I thought that such old terms wouldnt be known who "created" them, but terms of the same time like Natural Philosophy and Philosophy are said to be created by Aristotle, and believed to be created by some by Pythagoras, respectively.

How about the term Episteme, that's related to them (the first link claims Aristotle regarded Natural Philosophy as theoretical science, theoretical episteme I suppose) , is it known or theorized who created the term?

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    $\begingroup$ As often happens, it was a process involving many people with no one "creator", you can read the history on SEP. Aristotle was probably the turning point, especially considering his influence on scholastics, who translated episteme as scientia, which then underwent metamorphosis of its own into science of today:"It is in Aristotle that we find the basis for something like the modern opposition between epistêmê as pure theory and technê as practice. Yet even Aristotle refers to technê or craft as itself also epistêmê or knowledge..." $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Commented Feb 5, 2022 at 9:15

1 Answer 1


It is a common very ancient word, and not a technical term, as it is today (even in Modern Greek).

According to the Liddell, Scott, Jones Ancient Greek Lexicon, ἐπιστήμη is a word used many-many centuries before Aristotle, deriving from the verb ἐπίσταμαι, (a favorite of Homer!), associated with knowing for certain, capability, skill, expertise, assurance, etc.

From the formal definition:

A.acquaintance with a matter, understanding, skill, as in archery, S.Ph.1057; in war, Th.1.121, 6.72, 7.62; “ἐ. πρὸς τὸν πόλεμον” Lys.33.7 (fort. leg. περί)“ περὶ τὰ μαθήματα” Pl. Phlb.55d; “τοῦ νεῖν” Id.Grg.511c; ἐπιστήμῃ skilfully, οἱ μὴ ἐ. τοὺς ἐπαίνους “ποιούμενοι” Plot.5.5.13.

2.. professional skill: hence, profession, “οἱ τὴν ἰατρικὴν ἐ. μεταχειριζόμενοι” PFay.106.22 (ii A.D.); ζωγράφος τὴν ἐ. painter by profession, POxy.896.5 (iv A.D.).

II.. generally, knowledge, “ἐπιστήμῃ σύ μου προὔχοις ἄν” S.OT1115; πάντ᾽ ἐπιστήμης πλέως full of knowledge in all things, Id.Ant.721, cf. Tr. 338; ἐκ τῆς ἐ. E.Fr.522.3; ἐ. δοξαστική, opp. ἀλήθεια, Pl.Sph.233c: pl., kinds of knowledge, “μυρίαι ἀνδρῶν ἐπιστᾶμαι πέλονται” B.9.38, cf. Pl.Smp.208a.

2.. scientific knowledge, science, opp. δόξα, Pl.R.477b sq., Hp.Lex4, Pl.Plt.301b, Arist.AP0.88b30, EN1139b18: coupled with ἐμπειρία and τέχνη, Pl.R.422c, cf. Ion536c, Arist.Metaph.981a2: pl., the sciences, freq. in Pl.(R.522c,al.), etc.

So it was used by Homer, Thucydides, Sophocles, Plato, Hippocrates, etc, the first easily four centuries before Aristotle. Aristotle used it with a narrow philosophical slant; but the word went on being used all the way to Byzantium (Anna Comnene), with the broad meaning, not the narrow application for "science", as today.

(NB. The verb comes roughly from standing on, mastering, analogous to OE forstandan, German verstehen. I'm not expert enough to trace understand... under, not on? Go figure...)

  • $\begingroup$ Would not “under” in “understand” have the same meaning as “supporting” or “anchoring” in the same way the pillars support or anchor a structure? $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 6, 2022 at 14:51
  • $\begingroup$ @ZeroTheHero No, I since appreciated the "under" is more like "inter", amongst, as in the expression "under most circumstances" signifying "among" such... $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 6, 2022 at 15:49

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