ⓘ Episteme is a philosophical term derived from the Ancient Greek word ἐπιστήμη epistēmē, which can refer to knowledge, science or understanding, and which comes ..


ⓘ Episteme

Episteme is a philosophical term derived from the Ancient Greek word ἐπιστήμη epistēmē, which can refer to knowledge, science or understanding, and which comes from the verb ἐπίστασθαι, meaning "to know, to understand, or to be acquainted with".

Plato contrasts episteme with "doxa": common belief or opinion. Episteme is also distinguished from "techne": a craft or applied practice. The word "epistemology" is derived from episteme.


1.1. Western philosophy Relation of the Foucaultian episteme to Kuhns paradigm

Foucaults use of episteme has been asserted as being similar to Thomas Kuhns notion of a paradigm, as for example by Jean Piaget. However, there are decisive differences.

Whereas Kuhns paradigm is an all-encompassing collection of beliefs and assumptions that result in the organization of scientific worldviews and practices, Foucaults episteme is not confined to science - it provides the grounding for a broad range of discourses all of science itself would fall under the episteme of the epoch. One might say that a paradigm is subsumed within an episteme.

Kuhns paradigm shifts are a consequence of a series of conscious decisions made by scientists to pursue a neglected set of questions. Foucaults episteme is something like the epistemological unconscious of an era; the resultant configuration of knowledge of a particular episteme is, to Foucault, based on a set of primordial, fundamental assumptions that are so basic to the episteme that theyre experientially "invisible" to the constituents operating within the episteme.

Moreover, Kuhns concept corresponds to what Foucault calls theme or theory of a science, but Foucault analyzed how opposing theories and themes could co-exist within a science. Kuhn doesnt search for the conditions of possibility of opposing discourses within a science, but simply for the invariant dominant paradigm governing scientific research supposing that one paradigm always is pervading, except under paradigmatic transition.

Foucault attempts to demonstrate the constitutive limits of discourse, and in particular, the rules enabling their productivity; however, Foucault maintained that though ideology may infiltrate and form science, it need not do so: it must be demonstrated how ideology actually forms the science in question; contradictions and lack of objectivity is not an indicator of ideology.

"Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint. And it induces regular effects of power. Each society has its regime of truth, its "general politics” of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true."

Kuhns and Foucaults notions are possibly influenced by the French philosopher of science Gaston Bachelards notion of an "epistemological rupture", as indeed was Althusser.


1.2. Western philosophy Judith Butler

In 1997, Judith Butler used the concept of episteme in her book Excitable Speech, examining the use of speech-act theory for political purposes.