Knowledge Definition Essays

The Knowledge Problem

Studying knowledge is something philosophers have been doing for as long as philosophy has been around. It’s one of those perennial topics—like the nature of matter in the hard sciences--that philosophy has been refining since before the time of Plato. The discipline is known as epistemology which comes from two Greek words episteme (episthmh) which means knowledge and logos (logoV) which means a word or reason. Epistemology literally means to reason about knowledge. Epistemologists study what makes up knowledge, what kinds of things can we know, what are the limits to what we can know, and even if it’s possible to actually know anything at all.

At first this might seem like one of those topics that gives philosophy a bad name. After all, it seems kind of silly to ask whether we can know anything since is obvious we do. It's even more silly when you consider that to even ask the question, you must assume you know something! So why have some of the greatest minds the world has ever produced spent such a great deal of time on the subject? In this article I’ll consider this question.

Do We Know Stuff?

In order to answer that question, you probably have to have some idea what the term “know” means. If I asked, “Have you seen the flibbertijibbet at the fair today?” I’d guess  you wouldn’t know how to answer. You’d probably ask me what a flibbertijibbet is. But most adults tend not to ask what knowledge is before they can evaluate whether they have it or not. We just claim to know stuff and most of us, I suspect, are pretty comfortable with that. There are lots of reasons for this but the most likely is that we have picked up a definition over time and have a general sense of what the term means. Many of us would probably say knowledge that something is true involves:

  1. Certainty – it's hard if not impossible to deny
  2. Evidence – it has to based on something
  3. Practicality – it has to actually work in the real world
  4. Broad agreement – lots of people have to agree it's true

But if you think about it, each of these has problems. For example, what would you claim to know that you would also say you are certain of? Let’s suppose you’re not intoxicated, high, or in some other way in your “right” mind and conclude that you know there is a computer in front of you. You might go further and claim that denying it would be crazy. Isn’t it at least possible that you’re dreaming or that you’re in something like the Matrix and everything you see is an illusion? Before you say such a thing is absurd and only those who were unable to make the varsity football team would even consider such questions, can you be sure you’re not being tricked? After all, if you are in the Matrix, the robots that created the Matrix would making be making you believe you are not in the Matrix and that you’re certain you aren’t.

What about the “broad agreement” criterion? The problem with this one is that many things we might claim to know are not, and could not be, broadly agreed upon. Suppose you are experiencing a pain in your arm. The pain is very strong and intense. You might tell your doctor that you know you’re in pain. Unfortunately though, only you can claim to know that (and as an added problem, you don’t appear to have any evidence for it either—you just feel the pain). So at least on the surface, it seems you know things that don’t have broad agreement by others.

These problems and many others are what intrigue philosophers and are what make coming up with a definition of knowledge challenging. Since it’s hard to nail down a definition, it also makes it hard to answer the question that heads this section.

So, What is Knowledge?

Okay, a definition is tough to come by. But philosophers have been attempting to construct one for centuries. Over the years, a trend has developed in the philosophical literature and a definition has emerged that has such wide agreement it has come to be known as the “standard definition.” As with most things in philosophy, the definition is controversial and there are plenty who disagree with it. But as these things go, it serves as at least the starting point for studying knowledge.

The definition involves three conditions and philosophers say that when a person meets these three conditions, she can say she knows something to be true. Take a statement of fact: The Seattle Mariners have never won a world series.  On the standard definition, a person knows this fact if:

  1. The person believes the statement to be true
  2. The statement is in fact true
  3. The person is justified in believing the statement to be true

The bolded terms earmark the three conditions that must be met and because of those terms, the definition is also called the “tripartite” (three part) definition or “JTB” for short. Many many books have been written on each of the three terms so I can only briefly summarize here what is going on in each. (I will say up front though that epistemologists spend most of their time on the third condition.)


First, beliefs are things people have. Beliefs aren’t like rocks or rowboats where you come across them while strolling along the beach. They’re in your head and generally are viewed as just the way you hold the world (or some aspect of the world) to be. If you believe that the Mariners never won a world series, you just think that the Mariners really never won a world series. If you read that last sentence carefully, you’ll notice I wrote “you just think.” For many philosophers, this is important. It implies that what you think could be wrong. In other words, it implies that what you think about the world may not match up with the way the world really is and so there is a distinction between belief and the next item in our list, truth. There are some philosophers--notably postmodernists and existentialists--who think such a distinction can’t be made. See the section below on Postmodernism for an overview of this idea. Some philosophers argue that a good test for showing what you really believe is to look at how you behave. People will generally act, they argue, according to what they really believe rather than what they say they believe—despite what Dylan says.


