Stated simply, epistemology is the study of knowledge. It is also known as the “theory of knowledge”. Epistemology is a branch of philosophy.

“The typical epistemological problems are like the following: What is knowledge?; Is knowledge based on senses or reason? Is certainty attainable? What is truth? Are there ultimate limits of knowledge?”
Jan Wolenski (2004)[5, p.4]

“To say that what is is not, or that what is not is, is false; but to say that what is is, and what is not is not, is true; and therefore also he who says that a thing is or is not will say either what is true or what is false.”
Aristotle, Metaphysics 1011b[6]


Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary defined epistemology as:[1]
“the study or a theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity”

Dictionary.com defined it as:[2]
“a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge.”

Lexico defined it as:[3]
“The theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion.”


“First Known Use … circa 1856, in the meaning defined above”[1]

“1855–60; <Greek epistḗm(ē) knowledge + -o- + -logy”[2]

“The theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion.”[3]

“”theory of knowledge,” 1856, coined by Scottish philosopher James F. Ferrier (1808-1864) from Greek episteme “knowledge, acquaintance with (something), skill, experience,” from Ionic Greek epistasthai “know how to do, understand,” literally “overstand,” from epi “over, near” (see epi-) + histasthai “to stand,” from PIE root *sta- “to stand, make or be firm.” The scientific (as opposed to philosophical) study of the roots and paths of knowledge is epistemics (1969). Related: Epistemologicalepistemologically.”[4]

“The term epistemology was coined in 1854 by the Scottish philosopher James Frederick Ferrier (1808-64) in the Institutes of Metaphysic: The Theory of Knowing and Being, p. 46: “the doctrine or theory of knowing . . . (λόγος τῆς ἐπιστήμης – the science of true knowing)”; and he also introduced, on p. 51, agnoiology, “the theory of ignorance (λόγος τῆς ἀγνοίας, the theory of true ignorance).””
Onofrio Vox (2014)[7, p.284]


C6th BCE: These are when the earliest known epistemological comments were made by the Eleats, the Pythagoreans, and Heraclitus.[5, p.5]

c.500-c.428/7: Anaxagoras[5, p.5-6]

c.490-c.430: Empedocles[5, p.5]

481-411: Protagoras (& the Sophists)[5, p.6]

469-399: Socrates[5, p.6]

c.460-c.360: Democritus[5, p.6]

427-347: Plato[5, p.6]

384-322: Aristotle[5, p.6]

“Here we have the picture of scientific method that was dominant until the Renaissance, i.e., for almost twenty centuries. Euclides’ Elements, Ptolemey’s Almagest were perhaps the highest applications of Aristotle’s methodological ideas.”
Jan Wolenski (2004)[5, p.7]

1854: James E. Ferrier coined the word “epistemology”.[5, p.3]


Rene Descartes, Rules for the Direction of Mind[5, p.3]

John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding[5, p.3]

George Berkeley, A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge[5, p.3]

David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding[5, p.3]

Gottfried Leibniz, New Essays on Human Understanding[5, p.3]

Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason[5, p.3]

Alexander G. Baumgarten, Sciagraphia encyclopaediae philosophicae (1769)[5, p.3]

Thomas Krug, Allgemeine Handworterbuch der philososophischen Wissenschaften (1827)[5, p.3]

Ernst Reinhold, Versuch einer neuen Theorie der menschlichen Vorstellung-svermogen und Metaphysik (1832)[5, p.3]

James E. Ferrier, Institutes of Metaphysics (1854)[5, p.3]

Eduard Zeiler, Bedeutung und Aufgabe der Erkenntnistheorie (1862)[5, p.3]

Literature about the History of Epistemology

This list of literature focusing specifically on the history of epistemology was originally taken from [5, pp.53-54]. Wolenski had them ordered alphabetically based on last names but I have reordered them to be chronologically ordered based on publication dates. I did this to be able to see the list from the earliest publications to the oldest, which helps visualize the development of this genre of literature. I have not yet expanded on his list. There were some publications on his list that did not have dates. I have those listed alphabetically at the end of my list below.

Natorp, P.: 1884, Forschungen zur Geschichte des Erkenntnisproblems im Altertum
Protagoras, Demokrit, Epikur und die Skepsis, Wilhelm Hertz, Berlin.

Freytag, Willy: 1905, Die Entwicklung des griechischen Epistemologie bis Aristoteles, Verlag
von Max Niemayer, Halle.

Goedeckemeyer, Albert: 1905, Die Geschichte der griechischen Skeptizismus, Dieterich’sche
Verlagbuchhandlung, Leipzig.

