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

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Early Work
  • Politics and (Post) Truth
  • Fake News, Misinformation, and Propaganda
  • Political Disagreement and Polarization
  • The Epistemic Dimensions of Public Reason
  • Political Ignorance and Political Irrationality
  • Epistemic Virtues and Vices in Politics
  • The Epistemic Obligations of Citizens
  • Epistemic Paternalism
  • Political Cognition
  • Social Media and Democracy

Philosophy Political Epistemology
Michael Hannon, Elizabeth Edenberg
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 November 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0408


Political epistemology lies at the intersection of political philosophy and epistemology. Put broadly, political epistemologists investigate the ways in which epistemological issues are at the center of our political lives. For example, they explore how claims of knowledge, truth, and expertise impact political decisions and forms of legitimate authority. Research in this domain ranges from asking questions about whether (and to what extent) legitimate authority hinges on epistemic evaluation of the process or outcome of political decisions to questions about epistemic virtues and vices of individuals in their role as political agents. Political epistemologists ask questions such as: which forms of government can leverage the collective wisdom of the public and to what extent does ignorance, propaganda, or misinformation undermine the legitimacy of collective decisions? What role should disagreement play in our political lives and how does disagreement impact society (i.e., does it lead to polarization or can it be productively leveraged to reveal blind spots based on different perspectives)? In what ways are socially and politically marginalized groups in a position of epistemic privilege vis-à-vis social structures? While the term political epistemology is fairly new, scholars have been interested in topics at the intersection of political philosophy and epistemology at least since Plato. Until recently, however, political philosophy and epistemology proceeded largely in their own silos. The subfield of political epistemology explicitly draws on the insights from both areas of philosophy (as well as cognate areas like political science and social psychology). As a result, the past few years have witnessed an outpouring of new research that draws important and tighter connections between epistemology (especially social epistemology) and political philosophy. For example, new work has been published on propaganda, fake news, belief polarization, political disagreement, conspiracy theories, the epistemic merits of democracy, voter ignorance, irrationality in politics, distrust, and the epistemic harms of echo chambers. Political epistemology is now a flourishing area of philosophy.

General Overviews

There are currently two state-of-the-art surveys of the field of political epistemology. Edenberg and Hannon 2021 brings together leading philosophers to explore ways in which the analytic and conceptual tools of epistemology bear on political philosophy, and vice versa. The book is organized around three broad themes: the role of truth and knowledge in politics; epistemic problems for democracy; and disagreement and polarization. As the first book of its kind, this is a foundational text for philosophers, political scientists, and political psychologists. A complementary text is Hannon and de Ridder 2021. This handbook includes forty-one chapters that are organized into seven parts: politics and truth from historical and contemporary perspectives; political disagreement and polarization; fake news and propaganda; political ignorance and irrationality; epistemic virtues and vices in politics; democracy and epistemology; and trust and expertise. Both texts are an indispensable reference tool for students and researchers seeking a comprehensive overview of this area of philosophy. They serve to identify key topics, questions, and problems at the heart of political epistemology.

  • Edenberg, Elizabeth, and Michael Hannon. Political Epistemology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2021.

    DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780192893338.001.0001

    The first edited collection directly on the topic of political epistemology, with contributions from leading philosophers. Organized around three broad themes: truth and knowledge in politics; epistemic problems for democracy; and disagreement and polarization. Provides new and rich insights on topics such as propaganda, weaponized skepticism, belief polarization, political disagreement, the epistemic value of democracy, voter ignorance, and identity politics.

  • Hannon, Michael, and Jeroen de Ridder. The Routledge Handbook of Political Epistemology. London: Routledge, 2021.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780429326769

    A comprehensive survey of the field of political epistemology. Includes forty-one chapters on topics ranging from post-truth, political polarization, and epistocracy to trust and digital democracy, as well as the views of Plato, Aristotle, Mòzǐ, medieval Islamic philosophers, Mill, Arendt, and Rawls on truth and politics. Essential reading for those studying political philosophy, applied and social epistemology, and politics.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.