14. A Survey of Early Buddhist Epistemology

  1. Steven M. Emmanuel
  1. John J. Holder

Published Online: 5 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781118324004.ch14

A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy

A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy

How to Cite

Holder, J. J. (2013) A Survey of Early Buddhist Epistemology, in A Companion to Buddhist Philosophy (ed S. M. Emmanuel), John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Chichester, UK. doi: 10.1002/9781118324004.ch14

Author Information

  1. St. Norbert College, Wisconsin, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 5 FEB 2013
  2. Published Print: 25 MAR 2013

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9780470658772

Online ISBN: 9781118324004



  • early Buddhist epistemology;
  • empiricism;
  • experience;
  • knowledge;
  • reality


This chapter attempts to cover in broad outline the Buddha's views on knowledge – his “epistemology” – as they are expressed in the Pāli Nikāyas. Buddha's views on knowledge are developed for the specific purpose of understanding and eliminating the causes of suffering. Noncognitive or affective dimensions of experience, such as feelings, dispositions, and habits, play an essential role in human experience, according to the Buddha's account in the Pāli discourses. But the fact that the Buddha held such a richer view of experience is not a good reason to reject calling early Buddhism a form of empiricism. The conception of highest knowledge does not require anything like omniscience, and this point indicates a clear contrast between early Buddhism and the Brahmanist quest for knowledge of an Absolute Reality.