterion of usefulness. The latter, however, is rarely the subject of pragmatic theories. From the point of view of these theorists, one could argue that usefulness is ascribed to certain knowledge in historical processes , and is therefore only the result of discourses about the knowledge of usefulness.

In this context, reference should also be made to Stephen Toulmin's pragmatic theory of argumentation and science, shaped by Wittgenstein , who is also one of Kuhn's better-known critics. In recent debates, American pragmatism has taken on new prominence in the form advocated by William James , Charles Sanders Peirce, and John Dewey . The reception by Hilary Putnam and Richard Rorty - with clearly different accents - was particularly decisive . Putnam's internal realism can be described as anti-realism according to the usual categorizations, but sticks to concepts such as truth, reference, intentionality and the like, although he considers questions such as "which conceptual scheme is the right one?" To be meaningless. The guiding intuition here is to “give realism a human face”, which means, for example, to protect the correct insights of realistic traditions from a fixation, as it went along with the metaphysical realism of analytical theorists from Putnam's point of view. This loses all contact with the life that you lead with your own terms. Rorty, on the other hand, is an anti-realist and argues that "truth" is just a final word to declare discussions over and every argument is ultimately rhetoric - and to see this theoretically is the first step towards more justice and solidarity. Jason Stanley , who defends a pragmatic against semantic forms of contextualism, is also assigned to what is sometimes called “neopragmatism” .

Anything goes: Options of method pluralism

The advocates of “anything goes” and methodological pluralism gained their own rank with the plea for a diversity, if not anarchy, of explanatory models with equal rights. You can use one model in one context, and another in another, which may be completely incompatible with the first. If you have dealt with paradigms, the basis of knowledge formations, then in the next step you can propagate the coexistence of the most diverse theories and celebrate as a variety of approaches. The question arises why, if knowledge is useful, one should penetrate into inflexible large closed systems. - Locally functioning knowledge stocks could be more efficient. A bridge was built here in the aesthetics of postmodernism in the 1980s.

Between the epistemological relativism of Thomas Kuhn or Paul Feyerabend waiving philosophical and ideological assumptions and the "traditional" on French Science and Epistemological School of epistemology , there are methodical parallels.

The more clearly interests-oriented research that has continued in recent years in gender , postcolonial or postsecularism studies within the paradigm of cultural studies , has so far found its connecting and opposing positions more in French discourse theory than in epistemological relativisms, such as they were especially popular in the 1970s and 1980s.


  • "Nihil est in intellectu, quod non antea fuerit in sensu" ( "Nothing is in the mind that was not in the senses before" ) ( John Locke )
  • "Nihil est in intellectu, quod non antea fuerit in sensu, nisi intellectus ipse." ( "Nothing is in the mind that was not previously in the senses, except the mind itself." ) ( Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz , Neue Abhandlungen über den Menschen Mind )
  • "Thoughts without content are empty, views without concepts are blind." ( Immanuel Kant , Critique of Pure Reason , B75)

See also


Secondary literature and historical introductions
  • Gottfried Gabriel : Basic problems of epistemology. From Descartes to Wittgenstein , Schöningh, 2nd ed., Paderborn 1998 (Particularly suitable as a starter. Historically oriented. Ends at Wittgenstein. Therefore complements very well with Norbert Schneider.) .
  • Gottfried Gabriel : Knowledge. de Gruyter, Berlin / Boston 2015 (basic themes of philosophy), ISBN 978-3-11-040815-7 , 193 pp.
  • Gerold Prauss : Introduction to Epistemology , Darmstadt 1993, 3rd edition.
  • Hans-Jörg Rheinberger: Historical epistemology as an introduction. Junius, Hamburg 2009, 2nd edition, ISBN 978-3-88506-636-1 (Emphasizes context and epoch-specific conditions for something to be considered as an object of knowledge. Briefly discusses Gaston Bachelard , Ludwik Fleck , Alexandre Koyré , Georges Canguilhem , Thomas S. Kuhn , Paul Feyerabend , Michel Foucault , Ian Hacking and Bruno Latour .) .
  • Martina Schlünder: Volatile bodies, unstable spaces, contradicting theories: the productive vagueness of Ludwik Fleck's epistemology and the history of reproductive medicine. In: Rainer Egloff (ed.): Fact - thinking style - controversy: arguments with Ludwik Fleck. Zurich 2005, pp. 57–62.
  • Norbert Schneider: Epistemology in the 20th Century. Classical Positions , Philipp Reclam jun., Stuttgart 1998 (Useful historical introduction, relatively easy to read, with a wide range of modern classical positions, including Jean Piaget and materialism in Russia.) .
  • Roderick Chisholm Epistemology (dtv Wissenschaft, 1979; Buchner, 2004) / Theory of Knowledge (Prentice Hall, 1966, 1977, 1988)
Systematic introductions

