This page contains a list of the best introductory books on epistemology. Just to be clear, there is no single best book on epistemology. The best book for you will depend on your preferred learning style and the amount of time that you want to spend reading about epistemology. An 800-page scholarly overview is unlikely to be best for someone looking for a short beginner-friendly introduction, for example. This list aims to take this ambiguity into account by featuring books that will appeal to a variety of learning styles.
Secondly, this is not a list of personal recommendations. It was created by compiling recommendations from a variety of online sources including bibliographies, course syllabi, and community recommendations. You can find out more about this process here. Links to the sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a wider range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best introductory books on epistemology in no particular order.
Knowledge: A Very Short Introduction – Jennifer Nagel
Publisher’s description: What is knowledge? How does it differ from mere belief? Do you need to be able to justify a claim in order to count as knowing it? How can we know that the outer world is real and not a dream?
Questions like these are ancient ones, and the branch of philosophy dedicated to answering them – epistemology – has been active for thousands of years. In this thought-provoking Very Short Introduction, Jennifer Nagel considers these classic questions alongside new puzzles arising from recent discoveries about humanity, language, and the mind. Nagel explains the formation of major historical theories of knowledge, and shows how contemporary philosophers have developed new ways of understanding knowledge, using ideas from logic, linguistics, and psychology. Covering topics ranging from relativism and the problem of scepticism to the trustworthiness of internet sources, Nagel examines how progress has been made in understanding knowledge, using everyday examples to explain the key issues and debates
Publisher’s description: Epistemology, or “the theory of knowledge,” is concerned with how we know what we know, what justifies us in believing what we believe, and what standards of evidence we should use in seeking truths about the world and human experience. This comprehensive introduction to the field of epistemology explains the concepts and theories central to understanding knowledge. Along with covering the traditional topics of the discipline in detail, Epistemology explores emerging areas of research. The third edition features new sections on such topics as the nature of intuition, the skeptical challenge of rational disagreement, and “the value problem” – the range of questions concerning why knowledge and justified true belief have value beyond that of merely true belief. Updated and expanded, Epistemology remains a superb introduction to one of the most fundamental fields of philosophy.
Epistemology: An Anthology – Sosa et al.
Publisher’s description: New and thoroughly updated, Epistemology: An Anthology continues to represent the most comprehensive and authoritative collection of canonical readings in the theory of knowledge.
- Concentrates on the central topics of the field, such as skepticism and the Pyrrhonian problematic, the definition of knowledge, and the structure of epistemic justification
- Offers coverage of more specific topics, such as foundationalism vs coherentism, and virtue epistemology
- Presents wholly new sections on ‘Testimony, Memory, and Perception’ and ‘The Value of Knowledge’
- Features modified sections on ‘The Structure of Knowledge and Justification’, ‘The Non-Epistemic in Epistemology’, and ‘The Nature of the Epistemic’
- Includes many of the most important contributions made in recent decades by several outstanding authors
Theaetetus – Plato
Publisher’s description: The Theaetetus is a seminal text in the philosophy of knowledge, and is acknowledged as one of Plato’s finest works. Cast as a conversation between Socrates and a clever but modest student, Theaetetus, it explores one of the key issues in philosophy: what is knowledge? Though no definite answer is reached, the discussion is penetrating and wide-ranging, covering the claims of perception to be knowledge, the theory that all is in motion, and the perennially tempting idea that knowledge and truth are relative to different individuals or states. The inquirers go on to explore the connection between knowledge and true judgement, and the famous threefold definition of knowledge as justified true belief. Packed with subtle arguments, the dialogue is also a work of literary genius, with an unforgettable portrait of Socrates as a midwife of wisdom.
This new edition uses the acclaimed translation by John McDowell. It includes a valuable introduction that locates the work in Plato’s oeuvre, and explains some of the competing interpretations of its overall meaning. The notes elucidate Plato’s arguments and draw connections within the work and with other philosophical discussions.
Discourse on the Method/Meditations on First Philosophy – René Descartes
Publisher’s description: This edition contains Donald Cress’s completely revised translation of the Meditations (from the corrected Latin edition) and recent corrections to Discourse on Method, bringing this version even closer to Descartes’s original, while maintaining the clear and accessible style of a classic teaching edition.
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding – John Locke
Includes generous selections from the Essay, topically arranged passages from the replies to Stillingfleet, a chronology, a bibliography, a glossary, and an index based on the entries that Locke himself devised.
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding – David Hume
Publisher’s description: A landmark of Enlightenment thought, Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding is accompanied here by two shorter works that shed light on it: A Letter from a Gentleman to His Friend in Edinburgh, Hume’s response to those accusing him of atheism, of advocating extreme skepticism, and of undermining the foundations of morality; and his Abstract of A Treatise of Human Nature, which anticipates discussions developed in the Enquiry.
In his concise Introduction, Eric Steinberg explores the conditions that led Hume to write the Enquiry and the work’s important relationship to Book I of Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature.
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Epistemology
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Epistemology
Interested in philosophy but don’t know where to start? Check out these resources:
- An Organized Collection of Online Philosophy Resources and Reading Lists
- A History of Western Philosophy in 66 Quotations (and 300+ online resources)
- A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations
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