Do you know the best books on epistemology? Gain access to the most scholarly list of epistemology textbook such as: An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Epistemology: epistemology reading list, best philosophy books on epistemology, An Anthology, Epistemology: A Contemporary Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Critique of Judgment.. These books were written by some of the renowned and recommended authors in the field of Epistemology for students studying Epistemology and for professionals in epistemology careers.
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Types of Epistemology
There are several different types of epistemology but we would be narrowing it down to just three types, or rather, several different approaches to epistemological inquiry. While there are many specific names for these approaches, epistemology can be broadly divided into two main schools of thought: empiricismandrationalism. Most philosophers who have studied epistemology have been ultimately supportive of one of these schools of thought over the other. While empiricism emphasizes the ability of humans to learn about reality using their senses, rationalism argues that knowledge comes from rational thought rather than from the external world.
Plato was one of the first philosophers to discuss what later became known as epistemology. For Plato, epistemology was a way to try and understand what the world really is and how people relate to it. Plato’s most famous texts discussing his theory of knowledge are hisPhaedoand hisRepublic. Plato was skeptical about humans’ ability to acquire knowledge of the real world through their senses, believing that the physical world was merely a representation of another realm that he called the Realm of Forms. For Plato, Forms were the ultimate, unchanging, and perfect versions of ideas and objects. For example, any triangle that a person might draw in the Physical Realm would be a mere representation of the Form of the Triangle. Plato’s famous Allegory of the Cave goes into detail about how this dichotomy between realms works and how it contributes to human knowledge.
For Aristotle, epistemology was not the most important branch of philosophy. He became better known for his theories of ethics and aesthetics. However, Aristotle did build on Plato’s work, with a particular emphasis on logic and rhetoric. He codified several forms of logic and explained how rhetoric could be used to reach clear conclusions. This method became foundational for a large number of philosophers who wished to explore epistemology through logically consistent methodology.
Immanuel Kant had one of the most unusual and challenging views of epistemology in the history of philosophy. In some ways, his view harkened back to Plato’s early epistemology. Kant argued that when people perceive the world they are only seeing the appearance of things, rather than things as they really are. He argued that space, time, color, and the other facets of existence that most people take for granted are actually projections that individuals overlay on reality to make it more comprehensible. In Kant’s epistemology, reality is created by and exists within humans who perceive it, rather than being an external and unchanging truth.
Epistemology Reading List
This reading list features a mix of primary and secondary texts to give you a wide ranging overview of epistemology. From introductions and contemporary anthologies to epistemological classics from the greats themselves: consuming this list will provide you with everything you could possibly want to know about knowing.
1. Knowledge: A Very Short Introduction, by Jennifer Nagel
Published in 2014, Canadian philosopher Jennifer Nagel’sKnowledge: A Very Short Introductionis a brilliant starting place for anyone curious about epistemology. In highly readable, thought-provoking style, Nagel explains the formation of major historical theories of knowledge, and frames them through a contemporary lens. Coming in at an accessible 152 pages, this is a very nice entry point to the major discussions within epistemology.
2. Epistemology: A Contemporary Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge, by Robert Audi
Robert Audi is the John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, and in his comprehensive 2010Epistemology: A Contemporary Introduction to the Theory of Knowledgehe offers expanded discussion and clarity around the key themes of epistemology. Judged to be essential reading for serious students of knowledge, at 432 pages this is a more in-depth introduction to epistemology that authoritatively presents all sides of the debates.
3. Epistemology: An Anthology, by Ernest Sosa
If you’re after a one-stop shop for all things epistemology, look no further than American philosopher Ernest Sosa’s monumentalEpistemology: An Anthology, published in 2008. Sosa teams up with fellow philosophers Jaegwon Kim, Jeremy Fantl, and Matthew McGrath to organize the most important epistemological writings of past and present by subject. Approaching papers in such context results in a thoroughly rewarding reading experience, and you’ll come away with a holistic understanding of how debates around skepticism, the nature of knowledge, and epistemic justification have evolved over the years. At 736 pages, this anthology’s a beast — but you won’t need another.
