knowledge

epistemology

[ih-pis-tuh-mol-uh-jee]

Study of the origin, nature, and limits of human knowledge. Nearly every great philosopher has contributed to the epistemological literature. Some historically important issues in epistemology are: (1) whether knowledge of any kind is possible, and if so what kind; (2) whether some human knowledge is innate (i.e., present, in some sense, at birth) or whether instead all significant knowledge is acquired through experience (see empiricism; rationalism); (3) whether knowledge is inherently a mental state (see behaviourism); (4) whether certainty is a form of knowledge; and (5) whether the primary task of epistemology is to provide justifications for broad categories of knowledge claim or merely to describe what kinds of things are known and how that knowledge is acquired. Issues related to (1) arise in the consideration of skepticism, radical versions of which challenge the possibility of knowledge of matters of fact, knowledge of an external world, and knowledge of the existence and natures of other minds.

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In epistemology, knowledge that is independent of all particular experiences, as opposed to a posteriori (or empirical) knowledge, which derives from experience. The terms have their origins in the medieval Scholastic debate over Aristotelian concepts (see Scholasticism). Immanuel Kant initiated their current usage, pairing the analytic-synthetic distinction with the a priori–a posteriori distinction to define his theory of knowledge.

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Leading scientific society in Britain and the oldest national scientific society in the world. Founded in 1660, its early members included Robert Hooke, Christopher Wren, Isaac Newton, and Edmond Halley. It has long provided an impetus to scientific thought and research in the U.K., and its achievements have become internationally famous. The society's Philosophical Transactions, the oldest scientific periodical in continuous publication, has published papers since 1665. The society awards several prizes, the most prestigious being the Copley Medal. At the beginning of the 21st century, the society had some 1,300 fellows and 130 foreign members.

Learn more about Royal Society (of London for Improving Natural Knowledge) with a free trial on Britannica.com.

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