The Seven Best Introductory Books on Epistemology

This page contains a list of the seven best introductory books on epistemology. When looking for books on epistemology, some people want a short and easy introduction, others would prefer a longer and more detailed analysis. This list divides each book into one of the following categories to help you choose the type of book that suits you best:

  • Short Textbook
  • Comprehensive Textbook
  • Anthology
  • Classic
  • Contemporary

This list was created by crowdsourcing required readings from university course syllabi as well as other recommendations from around the web. For more information on what these categories mean and how this list was constructed, see: Methodology and Criteria for Building Reading Lists. Links to the sources used for these recommendations are listed at the end of the post so you can view the syllabi and recommendations for yourself. Here are the seven best books on epistemology in no particular order:

Knowledge: A Very Short Introduction – Jennifer Nagel

Category: Short Textbook | Length: 152 pages | Published: 2014

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

Epistemology: A Contemporary Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge – Robert Audi

Category: Comprehensive Textbook | Length: 426 pages | Published: 2010

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.

Category: Anthology | Length: 932 pages | Published: 2008

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

Category: Classic | Length: 208 pages | Published: c. 369 BC

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

Category: Classic | Length: 128 pages | Published: 1637

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

Category: Classic | Length: 416 pages | Published: 1689

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

Category: Classic | Length: 151 pages | Published: 1748

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.

 

Sources

A good way to find introductory readings on epistemology is to browse through a university course syllabus. This list of books was created using the following course syllabi and community recommendations:

Course Syllabi:

Other Recommendations:

Online forums and communities sometimes have experts that are kind enough to recommend books. Here are a few community recommendations:

Not sure if you want to commit to reading a full book on epistemology? You can find a short introductory video, podcast, and article on epistemology on this page.

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And if you know of any resources that should be on this list, please leave a comment below and I will add it. Or get in touch on Twitter or Facebook.

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