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A simplification of Plato's definition of knowledge.

Epistemology is the theory of knowledge and a core branch of philosophy that deals with limits, sources and methods of knowledge. According to traditional epistemology knowledge only requires Justified True Belief (JTB). A popular objection is that there seem to be varying degrees of intensity of belief about knowledge, from cautious to convicted. A particular degree of belief then may be what is required for knowledge not just a Justified True Belief.[1] There can also be practical beliefs but these are based more on a positive attitude rather than epistemic justification.[2] Propositions are fundamental and the objects of belief within epistemology. A true belief in a proposition is not the same as having Justified True Belief (JTB). As opposed to mere true belief a JTB within traditional epistemology has been brought under evidential verification (See: Evidentialism) within an intellectual environment suitable for proper cognitive function. When the proposition becomes verified it converts into JTB and then is often referred to as going through the tripartite analysis.[3]


Knowledge, Beliefs and Truth

There are three main components of epistemology. They are;

  1. Knowledge
  2. Beliefs
  3. Truth


In the philosophical branch of epistemology knowledge by description is of the most concern and what is usually discussed within the academic setting. There are however three main types of knowledge which are;

  • Knowledge by acquaintance (you know a person).
  • Know-how (know how to do something)
  • Knowledge by description which is propositional content. There can be a great deal of propositional knowledge about a person without ever meeting the person, or acquiring acquaintance knowledge.


Propositional knowledge is dependent upon beliefs and perceptions of what specific language about a truth corresponds to reality. Not all knowledge is made up of true propositional content and therefore not all epistemology is warranted. Other than truth which is language enveloped by sentences which then have propositional content, there is a second part of knowledge called belief. Belief is to take a certain propositional attitude which would be either true or false. A true belief or false belief is to take some propositional attitude about the propositional content. It is different from merely entertaining or considering a proposition. Merely considering a proposition is not to adopt a certain attitude toward the content of a proposition. Dispositional beliefs are then the beliefs that are not only considered or entertained but believed one way or the other.


There are three main ways to determine the truth of a proposition within epistemology. They are the correspondence, pragmatic and coherence theories of truth.

Correspondence theory

The correspondence theory of truth has its roots in the philosophy of Aristotle. Aristotle held that to determine if a proposition, what is a declarative statement by an individual, is true or not under the correspondence theory the truth, does not depend on what a person believes about it. First, a proposition is true if it fits the facts and secondly a proposition is not true if and only if it does not fit the facts. Modern philosophers also, following the trend of Aristotle add a third element of the correspondence theory of truth which is that the; "truth of a proposition or belief is dependent on the facts or upon the way the world is."[4] The notion is that belief in something true is based on its correspondence with actual reality. Believing that a rock is hard according to the correspondence theory does not depend on what a person believes about the rock, but the truth of the belief is because of the intrinsic nature of the rock itself. It is in virtue of the object that epistemic justification is founded. It is an ancient way of looking at what makes a proposition true and is widely held by philosophers today, but there do remain objections.

Pragmatic theory

The pragmatic theory of truth determines the truth or falsity of a proposition (the abstract meaning of sentences) by the usefulness or lack thereof that is implied. Labeling true beliefs as useful would then leave false beliefs as not useful. To act based on the propositional content of a statement is to appeal to the pragmatic theory of truth first. True beliefs then give good grounds for acting under the epistemological view of pragmatic theory in other words.

Noting this connection, the pragmatic theory tells us that a proposition is true if and only if believing it or acting on it is, or would be, useful (in the long run).[5]

Coherence theory

Coherence theory of truth analyzes given propositions about something. Then with reasons for true belief in that something, like sense experience and other evidences, coherence about what the propositional content references about reality is founded. It is through coherence of several evidences and their logical connective chains founded in reasonable inference that philosophers consider able to produce epistemic justification. One objection is that the coherence theory is not superior to the correspondence theory of truth.

Suppose that I believe the following propositions: (i) I have the sense experience of something white in my hand, (ii) I have the experience of something round in my hand, (iii) I have the experience of something cold in my hand. The proposition, (iv) there is a snowball in my hand, coheres with (i)(iii). It would seem that (iv) better coheres with (i)(iii) than some other propositions, e.g. that I have a hot lump of coal in my hand.[6]

A priori and A posteriori

A priori ("from the earlier") and a posteriori ("from the later") are important concepts about knowledge within epistemology.[7] A priori concepts emerge purely from within the mind itself prior to sense experience. Sense experience as is used within this context does not mean the experience of learning a language. In order to justify a proposition, that constitutes a premise within an argument, a person must have a good reason for holding to that premise. An a priori justified argument is one that appeals to non-empirical knowledge, or independent reasons without experience. Through reflection alone upon the content of a proposition allowing apprehension of truth would be considered a priori knowledge.

Examples of a priori and a posteriori, respectively, are;

  • "All bachelors are unmarried." or "2+2=4" To make the a priori statements, unmarried life, nor the numbers 2 or 4 need to be experienced by the human senses in any way.
  • "It is raining outside right now." or "Birds make sounds to communicate with other potential mates." To make such declarative statements the person would have to of experienced, or acquired a posteriori knowledge that it is in fact raining or actually heard birds making chirping sounds to attract their mates. At the very least to have a posteriori knowledge of a proposition an appeal to somebody else and their experience can be used for verification.[8]

There is also a type of relationship with another branch of philosophy called metaphysics because a priori and a posteriori deal with knowledge. Knowledge is articulated by language and language is represented by propositions which metaphysics deals with as abstract entities. A priori and a posteriori are the foundations from which to know a proposition is either true or false. There are a priori true propositions and a priori false propositions. There are also a posteriori, which is neither a priori true nor a priori false, but rather is wholly different type of knowledge called empirical knowledge. A priori entails merely using the rational mind by providing argumentation and reason to know a proposition. A posteriori knowledge is different because it comes through direct sense experience of the human being, it cannot be known through mere reflection. A priori knowledge is then non-empirical in other words. A priori and a posteriori knowledge seem to roughly correspond to the historical debate between rationalism and empiricism respectively.

Theistic philosophers may, of course, grant evidentialism and even grant its hegemony, but defend theism by providing the case which evidentialists demand. Here the details of the arguments are not within the scope of an article on epistemology. What is of interest is the kind of argument put forward. For a start there is the project of demonstrating God's existence, and this project is not restricted to neo-Thomists. (See Craig 1979, Braine 1988, Miller 1991.) To show the justifiability of full belief that there is a God it is sufficient (a) to have a deductively valid argument from premisses which are themselves justifiably held with full belief unless defeated by an objection and (b) to have considered and defeated all available objections to either the premisses, the conclusion or any intermediate steps. Some of the premisses of these argument are said to be self-evident, that is, obvious once you think about it. (E.g., the denial of the explanatory power of an infinite causal regress, or the principle that the existence of any composite thing needs to be explained). And that raises a further epistemological problem. Does something's being self-evident to you justify your full belief in it even if you know of those of equal or greater intellectual ability to whom it is not self-evident?[9]

A priori analytic propositions

According to empiricism a priori knowledge is confined to only analytic propositions. Rationalists hold that there are a priori concepts of not only the analytic fashion but also synthetic. Empiricists have a narrower view of a priori knowledge when compared to the rationalist epistemology. The analytic-synthetic distinction of propositions puts an explicit limit upon the extent of a priori knowledge.

There are two types of a priori analytic propositions according to Immanuel Kant. To begin with it is important to realize that to say, "All men are mortal" is to construct a sentence that has two important things; a subject and a predicate. The subject within the particular sentence is "men" while the predicate is "mortal". According to Kant when both the subject and predicate are identical it is then is an a priori analytic proposition. For instance, the proposition, "All reptiles are reptiles" is an example of such a particular proposition. There also remains another type of analytic proposition within a priori knowledge and justification. It occurs when the proposition maintains the predicate within the realms or limit of the subject. An example of this type of proposition would be; "All bachelors are unmarried." The predicate "unmarried" when thought of, or dealt with as a concept within the mind only, is restricted or contained within the subject "bachelors". In contrast to the aforementioned types of a priori analytic propositions, "All swans are white" does not lend itself to either one of the positions. The subject and predicate is neither identical nor is the predicate able to be self-evidently conceptually contained within the subject. The subject "swans" is not identical to the predicate "white" and there could be, of course, black swans.[10]


Main Article: Foundationalism

Foundationalism is a type of epistemic justification that holds to not only non-basic beliefs, or derivative beliefs, but there are also basic beliefs. Basic beliefs are what allow epistemic justification for non-basic beliefs, but are not justifiable or dependent on other beliefs. Basic beliefs then are not in of themselves reliant on any antecedent justified non-basic belief. Sense experience of the color, shape and weight of some object are all justified non-basic beliefs. The sensory system itself then is what is considered a basic belief. Doubting basic beliefs parallels ancient skepticism in one way but does not constitute the totality of skeptical thought. The reliability of the sensory system, belief in our own mental states and attitudes about a proposition seem to be immediately and personally justifiable to the individual. Some other examples of basic beliefs are logical and mathematical truths, and the reality and reliability of the external natural world. This is why sometimes basic beliefs are referred to as justified basic beliefs or immediately justified basic beliefs.[11]

Internalism and Externalism

Internalism and externalism are general views that help philosophers understand what is considered epistemic justification.[12]


Justification of a belief within internalism demands that the factors determining the belief be known by reflection alone. Because only introspection is needed to justify such beliefs, internalism is dependent on the individuals perspective.

Coherentism is usually thought of as a form of internalism because it holds that beliefs are the factors that provide justification.


Externalism is the complete denial of internalism.


