Knowledge is a term with many meanings depending on context, but is as a rule closely related tosuch concepts as meaning , information , instruction , communication , representation , learning and mentalstimulus .
Knowledge is distinct from information. Both knowledge and information consist of true statements, but knowledge isinformation that has a purpose or use. Philosophers would describe this as information associated with intentionality . The studyof knowledge is called epistemology .
A common definition of knowledge is that it consists of justified true belief . This definition derives from Plato 's Theaetetus . It is considered to set out necessary, but not sufficient, conditions for some statement tocount as knowledge.
What constitutes knowledge, certainty and truth are controversial issues. These issuesare debated by philosophers , social scientists , and historians . Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote "On Certainty" - aphorisms on theseconcepts - exploring relationships between knowledge and certainty. A thread of his concern has become an entire field, the philosophy of action .
One way of deriving and verifying knowledge is from tradition or from generally recognized authority . Knowledge may also be claimed for the pronouncements of secular or religious authority such as the state or the church .
In Jewish , Christian and Islamic traditions, there has always been a considerable tension on the issue ofauthority versus experience in the formation of knowledge. Early Christian philosophy contrasted revelation from Godwith knowledge gained by reason. St. Augustine for instance put theknowledge of classical philosophers, especially Plato , into a Christian framework. Experimentalknowledge was discounted. Early Muslimphilosophy , especially the Mutazilite school, medieval Jewish philosophy , and later Christian work, especially that of Thomas Aquinas , focused on Aristotle 's views. These were vast controversies stretching over centuries. The (eventually dominant) Asharite school of Islamic scholars, for instance, strongly rejected most views ofAristotle, while the Roman Catholic tradition generally embraced them.Such efforts to provide an ethical or spiritual basis for the foundations of knowledge continue to this day in the sociology of knowledge , Islamization of knowledge , and the many and variedstrains of economics .
Knowledge may also be derived by reason from either traditional, authoritative, orexperiential sources or a combination of them. Inferential knowledge is based on reasoning from facts or from other inferential knowledge such as a theory.
Distinguishing knowing that from knowing how
Suppose that Fred says to you: "The fastest swimming stroke is the front crawl . One performs the front crawl by oscillating the legs at the hip, andmoving the arms in an approximately circular motion". Here, Fred has propositional knowledge of swimming and how to perform the front crawl.
However, if Fred acquired this propositional knowledge from an encyclopedia , he will not have acquired the skill of swimming: he hassome propositional knowledge, but does not have any know-how . In general, one candemonstrate know-how by performing the task in question, but it is harder to demonstrate propositional knowledge.
Inferential vs. factual knowledge
Knowledge may be factual or inferential. Factual knowledge is based on direct observation . It is still not free of uncertainty , as errors of observation or interpretation may occur, and any sense can be deceived by illusions .
Inferential knowledge is based on reasoning from facts or from other inferentialknowledge such as a theory . Such knowledge may or may not be verifiable by observation or testing .For example, all knowledge of the atom is inferential knowledge. The distinction betweenfactual knowledge and inferential knowledge has been explored by the discipline of general semantics .
Knowledge in philosophy and the problem of justification
For most of philosophical history, "knowledge" was taken to mean a belief that was justified as true to an absolute certainty.Any less justified beliefs were called mere "probable opinion." Philosophers often define knowledge as a justified, true belief;the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature, origin and scope of knowledge is called epistemology .
But how do we justify that our beliefs are true knowledge? Justification and evidence are both epistemic features of belief.They are, in other words, both qualities that indicate that the belief is true. We could try out other epistemic features in thedefinition of knowledge, if we wanted to. Instead of "justified true belief" or "true belief with evidence," we could say thatknowledge is "rational true belief" or "warranted true belief." For our purposes, the differences between these different optionsdon't matter. The whole point is that, to be knowledge, a belief has to have some positive epistemic feature; it can't bearbitrary or random or irrational. The Theory ofjustification deals with these issues in more detail.
A problem with defining knowledge is known as the " Gettierproblem ". The Gettier problem arises when we give certain kinds of counterexamples to the JTB (justified true belief)definition. A counterexample is a case where the definition applies, but the word defined doesn't; or a case where the worddefined applies, but the definition doesn't. Gettier counterexamples are examples where the definition, justified, true beliefapplies; but one nevertheless still doesn't have knowledge, so the word "knowledge" doesn't apply in that case.
Externalist responses to the Gettier problem
Gettier's article was published in 1963. Right after that, for a good decade or more, there was an enormous number of articlestrying to supply the missing fourth condition of knowledge. The big project was to try to figure out the "X" in the equation,Knowledge = belief + truth + justification + X. Whenever someone proposed an answer, someone else would come up with a newcounterexample to shoot down that definition.
Some of the proposed solutions involve factors external to the agent. These responses are therefore called externalism . For example, one externalist response to the Gettier problem is to saythat the justified, true belief must be caused (in the right sort of way) by the relevant facts.
When scientists or philosophers ask "Is knowledge possible?", they mean to say "Am I ever sufficiently justified in believingsomething in order to have knowledge?" Adherents of Philosophical skepticism often say "no". Philosopical skepticism is the position which criticallyexamines whether the knowledge and perceptions people have is true; adherents of this position hold that one can never obtaintrue knowledge, since justification is never certain. This is a different position from Scientific skepticism , which is the practical stance that one should not accept the veracity ofclaims until solid evidence is produced.
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