Genetic epistemology and the sociology of knowledge

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This study originates in certain shortcomings in the sociology of knowledge and in sociological theory generally. Among such shortcomings are: an unnecessarily restricted conception of knowledge, the neglect of contemporary findings in biology and psychology, and the oversocialized conception of humankind and knowledge. This study aims to correct certain of these shortcomings through redefining knowledge and developing part of a comprehensive theory of knowledge which unites the biology of knowledge, the psychology of knowledge and the sociology of knowledge. Piaget's genetic epistemology and Popper's and Lorenz's evolutionary epistemology provide much of the material which inspired this study and which is developed in it. It is argue that the sociology of knowledge has not yet seriously encountered these disciplines and would benefit from such an encounter. Ethology, developmental psychology, cybernetics, and anthropology are other sources of information used. Knowledge is defined as assimilated information. It is argued that knowledge is assimilated in three basic contexts: that of the species, the individual organism, and the collectivity. These yield, respectively, innate knowledge, learnt knowledge, and social knowledge. Knowledge, thus, is viewed as evolving phylogenetically, ontogenetically, and socio-genetically. Various theses are proposed and arguments and facts supporting them presented in the course of developing the theory of knowledge. The following are among the theses proposed: Life is a knowledge process. Human knowledge and knowledge processes can be illuminated by studying the intellectual development of animals and children. Human knowledge and reality are biologically, psychologically, and sociologically constructed. All humans are born with an innate learning schema. This schema is responsible for human life and culture. It plays an important part in determining the pattern and content of culture. Truth is, in part, biologically determined. Society depends on many forms of non-social knowledge. The understanding of culture requires an understanding of the varieties and forms of nonsocial knowledge which make culture possible. The study constitutes a contribution to knowledge in various ways. Rather than considering the relationship between biology and behaviour as is customary, this study considers the relationship between biology and knowledge. Certain new concepts are introduced and a theory of knowledge is outlined which integrates the biology of knowledge, the psychology of knowledge and the sociology of knowledge. The study demonstrates that humankind's biological nature plays a vital role in socialization and in the production of culture. It thus serves to correct oversocialized views of humankind. The study reveals that reality is phylogenetically, ontogenetically and sociogenetically constructed; it is the result of the evolution and operation of biological, psychological and sociological factors.

Bibliography: leaves 263-286.