An epistemic system is a system that allows a mind to know things and to judge probability. It can also cause a mind to think it knows things it doesn't know, and to misjudge probability. Once such a system becomes integral to a mind, it can then force that mind to think it knows things, and to judge probability correctly or incorrectly. Therefore a defective system can be very dangerous.The epistemic system of any non-omniscient mind is necessarily flawed, because it can't even define knowledge, much less identify how anything is known. Agnosticism, however, is not a solution, because agnosticism is itself an epistemic system, and also flawed, because it self stultifies as soon as any declarative statement is made. e.g. "A = B" is a knowledge claim. Any mind asserting "A = B" asserts enough knowledge to make the statement. "I don't know," is a statement of the form A = B. It says:
[A] = [B]
A flaw in an epistemic system is any software glitch that diminishes a mind's ability to know and/or to correctly judge probability. Some flaws are more detrimental to an epistemic system than others. One big flaw can be more detrimental than many small flaws. Some epistemic systems are more flawed than others, whether flaws are measured in quantity or in amount of detriment. For any non-omniscient mind, there necessarily exists an optimal epistemic system - optimal in this sense meaning least flawed.
very few minds even want the least flawed system. Minds want to be happy, because minds are dominated by emotion - not just the dumb ones - ALL OF THEM! Emotional gratification is what "want" is all about. Minds want only as much epistemic correctness as is expedient to get them to a satisfactory happiness level. The only minds that want the least flawed system are those that think it will get them the most happiness for the duration of their future existence. This is true whether they think they may live beyond physical death or not.
This essay is written only for the benefit of those few who want the least flawed epistemic system possible. The rest of you, read no further.
Principle 1. Truth is correspondence to reality. Reality is that which is. If you don't know what "is" is, run for president. The so called coherence theory of truth is useful for constructing hypotheticals and fictional stories, but epistemically it's irrelevant at best, and can be detrimental to epistemology when seen as an alternative to correspondence. However, epistemic systems are rightly judged by their coherence as well as correspond to reality.
Principle 2. Knowledge must be assumed, even if it cannot be meaningfully defined. That's a huge epistemic copout, but necessary to any non-omniscient mind that wants (there's that word again) to do anything more than exist. A non-omniscient mind cannot avoid this copout without committing a worse one.
Attempting to define knowledge is a worthy, though futile, epistemic endeavor. A popular definition of knowledge is justified true belief. But then what does justified mean? Properly grounded? What constitutes proper grounding? And how is that properly grounded? You just substitute one synonym for another, and fall into either eternal regress, or circularity.
What we call knowledge may be nothing more than an illusion that facilitates the survival and procreation of those who believe it. Every legitimate declarative statement is either true or false. If you can identify which it is, you're more likely to survive.
Once we accept logic as reliable for determining truth, we can claim to know a whole lot of things. But how do we know logic is reliable? We don't know it by logic, because that's circular reasoning, which is a logical fallacy. We don't know it because it always works, because that's inductive reasoning, which is only good for determining probability. Just because something works doesn't mean your explanation of why it works is true - much less knowably true.
If knowledge is what we think it is, rather than merely a life-supportive illusion, then it must be grounded in something transcendent to chemical events in brain cells. A personal Supreme Being would do the job. But the existence of such a Being is the first issue over which minds diverge in their choice of epistemic systems - theistic vs. atheistic.
Assuming a personal Supreme Being, knowledge happens as a result of his transferring parts of his own knowledge to creatures, which then become sentient to the degree to which such knowledge is transferred. Assuming no personal Supreme Being, knowledge happens, but without a theory of how it happens. Atheists then assert that this is no more of an epistemic flaw than asserting a personal Supreme Being, with no theory of how he happens to exist. i.e. It's either "I don't know," or "I don't know, therefore God".
The same impasse occurs when trying to account for the existence and reliability of logic. Does it necessarily reside in a Supreme Mind? Or is it just the way things are? i.e. God theory, vs. just-the-way-it-is theory? Which system has the greater flaw? Though I have an opinion, I cannot be sure that opinion is not based on emotion.
Essay paused for criticism.