‘All men by their very nature feel the urge to know’, wrote Aristotle in his Metaphysics. This is surely true. Throughout recorded history man has sought to understand himself and the universe from which he has so mysteriously emerged. Through myths, religion, natural science, or philosophy he has striven to acquire knowledge — about the nature, origin, and ‘purpose’ of the cosmos, the evolution of life, and of course himself and his behaviour. Indeed the need to know has most probably been a human characteristic ever since our ancestors first came to articulate through symbols a dim awareness of themselves as existent beings — part of and yet in some sense separate from the external world. But what is knowledge? How do we acquire our knowledge? What is its scope — how far does it extend? Is there a distinction between knowledge and belief? It is such questions as these that belong to the branch of philosophy called epistemology. In this chapter we shall be examining some of the answers which have been put forward by philosophers past and present.
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