Something is true if the world really is that way. Truth is not in your head but is “out there.” The statement, “The Mariners have never won a world series” is true if the Mariners have never won a world series. No, I didn’t just repeat myself. The first part of that sentence is in quotes on purpose. The phrase in quotes signifies a statement we might make about the world and the second, unquoted phrase is supposed to describe the way the world actually is. The reason philosophers write truth statements this way is to give sense to the idea that a statement about the world could be wrong or, more accurately, false (philosophers refer to the part in quotes as a statement or proposition). Perhaps you can now see why beliefs are different than truth statements. When you believe something, you hold that or accept that a statement or proposition is true. It could be false that’s why your belief may not “match up” with the way the world really is.


If the seed of knowledge is belief, what turns belief into knowledge? This is where justification comes in (some philosophers use the term “warrant” to refer to this element). A person knows something if they’re justified in believing it to be true (and, of course, it actually is true). There are dozens of competing theories of justification and there is little consensus about which is the right one. It’s sometimes easier to describe when a belief isn’t justified than when it is. In general, philosophers agree that a person isn’t justified if their belief is:

  1. a product of wishful thinking (e.g. I really wish you would love me so I believe you love me)
  2. a product of fear or guilt (e.g. you’re terrified of death and so form the belief in an afterlife)
  3. a product of guesswork
  4. formed in the wrong way (e.g. you travel to an area you know nothing about, see a white spot 500 yards away and conclude it’s a sheep)
  5. a product of dumb luck (e.g. you randomly form the belief that the next person you meet will have hazel eyes and it turns out that the next person you meet has hazel eyes)

Justification is hard to pin down because beliefs come in all shapes and sizes and it’s hard to find a single theory that can account for everything we would want to claim to know. You might be justified in believing that the sun is roughly 93 million miles from the earth much differently than you would be justified in believing God exists or that you have a minor back pain. Even so, justification is a critical element in any theory of knowledge and is the focus of many a philosophical thought.

[Incidentally: while JTB is generally considered a starting point for a definition, it by no means is the final word. Many philosophers reject the JTB formulation altogether and others think that, at the very least, JTB needs to be “fixed up” somehow. Regarding this latter category, a small paper written by a philosopher named Edmund Gettier really kicked off a brouhaha that made philosophers doubt that JTB was sufficient for knowledge. Gettier’s paper was roughly two and a half pages long (almost unheard of in philosophy) but has become so important that the issues he raised are known as The Gettier Problem. I’m writing a series for Philosophy News in which I attempt to tackle some of Gettier’s challenges. You can read those articles here (these are not for the general reader but if you skim the first couple of articles, they may help frame some broader issues in epistemology).]

People at the Center

You might notice that the description above puts the focus of knowing on the individual. Philosophers talk of individual persons being justified and not the ideas or concepts themselves being justified. This means that what may count as knowledge for you may not count as knowledge for me. Suppose you study economics and you learn principles in the field to some depth. Based on what you learn, you come to believe that psychological attitudes have just as much of a role to play in economic flourishing or deprivation as the political environment that creates economic policy. Suppose also that I have not studied economics all that much but I do know that I’d like more money in my pocket. You and I may have very different beliefs about economics and our beliefs might be justified in very different ways. What you know may not be something I know even though we have the same evidence and arguments in front of us.

So the subjective nature of knowledge partly is based on the idea that beliefs are things that individuals have and those beliefs are justified or not justified. When you think about it, that makes sense. You may have more evidence or different experiences than I have and so you may believe things I don’t or may have evidence for something that I don’t have. The bottom line is that “universal knowledge” – something everybody knows—may be very hard to come by. Truth, if it exists, isn’t like this. Truth is universal. It’s our access to it that may differ widely.

Rene Descartes and the Search for Universal Knowledge

A lot of people are uncomfortable with the idea that there isn’t universal knowledge. Philosopher Rene Descartes (pronounced day-cart) was one of them. When he was a young man, he was taught a bunch of stuff by his parents, teachers, priests and other authorities. As he came of age, he, like many of us, started to discover that much of what he was taught either was false or was highly questionable. At the very least, he found he couldn’t have the certainty that many of his educators had. While many of us get that, deal with it, and move on, Descartes was deeply troubled by this.

One day, he decided to tackle the problem. He hid himself away in a cabin and decided to get to the bottom of it. He resolved to doubt everything of which he could not be certain. Since it wasn’t practical to doubt every belief he had, Descartes decided that it would be sufficient to subject the foundations of his belief system to doubt and the rest of the structure will "crumble of its own accord." He first considers the things he came to believe by way of the five senses. For most of us these are pretty stable items but Descartes found that it was rather easy to doubt their truth. The biggest problem is that sometimes the senses can be deceptive. And after all, could he be certain he wasn’t insane or dreaming when he saw that book or tasted that honey? So while they might be fairly reliable, the senses don’t provide us with certainty—which is what Descartes was after.

