Philosophy 101 : Knowledge 📖
June 14, 2020
The basic constituents on knowledge
We live in an information age. The very fact that you’re reading this blog, is evidence of the fact that information is available to us in a way that it has never been before in human history. And that’s a great thing, it’s great that there’s so much information readily available to the vast majority of the people in the world.
But merely having lots of information available to you isn’t in itself a good thing unless you know which is the good information and which is the bad information, which is the useful information and which is the useless information. And that’s when knowledge becomes extremely important. So it’s crucial to us to understand both what knowledge is and also to assure ourselves that we have as much knowledge as we think we do.
Propositional versus ability knowledge
To make things a little bit more manageable we are going to make a simplifying assumption here. We’re just going to focus on a particular kind of knowledge: propositional knowledge, which is knowledge that a certain proposition is the case. A proposition is what is expressed by a declarative sentence, i.e., a sentence that declares that something is the case. For example, the sentence ‘The cat is on the mat’ is a declarative sentence, because it declares something that may or may not be the case. In this way it can either be true or false. That is, if the cat is actually sitting on the mat, then that sentence will be true; if the cat is not sitting on the mat, but instead on top of the radiator, then that sentence will be false. Contrast the sentence ‘The cat is on the mat’ with the sentence ‘Shut that door.’ ‘Shut that door’ is not a declarative sentence, because it cannot be true or false – it doesn’t declare something to be the case.
Propositional knowledge is often contrasted with ability knowledge, or know-how. Examples of propositional knowledge, or knowledge-that as it is known, are things like: Knowing that Paris is the capital of France. Knowing that the earth orbits the sun. Knowing that one has a toothache.
In contrast, examples of ability knowledge, or know-how, are such things as: Knowing how to ride a bicycle. Knowing how to play the piano. Knowing how to beat the stock market. It’s a very interesting question how knowledge-that and knowledge-how interrelate, but we’re not going to get into that question today. We’re just going to focus in on knowledge-that.
It’s a very interesting question how knowledge-that and knowledge-how interrelate, but we’re not going to get into that. We’re just going to focus in on knowledge-that.