Thursday, 22 November 2012

Epistemology I

Epistemology is a much abused word.  In philosophy, it refers to the sub-discipline concerned with the justification of beliefs.  Epistemology is about a) the formal problem of how beliefs are justified in general and b) how justified you might be in holding a specific belief.  This is quite a straightforward procedure: it involves defining what we might accept to constitute 'evidence' and how evidence relates to beliefs, and applying that to specific situations.  For instance, we might ask whether hearsay constitutes valid evidence, or whether experiment is the criterion of justification, and then we could say whether or not I am justified in believing that water is potable or that I speak English.  Pretty simple.  Of course, we then have to justify why it is that we have adopted these criteria for establishing what is and what is not evidence, and so the criteria for that have to established as well - resulting in a fairly complex argument about the nature of justification (and a fair number of '-isms', confusing for the neophyte).  Epistemology in this sense takes it for granted that you can know things, and it concerns itself primarily with how people know things and how justified they are in knowing them under certain conditions.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Book Review: "Early Thailand" by Higham and Thosarat

Charles Higham is one of the foremost archaeologists of mainland southeast Asia, having worked at Angkor, Noen U-Loke, and other important locations, over the course of several decades.  Alongside local collaborators, Higham has helped work out sequences of human society going back to the Paleolithic and reaching all the way up to the migrations of Tai-Kadai speakers into what is now Thailand and Laos in the late twelfth century.  His popular book on Angkor, The Civilization of Angkor, published in 2001, is in my opinion the best introduction to its history and archaeology (notwithstanding Michael Coe's Angkor, which is also very good).  It was thus a great pleasure to read Higham's latest book, Early Thailand: From Prehistory to Sukhothai (2012, Bangkok: River Books), written together with his long-term collaborator Rachanie Thosarat, which documents the archaeology of Thailand from the arrival of H. erectus up to the thirteenth century CE.

Sunday, 4 November 2012


 This is just a little post about the Austroasiatic language family, sometimes known as Mon-Khmer.  I have been reading quite a bit about it, and I thought I'd use this to summarise the topic, both for my benefit and, possibly, for yours.