Philosophy Bibliography : Epistemology - Additional references on the topic

  • Peter Baumann: Epistemology , Verlag Metzler, Stuttgart 2006 standard work in German.
  • Sven Bernecker, Duncan Pritchard : The Routledge Companion to Epistemology , Routledge, New York 2011, ISBN 978-0-415-96219-3 . Table of contents . Current introduction with short chapters on the most important basic concepts of the discipline (truth, opinion, justification, etc.), the most important families of theories (externalism, evidentialism, etc.), areas or types of knowledge (inductive knowledge, aesthetic knowledge, etc.), topics and Problem areas (in particular in detail on skepticism, also on formal epistemology and metaepistemology), short outlines of relevant classics (Plato, Austin, etc.), all by authors who are among the most important international experts on the current state of debate.
  • Kurt Eberhard: Introduction to the theory of knowledge and science. History and practice of competitive paths of knowledge , Kohlhammer, 2nd edition Stuttgart 1999 (contains partly surprising, but plausible considerations from a social science perspective) .
  • Gerhard Ernst: Introduction to Epistemology. 5th edition. WBG (Scientific Book Society), Darmstadt 2014, ISBN 978-3-534-26411-7 (contains exercises) .
  • Thomas Grundmann : Analytical introduction to epistemology. De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2008, ISBN 3-11-017622-X .
  • Peter Janich : What is knowledge. A philosophical introduction. Beck, Munich 2000 (contains critical questions on classical epistemology with a broad concept of knowledge from the point of view of methodical constructivism) .
  • Alan Musgrave: Everyday Knowledge, Science and Skepticism. Mohr, Tübingen 1993 (critical rationalism, but more with a focus on epistemology than on the theory of science) .
  • Hans Günther Russ: Theory of Science, Epistemology and the Search for Truth. An introduction. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2004 (classic position of critical rationalism. Relatively easy to understand.) .
  • Herbert Schnädelbach : Epistemology as an introduction. Junius, 3rd edition, Hamburg 2008, ISBN 978-3-88506-368-1 (language-analytical pragmatic approach with a brief historical introduction) .
  • Matthias Steup , Ernest Sosa (Ed.): Contemporary Debates in Epistemology. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford 2005.
  • Gerhard Vollmer : What can we know? Contributions to modern natural philosophy. 2 vol., Hirzel, 3rd edition, Stuttgart 2003, vol. 1 The nature of knowledge : ISBN 3-7776-0443-7 , vol. 2 The knowledge of nature : ISBN 3-7776-0444-5 (collection of articles. Interesting because of the different perspectives that most alternatives do not offer. Not only anthropology, but also epistemology, in which Karl Popper and Konrad Lorenz are brought together.) .
  • Markus Gabriel : The Knowledge of the World - An Introduction to Epistemology . Verlag Karl Alber, Freiburg / Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-495-48522-4 .
  • Werner Leinfellner: Introduction to the theory of knowledge and science. BI University pocket books of pure science, Vol. 41 / 41a, Mannheim 1967, 3rd edition 1980, ISBN 3-411-05041-1 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Epistemology  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Theory of Knowledge in the English language Wikipedia
  2. Kennistheorie in the Dutch-language Wikipedia
  3. Théorie de la connaissance in the French language Wikipedia
  4. ^ Epistemology in the French language Wikipedia
  5. Γνωσιολογία in the Greek language Wikipedia
  6. Gnoseología in the Spanish language Wikipedia
  7. Lit .: Wittgenstein, About certainty [1951] (1969), § 467.
  8. Lit .: Wittgenstein, About certainty [1951] (1969), § 185.
  9. The problem of the source situation in this regard is presented in the main article on Socrates.
  10. In the end, Jean-François Lyotard built the bridge with his book La Condition postmoderne: Rapport sur le savoir (Paris: éditions de Minuit, 1979), see also Reinhold Clausjürgens, “Language games and judgment: Jean-François Lyotard's discourses on narratives Pragmatik “, Philosophisches Jahrbuch (1988), 95 (1), pp. 107–120.
  11. ^ Heinrich Hertz: The principles of mechanics presented in a new context: three contributions. (1891–1894), 2nd edition, Geest & Portig, Leipzig 1984; reprinted Thun [u. a.]: German, 2002.