Next he looked at mathematics. If certainly is to be found, it must be here. He reasoned that the outcome of mathematical formulas and theorems hold both in dreams and in waking so at the very least, it fares better than the senses. But he developed an argument from which he could not spare math. Suppose there is an evil genius, he thought, that is “supremely powerful and clever” and was bent upon deceiving Descartes and developed mathematics as a device to carry out his evil deceptions (the popular movie, The Matrix should be coming to mind about now). Descartes found there was no way to rule this possibility out. Whether it’s highly unlikely or not isn’t the point. Descartes was looking for certainty and if there is even a slim possibility that he’s being deceived, he had to throw out mathematics too.

Unfortunately, this left Descartes with no where to turn. He found that he could be skeptical about everything and was unable to find a certain foundation for knowledge. But then he hit upon something that changed modern epistemology. He discovered that there was one thing he couldn’t doubt: the fact that he was a thinking thing. In order to doubt it, he would have to think (he reasoned that it’s not possible to doubt something without thinking about the fact that you’re doubting). If he was thinking then he must be a thinking thing and so he found that it was impossible to doubt that he was a thinking being.

This seemingly small but significant truth led to his most famous contribution to Western thought: cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am). Some mistakenly think that Descartes was implying with this idea that he thinks himself into existence. But that wasn’t his point at all. He was making a claim about knowledge. Really what Descartes was saying is: I think, therefore I knowthat I am.

The story doesn’t end here for Descartes but for the rest of it, I refer you to the reading list below to dig deeper. The story of Descartes is meant to illustrate the depth of the problems of epistemology and how difficult and rare certainty is, if certainty is possible—there are plenty of philosophers who think either that Descartes’ project failed or that he created a whole new set of problems that are even more intractable than the one he set out to solve.

Postmodernism and Knowledge

The term "postmodern" has been applied to many things including art, music, and clothing. In this overview, I'm talking only about postmodern epistemology. Postmodern epistemology is difficult to pin down because, almost by definition, it is resistant to being defined. Generally, though, it means taking a specific, skeptical attitude towards certainty, and a relative view of belief and knowledge. Postmodernists see truth as much more fluid than classical (or modernist) epistemologists. Using the terms we learned above, they reject the idea that we can ever be fully justified in holding that our beliefs line up with the way the world actually is. We can't know that we know.

In order to have certainty, postmodernists claim, we would need to be able to "stand outside" our own beliefs and look at our beliefs and the world without any mental lenses or perspective. It's similar to wondering what it would be like to watch ourselves meeting someone for the first time? We can't do it. We can only meet someone for the first time as us so we have that experience only from "inside" our minds and bodies. Since its not possible to stand outside our minds, all the parts that make up our minds influence our view on what is true. Our intellectual and social background, our biases, our moods, our genetics, other beliefs we have, our likes and dislikes, our passions (we can put all these under the label of our "cognitive structure") all influence how we perceive what is true about the world. Further, say the postmodernists, it's not possible to set aside these influences or lenses. We can reduce the intensity here and there and come to recognize biases and adjust for them for sure. But it's not possible to completely shed all our lenses which color our view of things and so it's not possible to be certain that we're getting at some truth "out there."

And now we can see why postmodernists tend to eschew definition. Notice that as soon as a postmodernist makes a claim about the truth and knowledge they seem to be making a truth statement! If all beliefs are seen through a lens, how do we know the postmodernists beliefs are "correct?" That's a good question and the postmodernist might respond by saying, "We don't!" But then, why believe it? Because of this obvious problem, many postmodernists attempt to simply live with postmodernist "attitudes" towards epistemology and avoid making too many truth claims.

To be sure, Postmodernists do tend to act like the rest of us when it comes to interacting with the world. They drive cars, fly in airplanes, make computer programs, and even write books! But how is this possible if they take such a fluid view of truth? Postmodernists don't eschew truth in general. They reject the idea that any one person's beliefs about it can be certain. Rather, they claim that truth emerges through community agreement. Suppose scientists are attempting to determine whether the planet is warming and that humans are the cause. This is a complex question and a postmodernist might say that if the majority of scientists agree that the earth is warming and that humans are the cause, then that's true. Notice that the criteria for "truth" is that scientists agree. To use the taxonomy above, this would be the "justification condition." So we might say that postmodernists accept the first and third conditions of the tripartite view but reject the second condition: the idea that there is a truth that is "out there." Rather, truth is a product of people in a given community meeting the third condition and it is not something separate from that.

When you think about it, a lot of what we would call "facts" are determined in just this way. For many years, scientists believed in a substance called "phlogiston." Phlogiston was stuff that existed in certain substances (like wood and metal) and when those substances were burned, more phlogiston was added to the substance. Phlogiston was believed to have negative weight, that's why things got lighter when they burned. That theory has since been rejected and replace by more sophisticated views involving oxygen and oxidation.

