Epistemology – Theories of Knowledge

Epistemology refers to a branch of philosophy that investigates the nature, origins, and limits of human knowledge. Epistemologists are concerned with the fundamental questions about the nature, origin, methods, and limits of human knowledge. They strive to understand how we know what we know and what it means to know something. Epistemologists ask fundamental questions about what we know, the scope or limits of what we know, and methods for evaluating and producing new knowledge:

  1. Nature of Knowledge
    • What constitutes knowledge as opposed to mere belief or opinion?
    • What constitutes a valid knowledge claim?
    • How does one’s philosophical assumptions — e.g., Positivism, and Post-positivism, inform these conceptions.
  2. Types of Knowledge
  3. Scope and Limits
    • What are the boundaries and constraints of human knowledge?
  4. Influence of Personal Factors
  5. Overcoming Obstacles
    • Strategies to address and overcome barriers to knowledge acquisition and understanding.
  6. Epistemic Self-Reflection
    • How do we ascertain what we know? What is the role of sensory experiences on interpretation? How does the observer’s presence in an experiment impact the experiment?
  7. Reasoning and Justification
    • What is reasoning, and how do we justify beliefs? What is the relationship between ethos, pathos, logos, and reasoning?
  8. Belief vs. Knowledge
    • Criteria used to differentiate belief from knowledge, particularly in epistemic contexts.

  • What is Knowledge?
  • What is the scope of knowledge?
    • What are the limits to our knowledge?
    • How do our experiences, gender, education, and socioeconomic influence interpretation, reasoning, research methods?
    • How can we overcome obstacles to knowledge?
  • How do we know what we know?
    • How does the use of our senses impinge on what we know and don’t know?
    • How does our presence in an experiment, our subjective position, influence our observations?
  • What is reasoning?
    • How do we justify belief?
  • What is the relationship of ethos, pathos, logos to reasoning?
  • What criteria do we use to distinguish belief from knowledge?

Related Concepts

Deductive Order, Deductive Reasoning, Deductive Writing; Fallacious Ethos; Fallacious Logos; Inductive Order, Inductive Reasoning, Inductive Writing

Epistemology & Writing Processes

Writers are wise to give some thought to the values of their audience and discourse community for whom they are writing.

Epistemology provides writers a philosophical framework for thinking critically about reasoning and the validity of knowledge claims.


Epistemology and Rhetoric are separate and yet deeply interwoven academic disciplines. Both epistemology and rhetoric are concerned with reasoning and argument.

Rhetorical Reasoning

Rhetorical Reasoning is the process of deciding what to say, what to research, and how to say it in response to rhetorical analysis.

Research Communities

Beyond sharing methods, Methodological Communities share assumptions regarding the kind of knowledge particular methods produce. Epistemology informs how people engage in research and substantiate truth claims.

Related Articles: