From beginner-friendly introductions to classic books on epistemology, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s important to note that there is no single best book on epistemology. The best book for you will depend heavily on your preferred learning style and the amount of time/energy you’re willing to spend reading. For example, if you tend to find classic works of philosophy difficult to understand, you might want to start with a short, beginner-friendly introduction. If you prefer more depth, you can choose a more comprehensive introduction or pick up one of the classics.
It’s also worth noting that it is not a list of personal recommendations. Personal book recommendations tend to be highly subjective, idiosyncratic, and unreliable. This list is part of a collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists which aim to provide a central resource for philosophy book recommendations. These lists were created by searching through hundreds of university course syllabi, internet encyclopedia bibliographies, and community recommendations. Links to the syllabi and other sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a broader 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
Category: Short Textbook | Length: 152 pages | Published: 2014
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.
Epistemology: A Contemporary Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge – Robert Audi
Category: Comprehensive Textbook | Length: 426 pages | Published: 2010
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.
Category: Anthology | Length: 932 pages | Published: 2008
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
Category: Classic | Length: 208 pages | Published: c. 369 BC
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. …
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Discourse on the Method/Meditations on First Philosophy – René Descartes
Category: Classic | Length: 128 pages | Published: 1637
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.
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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.
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An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding – David Hume
Category: Classic | Length: 151 pages | Published: 1748
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:
- Epistemology – University of British Columbia
- Epistemology – Harvard University
- Introduction to Epistemology – Sample Syllabus
- Contemporary Debates in Epistemology – UC Berkeley
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Epistemology
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Epistemology
- Recommend me books about epistemology / critical thinking
- What’s a good textbook on epistemology?
- Recommendations for contemporary books in epistemology?
- Epistemology: where to start?
- Epistemology Reading list.
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A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations – Lennox Johnson
Category: Reference | Length: 145 pages | Published: 2019
Publisher’s Description: A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is a collection of the greatest thoughts from history’s greatest thinkers. Featuring classic quotations by Aristotle, Epicurus, David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Michel Foucault, and many more, A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is ideal for anyone looking to quickly understand the fundamental ideas that have shaped the modern world.