Epistemology: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 Defining Epistemology
  • 2:07 Examples of Epistemology
  • 3:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Cirrelia Thaxton

Cirrelia is an educator who has taught K-12 and has a doctorate in education.

Expert Contributor
Kaitlyn Danahy

Kate has a bachelor's degree in literature & creative writing from Gordon College. She taught high school literature in India and tutored in the US.

Epistemology is a study of knowledge that requires much attention. Because human beings rely on their thought processes, it's helpful to understand how they work. This lesson will go over the three factors that contribute to knowledge acquisition.

Defining Epistemology

Epistemology is the study of knowledge acquisition. It involves an awareness of certain aspects of reality, and it seeks to discover what is known and how it is known. Considered as a branch of philosophy, epistemology addresses cognitive sciences, cultural studies and the history of science. Moreover, epistemology explains why our minds relate to reality and how these relationships are either valid or invalid. It is needed in order to distinguish between the truth and falsehood as we obtain knowledge from the world around us.

Epistemology encompasses the construction of concepts, the nature of conditions and the validity of the senses. Because the study of epistemology enables us to think about the way we think, it is a useful method for evaluating the world around us. Accordingly, without epistemology, human beings would have no reason to believe in their thoughts and actions. Teachers would have no reason to give tests or assign class work because there would be no difference between truth and error. We need epistemology in order to accept reality and live our lives in successful pursuit of truth.

One of the major questions that we ask is: where does knowledge come from? Many philosophers have supposed that knowledge comes from reason. Thus, humans have the ability to reason, and, therefore, they have the power to know. Conversely, other philosophers have contended that humans only become knowledgeable when they experience life situations, such as watching a movie or playing an instrument. These philosophers insist that man can only learn when he experiences life through his own senses. Further, there is a theologically-driven concept of knowledge, which suggests that knowledge is a God-given condition. This suggestion pertains to divine revelation and tends to blur the line between belief and knowledge, since there are many different religions.

Examples of Epistemology

There are three main examples or conditions of epistemology: truth, belief and justification. First of all, truth occurs when false propositions cannot be discerned. Consequently, in order for something to be considered as knowledge, it must be true in nature. Also, the truth must originate from reliable sources and be based on fidelity to the standard. For example, a lie cannot be truth because it is not factual and false.

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Additional Activities

How Do You Know That?

In this exercise, you will evaluate a series of scenarios. One will be reason-based, one experiential-based, and one theologically/ethically based. You will have to ask yourself whether the claim is true, whether you believe it, and then justify why you believe or do not believe it and/or say it is true or not true.


Someone with blood type O- can donate to anyone in need of a blood transfusion.


Donating blood is generally safe.


A doctor has five patients (another doctor, a young mother, a student, a politician, and an engineer) who will all die that day if they do not receive a needed organ. All of them are the same rare blood type. A healthy woman arrives at the hospital. She is the right blood type: she could provide a liver, kidneys, lungs, and heart to save all these patients. The claim is that it is not morally permissible to kill the woman to save the five patients.

Reason Answer:

This claim is scientifically true. You (should) believe it. The justification for this belief may come through various scientific studies, lives that have been saved, O- blood is missing both A and B antigens as well as the RH factor and therefore contains nothing that a person with another blood type could not tolerate, etc. Thus, you know that someone with blood type O-can donate to anyone in need of a blood transfusion.

Experience Answer:

This claim is true thanks to its generalization. You (should) believe it. The justification is again through various scientific studies of peoples' experiences; however, experience is not universal. Therefore, to say it is always safe would make this claim not true.

Theological/Ethical Answer:

Most people will agree that it is not morally permissible to kill the woman. The reasons most believe this are not necessarily logical or reasoned, but most people will still say they know that this would be wrong and believe it is wrong. Justifications may include beliefs about the value of human life, empathy through experience, etc.

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