So, was the phlogiston theory true? The modernist would claim it wasn't because it has since been shown to be false. It's false now and was false then even though scientists believed it was true. Beliefs about phlogiston didn't line up with the way the world really is, so it was false. But the postmodernist might say that phlogiston theory was true for the scientists that believed it. We now have other theories that are true. But phlogiston theory was no less true then than oxygen theory is now. Further, they might add, how do we know that oxygen theory is really the truth? Oxygen theory might be supplanted some day as well but that doesn't make it any less true today.

So postmodernism generally adheres to the following:

  1. Everyone comes to belief with a cognitive structure that cannot be set aside.
  2. Our cognitive structure serves as a lens through which we view the world. Because of this, knowledge is said to be perspectival or a product of our perspective.
  3. Since the evaluation of our beliefs is based on our cognitive lens, it's not possible to be certain about any belief we have. This should make us tentative about truth claims and more open to the idea that all of our beliefs could be wrong.
  4. Truth emerges in the context (or relative to) community agreement.

So What, Who Cares?

Well most of us aren’t like Descartes. We actually have lives and don’t want to spend time trying to figure out if we’re the cruel joke of some clandestine mad scientist. We can get by just fine, thank you, without having to think about all this stuff. But we actually do actually care about this topic whether we “know” it or not. A bit of reflection exposes just how important having a solid view of knowledge actually is and spending some focused time thinking more deeply about knowledge can actually help us get better at knowing.

Really, knowledge is a the root of many (dare I say most) challenges we face in a given day. Once you get past basic survival (though even things as basic as finding enough food and shelter involves challenges related to knowledge), we’re confronted with knowledge issues on almost every front. Knowledge questions range from larger, more weighty questions like figuring out who our real friends are, what to do with our career, or how to spend our time, what politician to vote for, how to spend or invest our money, should we be religious or not, to more mundane ones like which gear to buy for our hobby, how to solve a dispute between the kids, where to go for dinner, or which book to read in your free time. We make knowledge decisions all day, every day and some of those decisions deeply impact our lives and the lives of those around us.

So all these decisions we make about factors that effect the way we and others live are grounded in our view of knowledge—our epistemology. Unfortunately few spend enough time thinking about the root of their decisions and many make knowledge choices based on how they were raised (my mom always voted Republican so I will), what’s easiest (if I don’t believe in God, I’ll be shunned by my friends and family), or just good, old fashioned laziness. But of all the things to spend time on, it seems thinking about how we come to know things should be at the top of the list given the central role it plays in just about everything we do.

In Sum

I’ve only been able to scratch the surface on this massive but immensely interesting discipline. Much of what I’ve written in this article just sets up the classical investigation into what knowledge is. I recommend that you pick up one or more of the books in the list below to dig deeper. Who knows, maybe you’ll come to know that what you thought you knew you didn’t really know and, perhaps, come to know some new things.

Updated March, 2014:

  • Removed reference to dated events
  • Removed section on thought experiment
  • Added section on Postmodernism
  • Made minor formatting changes

For Further Reading

Epistemology: Classic Problems and Contemporary Responses (Elements of Philosophy)
Laurence BonJour 
One of the better introductions to the theory of knowledge. Written at the college level, this book should be accessible for most readers but have a good philosophical dictionary on hand.

Belief, Justification, and Knowledge: An Introduction to Epistemology (Wadsworth Basic Issues in Philosophy Series)
Robert Audi
This book has been used as a text book in college courses on epistemology so may be a bit out of range for the general reader. However, it gives a good overview of many of the issues in the theory of knowledge and is a fine primer for anyone interested in the subject.

The Theory of Knowledge: Classic and Contemporary Readings
Louis Pojman 
Still one of the best books for primary source material. The edited articles have helpful introductions and Pojman covers a range of sources so the reader will get a good overview from many sides of the question. Written mainly as a textbook.

The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature
Steven Pinker
While not strictly a book about knowledge per se, Pinker’s book is fun, accessible, and a good resource for getting an overview of some contemporary work being done mainly in the hard sciences.

The Selections From the Principles of Philosophy
René Descartes
A good place to start to hear from Descartes himself.

Descartes' Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict between Faith and Reason
Russell Shorto
I’ve recommended Shorto’s book in other articles. This book is written as a history so it's not strictly a philosophy tome. However, it gives the general reader some insight into what Descartes and his contemporaries were dealing with and is a fun read.

On Bullshit
Harry Frankfurt
One get’s the sense that Frankfurt was being a bit tongue-in-cheek with the small, engaging tract. It’s more of a commentary on the social aspect of epistemology and worth reading for that reason alone. Makes a great gift!

On Truth
Harry Frankfurt 
Like On Bullshit but on truth.

A Rulebook for Arguments
Anthony Weston
A handy reference for constructing logical arguments. This is a fine little book to have on your shelf regardless of what you do for a living.

