Theory of Knowledge

  • Created by: Lottie
  • Created on: 30-05-12 14:00

Theory of Knowledge


Key essay questions:


  • Assess rationalism/empiricism
  • Assess representative realism/naïve realism
  • Assess idealism/phenomalism
  • Is global scepticism possible?
  • Is knowledge JTB? 


Naïve Realism


This theory is often cited by philosophers merely to be knocked down, David Hume commented that the slightest philosophy would require an individual to give up this theory. It is worth noting that to the ordinary man this is how they think perception works, and could be known as ‘common sense realism’.


  • The real world is as it appears to our senses
  • We perceive the tree and all its properties directly
  • We see everything as it really is


Problems with this theory


  • Perspective – objects get smaller in distance, but in fact they do not. Perspective shows that we do not perceive the world exactly as it is.
  • Secondary Qualities – if we have the ‘inter galactic’ council meeting, they may well see the same ‘red’ item as differing colours. Also, if we look at something under a microscope it appears a different colour – so which is its true colour?
  • Circular – the naïve realism claims to know what physical objects are like by perceiving them and this relies on the fact that we perceive things as they are. However, this claim presupposes that we know what they are like. We know what they are like because we perceive them… etc.
  • Real vs. Hallucinatory  - if our perception is based on what we see, what exactly is a dream or hallucination, because we know it not to really be there? This indicates that our perception is not just about direct contact with the world
  • Deception – the ‘evil demon’ could be tricking our senses into believing that something is when it isn’t. (Cf. Descartes)




Naïve realism only maintains its status as an accurate theory of perception before it is examined philosophical which shows it to be false.












Representative Realism


This theory can also be known as indirect realism


PERCEIVER                              PERCEPT / SENSE DATA                   OBJECT


  • Realist theory – the real world actually exists
  • We do not perceive objects directly
  • Distinction between our sense data and the object perceived
  • We have a mental component – the way the object appears to us, our sense data give us a representation of the world
  • We have a physical component – the object as it is in reality
  • The representative realist is essentially saying that we have pictures in our minds, which represent the real world outside of our minds.




  • Deception/illusion – this can be explained when our sensation does not match up to something within the real world – causing us to be deceived
  • Primary and Secondary Qualities – This theory explains the problem of secondary qualities, in that something about the object makes it appear red to our sense organs but it may make it appear different


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