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 Definition Philosophical discipline dealing with the nature of knowledge and justification of beliefs. [d] [e]


I am merely making a stub here. I will not cling to it, since I am not a professional philosopher.Daniel Demaret 06:38, 8 May 2007 (CDT)

Good, because it needs a lot of work. --Larry Sanger 14:32, 3 August 2007 (CDT)

Combining topics under history

It seems that the sections from Hellenistic views to Modern Times should be combined under a history section. Does anyone agree? Andrew Chong 13:05, 3 August 2007 (CDT)

History of epistemology? Maybe, or it could be a separate article. The history of epistemology is not what is usually studied when one studies epistemology. --Larry Sanger 14:33, 3 August 2007 (CDT)

Removed article

Epistemology is the theory of knowing. It studies the phenomenon of knowledge, its nature, and deals with such fundamental questions "What is knowledge?" and "How do we know this?". The term "epistemology" is derived from "ἐπιστήμη" (knowledge) and "λόγος" (logos), and was introduced into English by the Scottish philosopher James Frederick Ferrier. Epistemology is a branch of philosophy.

Hellenistic views

Questions involving the nature of knowledge are as old as Philosophy itself.

Plato viewed knowledge as universal unchanging Ideas. One dialogue shows how all knowledge is inherent in everyone, whereas another says that that which must be there already to be able to percieve the world around him.

Aristotle tried to divide the types of knowledge, that which can be said of knowledge, into ten Categories. He further attempts to classify knowledge in books named physics, metaphysics, poetry (including theater), biology and zoology, logic, rhetoric, politics, government, and ethics. These areas of knowledge retain his names today.

Scientific revolution: reason and observation

The scientific revolution started with questioning old beliefs and the doubt lead to using reason and observation to gain new knowledge, rather than the emphasis of relying on the authority of Plato and Aristotle.

Reason and observation are important for knowledge to all philosophers, but are emphasis as to which was more important started the contention betweeen empiricm and rationalism.


Empiricists, like John Locke later stresses the importance of observation and experiments to obtain knowledge, even to the point of assuming that a new born child has a tabula rasa.


Rationalists like René Descartes stress reason to arrive at knowledge since one can not always trust the senses.

Modern times

Immanuel Kant tries to resolve many issues, among them the contention between rationalism and empiricism. He uses twelve categories of knowledge and he argues, as Plato did before, that there has to be something in man already there to let observation into the mind. That which is already there before is a priori and gives a rational basis for handling the empirical knowledge, which is a posteriori knowledge. Reason corresponds to a priori and observation to a posteriori knowledge, thus reconciling rationalism and empiricism.

Primary questions and issues

Epistemology deals largely with

What is knowledge?

How is knowledge proven?

How is knowledge acquired?

Epistemology outside of philosophy

Epistemology has found uses in many fields outside of pure philosophy, since the ability to distinguish between knowledge and belief, and to determine what is true and what is false is often useful.

  • Law: The procedures necessary to establish guilt or innocence or to determine the truth of testimony.
  • Science: The ability to distinguish theory from speculation, and what can be established as fact.
  • Cognitive science: Dealing with the biology of reasoning, logic, belief, and determining truth.

Comments continued

Sorry, but speaking as an epistemologist, the article really was not rescuable. I'm starting over! --Larry Sanger 08:35, 5 September 2007 (CDT)

Semantic Web isn't really that related, as far as I can tell

I'm not sure about the inclusion of Semantic Web on the Related Articles subpage. I'd love to know why you put it up, Howard. There are some epistemological issues around the Semantic Web, but they are really the same issues you have with any online source. The level of trust you should give to material on, say, dbpedia should be proportional to that given to material on Wikipedia. Those pursuing Web Ontology Language goals may have some epistemological issues, but those are going to really be the same issues that any Knowledge Representation system may have - broadly Garbage In, Garbage Out.

The basic issues in epistemology - whether we can escape the seductive skepticism of Agrippa, the Cartesian demon or Peter Unger (or, what really gives me the shivers, if the only way we can escape such skepticism is to take some angelic theistic-reliabilist bargain from Alvin Plantinga and friends), foundationalism, coherentism, internalism, externalism, reliabilism etc. - don't seem to have that much importance for building Semantic Web systems. Again, if you put garbage in, all the deductive reasoners, inference engines, ontologies and so on will not fix that. They'll just plop garbage back out. I tend to think about it like this: imagine you've got a group of detectives investigating some serious crime - a murder, a rape etc. There's an epistemological problem - whether or not the various bits of evidence you collect can coalesce into convincing a judge and jury that a specific person has done the act and deserves to go to prison (or, worse, get the needle). But in the corner of the room, imagine you've got some clever machine that you can input all the evidence into, and it'll try out various different scenarios - perhaps suggested by psychological profilers and criminal investigators - it'll match up, say, shell casings from a pistol to stored intelligence about gangs, and match that up with intelligence from customs and excise about where that type of pistol is being smuggled in from, and synthesise various conclusions. Nobody would say the machine 'knows' that in the same sense that the detectives or the judge or jury or defendant does. It's really just a convenient machine for providing leads and automating the repetitive administrative work that the detectives do. The questions about knowledge, process, inquiry and ultimately guilt don't seem to be prima facie related to the production of a machine able to synthesise information together following set rules.

Believe me, as someone who understands Semantic Web technologies and has worked with them, I'd love an easy way to merge them with work in epistemology - if only because it might be an interesting Ph.D topic! I have yet to find the crossover links I've been waiting for.

More likely, certain problems in ontology might threaten SemWeb and KR more generally if they turned out to be unsustainable. If we really got a particularly sticky combination of facts, states of affairs, things, (Davidsonian) events, possible worlds or whatever other ontological machinery one chooses to accept, the idea of being able to slice off a particular thing or fact or event could be rather suspect. –Tom Morris 21:40, 28 December 2009 (UTC)

I don't see the distinction, assuming epistemological principles continue to have some correspondence to reality. As I linked to Rating raw intelligence‎, those who receive information immediately have to deal with plausibility. Semantic networks are now being used to improve the correlations there. See also cognitive traps for intelligence analysis.
Call it epistemological engineering. Howard C. Berkowitz 21:49, 28 December 2009 (UTC)
I agree, not sufficiently related Thomas Ash 15:17, 4 January 2010 (UTC)

A note to self

I'm just roughly piecing together what I want from this article. I could keep what I'm about to write in a text file on my computer and then ignore it, but I figure it might be easier to just dump it on here and let people go at it.

I'm roughly thinking that the easiest way to determine what should and should not go in this article is to do a fairly comprehensive study of what sort of things get put into undergraduate epistemology books, pull the rough themes out of them and then write an article that has a coherent narrative describing those. So, then, I decided it might be easiest to get together a list of those undergrad. epistemology tomes with links to Amazon/Google Books so I can go through the Table of Contents and tot up what is in 'em:

I'll do something with this lot soon. Hopefully. Feel free to edit my comment and add others but, you know, don't do anything stupid. –Tom Morris 15:39, 6 August 2010 (UTC)