Epistemology studies the nature of knowledge, justification, and the rationality of belief. Much of the debate in epistemology centers on four areas: (1) the philosophical analysis of the nature of knowledge and how it relates to such concepts as truth, belief, and justification, (2) various problems of skepticism, (3) the sources and scope of knowledge and justified belief, and (4) the criteria for knowledge and justification. Epistemology addresses such questions as "What makes justified beliefs justified?", "What does it mean to say that we know something?" and fundamentally "How do we know that we know?"
The term "epistemology" was first used by Scottish philosopher James Frederick Ferrier in 1854. However, according to Brett Warren, King James VI of Scotland had previously personified this philosophical concept as the character Epistemon in 1591.
The word epistemology is derived from the ancient Greek epistēmē meaning "knowledge" and the suffix -logy, meaning "logical discourse" (derived from the Greek word logos meaning "discourse"). J.F. Ferrier coined epistemology on the model of 'ontology', to designate that branch of philosophy which aims to discover the meaning of knowledge, and called it the 'true beginning' of philosophy. The word is equivalent to the concept Wissenschaftslehre, which was used by German philosophers Johann Fichte and Bernard Bolzano for different projects before it was taken up again by Husserl. French philosophers then gave the term épistémologie a narrower meaning as 'theory of knowledge .' E.g., Émile Meyerson opened his Identity and Reality, written in 1908, with the remark that the word 'is becoming current' as equivalent to 'the philosophy of the sciences.'
In a philosophical dialogue, King James VI of Scotland penned the character Epistemon as the personification of a philosophical concept to debate on arguments of whether the ancient religious perceptions of witchcraft should be punished in a politically fueled Christian society. The arguments King James poses, through the character Epistemon, are based on ideas of theological reasoning regarding society's belief, as his opponent Philomathes takes a philosophical stance on society's legal aspects but seeks to obtain greater knowledge from Epistemon, whose name is Greek for scientist. This philosophical approach signified a Philomath seeking to obtain greater knowledge through epistemology with the use of theology. The dialogue was used by King James to educate society on various concepts including the history and etymology of the subjects debated.