What is the difference between 'ontology ' and 'epistemology '?

Originally Answered: Is there a difference between ontology and epistemology?

Ontology and epistemology are both important elements of the philosophy of knowledge. If they often overlap, they have clear distinction : epistemology is about the way we know things when ontology is about what things are.

Epistemology is a field of science that tends to describe the many approaches we can chose to understand our world. It is by definition the science of knowledge and consequently is often understood as a meta-science : the science of defining what is the “scientific way “. Mostly, it studies the fundamental choices or givens you take into account when you attempt to know something.

For example, cybernetics use the model of a system as an epistemological approach to explain facts and phenomenons. Derived from it, science today use widely the network model as a premise to understand various things, for instance cities. When we say: * “Ok, let ‘s try to understand the structure of modern cities as a network “* this is epistemology in practice - to chose a bias.

Then start the ontological debate : * “But modern cities* are actually structured as networks ! “ Now that is it : we are all set up for a boring egg and chicken debate, one saying : * “It* is like this “ and the other saying * “It is just because you look at it that way “.* This happens all the time.

Ontology is about describing things and their relationships to answer the question * “What is it? “* while epistemology ‘s personal concern is to investigate the ways that leads you to think that.

Imagine the ontology saying “This is that “, then the epistemology will answer : * “How can you be so sure of* what it is if you don ‘t even know how you know it? “

Let ‘s take a famous quote from Wittgenstein ‘s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus : * “The world is the totality of facts, not of things “ .This is an ontological assertion - it challenges the nature of the world (what* it is) - then it leads us to an epistemological consideration - to reconsider how we have looked at the world before.

That makes a difference, doesn ‘t it?

Actually, ontology at some extremes can be regarded as a particular epistemological posture. After all, ontology implies that you first accept that things can “be “, i.e. can be defined by their beings. Even if it seems obvious, many languages don ‘t have such definitive verb about the nature of things.

You could absolutely oppose to this idea in saying that things are fully made of contingency, that context prevails, or that things exist in your personal experience (as W. James said in its radical empiricism). Then, ontology will become like a pointless joke.

So finally, it seems like the overlap of those 2 questions are in fact the origin of metaphysics. The question: * “Are things really like this or is that just the way I see them? “* will always be a fruitful one.

Personally, I have sometimes the feeling that we are in a very “ontological “ period where people loves to define things very precisely using “data “ as an epistemological alibi. Some place, some time, it should be some other way to know our world and then things could get different. That is usually why people come to ask question like yours - and why others try to answer it :)

This text was originally published in quora.

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