What does truth have to do with knowledge?

by Neil Rickert

Nothing.  Nothing at all.

Well, that’s the quick answer.  But now some more detail.

Commenting on my previous post, Philomath asked:

If everyone agrees on something do that make it true?

He clearly saw this question as relevant to my posts on knowledge.  My title question arises from this.  My own view of knowledge is such that there are no truth criteria for having knowledge.

There’s an old  saying:

  • if the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.

The version of this for philosophy is:

  • if the only tool you have is logic, then every problem looks like a proposition.

Philosophers — or, at least, analytic philosophers, attempt to discuss everything in terms of propositions and the truth values for those propositions.  I see that as a mistake.

Let’s suppose, for the moment, that Philomath is a theist.  Then we might plausibly assume that he/she has a lot of knowledge of theology.  But, at some future time Philomath might decide that it is all false, and become an atheist.  Yet he/she would still have that same knowledge of theology.  That he/she sees it as not true has no bearing on whether it is knowledge.  It might make that knowledge less useful and less important.  But it does not make it not knowledge.

So, at least in ordinary usage, truth does not seem to matter as to what counts as knowledge.

Suppose you ask whether I believe it is raining.  I will probably look out the window to see.  Here “It is raining” is a proposition.  Looking out the window will provide me with evidence that I might claim justifies believing that proposition.

But if I know that it is raining, I won’t look out the window.  I won’t need evidence, because my knowledge already justifies the belief.  Perhaps I have been hearing the sound of the constant patter of raindrops on the roof or against the windows.  Or perhaps I was just outside.  It doesn’t much matter.  I don’t need evidence, because I am already familiar with the fact that it is raining.

I’m suggesting that “knowledge” or “knowing” refer to my familiarity rather than to a particular propositional form or its truth.  I’m tentatively inclined to say that all knowledge is acquaintance knowledge (familiarity) or procedural knowledge (acquired skills) or some combination of both.

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12 Comments to “What does truth have to do with knowledge?”

  1. Neil, you write: “But, at some future time Philomath might decide that it is all false, and become an atheist. Yet he/she would still have that same knowledge of theology. That he/she sees it as not true has no bearing on whether it is knowledge. It might make that knowledge less useful and less important. But it does not make it not knowledge.

    So, at least in ordinary usage, truth does not seem to matter as to what counts as knowledge.”

    That’s a lovely example of the fallacy of equivocation, which I think I might use in my class next term. What Philomath comes to decide “is all false” is not what he knows, either now or before now. What he knew and knows is a bunch of stuff about what people do or have believed. What he never could have known was any stuff that is false.

    Gotta keep that kind of stuff straight if you want to make sense.

    W

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    • What he knew and knows is a bunch of stuff about what people do or have believed. What he never could have known was any stuff that is false.

      That because you are a true believer in the religion which is philosophy (roughly, the unquestioning worship of logic and propositions). So, like all theologians, you construe everything so as to make it consistent with your theology.

      I’m an agnostic with respect to that religion, so I find it easier to disagree.

      (comment intended as humor).

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  2. What if I decided that being an atheist I really meant agnostic, and all atheists meant, they were really agnostics. Does that change the meaning of atheist. or does that mean people are misrepresenting themselves. If the definition of the atheist is one that believes there is proof of no god, while an agnostic might believe there is no proof of god.

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    • What if I decided that being an atheist I really meant agnostic, and all atheists meant, they were really agnostics. Does that change the meaning of atheist. or does that mean people are misrepresenting themselves.

      The interweb is full of arguments about “atheist” vs. “agnostic”. It will probably never be settled.

      Natural language doesn’t work by means of word definitions.

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      • Exactly, words are just words. To answer the blog question, I would say truth can be the verification of certain knowledge. So you can say that it is true that this or that person believes this or that, but does not mean the truth is either accurate, useful, or more importantly objective.

        Again this opens the subject to objectivity and if there is such a thing as objective truth or is it just a whole bunch of people using their subjective senses and collaborate or agree and propose an illusion of objectivity.

        As an example lets say that all humans believe honey is sweet. Does that make honey sweet objectively or subjectively, because in essence the sweetness of honey is just the pallet’s interpretation of molecules structure. Others can be solids, time, morality, consciousness etc. etc. So it can be true that we all believe in these things, but are they objective truths or just subjective.

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  3. What does truth have to do with knowledge? Well, accurate knowledge will fit with truth. Many dimensions of testable/confirmable knowledge helps to bring truth into better view.

    How much knowledge is required in order to confirm a truth? It depends on the complexity of the truth that is sought. Police investigations, for example, attempts to use many pieces of knowledge in connection in order to reveal a truth. It can work well enough in a case like that.

    Of course, that’s small beans compared to the nature of existence.

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    • What does truth have to do with knowledge? Well, accurate knowledge will fit with truth.

      I don’t consider “accurate knowledge” to be meaningful. So we have different ideas as to what constitutes knowledge. I do recognize “precise knowledge” but not “accurate knowledge”. If you like, I see knowledge as more basic than truth. Having some significant amount of knowledge is prerequisite to any ability to use truth.

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