Who Introduced the Term Epistemology?


Diego Sanchez

Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that deals with the study of knowledge. It seeks to answer questions such as: What knowledge is, how it is acquired, and what makes it valuable? The term epistemology was introduced by a Scottish philosopher named James Frederick Ferrier in the 19th century.

Who was James Frederick Ferrier?

James Frederick Ferrier was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1808. He studied at the University of Edinburgh and later became a professor of moral philosophy at the University of St Andrews. Ferrier was a prominent figure in the Scottish philosophical community and made significant contributions to the field of metaphysics and epistemology.

What led to the introduction of Epistemology as a term?

In 1854, Ferrier published a book titled ‘Institutes of Metaphysic: The Theory of Knowing and Being.’ In this book, he introduced the term ‘epistemology’ as a way to describe the study of knowledge. The word ‘epistemology’ comes from two Greek words: ‘episteme,’ which means knowledge, and ‘logos,’ which means study or discourse.

What did Ferrier contribute to Epistemology?

Ferrier’s contribution to epistemology lies in his theory of knowledge. He believed that knowledge is not just a collection of facts or information but rather a system of interconnected ideas.

According to Ferrier, there are three stages in the acquisition of knowledge: ignorance, error, and truth. Ignorance is the stage where one lacks knowledge about something; error is when one has incorrect beliefs about something, whereas truth is when one has accurate beliefs about something.

Ferrier also believed that there are two types of knowledge: immediate and mediate. Immediate knowledge refers to knowledge that does not require any reasoning or inference such as sensory experiences like seeing or hearing something. Mediate knowledge, on the other hand, is acquired through reasoning and inference.


In summary, James Frederick Ferrier introduced the term ‘epistemology’ in the 19th century to describe the study of knowledge. He believed that knowledge is a system of interconnected ideas and that there are three stages in the acquisition of knowledge: ignorance, error, and truth. Ferrier’s contributions to epistemology have had a significant impact on the field and continue to be studied and debated by philosophers today.