The Proof of the External World: Cartesian Theism and the Possibility of Knowledge
Steven M Duncan
Not for the general reader but a solid book on how Descartes epistemology could be applied. Even if you don’t find Duncan’s arguments compelling, his thought will challenge you and isolate some key problems in epistemology.

Warrant: The Current Debate
Alvin Plantinga
Now close to 20 years old, the “current” in the title is a bit inaccurate. Still, many of the issues Plantinga deals with are with us today and his narrative is sure to enlighten and prime the pump for further study.

For other uses, see Knowledge (disambiguation).

Knowledge is a familiarity, awareness, or understanding of someone or something, such as facts, information, descriptions, or skills, which is acquired through experience or education by perceiving, discovering, or learning.

Knowledge can refer to a theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. It can be implicit (as with practical skill or expertise) or explicit (as with the theoretical understanding of a subject); it can be more or less formal or systematic.[1] In philosophy, the study of knowledge is called epistemology; the philosopher Plato famously defined knowledge as "justified true belief", though this definition is now thought by some analytic philosophers[citation needed] to be problematic because of the Gettier problems while others defend the platonic definition.[2] However, several definitions of knowledge and theories to explain it exist.

Knowledge acquisition involves complex cognitive processes: perception, communication, and reasoning;[3] while knowledge is also said to be related to the capacity of acknowledgement in human beings.[4]

Theories of knowledge

Main article: Epistemology

The eventual demarcation of philosophy from science was made possible by the notion that philosophy's core was "theory of knowledge," a theory distinct from the sciences because it was their foundation... Without this idea of a "theory of knowledge," it is hard to imagine what "philosophy" could have been in the age of modern science.

— Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature

The definition of knowledge is a matter of ongoing debate among philosophers in the field of epistemology. The classical definition, described but not ultimately endorsed by Plato,[5] specifies that a statement must meet three criteria in order to be considered knowledge: it must be justified, true, and believed. Some claim that these conditions are not sufficient, as Gettier case examples allegedly demonstrate. There are a number of alternatives proposed, including Robert Nozick's arguments for a requirement that knowledge 'tracks the truth' and Simon Blackburn's additional requirement that we do not want to say that those who meet any of these conditions 'through a defect, flaw, or failure' have knowledge. Richard Kirkham suggests that our definition of knowledge requires that the evidence for the belief necessitates its truth.[6]

In contrast to this approach, Ludwig Wittgenstein observed, following Moore's paradox, that one can say "He believes it, but it isn't so," but not "He knows it, but it isn't so."[7] He goes on to argue that these do not correspond to distinct mental states, but rather to distinct ways of talking about conviction. What is different here is not the mental state of the speaker, but the activity in which they are engaged. For example, on this account, to know that the kettle is boiling is not to be in a particular state of mind, but to perform a particular task with the statement that the kettle is boiling. Wittgenstein sought to bypass the difficulty of definition by looking to the way "knowledge" is used in natural languages. He saw knowledge as a case of a family resemblance. Following this idea, "knowledge" has been reconstructed as a cluster concept that points out relevant features but that is not adequately captured by any definition.[8]

Communicating knowledge

Symbolic representations can be used to indicate meaning and can be thought of as a dynamic process. Hence the transfer of the symbolic representation can be viewed as one ascription process whereby knowledge can be transferred. Other forms of communication include observation and imitation, verbal exchange, and audio and video recordings. Philosophers of language and semioticians construct and analyze theories of knowledge transfer or communication.

While many would agree that one of the most universal and significant tools for the transfer of knowledge is writing and reading (of many kinds), argument over the usefulness of the written word exists nonetheless, with some scholars skeptical of its impact on societies. In his collection of essays Technopoly, Neil Postman demonstrates the argument against the use of writing through an excerpt from Plato's work Phaedrus (Postman, Neil (1992) Technopoly, Vintage, New York, pp 73). In this excerpt, the scholar Socrates recounts the story of Thamus, the Egyptian king and Theuth the inventor of the written word. In this story, Theuth presents his new invention "writing" to King Thamus, telling Thamus that his new invention "will improve both the wisdom and memory of the Egyptians" (Postman, Neil (1992) Technopoly, Vintage, New York, p. 74). King Thamus is skeptical of this new invention and rejects it as a tool of recollection rather than retained knowledge. He argues that the written word will infect the Egyptian people with fake knowledge as they will be able to attain facts and stories from an external source and will no longer be forced to mentally retain large quantities of knowledge themselves (Postman, Neil (1992) Technopoly, Vintage, New York, p. 74).

