How do we obtain knowledge?

How do we obtain knowledge? Some of the methods we use are more reliable others.  Still others may be used more often due to necessity.  However, that does not mean that a certain method of obtaining knowledge that we do not use very much or may be less reliable should not, at the appropriate time, be employed to better understand how best to act or proceed in a given situation.  After all, there is no method of acquiring knowledge that is both 100% reliable and 100% applicable in all situations.

For example, the scientific method has opened the door to technological discoveries that provide us useful information about the development of a fetus during each trimester of the typical nine months a particular woman carries her child. fetus She cannot, without such scientific knowledge, come to know which aspects of her child are developing and when simply by carrying it.  She only knows that it is developing because her belly gets larger and larger.  She gets most of her knowledge about the stages of fetal development from what scientific discovery has so far provided at this point in history.

On the other hand, the scientific method cannot tell us exactly when that woman will give birth (given that her labor is not induced).  Only the knowledge provided by that woman’s body — namely, that she will feel great pain and contractions — will indicate it is time to give birth.  pregnant womanShe could go into labor days, weeks, or even months before she has been pregnant for a full nine months.  She may be up to speed on every aspect of fetal development, but that knowledge will not help her in knowing when it is time to go to the hospital (or birthing center, if you like) to deliver her child; the knowledge provided by her body will.

My ultimate point is that the knowledge desired or needed dictates or determines which method of obtaining knowledge is most appropriate and most useful for the given situation.

Even though the scientific method of observation and experimentation may be the most reliable form of acquiring knowledge, we cannot make the mistake of assuming it is more legitimate in every given situation.  Further, we should not draw the even more erroneous conclusion that it is the only legitimate way or method of obtaining knowledge.

Other scenarios will make the same point.  There are (obviously) times when we come to know something only by life experience just as there are times when the only method of obtaining necessary and/or desired knowledge is by witness account or classroom instruction.  Sometimes a situation requires the use of more than just one method of obtaining knowledge, and sometimes these methods are similar.

The various methods of acquiring knowledge are listed below with their corresponding links.  The list is not comprehensive and ongoing.

  1. The scientific method
  2. Intuition
  3. Experience
  4. Are eyewitness accounts reliable?
  5. Reason as a source of knowledge
  6. Authority as a source of knowledge
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