Epistemology Discussion Questions

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

Are you interested in teaching your high school students about epistemology? The following discussion questions will be of assistance, as they delve deeper into the incredibly complex concepts and related terminology.


It has been said human beings have an almost unquenchable thirst for knowledge. After all, it was da Vinci who proclaimed 'all of our knowledge has its origin in our perceptions.' In fact, some scientific studies suggest that facts and figures are treated by the brain in a manner similar to addictive substances such as caffeine. However, what is knowledge? Epistemology in Greek literally means 'the theory of knowledge', although it has become to be defined in modern times as 'the study of knowledge.' These detailed discussion questions will benefit your high schoolers, because they will help outline and categorize what is an extremely complicated but often fascinating subject.

Questions About Epistemological Concepts

  • How would you break down the most popular epistemological sayings such as 'what is knowledge' or 'what does knowledge mean?'
  • How would you subdivide the steps that comprise what is known as an epistemological problem?
  • How would you define epistemology? How would you differentiate it from the other three branches of philosophy, which are ethics, logic, and metaphysics?
  • How does epistemology attempt to address not only the structure of knowledge, but also the limits of knowledge?
  • Although epistemology is commonly associated with philosophy, the former is associated with other disciplines as well. How would you collocate philosophical epistemology with non-philosophical epistemology?
  • How does experience play a role in determining whether a given argument is an a priori or an a posteriori proposition?
  • How do you juxtapose between an analytic and a synthetic proposition?
  • How do you distinguish between empiricism, rationalism, and skepticism, as they relate to epistemology?
  • How would you compare and contrast egalitarian epistemology, versus elitist epistemology?
  • How would you compare and contrast between subjective and objective knowledge?

Questions About Eastern and Western Philosophies

  • In epistemological terms, what arguments did Socrates give to support his theory that 'virtue is knowledge?'
  • In what ways did Plato present epistemology as 'the account of what knowledge is?'
  • How did Aristotle argue for the concept of 'immanent realism', as it related to epistemology?
  • How would you differentiate between when Confucius stated 'real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance', to the philosophies of Lao Tzu, Bruce Lee, and other eastern philosophers?
  • How do you compare and contrast the natural epistemology common to western philosophy, versus the relational epistemology common to eastern philosophy?
  • In what ways do you imagine Arthur Schopenhauer was one of the first western philosophers to embrace some of the concepts of the eastern philosophers?

Questions About Philosophers' Views on Epistemology

  • As Rene Descartes is often considered to be the 'Father of Modern Philosophy', how did he argue knowledge was obtained?
  • Perhaps surprisingly, in what ways did Albert Einstein believe epistemology led him down his path to the discovery of his theories of relativity?
  • How did the thoughts of James Frederick Ferrier combine the knowing subject with the known object?
  • John Locke is often called 'The Father of Modern Empiricism.' How would you evaluate his tabula rasa philosophy? What were his thoughts on knowledge that was not derived directly from experience? (he thought it was a trifling amount)
  • In what ways did Jean-Jacques Rousseau believe that 'importance of expression' was vital in a person obtaining knowledge during childhood?
  • What did Immanuel Kant write about the 'dualism of practical reason' as it related to axiology?
  • What is 'justified true belief' and how does the Gettier Problem attempt to challenge it?
  • As a Cynic philosopher, in what ways did Hipparchia of Maroneia attempt to obtain her knowledge by living a virtuous life amidst nature?
  • In A Treatise of Human Nature, how did David Hume argue that all human knowledge is gathered through experience?

Questions About Branches of Epistemology

Formal Epistemology

  • How does the Church-Fitch Paradox, related to formal epistemology, deal with the debate of whether 'some truths are unknowable?'

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