RELATED TERMS: Ontology; Methodology and Method; Philosophy

Epistemology or the theory of knowledge is the branch of philosophy that studies the origin, nature, methods, validity, and limits of human knowledge.

It addresses such questions as:

Narrative environments may question the epistemological foundations of certain common beliefs and may also question the separateness of epistemology and ontology as distinct regions within philosophy, focusing instead on how particular design configurations form complex onto-epistemologies: material existents that articulate situated cultural knowledges and vice versa.

The inter-relatedness of epistemology and ontology is acknowledged by Stewart (2010), who also makes an argument as to why this relationship is often occluded,

“An epistemology always presupposes an ontology, but this is often masked by the fact that an “objectivist” ontology — according to which that which exists (and can therefore be an object of knowledge) preexists quite independently of the process of knowing — is implicitly presupposed as being so obvious that it would be nonsensical to question it. Thus in spite of their energetic disagreements, the majority of epistemological positions — empiricism, idealism, nominalism, hypothetico-deduction, relativism, and so on — actually share a commitment to objectivism”

According to Kaiser and Thiele (2014),

“Onto-epistemology departs from discrete, given entities as units of analysis and considers agential forces (selves, cultures, objects, etc.) as processually, relationally and asymmetrically produced (all at once).”

The notion of onto-epistemology brings to attention the situatedness of reasoning, such as that which emerges from the application of quantum probability, as discussed by de Freitas and Sinclair (2018),

“Quantum probability (QP) is simply a way of assigning probabilities to events, but it does so quite differently from classical probability (CP). In other words, it offers an alternative formalization of reasoning with uncertainty. This aternative approach links uncertainty to indeterminacy in ways that open up new onto-epistemologies, better attending to the situatedness of reasoning.”


de Freitas, E. and Sinclair, N. (2018) ‘The Quantum Mind: Alternative Ways of Reasoning with Uncertainty’, Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education. Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education, 18(3), pp. 271–283. doi: 10.1007/s42330-018-0024-1.

Kaiser, B. M. and Thiele, K. (2014) ‘Diffraction: onto-epistemology, quantum physics and the critical humanities’, Parallax, 20 (3), pp. 165–167. doi: 10.1080/13534645.2014.927621.

Stewart, J. (2010). Foundational issues in enaction as a paradigm for cognitive science: from the origin of life to consciousness and writing. In Stewart, J., Gapenne, O. and Di Paolo, E. A. (eds) Enaction: toward a new paradigm for cognitive science. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.