Comparative Epistemology

Part of the The International Library of Environmental, Agricultural and Food Ethics book series (LEAF, volume 13)

This book starts from the conviction, however, that there are other ways of knowing about nature besides science. At first glance, this may not seem all that controversial. It seems obvious, for example, that there is something like practical knowledge concerning nature, such as the uncodified, experiential knowledge of gardeners, sailors, wanderers or pet-owners. Someone who travels through a particular landscape on foot on a regular basis is likely to acquire a certain amount of knowledge about such a site. Another important form of knowledge concerning nature is the knowledge articulated by artists, such as poets, novelists, landscape painters or even composers. Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832) has written many poems on flowers that bear witness to his intimate knowledge of plant forms, although not everybody will regard his knowledge as being “scientific” in a strict sense. Stories by Ivan Turgenev (1818–1883), situated in the Russian countryside, with its endless birch forests and misty ponds, rely on his “firsthand knowledge” (Troyat 1985/1988) of landscapes, birds, mammals and trees, accumulated through years of careful observation and a close “reading” of rural environments. The German landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840) studied the sceneries that he paid tribute to in his paintings very carefully and thoroughly. One could say of his paintings, such as Riesengebirge [1835], for example, that there is “truth” in them, even “knowledge”. And this even applies to music, so it seems. We can 4 1 Comparative Epistemology listen to Waldesrauschen [1862] by Franz Liszt, for example, as a fascinating and even bewildering play of notes and chords, but we may also appreciate it as a genuine effort to allow a recognisable forest experience to come to life. Or, to give yet another example, it is clear that Jean Sibelius (1865–1957), in his symphonic poem Finlandia as well as in various other works, succeeded in creating a truthful and convincing musical “image” of the Finish landscape. Apparently, he knew this landscape extremely well and this enabled him to really call it to life in his symphonic masterpieces. A poem by Goethe, a story by Turgenev, a painting by Friedrich or a musical score by Sibelius may tell us more about a particular flower or site than, for example, a botanical, geological or ecological publication in Nature or Science. Artists may allow nature to emerge, to come forward in a certain manner – and so does science. Neither the artistic nor the scientific rendering of nature can be regarded as a straightforward “representation”. Rather, in all the cases mentioned, nature is experienced under certain conditions. Particular aspects of nature are revealed whereas others are neglected or even eclipsed. And to a certain extent we may say that the artist’s nature really is different compared to the nature of (particular branches of ) scientific research. Until recently, however, epistemology as a philosophical discipline was almost exclusively devoted to reflecting on the structure and reliability of scientific knowledge. The objective of this book is to contribute to the emergence of a more comprehensive epistemology, one that is willing and able to critically reflect on the structure and reliability of other knowledge forms as well, in the context of a comparative epistemology.


Knowledge Claim Plant Form Scientific View Literary Document Natural Entity 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

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