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How does one develop a thesis based on a researched topic in epistemology for a research paper in APA format? How does one apply the four-step methodology--understanding, analyzing, evaluating, and applying--to develop a thesis?How does one provide authoritative arguments in support of and in opposition to a thesis and evaluate these arguments for validity or invalidity?

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Four Step Methodology: Understanding, Analyzing, Evaluating, Applying

Once you have chosen a point of epistemology that interests you and you can focus your paper on, you'll be in a better position to construct your thesis using the four-step method of understanding, analyzing, evaluating, and applying. One thing you may want help clarifying is that, while you will be using the sources and arguments of other authoritative sources to prove your thesis, your thesis itself will be an argument of your very own--a claim you make about your chosen topic that goes beyond anything already argued or known about the topic, a claim you aim to prove. This is covered in detail under "Using Four Step Methodology" below.


Epistemology is understood to be the "study of the nature and scope of knowledge" (The Basics of Philosophy, "Epistemology"). It specifically strives to understand what can and cannot be known and how we categorize knowledge. Since Epistemology is such a complex study, its likely you have only studied certain facets of epistemology for your course, and you can easily choose one facet to focus on for your essay in order to research and develop your thesis. There are also many different schools of thought and theories within epistemology, so it's also likely you have only studied certain schools, theories, and scholars for your course. Therefore, another approach for deciding on a thesis is choosing either a school, theory, or scholar to focus on to research further and develop your thesis.

The definition of knowledge can be viewed as "justified true belief"; hence, knowledge can be seen as being composed of the three facets of "truth," "belief," and "justification" ("Epistemology").

  • Truth: Only that which is true can be considered knowable, so knowledge requires propositions, or arguments, that are true.
  • Belief: We also can't claim to know any truth that we disbelieve, so knowledge also necessitates belief in that which is true.
  • Justification: Belief in a truth does not necessarily have to be based on information or argumentation. Instead, one can decide to believe in something based on either "luck or misinformation" (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Epistemology"). Hence, knowledge is also said to be based on justification of a belief. Justification happens when we apply "evidence and reasoning" to obtain belief in a truth ("Epistemology").

Therefore, one approach you can take to your essay is to further examine one of these facets of knowledge and how different scholars have approached understanding and defining them. According to The Basics of Philosophy, justification causes the most problems in epistemology and has led to many different schools of epistemology:

  • Evidentialism: According to this school, a belief can only be justified if enough evidence can be acquired or through "possession of evidence."
  • Reliabilism: According to this school, reliability can replace justification. The school is also divided into two separate schools: (1) If a belief is a "reliably-produced true belief," then justification is not needed for knowledge to be obtained; and (2) On the other hand, while justification is needed to acquire knowledge, "any reliable cognitive process," like the ability to see, can be considered "sufficient justification," so evidence is not needed for justification.
  • Infallibilism: According to this school, a true belief must most definitely be justified, and what's more, it is justification itself that makes the belief true, making the belief "infallible."
  • The question of justification has also led to a debate concerning whether or not "justification is external or internal," leading to the two schools of externalism and internalism.

Hence, a second approach to figuring out your thesis would be to choose one or two of these schools that interest you most and further research both the schools and their scholars. If you choose one school, you might compare and contrast the ideas of two scholars belonging to the school. If you choose two schools, you might compare and contrast the two schools. Whatever conclusions you reach through your comparison and contrast would be stated in your thesis.

Epistemology has also led to several different theories concerning how knowledge is acquired, and you might also choose to focus on further researching one theory to discover your thesis instead. Some of the theories include empiricism, rationalism, representationalism, and constructivism.

Using Four Step Methodology

The first step to developing your thesis is understanding the material in your primary sources. A primary source is defined as any "document or object which was written or created during the time under study" (Princeton University, "What is a Primary Source?"). For you specifically, an example of a primary source would be anything written by a scholar from a particular school of thought or posing a specific theory that you've decided to study. A primary source would not be considered anything written about that scholar, school, or theory but rather anything written by the scholar. Anything written about the scholar, school, or theory in way of explaining it would be considered a secondary source, which is defined as anything that "interprets and analyzes primary sources" ("What is a Primary Source?").

The second step is analyzing your primary sources, and this is where things can get difficult. At this point, you must go beyond basic understanding and pose for yourself questions about the material. As you look through your primary sources again, "look for tension, interest, ambiguity, controversy, and/or complication" (Harvard College Writing Center, "Developing a Thesis"). Try and discover any contradictions and any "deeper implications of the author's argument" because it's in these sorts of discoveries that you'll start to find your own argument, what you yourself want to prove beyond anything the author says ("Developing a Thesis").

Next, you'll be evaluating the arguments in your sources to develop your thesis. You'll be evaluating these sources to see in what ways they are or are not objective when dealing with your chosen subject, in what ways the authors of the secondary sources are or are not authorities, and in what ways the sources are or are not applicable to your chosen topic ("Evaluating Print Sources"). Seeing these things will help you better understand how you can prove your own argument because one step in writing a thesis is laying out the points you aim to use to prove your argument.

Finally, once you have a working draft of your thesis, you can apply certain test questions to it in order to evaluate your own thesis for strength. For example, you can ask yourself, "Is my thesis statement specific enough?"; "Does my thesis pass the 'So what?' test?"; and "Does my thesis pass the 'how and why'? test," among other questions ("Thesis Statements").

All of the above information should help you get started with narrowing down a paper topic within epistemology and using your researched information to develop your own argument/thesis.

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