Introduction to Epistemology

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Year 1
Term 2
Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of Religions and Philosophies

Module overview

This module is designed to introduce first year students in the BA World Philosophies programme to a core and central area of philosophy, epistemology, or the theory of knowledge. Knowledge is key to human existence and survival and while various disciplines and fields of inquiries such as the sciences investigates different specific forms and spheres of knowledge, it has been one of the most crucial agenda and objective of philosophy to theorise the very nature and essence of knowledge, i.e., what it means to know anything at all or to lay claim to any specific form of knowledge. The course begins by developing the central tasks of epistemology which include the formulation and analysis of theories and sources of knowledge, and the analysis of related concepts such as justification, belief, opinion and truth. It also examines the politics of epistemology which consists of the masculinisation and colonisation of the epistemology agenda evident in mainstream Western epistemology and how the recognition of alternative epistemologies in the last century or so has advanced the feminisation and decolonisation of the epistemology agenda. The module also examines various theories of knowledge in the various philosophical traditions such as Socratic, Cartesian, and Kantian epistemology from the West, communitarian epistemology from Africa, and Indian epistemology. The course will also focus on topics of belief, justification, scepticism, virtue epistemology, moral epistemology and social epistemology from various philosophical traditions. The students will be able to develop a broad perspective of the nature of knowledge from different philosophical traditions, appreciate the importance of alternative epistemologies, and develop the analytical tools and critical thinking needed to evaluate all forms of knowledge claims they are confronted with during their programme and beyond.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • demonstrate the masculinisation and colonisation of knowledge in the history of thought and recent efforts to feminise and decolonise it through alternative epistemologies.
  • explain the concerns of, and topics in, epistemology from a broad perspective relying on various philosophical traditions.
  • develop the skills to evaluate Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) and their function in human society.
  • develop the analytic and critical skills to analyse and evaluate all forms of knowledge claims presented within and beyond the programme of study.

Scope and syllabus

  • Week 1: Introduction: The Tasks of Epistemology and Course Overview
  • Week 2: The Politics of Epistemology: Decolonising and Feminising Knowledge
  • Week 3: Western Philosophical Accounts of Knowledge
  • Week 4: African Philosophical Accounts of Knowledge
  • Week 5: Indian and Islamic Philosophical Accounts of Knowledge
  • Week 6: Chinese Epistemology: Lao Tzu and Confucius
  • Week 7: Social Epistemology and Naturalised Epistemology
  • Week 8: Epistemic Oppression, Epistemic Injustice and the Epistemology of Ignorance
  • Week 9: Moral Epistemology and Virtue Epistemology
  • Week 10: Term Highlights, Summary and Feedback

Method of assessment

  • AS1 Creative Portfolio (1500 words) 40%
  • AS2 Essay (2500 words) 60%

Suggested reading

  • Alcoff, Linda M. (1998). Epistemology: The Big Question, Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers Inc.
  • Dancy, Jonathan, Sosa, Ernest, and Steup, Matthias (2010), A Companion to Epistemology, Maldern, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers Inc.
  • Geaney, Jane (2002), On the Epistemology of the Senses in Early Chinese Thought, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
  • Hamminga, Bert (2005), Knowledge Cultures: Comparative Western and African Epistemology, Amsterdam: Rodopi Publishers.
  • Imafidon, Elvis (2018), Is the African Moral Epistemology of Care Fractured? Synthesis Philosophica: Journal of the Croatian Philosophical Society, Special Issue on African Philosophy and Fractured Epistemologies, 47.2: 165-178.
  • Kresse, Kai (2007), Philosophising in Mombasa: Knowledge, Islam and Intellectual Practice on the Swahili Coast, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press Ltd.
  • Matilal, Bimal K. (1986), Perception: An Essay on Classical Indian Theories of Knowledge, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Mudimbe, V. Y. (1988), The Invention of Africa: Gnosis, Philosophy and the Order of Knowledge, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • Plato (1997), Theaetetus, trans. M.J Levett, M. Burnyeat, in Plato: Complete Works, John M. Cooper (Ed. and Intro), Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules