Well, I think my exam yesterday went fairly well… as long as my instructor can read my handwriting anyway… if he can’t then there could be problems. So, today’s philosophical challenge post is going to be fairly difficult I think. Metaphysics is a discipline of philosophy dealing with higher things such as being, knowing, the nature of truth, etc. It stands above disciplines such as ethics, politics, philosophy of law, medicine, science, etc as a discipline that deals with first order concerns. For instance, metaethics is the study of metaphysics as it is applied to ethics. Where as ethics deals with conceptions of right and wrong and how we can discern right from wrong, metaethics deals with questions of whether we can discern right from wrong, whether right and wrong even exist to be discerned, and whether conceptions of right and wrong are meaningful in the first place.
So, two of the major subdisciplines in metaethics are ontology and epistemology: the study of being and the study of knowing respectively. These two disciplines are often and easily confused because they are very closely related to one another. For instance, if I say that I am a moral realist, I am making a statement of belief concerning the ontological nature of morals: I am saying that morals have an actual, objective existence apart from myself. If I say that I am a moral irrealist, then I am making the opposite ontological claim. However, if I say that I am a cognitive moral realist, then I am making both an ontological and an epistemological claim: i.e. that morals have objective, real existence, and that they can be known by man. Similarly if I say that I am a non-cognitive moral irrealist, then I am making the opposite ontological and epistemological claim (though it’s kind of redundant… I’ll get to why in a moment). But, if I claim that I am a non-cognitive moral realist, then I am making three claims at once, two of which are possible contradictory: first I am making the ontological claim that morals have a objective existence, second I am making the epistemological claim that I cannot in any way know the objective nature of morals, but thirdly these two claims together make the third claim that nothing I say about morals can be objectively meaningful. Because I can’t know anything about morals, then whatever I claim about the objective existence of morals is meaningless because I can’t know anything about their objective existence, which means that (for all practical purposes) they may as well not exist.
Are you confused yet? I told you this one would be hard. Here’s your challenge: What is the distinction and relationship between ontology and epistemology?
As always, provide a 1000 word long story that presents and defends your answer to the question.