Difference Between Ontology and Epistemology

Ontology vs Epistemology

Epistemology and ontology are two different branches of sociology. Epistemology denotes the knowledge as perceived by people and ontology denotes actual knowledge. This article explains the concepts of epistemology and ontology with examples.

What is Epistemology?

Epistemology means the study of scope and nature of knowledge or the theory of knowledge. Meaning of knowledge, acquisition of knowledge, and the extent of knowledge of any given subject fall under this topic. Epistemology is a term coined by a Scottish philosopher James Ferrier.

There are many concepts and definitions in epistemology. Knowledge, belief, and truth are a few main ones. Philosophers believe that there are three types of knowledge. First is “knowledge that”. Ex: It is known that 3 + 3 = 6. Second is knowledge how. Ex: Mothers know how to cook a chicken curry. The third is acquaintance knowledge. Ex: I know my friend James. Belief is defined as demonstrating faith or trust in a subject, entity, or a person. Epistemology states that to believe is to accept as true. Belief need not be true to be considered as a belief. One may believe that a bridge is strong enough to support his weight. When he tries to cross it, the bridge collapses. Then the belief is not true. Then the belief is not knowledge. In other words, even if he believed the bridge to be strong he actually did not know it to be strong. If the bridge supports his weight, then the belief becomes true, and it would be correct to say that he knew the bridge to be strong.

Gettier’s problem is a celebrated argument in epistemology. Gettier said that truths and beliefs overlap. A person may know some beliefs to be true, some to be false, and some he is not sure of. Therefore, the actual knowledge and the perceived knowledge differ from each other.  Acquisition of knowledge includes priori and posteriori knowledge, analytical and synthetic distinction. Priori knowledge is what is gained, independent of experience. Posteriori knowledge is what is gained from experience. Analytic statement is a construct of known truths. Ex: My uncle’s son is my cousin. Therefore, the statement is true given that the meanings of the words are clear. Synthetic statement is a result of an outside fact coming into the statement. Ex: My cousin has black hair.

What is Ontology?

Ontology concerns fundamental existence and the sense of things considered to “be”. It involves an inquiry into being, existing, and properties of being. Plato argued that all nouns denote existing entities. Others argue that nouns do not always mean entities but collections of events, objects as well as entities. For example, mind is not an entity but a collection of mental events as experienced by a person. Between reality and nominalism there are multiple positions. But ontology should define what refers to an entity and what does not. There are key dichotomies in ontology. Here are two such dichotomies. Universals and particulars mean things common to many and things specific to one entity. Abstract and concrete mean vague and distinct entities respectively.

What is the difference between Epistemology and Ontology?

Epistemology looks into the perceived knowledge and its workings while ontology explains the inner working of actual knowledge. 


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Difference Between Ontology and Taxonomy

  • Alice X

    Thank you!