DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-P059-3
Version: v3,  Published online: 2021
Retrieved December 09, 2021, from

Article Summary

Epistemology has been traditionally concerned with questions about the nature, value, and scope of knowledge, together with other questions that arise in relation to these. Hence, another name for epistemology is the theory of knowledge. Investigations into the nature of knowledge ask what knowledge is, and how knowledge is different from related phenomena such as mere opinion, true belief, reasonable belief, and understanding. Investigations into the value of knowledge ask why knowledge is valuable, what kind of value knowledge has, and why knowledge is more valued than mere opinion, or even true opinion. Finally, investigations into the scope of knowledge ask questions about the reach of our knowledge, and also its limits; What kinds of things are possible to know, and what kinds of things are not possible to know? Questions about the scope of knowledge are closely related to sceptical arguments, which purport to show that we know less than we commonly take ourselves to know. The most general sceptical arguments conclude that we know nothing at all. Less general arguments challenge our knowledge in a particular domain, such as our knowledge of the physical world, the future, morality, or religion.

Contemporary epistemology continues to ask these traditional questions, but expands the field to include questions about the social dimensions of knowledge (for example, how our own knowledge depends on the knowledge of others), the relations among knowledge, practical reason and action, the relations between knowledge and assertion, and how knowledge interacts with social-political issues. For example, in what ways does one’s social-political status determine what one can (or cannot) know? In what ways does social-political status affect how one is treated as a knower (or not) by others? By asking these and other questions, contemporary epistemology becomes interdisciplinary, interacting with other fields such as ethics, action theory, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, psychology and other cognitive sciences, sociology, and political theory.

Epistemology’s traditional questions about the nature, value and scope of knowledge are clearly related. For example, what one says about the nature of knowledge will have consequences regarding the value of knowledge and the scope of knowledge. Contemporary epistemology’s expanded questions are also related to its traditional questions. For example, a good account of the nature of knowledge ought to explain why, or at least not make mysterious, why knowledge has the intimate relations that it does to assertion, action and practical reasoning. Likewise, the social dimensions of knowledge and its relations to political life have implications regarding the value of knowledge. In this way, contemporary epistemology does not merely expand the questions of traditional epistemology. It also provides deeper insight into the tradition’s central concerns.

Citing this article:
Greco, John. Epistemology, 2021, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-P059-3. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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