Beare, J. L.: 1906, Greek Theories of Elementary Cognition from Alemaeon to Aristotle,
Clarendon Press, Oxford; repro Thoemmes Press, Bristol, 1992.

Arndt, E.: 1908 Das Verhiiltnis der Verstanderkenntnis zur sinnlichen in der vorsokratischen Philosophie, Max Niemeyer, Halle; repr., Georg Olms, 1975.

Richter, R: 1908, Der Skepticismus in der Philosophie und seine Oberwindung, 2 vis., Verlag
der Durr’schcn Buchhandlung. Leipzig.

von Aster, E.: 1921, Geschichte der neueren Erkenntnistheorie (Von Descartes bis Hegel).
Walter de Gruyter. Berlin und Leipzig.

Durr, K.: 1923, Wesen und Geschichte der Erkenntnistheorie, OreH Fusch, Zurich 1923.
Everson, S. (ed.): 1990, Epistemology Companions to Ancient Thought 1, Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge.

Riehl, A.: 1924-25, Der Philosophische Kritizismus, 3 vIs., Kroner, Leipzig.

Kynast, R: 1930, Logik und Erkenntnistheorie der Gegenwart, Junker und Dunnhaupt
Verlag, Bedriin.

Honigswald, R: 1933, Geschichte der Erkenntnistheorie, Junker und Diinhaupt Verlag,

Bennett, J.: 1972 Locke, Berkeley, Burne – Central Themes, Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Levet, J.-P.: 1976, Le vrai et lefaux dans la pensee grecque archa”ique Etude de vocabulaire I
Presentation generale Le vrai et Ie faux dans les epopees homeriques, Le Belles Lettres,

Kramer, S.: 1982, Berechenbare Vema ft. Kalkal und Rationalismus im 17. lahrhundert, De
Gruyter, Berlin.

Fleischer, M.: 1984, Wahrheit und Wahrheitsgrund, Zur Wahrheitsproblem und zu seiner
Geschichte, De Gruyter, Berlin.

Yolton, J. W.: 1984. Perceptual Acquaintance from Descartes to Reid, University of
Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

Hoven, A.: 1989, Wegen zur Wahrheit: Eine typologische Studie aber Wahrheitstheorien,
Peter Lang, Bern.

Walker, R. C. S.: 1989, The Coherence Theory of Truth Realism, Anti-Realism, Idealism.
Routledge, London.

Groarke, L.: 1990, Greek Scepticism, McGill University Press, Montreal.

Denyer, N.: 1991, Language, Truth and Falsehood in Ancient Greek Philosophy. Routledge,

Perler, D.: 1992, Der propositionale Wahrheitsbegriffim 14. lahrhundert, De Gruyter, Berlin.

Law, J. D.: 1993, The Rhetoric of Empiricism Language and Perception from Locke to l. A.
Richards, Cornell University Press, Ithaca.

Rath. M.: 1994. Der Psychologismusstreit in der deutschen Philosophie, Karl Alber. Freiburg.

Hankinson, R J.: 1995, The Sceptics, Routledge, London.

Yolton. J. W.: 1996, Perception and Reality. A History from Decartes to Kant, Cornell
University Press, Ithaca.

Pasnau, R: 1997, Theories of Cognition in the Later Middle Ages, Cambridge University
Press, Cambridge.

Herbertz, R: Das Wahrheitsproblem in der griechschen Philosophie, Reimer, Berlin.

Jansen, B.: Die Geschichte der Erkenntnislehre in der neueren Philosophie bis Kant,
Schonings, Paderborn

Stekeler-Weithofer, P.: Sinnkriterien Die logischen Grundlagen kritischer Philosophie von
Plato bis Wittgenstein, Ferdinand Schoningh. Paderborn.

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[1] – “Epistemology.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/epistemology. Accessed 4 Dec. 2020.

[2] – https://www.dictionary.com/browse/epistemology?s=t. Accessed 4 Dec. 2020.

[3] – https://www.lexico.com/definition/epistemology. Accessed 4 Dec. 2020.

[4] – https://www.etymonline.com/word/epistemology. Accessed 4 Dec. 2020.

[5] – https://philpapers.org/archive/MORSAE-6.pdf. Accessed 12 Jan. 2021.

[6] – http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0052%3Abook%3D4%3Asection%3D1011b. Accessed 12 Jan. 2021.

[7] – García Javier Martínez. (2014). Fakes and Forgers of Classical Literature: Ergo decipiatur! Brill. Accessed 26 May 2021.

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