“Wouldn't it be wonderful if a group of people somewhere were for something and against nothing?    Ernest Holmes

The term ‘epistemology’ is from Greek, from episteme- (knowledge) + logos (theory).  The theory or study of knowledge.  Episteme is the Greek word for knowledge or science, which comes from the verb “to know”. In Plato’s terminology episteme means knowledge, as in “justified true belief”,  in contrast to doxa, common belief or opinion.

In Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, epistemology is found among his ‘five virtues’.

There is no single definition of knowledge.  There are numerous theories to explain it and there are many ways to classify knowledge (types, classes, qualities, structures). Many elaborate distinctions exist.  For example, knowledge can be either explicit (self-conscious) and implicit (hidden from self-consciousness).  It can be either propositional or non-propositional.  Propositional knowledge can be divided into empirical (a posteriori) and non-empirical (a priori) knowledge.

Epistemology is not your typical household word.  However, its discipline is important when exploring abstract metaphysical concepts, such as the existence of angels, God, or Spirit or abstract physical concepts, such as the nature of reality behind Quantum Mechanics (QM).  The twin-sister to epistemology is ontology:  the study of the nature of being, existence or reality – the “modes of being”.

Genetic epistemology is a study of the origins of knowledge.

A few key questions that concern the study of epistemology are:
• Do we perceive basic reality or only appearance that conceal basic reality? (Plato’s ‘Allegory of the Cave’)
• What is the basis of Knowledge?
Observation?  Experience?  Intuition?  Inspriation?

Subject & Object
In “The World as Will and Representation” (1818), the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wisely observes:  “Our knowing consciousness is divisible solely into subject and object”.

Schopenhauer, and the many influential philosophers before him, makes the premise that the world consists of Objects which are perceived by Subjects.  The Subject-Object division has been a longstanding philosophical investigation with philosophers inquiring on how subjects relate to objects.

Inquiring on the Subject-Object division gets us back to the question on how to validate true knowledge.  The valid knowledge problem has two aspects:
1 - “What is Known”.  The field of ontology deals with questions concerning what objects (entities) exist or can be said to exist, like 'God' or an 'electron'.
2 - “How Does One Know What One Knows”.  The field of epistemology questions what knowledge is, how it is acquired (the Sources of Knowledge) and the depth of how far we can know an object. Epistemology includes both subjects and objects.

The dictionary defines subjective as "the impression which an object makes on the mind." A concept or idea is subjective:  an external object is the percept while the impression in one’s mind is the concept.  Subjective always means something that receives.

The deepest issue of the philosophy of mind is this: how is it possible that a material system such as the human brain/body gives rise to subjective experiences of the mind?  Current theories of mind explain certain structures or functions at work, but they cannot explain this fundamental ‘phenomenon’ – subjective experience.

The skeptic may ask, “how do you know there is subjective experience in the first place?”.  This is axiomatic.  It is a given.  A fundamental fact we have to accept. Schopenhauer, et al, would say it is the very fact that brought us the idea of consciousness!  Without it, we would never have discovered that thoughts and feelings existed.

The Great Chain of Being
The Great Chain of Being (Scala Naturae, "ladder/stair-way of nature") is a hierarchical classification of matter-to-life-to-spiritual whose origins date back to Plato and Aristotle. The scala allowed for an ordering of beings starting from God.  It progresses downward to angels, demons (fallen/renegade angels), stars, moon, kings, nobles, men, animals, plants and minerals.

 1. God
 2. Angelic Beings
 3. Humanity
 4. Animals
 5. Plants
 6. Minerals

The American spiritual writer and philosopher Ken Wilber developed a similar macro concept called the "Great Nest of Being".  Wilber’s ‘Nest’ is a natural hierarchy with five levels: Spirit, Soul, Mind/Emotion, Body and Matter.

Objective Being – Ontology/Cosmos:  God, Archetypes/Ideas, Matter
Subjective Knowing – Epistemology/Psychology:  Soul, Mind, Body

‘AQAL’ – Easy to Use Epistemological Map
Before attempting any ‘deep diving’ of epistemology or ontology, like inquiring
 on God, Beauty (I), Truth (It) or Goodness (We), the Golden Seat recommends Ken Wilber’s beautifully simple and powerful ‘AQAL’ model to help understand and properly validate knowledge.  AQAL is a 4-quad matrix of human consciousness that relates the Objective and Subjective to the Individual and the Collective.

Knowledge validation follows the cycle:  (1) Directive, (2) Apprehension, (3) Interpretation, (4) Validation.
 (1) Upper-Right:  Directive.  Individual-Exterior (brain/body).
 (2) Upper-Left:  Apprehensive.  Individual-Interior (mind).
 (3) Lower-Left: Interpretation.  Collective-Interior (culture).
 (4) Lower-Right:  Validation.  Collective-Exterior (society).


To illustrate the utility of the AQAL matrix, let’s consider the philosophical tenet known as ‘subjectivism’ which has be attributed to Descartes.  Subjectivism is the belief that “our own mental activity is the only unquestionable fact of our experience”.  Subjectivism holds subjective experience to be the supreme fundamental of all measure and law.

Thus, if we are to read “The world has no existence whatsoever outside the human imagination – it’s all ghosts”, AQAL helps us to understand that this is very extreme position on the ‘subjective’ quadrant, to the point of rejecting natures within the objective quadrant.   This is similar to solipsism, another extreme form of subjectivism, where the subject is unsure of any knowledge outside one’s own mind.

Phenomenalism or Logical Positivism is the complementary example of extreme positions on the objective quadrant that, in turn, rejects natures within subjective quadrant.

AQAL forces our philosophies to be more integral and to avoid unhealthy extreme positions.