What is Epistemology?
A cornerstone of philosophy, epistemology is concerned with knowledge; and can most simply be described as interrogating how and why we consider something ‘knowledge’. It focuses on the nature and scope of knowledge and justified belief.
Sometimes referred to as ‘theory of knowledge’, epistemology considers the relationship between the core concepts of belief, justification, and truth; the criteria largely considered to be met to constitute ‘knowledge’. There are much discussion and debate around exactly how each of these criteria ought to be met, leading to a wide range of views and schools of thought. Epistemology is mostly concerned with propositional knowledge, i.e.. ‘knowledge-that’. One of the most famed Epistemological deductions came from the philosopher and mathematician Descartes, ‘I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am’.
The first of these key areas is a philosophical analysis of the essence of knowledge; what conditions are required for a belief to be considered knowledge? It also analyses what constitutes a justified belief meaning a belief they are entitled to hold. It is traditionally accepted that to define knowledge as ‘justified true belief’ it must satisfy three conditions; truth, belief, and justification. The most debated of these conditions is justification; exactly what constitutes a justified belief, and from where does that justification arise? Justification is also discussed in terms of whether justification is external (Externalism) or internal (Internalism).
The other three core areas of questioning are; the acquisition of knowledge and its potential sources, the structure of a body of knowledge or justified belief, and philosophical skepticism, each of these again leading to separate schools of thoughts and ideas.
Epistemology continues to be an essential and broad branch of philosophy, particularly when we live in times where facts are so often disputed and trust in knowledge is ever more important.
Other Branches of Philosophy
Book recommendation and Affiliate links:
If you are interested to learn the basics of Philosophy try reading “Philosophy For Beginners” by Usborne (available here) and “The Philosophy Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained” (Available here and here)