Episteme (Ancient Greek: ἐπιστήμη, epistēmē, 'science' or 'knowledge'; French: épistémè) is a philosophical term that refers to a principled system of understanding; scientific knowledge. The term comes from the Ancient-Greek verb epístamai (ἐπῐ́στᾰμαι), meaning 'to know, to understand, to be acquainted with'. The term epistemology is derived from episteme.
French philosopher Michel Foucault, in his The Order of Things, uses the term épistémè in a specialized sense to mean the historical, non-temporal, a priori knowledge that grounds truth and discourses, thus representing the condition of their possibility within a particular epoch. In the book, Foucault describes épistémè:
In any given culture and at any given moment, there is always only one episteme that defines the conditions of possibility of all knowledge, whether expressed in a theory or silently invested in a practice.
In subsequent writings, he makes it clear that several épistémè may co-exist and interact at the same time, being parts of various power-knowledge systems. However, he does not discard the concept
I would define the episteme retrospectively as the strategic apparatus which permits of separating out from among all the statements which are possible those that will be acceptable within, I won’t say a scientific theory, but a field of scientificity, and which it is possible to say are true or false. The episteme is the ‘apparatus’ which makes possible the separation, not of the true from the false, but of what may from what may not be characterised as scientific.
Relation to Kuhn's paradigm
Whereas Kuhn's paradigm is an all-encompassing collection of beliefs and assumptions that result in the organization of scientific worldviews and practices, Foucault's episteme is not confined to science—it provides the grounding for a broad range of discourses (all of science itself would fall under the episteme of the epoch). One might say that a paradigm is subsumed within an episteme.
Kuhn's paradigm shifts are a consequence of a series of conscious decisions made by scientists to pursue a neglected set of questions. Foucault's episteme is something like the 'epistemological unconscious' of an era; the resultant configuration of knowledge of a particular episteme is, to Foucault, based on a set of primordial, fundamental assumptions that are so basic to the episteme that they're experientially "invisible" to the constituents (such as people, organizations, or systems) operating within the episteme.
Moreover, Kuhn's concept corresponds to what Foucault calls theme or theory of a science, though Foucault analyzed how opposing theories and themes could co-exist within a science. Kuhn does not search for the conditions of possibility of opposing discourses within a science, but simply for the invariant dominant paradigm governing scientific research (supposing that one paradigm always is pervading, except under paradigmatic transition).
Foucault attempts to demonstrate the constitutive limits of discourse, and in particular, the rules enabling their productivity; however, Foucault maintains that, though ideology may infiltrate and form science, it need not do so: it must be demonstrated how ideology actually forms the science in question; contradictions and lack of objectivity is not an indicator of ideology.
"Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint. And it induces regular effects of power. Each society has its regime of truth, its "general politics” of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true."
https://independent.academia.edu/GianoRocca=== Judith Butler === In 1997, Judith Butler used the concept of episteme in her book Excitable Speech, examining the use of speech-act theory for political purposes.
Episteme according to Giano Rocca
Some philosophers have credited the idea that the episteme consists in the definition of what is the origin, that is, the generating cause, of knowledge and science. In this way, the concept of episteme ended up being confused with the concept of epistemology: that is, precisely, the search for the origin of knowledge. The debate on the origin of knowledge has oscillated, over the centuries and millennia, between the concept of induction, which, originally, (especially in Plato) is made to derive from being (and, therefore, in the final analysis, according to the scholars and the theologians: from divinity) and that of deduction: that is, the deduction of the universal starting from the particular. The oscillations (and the synthesis) between these two conceptions of the origin of knowledge, which is transformed into research methodology, do not depend on the level reached by scientific knowledge, but, essentially, on the cultural perception of science and knowledge, in general, that changes with the evolution of history. In reality, the episteme must be understood as the set of conceptions, which a given society possesses, about the cosmic universe, the essence of time, human nature, the origin of these entities, and their purpose (or their end). Open societies are such if they manage to make different conceptions of these entities coexist (whether they are religious or political-ideological), while closed societies are characterized by the extremization of a certain conception, which is assumed to be the only one allowed, and every slightest deviation from it: it is punished with the utmost ferocity, and extirpated from the social body. There are, therefore, societies that possess different typologies of episteme, evidently not divergent to the point of conflict, with mutual intolerance. In these societies, each individual can choose the conceptions of himself, and of the world, which he deems most satisfactory (even if he elaborates them, and makes them his own, in a more or less superficial way). Since these conceptions define, more than anything else, what a given individual is, wants to be, or wants to appear, it is difficult to identify all the facets that that individual possesses, believes to possess, and appears to possess. But the episteme, which according to its original conception indicated "the most certain form of knowledge, which ensures a true and universal knowledge" cannot, however, indicate an absolute knowledge, or indubitable by definition or dogma established on the basis of the power or authority, of the person who formulated it, but must indicate a knowledge that has universal validity and, therefore, is based not only on rationality (understood as logic and as not self-contradiction) but on the empirical demonstration of its validity. Must indicate a knowledge of the cosmic essence, of the human essence and the essence of the human condition (in its potential endowment of "free will", in its actual condition of social determination, which configures an authentic "submissive will", and in the prospects of making effective, the aforementioned, "free will") which does not hide the concern of safeguarding the perpetuation of the organization of society based on structures, which has taken statehood as its foundation, and which knows how to prefigure a type of social organization that knows how to configure itself as a higher level of civilizing than allowed by state-based structures. The validity of this knowledge will be demonstrated by the ability to predict, with a certain precision, the trend of the evolution of historical structures in progress, its evolutionary direction, and the implications that this evolution entails, in terms of progress, or regression, on: the economic, social and political freedom; and on the level of development, or decline, scientific-cognitive. Moreover, it must know knows how to propose an alternative model of social organization: one that is feasible, capable of allowing the full expression of the need for the sociality of individuals (without repressing the expression of their need for individualization and, indeed, allowing its full manifestation) and, finally, know how to avoid any conflict between society or collectivity, and the individuals who choose to join it.</ref>"EPISTEME", (2020),https://independent.academia.edu/GianoRocca</ref>
- ἐπιστήμη, ἐπίστασθαι. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
- δόξα in Liddell and Scott.
- τέχνη in Liddell and Scott.
- Foucault, Michel.  1970. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. p. 183.
- Foucault, Michel (1980), Power/Knowledge, p. 197.
- Piaget, Jean (1970) , Structuralism, p. 132.
- Foucault 1969, ch. II.IV. sfn error: no target: CITEREFFoucault1969 (help)
- Foucault 1969, ch. IV.VI.c. sfn error: no target: CITEREFFoucault1969 (help)
- Foucault, Michel. 1980. "Truth and Power." Pp. 109–33 in Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews & Other Writings 1972-1977, edited by C. Gordon. Brighton: Havester.
- Rabinow, Paul, ed. 1991. The Foucault Reader: An introduction to Foucault’s thought. London: Penguin. ISBN 0140124861.