Cultural Epistemology

7.5 credits

Syllabus, Master's level, 5FT178

Education cycle
Second cycle
Main field(s) of study and in-depth level
Theoretical Philosophy A1N
Grading system
Fail (U), Pass (G), Pass with distinction (VG)
Finalised by
The Department Board, 4 September 2023
Responsible department
Department of Philosophy

Entry requirements

120 credits, of which 90 credits should be in a discipline within the Faculty of Arts, Social Sciences, Languages, Law, Theology or Educational Sciences and include a thesis of at least 15 credits

Learning outcomes

Upon successful completion of the course, students should be able to:

  • articulate the connection and difference between the natural and cultural sciences respectively from a cultural-epistemological perspective in comparison with other accounts
  • explicate the notion of symbolic form and its implications for understanding the nature of the human being
  • summarize and evaluate the cultural-epistemological account of the relationship between religion, language, art, history and science
  • distinguish in a thorough and balanced way between naturalistic, social and cultural explanations of human institutions and artefacts.


Cultural epistemology is not the name of an established field of inquiry, but rather an umbrella term referring to an approach that can be taken toward questions in epistemology in which human knowledge and understanding, including self-knowledge and self-understanding, are construed as intimately interwoven with, and expressed in and through, cultural practices and artefacts. It is distinguished from social epistemology insofar as the latter is largely concerned with problems of justification, whereas cultural epistemology aims to describe the phenomena of thinking, understanding and knowing as such, and to characterize what constitutes "knowledge" in different contexts with respect to the conditioning elements of what philosopher Vincent Descombes has called our "institutions of meaning". According to Ernst Cassirer, whose works we will read for the course, human beings are most fundamentally "symbolic animals", who incorporate systems of signs with the world. The work of epistemology then becomes to elucidate the corresponding conditions of possibility for the "fact of culture", including the knowledge produced by the sciences, without reducing their complexity.


Lecture-seminars. The lecture-style will be thoroughly interactive. Students are expected to be present, prepare, participate in and contribute to the discussions.


Class participation, two reactions papers presented and discussed in class (1000 words each), oral comments on other papers/presentations and one final essay (2000 words) at the end of the course on a topic which is approved by the teacher.

If there are special reasons for doing so, an examiner may make an exception from the method of assessment indicated and allow a student to be assessed by another method. An example of special reasons might be a certificate regarding special pedagogical support from the University's disability coordinator.