  12. Lit .: Auguste Comte: Discours sur l'ensemble du Positivisme, ou Exposition sommaire de la doctrine philosophique et sociale propre à la grande république occidentale composée de cinq populations avancées, française, Italienne, Germanique, britannique et espagnole (1848).
  13. Quoted from the German standard translation [1] and the current Byzantine majority text (2000) [2]
  14. See Gottfried Arnold : Unparteyische Kirchen- und Ketzer-Historie (Leipzig / Frankfurt am Main: Fritsch, 1699 f.).
  15. For more information on radicalism in this area , see : Jonathan Israel : Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, 1650–1750. (Oxford University Press, Oxford / New York 2001).
  16. See Descartes' Les passions de l'âme dt. The Passions of the Soul (1649) and, which remained unpublished during his lifetime, his Traité de l'homme in German , written in 1632 : Treatise on people , first printed in 1662 under the title De homine .
  17. Lit .: Descartes' Discours de la méthode (1637) and his Meditationes de prima philosophia, in qua Dei existentia et animae immortalitas demonstratur (1641) German: Meditations on the First Philosophy, in which the existence of God and the immortality of the soul proved becomes secondary literature: Steven M. Duncan, The Proof of the External World: Cartesian Theism and the Possibility of Knowledge (James Clarke & Co., Cambridge 2008).
  18. ^ Lit .: Berkeley, Principles (1710), § 3.
  19. ^ Lit .: Berkeley, Principles (1710), § 20.
  20. Lit .: Berkeley, Principles (1710), § 35.
  21. ^ Lit .: Berkeley, Principles (1710), § 38.
  22. ^ Lit .: Berkeley, Principles (1710), § 41
  23. Chapter “Refutation of Idealism” by Kant , wording according to »spiegel.de«, accessed on May 27, 2011
  24. Lit .: Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (1787), 2nd book, 2nd main section, 3 sections, § 4
  25. a b c Lit .: System program (1796/97).
  26. ^ Lit .: Marx, Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law. (1844).
  27. Lit .: "Abbild" in: Philosophical Dictionary of the GDR. 1975.
  28. ^ WI Lenin: Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. Dietz Verlag, Berlin 1971, Written in May 1908, p. 124
  29. ^ Ludwig Wittgenstein: Lectures & Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief. ed. C. Barret (Oxford 1966).
  30. For information on the current state of theories and a brief historical outline, cf. Michael Bradie / William Harms (2004) Evolutionary Epistemology ; and on the related complex of naturalistic epistemological conceptions Richard Feldman (2001) Naturalized Epistemology
  31. ^ Proceedings of the Rethinking Popper Conference, September 10th – 14th 2007, Prague, Czech Republic (not yet published)
  32. David Miller: Critical Rationalism (1994), Chapter 3
  33. Karl Popper: The quantum theory and the schism of physics , quoted from Hans-Joachim Niemann: Lexikon des Kritischen Rationalismus , Mohr / Siebeck, Tübingen 2004, keyword "Reality" (p. 311)
  34. ^ Karl Popper: All life is problem solving (1984), p. 129 f.
  35. Jürgen Habermas: Knowledge and Interest (Suhrkamp, ​​1968), p. 22
  36. David Stove: Popper and After: Four Modern Irrationalists (Oxford: Pergamon, 1982)
  37. Jahn M. Böhm: Critical Rationality and Understanding (2005), 1.6.2
  38. ^ A. Sokal, J. Bricmont: Intellectual Impostures (1998), Chapter 4.
  39. For more see David Miller: Conjectural Knowledge. In Paul Levnison (ed.): In pursuit of truth (1982), note 4
  40. ^ David Miller: Conjectural Knowledge. In Paul Levnison (ed.): In pursuit of truth (1982), section 1
  41. David Miller: falsifiability: More than a convention? Out of error (2006), 4.0
  42. David Miller: Sokal & Bricmont: Back to the Frying Pan ( Memento of September 28, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 224 kB). Pli 9 (2000), pp. 156-173.
  43. David Miller: A critique of good reasons. Critical rationalism (1994), 3.1
  44. David Miller: Some hard questions for critical rationalism. (not published yet)
  45. Kuhn speaks of "methods of persuading the masses" ( The structure of scientific revolutions. 2nd edition, Frankfurt am Main 1999, p. 106)
  46. ^ Thomas S. Kuhn: Reflections on My Critics. In: Imre Lakatos & Alan Musgrave (Eds.): Criticism and Growth of Knowledge. Cambridge 1970, pp. 231-278, here 231.
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on January 19, 2006 .