Computer science professor and linguist Michael Covington admits
that epistemology can seem like an intimidating subject, but it shouldn’t.
Epistemology is simply the study of how to acquire knowledge by observing the world around you.
The goal of epistemology is to believe things that are true, and not to believe things that are false.
The key to being right more often is to develop beliefs and opinions that are based on evidence whenever possible.
Here’s a summary of how to do that:
- Propose some belief or opinion
- Try to prove it
Then try to disprove it
Most of us skip the last step, but it’s important.
Because in order for you to be confident that some belief or opinion is accurate, it has to be testable. And it’s your job to test it. There has to be some way that you could tell if it were false.
For example, say you believe that all swans are white. It’s your job not only to look for white swans, but also to look for swans that aren’t white.
Covington notes that there are plenty of widespread misconceptions that are based on epistemological errors.
Here’s an example of such misconception: “It’s OK to believe anything you want because we never really know anything. It’s all just opinions.”
This is a misconception because of two facts:
- Our knowledge of the world is incomplete.
- Nonetheless, the world is objectively real.
And here’s a test: If you step in front of a speeding bus, it will run you over. Even if you can find people whose opinion is different.