Is the concept of “knowledge” important for philosophy?



I learned the definition of “knowledge” of justified true belief. I wonder whether it is important in any branch of philosophy? If I think about information per se, this boils down to technical details which are analyzed in mathematics and computer science. Belief is something to be examined in psychology and theology. The concept which remains is truth.

What distinguishes “knowledge” from “truth” to make it worthwhile do be discussed in philosophy? What are distinctive features of “knowledge” (Apart from truth) that one could be interested in, that matter?


Posted 2011-12-09T09:55:20.313

Reputation: 665

Frankly, the Western philsophical approach to knowledge and truth is so confused that any answer from me would have to start from scratch and it would be too many words. Justified true belief is certainly not what I'd call knowledge. The topic is too big for the venue imho since it raises questions about the very foundations of the 'Western' or purely 'scholastic' philosophical method. – None – 2018-06-06T10:27:00.520

Are you expecting that 'knowledge' is much more relevant to other domains than philosophy? If anything, people who are considered classical philosophers (the ancient Greeks) spent a lot of time talking about 'what it means to know something', so simply by word association, the concept 'knowledge' is important to philosophy (because it is important to people who are considered philosophers). – Mitch – 2011-12-09T15:10:28.017



As Michael points out, the notion of knowledge in philosophy is of great importance. The entire field of epistemology (which is essentially one of the top five fields of philosophy) focuses almost exclusively on knowledge: what it is, where it comes from and what it's limits are, for example.

The primary difference between knowledge and truth in a nutshell is that knowledge itself can be true or false. "Knowledge" is simply a set of beliefs that are supposed to be true by a particular person or group of people. What we define as knowledge in society can actually be wrong (and historically has been). Furthermore, studies in epistemology often suggest that we may never for sure know the "real" truth (philosophy of mind, skepticism, solipsism, etc).

Ultimately, knowledge is very subjective, whereas as truth is by definition wholly objective.


Posted 2011-12-09T09:55:20.313

Reputation: 11 008

Sorry for this very untimely reply, I just noticed your newer comments now. I hope you've found a good starting place by now... if not (and for future visitors), I recommend starting with the SEP, IEP, and Wikipedia articles as Michael linked in his answer, and then perhaps getting a book on epistemology or a more specific area within the field that is of interest to you :) – stoicfury – 2012-08-29T04:33:39.753

1+1, though of course a JTBer doesn't "buy" the distinction between knowledge and truth. In passing, there is an important modern critique of JTB from Gettier that OP may want to review – Joseph Weissman – 2011-12-09T14:54:34.103

Yes, this is why I bypassed this part of the question-- I didn't want to open that particular can of worms if the OP wasn't already conversant with the major theories. – Michael Dorfman – 2011-12-09T17:14:44.837

@Michael and Joe: Yeah, for sure. In some ways Michael your answer is most "pure" (position-neutral) but I felt like a common distinction might be helpful "to get the juices flowing", so to speak. :) – stoicfury – 2011-12-09T17:41:21.503

Knowledge is subjective? I thought that if you know a thing, then it must be true. Wasn't subjective knowledge addressed in Plato's Theaetetus by Socrates when refuting Theaetetus, Protagorus, and Heraclitus? How about an example... I would consider "The earth is round" as knowledge whereas in the past a majority of people maintained the false belief that "The earth is flat" and now people know the true belief that "The earth is round." Am I wrong about this? I would appreciate if you expand on this... Does my view mean that knowledge and truth are synonymous? – Alborz Yarahmadi – 2012-03-28T06:49:43.763

1@AlborzYarahmadi If you know a thing, then yes it is true - to you. It is not necessarily objectively true. Knowledge most basically is just something we believe to be true, so for example, I might know that I was born on December 21st, 1982. To me, this is certainly knowledge. But it's possible that my actual birthday was sometime before or after that day and for some reason or another the date was recorded wrong on my birth certificate. So my knowledge may be held as true by me (or even by everyone), but it may not actually reflect the (objective) truth of things. – stoicfury – 2012-03-28T16:49:01.187

Ok, I see what you are saying. Let me recap (to make sure I understand what you are saying)... So we can separate truth into two classes, objective truth and subjective truth. These classes are not mutually exclusive - there are things which are true for me (subjective) and those things may coincide with the actual (objective) truth. For example, if it is actually true that your birthday is Dec 21st 1982. Knowledge is a subset of subjective truth which may coincide with objective truth or not (for example, if your birthday is not really on Dec 21st 1982). – Alborz Yarahmadi – 2012-03-28T21:14:26.037

