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

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Normativity
  • Semantics
  • Value Theory
  • Reasons for Belief and Epistemic Psychology
  • Evidence and Probability
  • Agency and Responsibility

Philosophy Metaepistemology
Christos Kyriacou
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 April 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0302


Metaepistemology is the branch of epistemology that asks questions about epistemological questions and inquires into fundamental aspects of epistemic theorizing, such as metaphysics, epistemology, semantics, value theory, agency, psychology, responsibility, reasons for belief, evidence, and probability. So, if as traditionally conceived epistemology is the theory of knowledge, metaepistemology is the theory of the theory of knowledge. It is currently an emerging and quickly developing branch of epistemology, partly because of the success of the more advanced “twin” normative subject of metaethics. The success of metaethics and the structural similarities between metaethics and metaepistemology have inspired parallel conceptual forays in metaepistemology with far-reaching implications for both subjects. The article offers a survey of core bibliography about basic metaepistemological themes. The bibliography aims neither at being exhaustive nor at presenting these basic themes in their full sophistication and complexity. Rather, given the broad span of themes and problems that fall under the label of metaepistemology, the aim is to introduce some bibliography and some works that provide an overview of some of the cutting edge research that is currently undertaken in metaepistemology debates. In what follows, “(meta)”epistemology is bracketed to indicate the epistemology of epistemology. This is to be distinguished from nonbracketed “metaepistemology,” which is meant to refer to the whole domain of metaepistemological theorizing (metaphysics, epistemology, semantics, value theory, agency, etc.). Henceforth, this usage for the two concepts will be assumed. I am indebted to Robin McKenna, Adam Carter and Martin Grajner for helpful comments.

General Overviews

The literature to date includes no definitive general overview of the field (or even a textbook). At least two reasons can be cited for this failure: first, because the field of metaepistemology is just now emerging, partly because of the success of the more advanced “twin” normative subject of metaethics, and second because the field is so vast and with so diverse and complicated topics that a general overview, even a simple textbook, is a difficult task for any epistemologist. Even the compilation of this article is quite a challenge. However, important monographs touch on various fundamental aspects of metaepistemological theorizing. Fumerton 1995 examines the epistemology of epistemology and its possible implications for skepticism. Williamson 2000 argues against the reductive conceptual analysis approach to knowledge and for the introduction of a nonreductive account of knowledge that reverses the traditional explanatory order in epistemology. Zagzebski 1996 suggests that a responsibilist, intellectual virtue theory could help us illuminate fundamental epistemic concepts such as justification, knowledge, and understanding. Cuneo 2007 brings out the normative structural similarities between ethics and epistemology and indicates that they support realism. Carter 2016 examines epistemic relativism as a metaepistemological project.

  • Carter, J. Adam. Metaepistemology and Relativism. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

    A thorough study of epistemic relativism (and its recent developments) as a metaepistemological project. Carter questions whether the kind of anti-relativistic background that underlies most projects in mainstream epistemology can, on closer inspection, be vindicated. To this effect, dialectical strategies for epistemic relativism are considered and criticized. Available online for purchase.

  • Cuneo, Terence. The Normative Web. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199218837.001.0001

    This monograph brings into view the normative structural similarities of ethics and epistemology (reasons, supervenience, objectivity, motivation, etc.) and argues that the two domains stand “on a par.” That is, either both should be realistically construed or both should not. Cuneo goes on to argue that epistemology is more plausibly construed realistically and that this provides us with reason to believe that ethics are also more plausibly construed realistically.

  • Fumerton, Richard. Metaepistemology and Skepticism. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1995.

    The book focuses on the epistemology of epistemology and its implications for a possible treatment of skepticism. It argues that externalist approaches aspire to naturalize epistemic normativity (through causality, reliability, tracking, etc.) and that this begs the question against the puzzle of skepticism. Instead, it defends a broadly internalist account of justification that takes skepticism more seriously.

  • Williamson, Timothy. Knowledge and Its Limits. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    This is a seminal book arguing that knowledge is not to be analyzed in any further constituents, such as truth, justification, and belief. Rather, the order of explanatory analysis should be reversed. Knowledge should be considered an unanalyzable conceptual primitive, the first building block for a theory of knowledge, and then go on to explain other epistemic concepts/phenomena (evidence, skepticism, assertion, etc.) through knowledge.

  • Zagzebski, Linda. Virtues of the Mind. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139174763

    This is a landmark book for the development of Aristotelian/responsibilist virtue-theoretic approaches to epistemology. Building on the interesting but neglected normative analogues between ethics and epistemology, Zagzebski suggests that an intellectual virtue theory could help us illuminate fundamental epistemic concepts such as justification, knowledge, and understanding.

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