4. Theaetetus, by Plato
Turning from introductions and anthologies to primary epistemological texts, where better to start than with a discussion of knowledge that, though over two thousand years old, is one of the subject’s finest works and still provokes debate today? Among Ancient Greek philosopher Plato’s best dialogues,Theaetetusis a conversation between Socrates and a student focused on the question: what is knowledge? The discussion is entertaining, illuminating and wide-ranging. This particular edition features an excellent commentary from late scholar Myles Burnyeat, which lucidly contextualizes and enriches Plato’s thought. For anyone interested in knowledge,Theaetetusis an essential addition to the bookshelf.
5. Meditations on First Philosophy, by René Descartes
René Descartes’s 1641Meditations on First Philosophyis perceived to mark the beginning of modern philosophy in the Western tradition, and is still carefully studied in undergraduate philosophy classes as a foundational text to this day. No wonder: in highly accessible, confessional style, Descartes manages to articulate some of the most troubling philosophical problems we face — all in under 100 pages. An epistemological masterwork, Descartes’sMeditations on First Philosophythrows everything we know into doubt with enthralling literary passages. Its historical significance — as well as its entertaining and profound discussion of skepticism — makes it essential to this list.
6. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, by John Locke
John Locke’s 1689An Essay Concerning Human Understandingis one of the most important philosophical works of all time. It forever immortalized Locke astheempiricist of philosophy, as he argues that human beings are born as blank slates, and that it is experience and experience only that furnishes the mind with ideas. This was in stark contrast to his rationalist predecessors and contemporaries, who believed it to be self-evident that we’re all born with innate ideas and knowledge. With this work, Locke formally started an argument that philosophers are still having today. Its originality and profundity makeAn Essay Concerning Human Understandingis a must read for anyone interested in where our ideas come from.
7. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, by David Hume
Given the near-identical title, Scottish philosopher David Hume’s 1748An Enquiry Concerning Human Understandingmight initially be thought of as some sort of tribute act to Locke’s essay listed above. Hume does indeed follow Locke’s general line of empirical thinking, but arguably goes further in declaring that any investigation into what we can know not grounded by evidence-based logic should be “committed to the flames.” If Locke istheempiricist of philosophy, then Hume istheskeptic: he establishes a number of now infamous problems with our concepts of causation, matter, and the self — believing them all to be fictions. A champion of scientifically-minded truth seekers everywhere, Hume pulls no punches in his skepticism of thinking apparently untethered from the world of experience.An Enquiry Concerning Human Understandingis not only a core text of epistemology (and indeed ofmetaphysics), but a fantastic introduction to philosophy as a whole, and rewards repeated readings
8. Critique of Pure Reason, by Immanuel Kant
German philosopher Immanuel Kant, roused from a self-described dogmatic slumber by the provocative writings of David Hume, sets out to rescue our knowledge from skepticism in his 1781 masterwork,Critique of Pure Reason. This landmark book seeks to unite the empiricism of Locke and Hume with the rationalism they railed against, arguing that reason precedes and makes possible our experience of the world. A difficult but staggeringly influential and profound work, Kant’sCritique of Pure Reasonis essential reading for any serious student of epistemology.
9. Ultimate Questions, by Bryan Magee
In 2017, British philosopher and broadcaster Bryan Magee, in his brief but astounding Ultimate Topics, reflects on his lengthy career of thinking about and popularizing the most deep philosophical questions. Magee wrote with strong skill about the human condition and the limits of what we can know as he approached the end of his life (he died away in 2019). Magee’s Ultimate Questions is a compelling reflection on the importance of why we question things at all, referencing the epistemological ideas of other philosophers on this list. It is 144 pages long and would be beneficial to everybody, not just epistemologists.
There are three main examples or conditions of epistemology: truth, belief and justification.
Derived from the Greek word episteme, meaning knowledge or understanding, epistemology refers to the nature and origin of knowledge and truth. Epistemology proposes that there are four main bases of knowledge: divine revelation, experience, logic and reason, and intuition.
The initial development of epistemic externalism is often attributed to Alvin Goldman, although numerous other philosophers have worked on the topic in the time since.