Classical early modern theories of knowledge, especially those advancing the influential empiricism of the philosopher John Locke, were based implicitly or explicitly on a model of the mind which likened ideas to words.[9] This analogy between language and thought laid the foundation for a graphic conception of knowledge in which the mind was treated as a table, a container of content, that had to be stocked with facts reduced to letters, numbers or symbols. This created a situation in which the spatial alignment of words on the page carried great cognitive weight, so much so that educators paid very close attention to the visual structure of information on the page and in notebooks.[10]

Media theorists like Andrew Robinson emphasise that the visual depiction of knowledge in the modern world was often seen as being 'truer' than oral knowledge. This plays into a longstanding analytic notion in the Western intellectual tradition in which verbal communication is generally thought to lend itself to the spread of falsehoods as much as written communication. It is harder to preserve records of what was said or who originally said it – usually neither the source nor the content can be verified. Gossip and rumors are examples prevalent in both media. As to the value of writing, the extent of human knowledge is now so great, and the people interested in a piece of knowledge so separated in time and space, that writing is considered central to capturing and sharing it.

Major libraries today can have millions of books of knowledge (in addition to works of fiction). It is only recently that audio and video technology for recording knowledge have become available and the use of these still requires replay equipment and electricity. Verbal teaching and handing down of knowledge is limited to those who would have contact with the transmitter or someone who could interpret written work. Writing is still the most available and most universal of all forms of recording and transmitting knowledge. It stands unchallenged as mankind's primary technology of knowledge transfer down through the ages and to all cultures and languages of the world.[citation needed][disputed– discuss]

Situated knowledge

Situated knowledge is knowledge specific to a particular situation. It is a term coined by Donna Haraway as an extension of the feminist approaches of "successor science" suggested by Sandra Harding, one which "offers a more adequate, richer, better account of a world, in order to live in it well and in critical, reflexive relation to our own as well as others' practices of domination and the unequal parts of privilege and oppression that makes up all positions."[11] This situation partially transforms science into a narrative, which Arturo Escobar explains as, "neither fictions nor supposed facts." This narrative of situation is historical textures woven of fact and fiction, and as Escobar explains further, "even the most neutral scientific domains are narratives in this sense," insisting that rather than a purpose dismissing science as a trivial matter of contingency, "it is to treat (this narrative) in the most serious way, without succumbing to its mystification as 'the truth' or to the ironic skepticism common to many critiques."[12]

Haraway's argument stems from the limitations of the human perception, as well as the overemphasis of the sense of vision in science. According to Haraway, vision in science has been, "used to signify a leap out of the marked body and into a conquering gaze from nowhere." This is the "gaze that mythically inscribes all the marked bodies, that makes the unmarked category claim the power to see and not be seen, to represent while escaping representation."[11] This causes a limitation of views in the position of science itself as a potential player in the creation of knowledge, resulting in a position of "modest witness". This is what Haraway terms a "god trick", or the aforementioned representation while escaping representation.[13] In order to avoid this, "Haraway perpetuates a tradition of thought which emphasizes the importance of the subject in terms of both ethical and political accountability".[14]

Some methods of generating knowledge, such as trial and error, or learning from experience, tend to create highly situational knowledge. One of the main attributes of the scientific method is that the theories it generates are much less situational than knowledge gained by other methods.[citation needed] Situational knowledge is often embedded in language, culture, or traditions. This integration of situational knowledge is an allusion to the community, and its attempts at collecting subjective perspectives into an embodiment "of views from somewhere." [11]

Knowledge generated through experience is called knowledge "a posteriori", meaning afterwards. The pure existence of a term like "a posteriori" means this also has a counterpart. In this case, that is knowledge "a priori", meaning before. The knowledge prior to any experience means that there are certain "assumptions" that one takes for granted. For example, if you are being told about a chair, it is clear to you that the chair is in space, that it is 3D. This knowledge is not knowledge that one can "forget", even someone suffering from amnesia experiences the world in 3D.[citation needed]

Even though Haraway's arguments are largely based on feminist studies,[11] this idea of different worlds, as well as the skeptic stance of situated knowledge is present in the main arguments of post-structuralism. Fundamentally, both argue the contingency of knowledge on the presence of history; power, and geography, as well as the rejection of universal rules or laws or elementary structures; and the idea of power as an inherited trait of objectification.[15]

Partial knowledge

One discipline of epistemology focuses on partial knowledge. In most cases, it is not possible to understand an information domain exhaustively; our knowledge is always incomplete or partial. Most real problems have to be solved by taking advantage of a partial understanding of the problem context and problem data, unlike the typical math problems one might solve at school, where all data is given and one is given a complete understanding of formulas necessary to solve them.[citation needed]

This idea is also present in the concept of bounded rationality which assumes that in real life situations people often have a limited amount of information and make decisions accordingly.

Intuition is the ability to acquire partial knowledge without inference or the use of reason.[16] An individual may "know" about a situation and be unable to explain the process that led to their knowledge.

