Some friends are planning on studying the Theatetus together this Summer. This Platonic dialogue is devoted to answering the question, “What is knowledge?”
In a sort of intellectual anticipation of reading the dialogue again, I was thinking about knowledge, and possibile definitions of it, as I walked into Home Depot today.
Before tackling the big question itself, my goal right now is to answer the question, “What might knowledge be? What are all the possibilities?” Putting all of the possibilities on the table and neglecting none, no matter how unlikely, is a responsible way to begin a search. Then one can go through each possibility systematically and inquire after the thing itself, discarding those possibilities that do not survive the examination.
Here is what I’ve up with so far… can you add to it?
1. Knowledge is justified true belief… these three words are in vogue right now, though Edmund Gettier has thrown the proverbial wrench into the argument. Notwithstanding, the argument runs that: If a person has a sincere belief, and a belief that is true, and if they have some evidential justification for believing it, then they have knowledge.
2. Knowledge is perception… This definition of knowledge is enticing. Anything that is perceived by the mind or the senses of a person is known by that person, and is true for that person, though it may not be true for any other perceiver.
3. Knowledge is sight… This definition is related to #2., but (I think) different. It says that whatever is seen directly by the mind, whatever is “clearly and distinctly” seen, is known by that mind. The distinct identity of this possibility owes to the ambiguity in “perception,” which could mean, roughly, “sense perception,” or “mental perception,” or both.
4. Knowledge is intuition. What might the relationship between intuition and “mental sight” be? I don’t know, but it seems different in at least this way: when people talk about their intuitions they usually locate the experience in the heart or or the stomach, (“trust your gut”) rather than the brain or mind. If for no other reason than this it seems to deserve an identity as a distinct possibility.
5. Knowledge is what is sensed. Another popular stance. Empiricism. What I see, touch, taste, hear, and smell is what I know. Everything else, even conglomorate topics or “complex ideas” in Locke’s terminology, though it may be valid and useful in some way, is different from knowledge, strictly defined.
6. Knowledge is justified true belief, if and only if the evidence for the belief is built out of or at least can be traced back to sense experience. This is a variation of empericism that wants to restrict armchair speculation and empty talk of that which lies outside the possibility of knowledge, and yet account for things like mathematics by identifying the original conceptual “units” of knowledge with experience. Having established or received these bits of knowledge, it is then also possible to build greater or more complex byte of knowledge.
7. Knowledge is a state of being… I do not know enough about Warrant theory to say what the relationship is between well-functioning reasoning faculties and knowledge, but there seems to be a distinct possibile definition that says when a person is constituted in a certain way then they may be said to have knowledge, regardless of whether they are using their senses, rationally justifying their beliefs, “seeing” anything, intuiting anything etc.
8. This is where you come in… Can you add to this list of possible definitions of knowledge?