What Are the Three Major Branches of Epistemology?


Martha Robinson

Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that deals with the study of knowledge. It seeks to understand how we acquire knowledge, what constitutes knowledge, and how we can differentiate between true and false beliefs.

Epistemology is divided into three major branches – empiricism, rationalism, and skepticism. In this article, we will explore these branches in detail.


Empiricism is a philosophical approach that emphasizes the role of experience and sensory perception in acquiring knowledge. According to empiricists, knowledge comes from our senses and through our experiences of the world around us.

For instance, when we see a red apple, we know it’s red because of our sense of sight. Empiricists argue that all knowledge is derived from sensory experiences and that there are no innate ideas or concepts.

Empiricists use experimentation and observation as their primary methods for gaining knowledge. They believe that by observing phenomena closely, they can uncover underlying patterns and laws which can be used to explain various phenomena in the natural world.


Rationalism is the opposite of empiricism in many ways. Rationalists argue that reason or intuition plays a more significant role in acquiring knowledge than sensory perception or experience. According to rationalists, some ideas are innate or inherent in us from birth.

Rationalists argue that certain fundamental truths about reality can be deduced using reason alone. For instance, they believe that mathematical truths are not dependent on sensory experiences but exist independently of them.


Skepticism is a philosophical approach that questions the possibility of acquiring certain knowledge about anything. Skeptics argue that all claims to knowledge are uncertain or doubtful since they cannot be proven beyond doubt.

Skeptics take an agnostic position towards most claims made by both empiricists and rationalists since they believe there’s always a possibility that their claims might be wrong. Skeptics also believe that knowledge is context-dependent and that what counts as knowledge in one context may not count as knowledge in another.


In conclusion, epistemology is a vital branch of philosophy that seeks to understand how we acquire knowledge. Empiricism, rationalism, and skepticism are three major branches of epistemology, each with its own unique approach to understanding knowledge.

While empiricists rely on sensory experiences to gain knowledge, rationalists emphasize the role of reason or intuition. Skeptics take an agnostic position towards most claims to knowledge since they believe all claims are uncertain or doubtful.