Scientific knowledge

The development of the scientific method has made a significant contribution to how knowledge of the physical world and its phenomena is acquired.[17] To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering observable and measurableevidence subject to specific principles of reasoning and experimentation.[18] The scientific method consists of the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.[19] Science, and the nature of scientific knowledge have also become the subject of Philosophy. As science itself has developed, scientific knowledge now includes a broader usage[20] in the soft sciences such as biology and the social sciences – discussed elsewhere as meta-epistemology, or genetic epistemology, and to some extent related to "theory of cognitive development". Note that "epistemology" is the study of knowledge and how it is acquired. Science is "the process used everyday to logically complete thoughts through inference of facts determined by calculated experiments." Sir Francis Bacon was critical in the historical development of the scientific method; his works established and popularized an inductive methodology for scientific inquiry. His famous aphorism, "knowledge is power", is found in the Meditations Sacrae (1597).[21]

Until recent times, at least in the Western tradition, it was simply taken for granted that knowledge was something possessed only by humans – and probably adult humans at that. Sometimes the notion might stretch to (ii) Society-as-such, as in (e.g.) "the knowledge possessed by the Coptic culture" (as opposed to its individual members), but that was not assured either. Nor was it usual to consider unconscious knowledge in any systematic way until this approach was popularized by Freud.[22]

Other biological domains where "knowledge" might be said to reside, include: (iii) the immune system, and (iv) in the DNA of the genetic code. See the list of four "epistemological domains":   Popper, (1975);[23] and Traill (2008:[24] Table S, p. 31) – also references by both to Niels Jerne.

Such considerations seem to call for a separate definition of "knowledge" to cover the biological systems. For biologists, knowledge must be usefully available to the system, though that system need not be conscious. Thus the criteria seem to be:

  • The system should apparently be dynamic and self-organizing (unlike a mere book on its own).
  • The knowledge must constitute some sort of representation of "the outside world",[25] or ways of dealing with it (directly or indirectly).
  • Some way must exist for the system to access this information quickly enough for it to be useful.

Scientific knowledge may not involve a claim to certainty, maintaining skepticism means that a scientist will never be absolutely certain when they are correct and when they are not. It is thus an irony of proper scientific method that one must doubt even when correct, in the hopes that this practice will lead to greater convergence on the truth in general.[26]

Religious meaning of knowledge

In many expressions of Christianity, such as Catholicism and Anglicanism, knowledge is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.[27]

The Old Testament's tree of the knowledge of good and evil contained the knowledge that separated Man from God: "And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil..." (Genesis 3:22)

In Gnosticism, divine knowledge or gnosis is hoped to be attained.

विद्या दान (Vidya Daan) i.e. knowledge sharing is a major part of Daan, a tenet of all Dharmic Religions.[28]Hindu Scriptures present two kinds of knowledge, Paroksh Gyan and Prataksh Gyan. Paroksh Gyan (also spelled Paroksha-Jnana) is secondhand knowledge: knowledge obtained from books, hearsay, etc. Prataksh Gyan (also spelled Prataksha-Jnana) is the knowledge borne of direct experience, i.e., knowledge that one discovers for oneself.[29]Jnana yoga ("path of knowledge") is one of three main types of yoga expounded by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. (It is compared and contrasted with Bhakti Yoga and Karma yoga.)

In Islam, knowledge (Arabic: علم, ʿilm) is given great significance. "The Knowing" (al-ʿAlīm) is one of the 99 names reflecting distinct attributes of God. The Qur'an asserts that knowledge comes from God (2:239) and various hadith encourage the acquisition of knowledge. Muhammad is reported to have said "Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave" and "Verily the men of knowledge are the inheritors of the prophets". Islamic scholars, theologians and jurists are often given the title alim, meaning "knowledgeble".[citation needed]

In Jewish tradition, knowledge (Hebrew: דעת da'ath) is considered one of the most valuable traits a person can acquire. Observant Jews recite three times a day in the Amidah "Favor us with knowledge, understanding and discretion that come from you. Exalted are you, Existent-One, the gracious giver of knowledge." The Tanakh states, "A wise man gains power, and a man of knowledge maintains power", and "knowledge is chosen above gold".

As a measure of religiosity in sociology of religion

According to the sociologist Mervin F. Verbit, knowledge may be understood as one of the key components of religiosity. Religious knowledge itself may be broken down into four dimensions:

  • content
  • frequency
  • intensity
  • centrality

The content of one's religious knowledge may vary from person to person, as will the degree to which it may occupy the person's mind (frequency), the intensity of the knowledge, and the centrality of the information (in that religious tradition, or to that individual).[30][31][32]