Main Article: Skepticism

Skepticism (Scepticism in the United Kingdom) is an epistemology that suspends judgement about certain kinds of beliefs through a method or attitude characterized by systematic doubt about claims usually taken for granted. Traditionally in the branch of philosophy called epistemology Justified True Beliefs are what constitute knowledge. Skepticism questions knowledge in other words with some skeptics going so far as to question even foundational beliefs like the human sensory system. Questioning and thus opposing the very important empirical character and underpinnings of science.[13] Skepticism doubts antecedent stoppers to infinite regress like the sensory system, but also the outcome of such filters. Doubting then not only foundational beliefs or what are also called basic beliefs, that do not require epistemic justification as they are traditionally viewed as self-evident, but also reasons that constitute Justified True Belief in some proposition. Some schools of skepticism go so far as to never assent beyond the point of doubt, and therefore never assert anything.[13]

Much of epistemology has arisen either in defense of, or in opposition to, various forms of skepticism. Indeed, one could classify various theories of knowledge by their responses to skepticism. For example, rationalists could be viewed as skeptical about the possibility of empirical knowledge while not being skeptical with regard to a priori knowledge and empiricists could be seen as skeptical about the possibility of a priori knowledge but not so with regard to empirical knowledge.[14]

Naturalized Epistemology

One way to think of naturalized epistemology is to consider it a posteriori epistemology or empirical epistemology. Naturalized epistemology allows the emergence of a continuance from epistemology to science itself.[15] It essentially covers a wide range of viewing natural science and traditional epistemology.

A central task of naturalized epistemology is to characterize conditions in which reliable information is obtained (see Information theory and epistemology). Thus, in some of its forms, naturalized epistemology can be seen as a branch of cognitive psychology, and the issues can be addressed by empirical investigation.[16]


Main Article: Epistemology of Atheism

There are dominant epistemological views held by the majority of atheists and evolutionists that are far to restricting and amount to a materialistic metaphysical worldview. The dominant epistemology used by Darwinian evolutionists and atheists are;

Reliability of the Bible

Main article: Reliability of the Bible

Christian epistemology articulates itself by exegesis of the Bible (revealed theology) and by reason and philosophical investigation into nature (natural theology). Christian epistemology constitutes two domains of knowledge which allows three types of knowledge; theological, scientific and philosophical. Not just merely a scientific epistemology that entails a worldview of materialism as is the characteristic of atheism. Christians hold to a biblical and natural theology to ultimately justify reasonable faith in Christian theism. Epistemology is at the heart of apologetics as it provides justifications and evidence for why Christians believe in what they believe. Revealed and natural theology or what amounts to Christian theology in its amalgamated form is a foundation that can be used to apply the Bible coherently for living in Christ. It is argued that all knowledge which originates outside of the sphere of a Christian epistemology is humanistic and thus prone to error being found in the fallible mind of man rather than the nature of God.

A core concern of Biblical epistemology is the accuracy of the Bible. There are a number of views.

  • Strict inerrancy is the view that the Bible is totally without error as we have it today.
  • Original inerrancy is the view that the Bible was totally without error in its original form, but has been corrupted in minor details through transmission.
  • Substantive accuracy is the view that the Bible may contain a number of minor errors common to the human reporting to historical events, but that it is generally accurate and reliable in the events it describes.
  • Allegorical inerrancy is the view that the Bible is intended as allegory and spiritual teaching, and was not intended to be a history or science text. It is inerrant on spiritual teachings, but not reliable on historical issues.
  • Biblical minimalism is the view that the Bible is a book merely written by men, and is neither substantively accurate nor useful.
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  1. Noah Lemos, An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge (Cambridge University Press 2007), pg. 8
  2. Noah Lemos, An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge (Cambridge University Press 2007), pg. 13
  3. J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (IVP Academic 2003), pg. 74
  4. Noah Lemos, An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge (Cambridge University Press 2007), pg. 9
  5. Noah Lemos, An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge (Cambridge University Press 2007), pg. 11
  6. Noah Lemos, An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge (Cambridge University Press 2007), pg. 12
  7. A priori and a posteriori By Wikipedia
  8. A Priori and A Posteriori Jason S. Baehr (Loyola Marymount University), Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Last updated: October 18, 2006. Originally published: October/18/2003
  9. The Epistemology of Religion Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, First published Wed Apr 23, 1997; substantive revision Wed Mar 11, 2009
  10. Noah Lemos, An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge (Cambridge University Press 2007), pg. 194, 196-198
  11. Noah Lemos, An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge (Cambridge University Press 2007), pg. 47
  12. Noah Lemos, An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge (Cambridge University Press 2007), pg. 108-109
  13. 13.0 13.1 Skepticism By Wikipedia
  14. Skepticism By Peter Klein, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2010
  15. Noah Lemos, An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge (Cambridge University Press 2007), pg. 208
  16. "Epistemology". Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. p. 248. http://books.google.com.br/books?id=-bWxJ9IVsAcC&lpg=PA248&ots=EqEErleI8y&dq=A%20central%20task%20of%20naturalized%20epistemology%20is%20to%20characterize%20conditions&hl=pt-BR&pg=PA248#v=onepage&q=A%20central%20task%20of%20naturalized%20epistemology%20is%20to%20characterize%20conditions&f=false. Retrieved 03-24-2013. 

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