Epistemology – Theories of Knowledge

By understanding the nature, origin, and limits of knowledge (epistemology), you can better develop skills to find, evaluate, and use information (information literacy).

Epistemology refers to

  1. a theory of knowledge, a philosophy, that explores how humans develop knowledge
  2. a catechism, a doctrine, the fundamental beliefs of a discourse community regarding the study of knowledge:
    • What is knowledge?
    • What is the scope of knowledge?
    • How do we know what we know?
  3. the study of reasoning:
    • how do we reason from sense experience and observation (empiricism)?
    • how do we reason from texts?
    • how do we reason from conversations, debate, research?
    • how we justify beliefs?

Related Concepts: Deductive Order, Deductive Reasoning, Deductive Writing; Fallacious Ethos; Fallacious Logos; Inductive Order, Inductive Reasoning, Inductive Writing

Epistemologists ask fundamental questions about what we know, the scope or limits of what we know, and methods for evaluating and producing new knowledge.

  • What is Knowledge?
    • What is the relationship of ethos, pathos, logos to reasoning?
    • What criteria do we use to distinguish belief from knowledge?
  • What is the scope of knowledge?
    • What are the limits to our knowledge?
    • How do our experiences, gender, education, and socioeconomic influence interpretation, reasoning, research methods?
    • How can we overcome obstacles to knowledge?
  • How do we know what we know?
    • How does the use of our senses impinge on what we know and don’t know?
    • How does our presence in an experiment, our subjective position, influence our observations?
  • What is reasoning?
    • How do we justify belief?

Epistemology & Writing Processes

Writers are wise to give some thought to the values of their audience and discourse community for whom they are writing.

Epistemology provides writers a philosophical framework for thinking critically about reasoning and the validity of knowledge claims.


Epistemology and Rhetoric are separate and yet deeply interwoven academic disciplines. Both epistemology and rhetoric are concerned with reasoning and argument.

Rhetorical Reasoning

Rhetorical Reasoning is the process of deciding what to say, what to research, and how to say it in response to rhetorical analysis.

Research Communities

Beyond sharing methods, Methodological Communities share assumptions regarding the kind of knowledge particular methods produce. Epistemology informs how people engage in research and substantiate truth claims.

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