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From Ancient Greek ἐπιστήμη (epistḗmē, science, knowledge), from ἐπίσταμαι (epístamai, I know) + -λογία (-logía, discourse), from λόγος (lógos, Study, explanation). The term was introduced into English by the Scottish philosopher James Frederick Ferrier (1808-1864).


  • (UK) IPA(key): /ɪˌpɪs.təˈmɒl.ə.d͡ʒi/
    • Audio (UK):(file)
  • (US) IPA(key): /ɪˌpɪs.təˈmɑl.ə.d͡ʒi/, /əˌpɪs.təˈmɑl.ə.d͡ʒi/, /ɛˌpɪs.təˈmɑl.ə.d͡ʒi/, /iˌpɪs.təˈmɑl.ə.d͡ʒi/
  • (General Australian) IPA(key): /ɛˌpɪs.tiˈmɔl.ə.d͡ʒi/
  • Rhymes: -ɒlədʒi



epistemology (countable and uncountable, plural epistemologies)

  1. (uncountable) The branch of philosophy dealing with the study of knowledge; the theory of knowledge, asking such questions as "What is knowledge?", "How is knowledge acquired?", "What do people know?", "How do we know what we know?", "How do we know it is true?", and so on.
    Synonyms: epistemics, kenlore, metaknowledge
    Some thinkers take the view that, beginning with the work of Descartes, epistemology began to replace metaphysics as the most important area of philosophy.
    • 2014 April 12, Michael Inwood, “Martin Heidegger: The philosopher who fell for Hitler [print version: Hitler’s philosopher]”, in The Daily Telegraph (Review section)‎[1], London, page R10:
      [P]hilosophers of the time [early 20th century] were primarily concerned with epistemology and the foundations of the sciences; they often spoke as if we were separated from the real world by a screen of "representations" or "sense-data"; they tended to regard our approach to the world as one of disinterested observation.
  2. (countable) A particular instance, version, or school thereof; a particular theory of knowledge.
    In his epistemology, Plato maintains that our knowledge of universal concepts is a kind of recollection.
    • 1995, Colin McLarty, “Preface”, in Elementary Categories, Elementary Toposes, →ISBN, page vii:
      I believe that 'intuitionism' is usually, and rightly, taken to mean Brouwer's epistemology of mathematics, which is unrelated to the origin or content of topos theory.

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Further reading