1So when we say Knowledge is JTB, i.e. true, we mean true for me (subjectively true). "The earth is flat" was knowledge at a time but now is not (we can know something objectively false)! Where can I read more about this? I've read Theaetetus where Socrates does not allow knowledge to be subjective - this is his argument refuting Knowldege is Perception. Can you point me towards material which gives arguments for Knowledge being subjective? Thank you, and I apologize for any unclarity, I am relatively new to epistemology and am fascinated! – Alborz Yarahmadi – 2012-03-28T21:14:33.603

1"Knowledge" which can be true for me but objectively false?!? God help us. The word has no meaning whatsoever now. The light was green for me, sorry it was red for you! – None – 2016-02-08T23:55:01.690

@nocomprende Suppose an individual named Sam was raised in a small island town with traffic lights that operated out of a single cone which switched between the colors. The green light was brighter than the red light. Sam is red/green color blind, but was never made aware of this fact. Everyone told Sam which light was red and which was green, and because Sam could distinguish them (by brightness) Sam assumed knowledge of what red and green were. Upon going to the mainland, the traffic lights have inverted brightness (red is brighter than green), – called2voyage – 2016-04-29T20:41:10.670

and Sam gets pulled over for running a red light. When the officer asks for an explanation, Sam says: "The light was green for me." – called2voyage – 2016-04-29T20:41:39.273

@called2voyage thank you for proving my point. There is no such thing as knowledge. Didn't I say that? **To me the definition of what I call "knowledge" includes the idea that it is, always was and always will be objectively, provably, irrefutably, obviously true.** If that is impossible, we should really stop using this useless and perplexing term! Knowledge that can be false? Now I know why the world is so screwed up. – None – 2016-04-30T14:42:35.560


"Knowledge" is the primary subject of Epistemology, one of the major branches of philosophy.

Its importance cannot be overstated.

I suggest that you look at some basic encyclopedia articles on the subject, such as the one from Stanford, the IEP, or Wikipedia.

Michael Dorfman

Posted 2011-12-09T09:55:20.313

Reputation: 22 863


I think you would love Rorty's "Philosophy And The Mirror Of Nature" ... he suggests Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and Dewey drop notions of representationalism, then for himself says he merges Sellers and Quine, becoming skeptical about epistemology rather than an epistemological skeptic. He notes, as most pragmatists do, "there's no difference that makes a difference" between justification and truth (see also: Albrecht Wellmer, ‘The Pragmatic Turn In Philosophy: Contemporary Engagements Between Analytic And Continental Thought’, State University Of New York, 2004, Page 96).

Justification, if knowledge is fallible, doesn't entail truth and so too any means or mode thereof; verification, evidence, reason, language, science, philosophy.

From a pragmatic, deflationary, or "epistemological-behaviorist" explanation, simply ask yourself what you mean in using the word "true" and under what conditions.

You'll find that no formula entails truth and then warrant becomes an effort toward utility and confidence. Consider that warrant entails entitlements as well as justification. Consider next that for example, one may be ethically obligated to dismiss well-justified propositions if, for instance, we hold the coherentist view of truth and said proposition is too foreign to one's existing body of knowledge and beliefs and experience.

Steven Hoyt

Posted 2011-12-09T09:55:20.313

Reputation: 133


Knowledge is not justified true belief. Rather, it is useful or explanatory information. Not all information is useful or explanatory. For example, in the past people did all sorts of silly things to predict the future, like slaughtering animals and looking at their entrails. This information was not knowledge.


Posted 2011-12-09T09:55:20.313

Reputation: 6 821


There is no justification, nor need thereof. Knowledge is awareness of truth which is correspondence to reality in assertions.

Aaron Agassi -

Posted 2011-12-09T09:55:20.313

Reputation: 1

1It would be helpful to have references that take this position so the reader can go there for more information. Otherwise the answer can be dismissed as just an opinion. – Frank Hubeny – 2018-06-05T12:58:43.417

It would also be immensely helpful to acknowledge that this view is no longer dominant in philosophy and science itself has long ago begun to abandon it. Analytic philosophy has taken that idea to task. See Russell's "Problems Of Philosophy", Rorty's "Philosophy And The Mirror Of Nature", and Seller's "Myth Of The Given" along with Gettier's short article on the insufficiency of most philosophical meanings of "truth", especially of correspondence (which begs the epistemological question itself; how do we know but through justification that P corresponds?) – Steven Hoyt – 2018-06-06T18:19:16.263