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Definition of Epistemology

(noun) The philosophic study and theory of knowledge.

Epistemology Pronunciation

Pronunciation Usage Guide

Syllabification: e·pis·te·mol·o·gy

Audio Pronunciation

– American English
– British English

Phonetic Spelling

  • American English – /i-pis-tuh-mAHl-uh-jee/
  • British English – /e-pi-stee-mOl-uh-jee/

International Phonetic Alphabet

  • American English – /əˌpɪstəˈmɑlədʒi/
  • British English – /ɪˌpɪstəˈmɒləʤi/

Usage Notes

  • Plural: epistemologies
  • Term coined by James Frederick Ferrier (1808–1864) in Institutes of Metaphysics (1856).
  • Epistemology seeks to understand how we know what we know to determine what is knowable; how can it be known; and if anything is truly knowable at all.
  • Epistemology tries to determine the difference between knowledge and belief.
  • Epistemics is the scientific study of knowledge as opposed to the philosophic study.
  • An (noun) epistemologist studies knowledge (adverb) epistemologically to produce (adjective) epistemologic or (adjective) epistemic or (adjective) epistemological understanding.

Related Quotations

  • Postmodern theorists, believe that entirely new ways of examining social life are needed and that it is time to move beyond functionalist, conflict, and symbolic interactionist approaches” (Kendall 2006:37).
  • “What does post-modernity ordinarily refer to? Apart from the general sense of living through a period of marked disparity from the past, the term usually means one or more of the following: that we have discovered that nothing can be known with any certainty, since all pre-existing ‘foundations’ of epistemology have been shown to be unreliable; that ‘history’ is devoid of teleology and consequently no version of ‘progress’ can plausibly be defended; and that a new social and political agenda has come into being with the increasing prominence of ecological concerns and perhaps new social movements generally. Scarcely anyone today seems to identify post-modernity with what it was once widely accepted to mean – the replacement of capitalism by socialism” (Giddens 1990:46).

Additional Information

Related Terms


Giddens, Anthony. 1990. The Consequences of Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Kendall, Diana. 2006. Sociology in Our Times: The Essentials. 5th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Works Consulted

Bilton, Tony, Kevin Bonnett, Pip Jones, David Skinner, Michelle Stanworth, and Andrew Webster. 1996. Introductory Sociology. 3rd ed. London: Macmillan.

Macionis, John, and Kenneth Plummer. 2012. Sociology: A Global Introduction. 4th ed. Harlow, England: Pearson Education.

Marsh, Ian, and Mike Keating, eds. 2006. Sociology: Making Sense of Society. 3rd ed. Harlow, England: Pearson Education.

Merriam-Webster. (N.d.) Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (http://www.merriam-webster.com/).

O’Leary, Zina. 2007. The Social Science Jargon Buster: The Key Terms You Need to Know. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Oxford University Press. (N.d.) Oxford Dictionaries. (https://www.oxforddictionaries.com/).

Princeton University. 2010. WordNet. (https://wordnet.princeton.edu/).

Stewart, Paul, and Johan Zaaiman, eds. 2015. Sociology: A Concise South African Introduction. Cape Town: Juta.

Turner, Bryan S., ed. 2006. The Cambridge Dictionary of Sociology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wikipedia contributors. (N.d.) Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. (https://en.wikipedia.org/).

Cite the Definition of Epistemology

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2014. “epistemology.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved June 23, 2024 (https://sociologydictionary.org/epistemology/).

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

epistemology. (2014). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/epistemology/

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2014. “epistemology.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed June 23, 2024. https://sociologydictionary.org/epistemology/.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“epistemology.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2014. Web. 23 Jun. 2024. <https://sociologydictionary.org/epistemology/>.