In greek philosophy, Plato especially, what is the difference between "gnosis" and "episteme" ?

Both apparently designate different types of knowledge, but I couldn't find any precise description of the differences between the two. Also, is there any other words related to "knowledge" ?

4 Answers 4


Presocratics do not usually use the word episteme, they prefer gnosis. In Plato, episteme is regularly about the forms. The hypotheses that episteme is the same as perception, true opinion, or true opinion with an account, are all refuted. Plato uses gnosis relatively rarely, although he does use it of knowledge of the beautiful. For Heraclitus, “People are deceived about the gnosis of the obvious things”. For Aristotle, episteme is about the causes, represented in syllogistic deductions. Aristotle says that episteme may be distinguished into practical, productive, and theoretical, and that theoretical episteme into mathematical, physical, and theological. In Aristotle, episteme is often translated as science. The Aristotelian term gnosis is used about particular facts, observable and unobservable. Episteme by contrast, sometimes refers to scientific knowledge or to a body of truths known. Mathematics or astronomy counts as episteme. Sometimes refers to crafts and disciplines that lack a demonstrative structure, but are also cases of episteme, a body of truths. Aristotle explicit comments are mostly about episteme, if we think of episteme as continuous with the philosophy of science. Aristotle says that all animals share some kind of gnosis because they all have the faculty of perception. In general, in old Greece Gnosis means more knowledge by perception, particular facts, episteme means more knowledge by systematic study or demonstration. In the New Testament, gnosis appears with the sense of spiritual knowledge. In later Greek writers, it is used especially of esoteric knowledge.

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    I find it tempting to think that episteme would relate to empirical and intellectually acquired knowledge, which is relative and uncertain, while gnosis would be oneness with the object of knowledge, or knowledge by identity, thus a source of certain knowledge. But I'm not sure there's a consistent use of these words.so the meanings may vary, and I'm no expert on the early Greeks. . .
    – user20253
    Commented Aug 19, 2017 at 11:45

The word, "gnosis", can have a variety of contexts and meanings, though it tends to be used in a more profound and deeper context. "Gnosis", is more akin to a word, such as awareness-(i.e. The Delphic inscription, Socrates).

The word, "Episteme", is actually, the Greek word for Science. The Modern Greek word for University is, "PanEpisteme", which translates as "All of the Sciences-(Though interestingly, Scientific Schools in Greece are called, Polytechnion). Episteme, is the basis for the word, "Epistemological", which means, "The Theory of Knowledge", though it really means, the theory of scientific, intellectual or philosophical knowledge and inquiry.

If, for example, we take the word, "Fact"...an Epistemologist or an Epistemologically minded person might ask, What is a Fact? or more importantly, How does a fact actually become a fact? How sure are we as to what is factual and what is nonfactual? What is affirmable and what is Apocryphal.

A Gnostic, however-(not to be confused with The Gnostics of the Early Middle Ages), is also interested in a fact, but for different reasons. A Gnostic is interested in a fact as a way of leading to greater self-awareness and self-acknowledgement, thereby reaching a higher or perhaps even a transcendental state of mind and being.

These two words-(like other Ancient Greek words), have a long and continuous history into the Modern Greek language.


It's simple, "gnosis" and "episteme" describe two different objects. The first one is the result of studying an episteme, a scientific field. For example, if you study Mathematics then the knowledge you get Greek people used to call it "Gnosis".


An apodeixis forms a statement of episteme.

Gnosis is the element of connection between the attribute and genus of an apodeixis. It is an adverbial statement of how, who, where, which of the minor term is predicated upon it such that major term in turn is predicatable on the middle term which is then gnosised. 1John 2:29 is a classic example.

If you oida that righteous (attribute/minor term) is God (major term/genus) then you also gnosis (the middle term) "the ones doing righteousness" have been born (doiti) of God (Major term).

Barbara C is A, C is B, B is A. therefore C is A All C is A, all C is B, all B is A therefor all C is A C righteous B righteousness doers A God

The middle term of an apodeixis and the doiti (have been born of) are the only things which can be gnosis. If you see the word gnosis then there is an implied apodeixis present.

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