Epistemology and methodology: main trends and ends

An example of each of these types may help to make them clear. (1) When Galileo was investigating the law of the velocity of falling bodies he eventually formed the hypothesis that a body starting from rest falls with a uniform acceleration, and that its velocity varies with the time of its fall. But he could not devise any method for the direct verification of this hypothesis. By mathematical deduction, however, he arrived at the conclusion that a body falling according to his hypothetical law would fall through a distance proportionate to the time of its fall. This consequence could be tested by comparing the distances and the time of falling bodies, which thus served as an indirect verifica​tion of his hypothesis. (2) By inductions from numerous astro​nomical observations made by Tycho Brahe and himself, Kepler discovered the three familiar laws called by his name, namely, (a) that the planets move in elliptic orbits which have the sun for one of their foci; (6) that the velocity of a planet is such that the radius vector (i.e., an imaginary line joining the moving planet to the sun) sweeps out equal areas in equal periods of time; and (c) that the squares of the periodic times of any two planets (that is, the times which they take to complete their revolutions round the sun) are proportional to the cubes of their mean distances from the sun. These three laws appeared to be quite independent of each other. But Newton systematised them all in the more comprehensive induction, or theory, of celestial gravitation. He showed that they could all be deduced from the one law that the planets tend to move towards each other with a force varying directly with the product of their masses, and inversely with the square of the distances between them. (3) H. Spencer, by comparing a number of predominantly industrial States and also, of predominantly military States, ancient and modern, inferred inductively that the former type of State is democratic and gives rise to free institutions, whereas the latter type is undemocratic and tends to oppression. As the sparse evidence hardly permitted of a rigorous application of any of .the inductive methods, Spencer tried to confirm his conclusion by deductive reasoning from the nature of the case in the light of what is known about the human mind. He pointed out that in a type of society, which is predominantly industrial, the trading relations between individuals are the predominant relations, and these train them to humour and consider others. The result is a democratic attitude in all. In a State, which is predominantly military, the relations which are most common among its members are those of authority, on the one part, and of subordination on the other. The result is the reverse of a democratic atmosphere.


In conclusion, I would like to discuss the relation of epistemology to other branches of philosophy. Philosophy viewed in the broadest possible terms divides into many branches: metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, logic, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, and a gamut of others. Each of these disciplines has its special subject matter: for metaphysics it is the ultimate nature of the world; for ethics, the nature of the good life and how people ideally ought to comport themselves in their relations with others; and for philosophy of science, the methodology and results of scientific activity. Each of these disciplines attempts to arrive at a systematic understanding of the issues that arise in its particular domain. The word systematic is important in this connection, referring, as explained earlier, to the construction of sets of principles or theories that are broad-ranging, consistent, and rationally defensible. In effect, such theories can be regarded as sets of complex claims about the various matters that are under consideration.

Epistemology stands in a close and special relationship to each of these disciplines. Though the various divisions of philosophy differ in their subject matter and often in the approaches taken by philosophers to their characteristic questions, they have one feature in common: the desire to arrive at the truth about that with which they are concerned--say, about the fundamental ingredients of the world or about the nature of the good life for man. If no such claims were asserted, there would be no need for epistemology. But, once theses have been advanced, positions staked out, and theories proposed, the characteristic questions of epistemology inexorably follow. How can one know that any such claim is true? What is the evidence in favour of (or against) it? Can the claim be proven? Virtually all of the branches of philosophy thus give rise to epistemological ponderings.