Knowledge acquisition (philosophy)

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Knowledge acquisition is the process of absorbing and storing new knowledge in memory.[1] Knowledge acquisition first proposed by Aristotle in his seminal work Organon. Aristotle proposed that the mind at birth is a blank slate, or tabula rasa. As a blank slate it contains no knowledge of the objective, empirical universe, nor of itself.


Knowledge acquisition as a method, it is opposed to the concept of "a priori" knowledge, and to "intuition" when conceived as religious revelation.

It has been suggested [1][2] that the mind is "hard wired" to begin operating at birth, beginning a lifetime process of acquisition through abstraction, induction, and conception.

The acquisition of empirical knowledge, which begins the process of filling the tabula rasa, is thus by means of the experience of sensation and perception. Though sensation and perception are described elsewhere in Wikipedia as parts of "psychology, and not [of] anatomy or physiology," they belong to cognitive science.

The "five senses" referred to by the word sensation are metaphorically the interface between empirical (sensate) reality and the consciousness of the knowing subject. A knowing subject for the purpose of this discussion of knowledge acquisition may be defined as any conscious creature capable of deriving direct and immediate sensate data from its environment.

Sensate data, or sensation, are distinct from perception. Perception is the recognition within the knowing subject of the event of having had a sensation. The tabula rasa and must learn the nature of sensation as the awareness of something which is outside itself. Commonly recognized sensory systems are those for vision, hearing, somatic sensation (touch), taste and olfaction (smell).

Perception is the retention of a group of sensations transmitted through the sensory system(s), which gives the knowing subject the ability to be aware, not only of the singularity of stimuli presented by sensation itself, but of an entity, a thing, an existent.[2]

Retention of percepts allows the human mind to abstract information from the percepts. The abstraction is considered the extensional definition of the percept. An extension is "every object that falls under the definition of the concept or term in question." This is the same as a universal (metaphysics) or genus or denotation, or class (philosophy).

Once a universal (class) has been identified, then the next step in the acquisition of knowledge is the abstraction of the intension, which is the particular, the species, or the connotation. Connotation as its meaning as particular is "the assertion that at least one member of one class of things is either included or excluded as a member of some other class."[3] This means, for example, that a poodle is the particular in a class or universal concept called "dog" or "canine".


  1. By participation.
  2. By acquisition.
  3. By reason and logic (perhaps in cooperation with others, using logical argument).
  4. By mathematical proof.
  5. By the scientific method.
  6. By the trial and error method.
  7. By applying an algorithm.
  8. By learning from experience.
  9. By intuition (getting them from the subconscious).
  10. By an argument from authority, which could be from religious, literary, political, philosophical or scientific authorities.
  11. By listening to the testimony of witnesses.
  12. By observing the world in its "natural state"; seeing how the world operates without performing any experiments.
  13. By acquiring knowledge that is embedded in one's language, culture, or traditions.
  14. By dialogical enquiry (conversation). See Gadamer, Bohm, Habermas, Freire, on dialogue, learning and knowledge acquisition/negotiation:
  15. By some claimed form of enlightenment following a period of meditation. (For example, the Buddhist enlightenment known as bodhi)
  16. By some claimed form of divine illumination, prayer or revelation from a divine agency.

Acquisition of different types of knowledge

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Procedural knowledge tends to be accessed automatically and require little attention while being more durable than other types of knowledge.[1]

See also