See also


External links

  1. ^"knowledge: definition of knowledge in Oxford dictionary (American English) (US)". Archived from the original on 2010-07-14. 
  2. ^Paul Boghossian (2007), Fear of Knowledge: Against relativism and constructivism, Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press , Chapter 7, pp. 95–101.
  3. ^Dekel, Gil. "Methodology". Retrieved 3 July 2006. 
  4. ^Stanley Cavell, "Knowing and Acknowledging", Must We Mean What We Say? (Cambridge University Press, 2002), 238–266.
  5. ^In Plato's Theaetetus, Socrates and Theaetetus discuss three definitions of knowledge: knowledge as nothing but perception, knowledge as true judgment, and, finally, knowledge as a true judgment with an account. Each of these definitions is shown to be unsatisfactory.
  6. ^Kirkham, Richard L. (October 1984). "Does the Gettier Problem Rest on a Mistake?". Mind, New Series. Oxford University Press on behalf of the Mind Association. 93 (372): 501–513. JSTOR 2254258. jstor(subscription required)[dead link]
  7. ^Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty, remark 42
  8. ^Gottschalk-Mazouz, N. (2008): "Internet and the flow of knowledge," in: Hrachovec, H.; Pichler, A. (Hg.): Philosophy of the Information Society. Proceedings of the 30. International Ludwig Wittgenstein Symposium Kirchberg am Wechsel, Austria 2007. Volume 2, Frankfurt, Paris, Lancaster, New Brunswik: Ontos, S. 215–232. "Archived copy"(PDF). Archived from the original(PDF) on 2015-05-24. Retrieved 2015-05-24. 
  9. ^Hacking, Ian (1975). Why Does Language Matter to Philosophy?. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521099981. 
  10. ^Eddy, Matthew Daniel (2013). "The Shape of Knowledge: Children and the Visual Culture of Literacy and Numeracy". Science in Context. 26 (2): 215–245. doi:10.1017/s0269889713000045. 
  11. ^ abcd"Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective". Haraway, Donna. Feminist Studies Vol. 14, No. 3. pp. 575–599. 1988.
  12. ^"Introduction: Development and the Anthropology of Modernity". Escobar, Arturo. Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World.
  13. ^Chapter 1. Haraway, Donna. Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium. FemaleMan© Meets_OncoMouse2. Feminism and Technoscience. 1997.
  14. ^"Posthuman, All Too Human: Towards a New Process Ontology". Braidotti, Rosi. Theory Culture Vol. 23. pp. 197–208. 2006.
  15. ^"The Subject and Power". Foucault, Michel. Critical Inquiry Volume 9, No. 4. pp. 777–795. 1982
  16. ^Oxford English Dictionary
  17. ^"Science – Definition of science by Merriam-Webster". 
  18. ^"[4] Rules for the study of natural philosophy", Newton 1999, pp. 794–796, from the General Scholium, which follows Book 3, The System of the World.
  19. ^scientific method, Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
  20. ^Wilson, Timothy D. (12 July 2012). "Stop bullying the 'soft' sciences" – via LA Times. 
  21. ^"Sir Francis Bacon –". Retrieved 2009-07-08. 
  22. ^There is quite a good case for this exclusive specialization used by philosophers, in that it allows for in-depth study of logic-procedures and other abstractions which are not found elsewhere. However this may lead to problems whenever the topic spills over into those excluded domains – e.g. when Kant (following Newton) dismissed Space and Time as axiomatically "transcendental" and "a priori" – a claim later disproved by Piaget's clinical studies. It also seems likely that the vexed problem of "infinite regress" can be largely (but not completely) solved by proper attention to how unconscious concepts are actually developed, both during infantile learning and as inherited "pseudo-transcendentals" inherited from the trial-and-error of previous generations. See also "Tacit knowledge".
    • Piaget, J., and B.Inhelder (1927/1969). The child's conception of time. Routledge & Kegan Paul: London.
    • Piaget, J., and B. Inhelder (1948/1956). The child's conception of space. Routledge & Kegan Paul: London.
  23. ^Popper, K.R. (1975). "The rationality of scientific revolutions"; in Rom Harré (ed.), Problems of Scientific Revolution: Scientific Progress and Obstacles to Progress in the Sciences. Clarendon Press: Oxford.
  24. ^
  25. ^This "outside world" could include other subsystems within the same organism – e.g. different "mental levels" corresponding to different Piagetian stages. See Theory of cognitive development.
  26. ^"philosophy bites". 
  27. ^"Part Three, No. 1831". Catechism of the Catholic Church. Archived from the original on 2007-05-04. Retrieved 2007-04-20. 
  28. ^"विद्या दान ही सबसे बडा दान : विहिप – Vishva Hindu Parishad – Official Website". Archived from the original on 2011-08-20. 
  29. ^Swami Krishnananda. "Chapter 7". The Philosophy of the Panchadasi. The Divine Life Society. Retrieved 2008-07-05. 
  30. ^Verbit, M. F. (1970). The components and dimensions of religious behavior: Toward a reconceptualization of religiosity. American mosaic, 24, 39.
  31. ^Küçükcan, T. (2010). Multidimensional Approach to Religion: a way of looking at religious phenomena. Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies, 4(10), 60–70.
  32. ^

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