“Epistemology” is one of the big, fancy worlds I encountered in graduate school and have rarely encountered since.
You’ll usually see it defined as something like “theory of knowledge,” which I take to mean “what can we know and how can we know it.” Basically, what are we justified in believing.
It may not be an everyday word, but I think it is an essential word when it comes to how we approach learning – at least if we are going to approach learning wholeheartedly and honestly. To be truly available for learning, we must embrace what David Brooks, in The Social Animal (recommended), calls “epistemological modesty.” As Brooks sees it,
Epistemological modesty is an attitude toward life. This attitude is built on the awareness that we don’t know ourselves. Most of what we think and believe is unavailable to conscious review. We are our own deepest mystery. Not knowing ourselves, we also have trouble fully understanding others.
Epistemological modesty, in other words, is grounded in the belief that we must always be learning, adjusting, adapting, growing.
It’s a pretty useful belief for a lifelong learner to embrace – and one I think is justified.
P.S. – On a related note, this Vox article on intellectual humility is well worth reading.