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Epistemology, history of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-P018-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 21, 2024, from

Article Summary

Epistemology has always been concerned with issues such as the nature, extent, sources and legitimacy of knowledge. Over the course of western philosophy, philosophers have concentrated sometimes on one or two of these issues to the exclusion of the others; rarely has a philosopher addressed all of them. Some central questions are:

  1. What is knowledge – what is the correct analysis or definition of the concept of knowledge?

  2. What is the extent of our knowledge – about what sorts of things is knowledge actually held?

  3. What are the sources of knowledge – how is knowledge acquired?

  4. Is there any genuine knowledge?

Concern with the first question has predominated in philosophy since the mid-twentieth century, but it was also discussed at some length in antiquity. Attention to the second question seems to have begun with Plato, and it has continued with few interruptions to the present day. The third question was also important in antiquity, but has also been a central focus of epistemological discussion through the medieval and early modern periods. The fourth question raises the issue of scepticism, a topic which has generated interest and discussion from antiquity to the present day, though there were some periods in which sceptical worries were largely ignored.

Various attempts to answer these questions throughout the history of philosophy have invariably served to raise additional questions which are more narrow in focus. The principal one which will be treated below can be stated as:

  • (5) What is a justified belief – under which conditions is a belief justified?

There has been but occasional interest in this last question in the history of philosophy; however, it has been a crucial question for many philosophers in the twentieth century.

Citing this article:
Pappas, George S.. Epistemology, history of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-P018-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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