I'm taking an introductory philosophy course and I find it fascinating. I can't really figure out an assignment though because I'm a bit foggy on what the difference between ontological and epistemological claims is.

Of course, I'm writing 2-3 sentences per bullet, but my shortened answers are in bold.

For each of the following claims (a)-(f), say whether it is an ontological claim or an epistemological claim. Then in one-three sentences explain why. In explaining your answer, it may help to spell out what the claim means.

  • (a) Zombies (in the philosophical sense) are conceivable. (epistemological)
  • (b) Zombies (in the philosophical sense) are possible. (ontological)
  • (c) A koala is necessarily an animal. (ontological, but not sure)
  • (d) From the claim that “All koalas are animals” and the claim that “Fluffy is a koala” I can deduce the claim that “Fluffy is an animal”. (epistemological, but not sure)
  • (e) There is only one fundamental kind of stuff that makes up the universe, and that stuff is physical. (ontological)
  • (f) All phenomena can be explained in terms of physical phenomena. (epistemological, but not sure)

Please let me know if I'm mixing them up or not understanding the concepts. Thanks!

  • 2
    Hint for c) how you know that koalas are animals?
    – David H
    Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 6:16
  • 1
    Or on second thought, I might be leading you astray! As a scientist I want call it epistemology, but a philosopher could very well call it ontology. Hmm...
    – David H
    Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 6:23
  • The write "one-three" for "one to three"?
    – Nikolaj-K
    Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 8:22
  • I'm not sure epistemological and ontological claims are disjoint. We can speak about the universe and about knowledge, but we can also speak about the knowledge or models that we have about the universe and about observers and their beliefs in the universe.
    – Trylks
    Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 12:30
  • The important thing is not just answering but also justifying your answer, that process should help you firm up the differences between epistemology & ontology. They're complex terms, and sometimes intrude on each others territory. Commented Aug 2, 2013 at 19:25

2 Answers 2


On the intro to philosophy level, the epistemic/ontic distinction comes down to the distinction between what is the case and what is claimed to be the case. As such, it presupposes the sensory veil between the epistemic agent and its object. On the final account, epistemology is all about the degree of transparency of the veil; it is the Sceptic's question. On one end of the spectrum of answers, we have "What you see is what is the case," and on the other end, "You cannot see what is behind the veil in principle."


Notice how every epistemological claim is accompanied by a sense of mental activity related to the propositions u posted. The ontological claims basically just claim truths about reality in itself without talking about how we might mentally refer to it using concepts such as knowledge/belief/conceivability explanation etc, and so for example, the first two sentences are distinguished because conceivability talks about the possibility of the mental activity granting meaning to that concept, whilst possibility in that case is nothing but possibility, it has no relation to whether it is conceivable or not.

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