In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Formal Epistemology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Journal Articles
  • Reference Works
  • Probability
  • From Logical Probability to Probabilistic Logic
  • Difficulties Concerning Subjective Probability
  • Probability and Issues of Descriptive Adequacy
  • Nonclassical Probabilities and Other Representations of Uncertainty
  • Bayesian Confirmation Theory
  • Probabilism and Updating Probabilities
  • Belief Revision
  • Decision Theory
  • Utilities
  • Causal Decision Theory
  • Decision Making under Uncertainty
  • Decision Theory and Issues of Descriptive Adequacy
  • Interactive Epistemology
  • Formal Learning Theory

Philosophy Formal Epistemology
Jeffrey Helzner, Vincent F. Hendricks
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 September 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0140


Formal epistemology is a fairly recent field of study in philosophy dating back to the end of the 20th century. This is not to say that formal epistemological studies have not been conducted prior to the late 1990s, but rather that the term introduced to cover the philosophical enterprise was coined around this time. Formal epistemology denotes the formal study of crucial concepts in general or mainstream epistemology, including knowledge, belief and belief-change, certainty, rationality, reasoning, decision, justification, learning, agent interaction, and information processing. The formal tools may be drawn from a wide variety of areas, including logic, probability theory, game theory, decision theory, formal learning theory, and distributed computing, and is thus not simply a purely philosophical province. Its practitioners include philosophers, computer scientists, social scientists, cognitive psychologists, theoretical economists, mathematicians, and theoretical linguists.

General Overviews and Textbooks

Since formal epistemology is a newcomer, the number of general overviews and textbooks is limited. Epistemology is but one field of philosophy where formal methods may be of use, so some of the general overviews and textbooks focus on the formalization and the use of formal methods for various philosophical issues and problems rather than on simpler epistemological ones. Glymour 1992 is an introductory treatment of formal methods in philosophy and includes a few chapters on formal epistemology with particular emphasis on knowledge, reliability, and computability studies. Knowledge and reliability are furthermore taken for a systematic formal treatment in Hendricks 2006, whereas Williamson 2010 looks at knowledge from the point of view of mainstream epistemology coupled with epistemic logic.

  • Glymour, C. Thinking Things Through. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992.

    An introduction to the use of formal methods in philosophy with some chapters dedicated to epistemological issues such as knowledge, reliability, and computability.

  • Hendricks, V. F. Mainstream and Formal Epistemology. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

    A monograph describing and analyzing the common denominators of selected mainstream and formal epistemological programs.

  • Williamson, T. Knowledge and Its Limits. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    Addresses a host of important epistemological issues among them sensitivity, skepticism, evidence, probability and knowability using assorted formal machinery.

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