What is knowledge? How do we really know?

What is Knowledge? The readings for this week give us a precise, however, complicated explanation. In What is This Thing Called Knowledge, chapter 1, knowledge is defined as a true belief. In order for one to truly have knowledge, one must believe a proposition, and that proposition must actually be true. For example, if one believes the sky is purple, when it is clearly not, that person does not have knowledge. In the book What is This Thing Called Knowledge, Pritchard makes it clear to distinguish propositional knowledge (e.g. knowing that 2+2 is 4 and Obama is the president) versus ability knowledge, which is the “know-how” (e.g. knowing how to ride a bike or swim). However, the more interesting question comes up later in the chapter and even in the Plato article. Does someone have knowledge if they only have a true opinion by accident or by luck? If someone guesses that 15+15=30, and they so happen to be right, would their true opinion be actual knowledge? I suppose that the first opinion is most definitely not knowledge, but I do believe that in certain circumstances, such as the one listed above, the person will now gain knowledge from their true opinion by gaining evidence for it. Similar to the Plato article, where it states that true opinions are good if they are kept, but until they are tied down with actual evidence and reason, they cannot be knowledge (Plato 344). I agree with this statement whole heartedly that if someone gains evidence then they will have knowledge, but how can we tell if that person is gaining evidence and reason on why their belief is true? In simple examples like the 15+15=30, would the person need more evidence or practice before Socrates and Meno conclude that person knows the answer? In the chapter we read, Pritchard thinks that because the person has just guessed or just “merely got it right.” they will only get the question right some of the time, not all of the time like someone with actual knowledge would have. Basically anyone can believe something is true and there be a match with what is the case and our belief, or just getting it right, but there is more to knowledge than that (Pritchard 5). He states, “…To say that someone has knowledge is to credit that person with a certain kind of success [i.e actually believing a true proposition]” (Pritchard 5). He gives multiple examples of someone betting on a lucky horse just because of the name, and that horse surprisingly winning at the end and an archer versus someone who is not. In the horse example, I would agree that the latter may not have actual knowledge in betting or on the stats of the horses to make an intelligent bet only because he basing his true belief on luck or irrelevant factors—and in this case, the results are variable. With this example compared to the math example, it seems as though choosing luck every time will not make one knowledgeable, but if the person in the math example continues to make the true belief that 15+15=30 then eventually that person would have enough evidence, it seems, to have that as knowledge (no guessing required). Just as both articles stated, knowledge must be credited solely to the person and not to luck or by accident. I believe in this statement, however, I do believe that in simple examples like the math one I gave knowledge can be tricky to determine. When do you count that person’s answer as knowledge? Where do you draw the line where someone is just guessing and where someone finally learns and gets it right? Where does learning come into play in the question of knowledge—if it even has a place? And if learning doesn’t come into play then how do we really know anything and gain knowledge, or is it just something we have in a certain aspect or we don’t?

4 thoughts on “What is knowledge? How do we really know?

  1. I agree with a lot of what you stated in your posting, about the different types of knowledge and how lucky guesses do not equate to having knowledge over a certain topic. However, at the end you said “Where does learning come into play in the question of knowledge?” I feel that it is a huge part of what one considers knowledge, for if we can’t learn, then we are just blindly repeating things without a concrete understanding of the topic. If we use Plato’s JTB model, the third step is having substantial evidence to justify believing what they know is true. I feel that what we learn is solely to validate that third step and provide us with the justification of believing what we know is true. In the math example 2+2=4, one could cite using number line notation as proof, or use of an abacus, or even more generally the process of going through addition (by use of counting or otherwise). This is just one example of how learning the process of addition can contribute to the acquisition of knowledge

    1. “Where does learning come into play in the question of knowledge—if it even has a place? And if learning doesn’t come into play then how do we really know anything and gain knowledge, or is it just something we have in a certain aspect or we don’t?”

      My comment will be focused on the section above in your post. First, learning does have a place in knowledge. If learning did not have a place in knowledge, us as individuals, would only know what is innate to us. This would limit people greatly in the amount of knowledge they could gain. I am defining learning as the activity or process of gaining knowledge or skill by studying, practicing, being taught, or experiencing something. In this definition learning, encompasses many ways in which we acquire knowledge. Learning is a major component of what we use for justification for knowing a certain type of knowledge. For example: the statement that the world is round and not flat. Most people are taught this as a child and they believe they have knowledge that the earth is round. I believe that these people do have a knowledge that the world is around because there is more accurate evidence that supports the claim that the world is round. A skeptic would argue that I have not been to space, thus I cannot know the earth is round. In rebuttal to this I would say to have truth defined only as that what you have experience is flawed and greatly limits the ability of the person to gain knowledge. An example is that if Dr. Millson is at midtown arts cinema that Dr. Millson is having a beer. We are able to know that Dr. Millson is having a beer because knowing he is at midtown arts cinema is a sufficient claim, and thus proving that experiencing something is not necessary for knowledge.

  2. Where do you draw the line where someone is just guessing and where someone finally learns and gets it right?
    I think that the line is drawn after you’ve been taught something and can retain it. I think that’s considered knowledge because there is no way that you could know something without reading it, hearing it or watching it happen. The ability to retain knowledge and keep it stored and use it and repeat what was once learned is knowledge to me. I definitely think it’s all relative. You can’t compare people with different ages or different backgrounds of education. However, I think things are skewed at times because there is often confusion between opinions and facts and thats how knowledge can also be biased.

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