What is Knowledge?

  1. Knowledge How To, Knowledge That, and Acquaintance With
  2. Propositional Knowledge
  3. Analysis of 'Knowledge That'
  4. Theories of Truth
  5. The 'Eastern' Conception of Knowledge
  6. The IB Syllabus: of AoK and WoK
  7. A Theory of Knowledge Course

    'Green' Readings

    Teaching Notes 

As its name suggests, the Theory of Knowledge course deals with knowledge. The words "to know" and "knowledge" are every-day words, but there also is a branch of philosophy, called epistemology (from Gk. epistémé, knowledge + logos,) which addresses – more carefully than we tend to do in every-day life – the questions of what knowledge is and how we get it. However, the IB's Theory of Knowledge course is not intended to be a philosophy course: on the one hand, it does not go into such great philosophical depth, but on the other, it does cover a rather wider range of approaches. In fact, there are teachers of the course (including, I believe, the main person behind its introduction as part of the IB diploma) who would prefer it to be called "Ways of Understanding."

To put it briefly, what the course is about is what counts as knowledge in different spheres of human activity: knowing a mathematical theorem is completely different from knowing the way to London, for instance, or knowing that the earth is round, or that Shakespeare's Hamlet is a great play. And so I also have to do very different things if I am asked to show or explain or justify my knowledge.

To begin with we need to distinguish different uses of the word "knowledge" and to agree when we can say that somebody knows something or has a certain knowledge.

1. Knowledge How To, Knowledge That, and Acquaintance With

Exercise 1.1.:
Try to divide the following statements about somebody having (or not having) some knowledge into three groups, according to what the knowledge consists of.

  1. Everybody knows that the earth is round.
  2. "Lloyd George knew my father, my father knew Lloyd George."
  3. They haven't been here long and know only a little English.
  4. He doesn't know his left foot from his right foot.
  5. I know when the train is due to arrive.
  6. Having been there many times, she knows Italy well.
  7. I don't know how to drive a car,
  8. ... but I know that one has to press the clutch to change gear.
  9. Nobody here knows how old the Principal is.
(There will be exercises like this throughout the course, to help make clear certain conceptual distinctions, or to illustrate points. A good way to use them in class is for the students to think about and discuss them in small groups, and then for one person from each group to summarize their conclusion.

Often there will be no single right answer: it is in any case the thinking and discussion that are of value.)

Exercise 1.2.:
Find out the differences in meaning of the following verbs, and relate it to the above distinctions:

  1. in French, "savoir" and "connaître",
  2. in German, "wissen" and "kennen".
Are there are other languages in which similar pairs of verbs exist?
When can we say that somebody has some knowledge (or acquaintance)? For the three kinds of knowledge distinguished above, there are different criteria.
Exercise 1.3.:
What do I mean when I say each of the following?

  1. "I know Kigali."
  2. "I know English."
  3. "I know Pascal."
For each of the statements, make a table like the following, and write what you think I must know.
I must know that ...I must know how to ...
my answer

In Theory of Knowledge we shall be concentrating on 'knowledge that', but this is often tied up with 'knowledge how to' and 'acquaintance with'.

Exercise 1.4.:
Give examples of the different kinds of knowledge that one of the following might have as part of their profession, and how one kind of knowledge leads to another.
Since I know (= am acquainted with) the roads in this area, I know how to get from here to Cardiff, and so I know that I have to take the A48 in Cowbridge.
  1. A physicist.
  2. A mathematician.
  3. An historian.

2. Propositional Knowledge

What is known in 'knowledge that' is a proposition, expressed in the clause which, (in the most obvious cases at least,) follows the word "that".
Exercise 2.1.:
State clearly what it is that is actually known in each of the following cases.
  1. He knows that it will rain tomorrow.
  2. He knows whether or not it will rain tomorrow.
  3. He knows when it will start to rain.
A proposition is what different sentences, even in different languages, with the same meaning have in common (B. Russell, 1862-1970.)

Propositions are capable of being true or false: this distinguishes them from promises, questions, commands, proposals, etc., (which like propositions are expressed in sentences.)

Exercise 2.2.:
Which of the following sentences express propositions? What kind of sentences are those that do not?
  1. You shouldn't waste food.
  2. I think you shouldn't waste food.
  3. What a waste of food!
  4. The amount of food wasted is about 20% of what is used.
  5. I hereby propose that we reduce the amount of food we waste.
  6. Is there really so much waste of food?
  7. The amount of food wasted is tremendous!
  8. Waste not, want not.
  9. What we waste we did not deserve in the first place.
  10. Does everyone feel as bad about food wasted as we do?
There are different kinds of distinctions that can be made between propositions:
  1. – empirical propositions, or statements of facts about things in the world
    – normative propositions, or value judgments
    – metaphysical propositions, expressing beliefs about what the world is
  2. a priori propositions, whose truth is knowable prior to any (particular) experience
    a posteriori propositions
  3. – analytic propositions, true by virtue of the meanings of their parts
    – synthetic propositions
These distinctions are important as different kinds of propositions express different kinds of knowledge.
Exercise 2.3.:
Try to categorize the following propositions according to the above distinctions. In some cases there isn't one 'right' answer: the origins of the difficulties may be worth discussing.
  1. All horses are mammals.
  2. He made a valuable contribution.
  3. One hour is 60 minutes.
  4. I am not just imagining this lesson.
  5. That was a selfish deed.
  6. "No man is an island, entire of itself."
  7. "God is dead."
  8. Either he will come, or he will not.
  9. I have a headache.
  10. This pair consists of two things.
Corresponding to the first of the above distinctions between kinds of propositions there are different kinds of knowledge that we have, and most of the remainder of the course will be spent discussing these three kinds of knowledge:
  1. empirical knowledge
  2. value judgments (normative)
  3. one's basic view of the world (metaphysical)
Exercise 2.4.:
Try to divide the following subject areas, or areas of knowledge, according to which of the above three kinds of propositional knowledge one most typically endeavours to attain in them.
a.Mathematicsb.Moralityc.Social Science
d.Religious Faithe.Natural sciencef.Other people's thinking
g.Art/Literatureh.Historyi.Driving a car

3. Analysis of 'Knowledge That'

What then do we mean by knowledge, i.e. what do we require of a person A and a proposition p for us to say that A knows that p ? In this section we shall look at examples and try, step by step, to get to a better understanding of the concept.
Attempt 1: If A knows that p, then A must certainly have a certain mental state, namely that he believes that p.
... but this is obviously not enough for us to say that A knows that p.
Exercise 3.1.:
For each of the following situations discuss why we cannot speak of them as cases of knowledge. Hence try to formulate a further requirement for us to say that A knows that p.
  1. Suppose somebody asserts quite seriously: "Thunder is due to the clouds colliding," and that he actually believes this. Why can we not say that he knows that thunder is due to clouds colliding?
  2. At one time everyone was convinced that the earth was flat, and they could say that they knew that the earth was flat. Why can we today not say that they knew that the earth is flat?
Invent another situation which makes the same point about knowledge.
The point that knowledge requires more than holding a certain belief was already made in antiquity.

Consider the following passage from one of the dialogues by Plato (427-347 B.C.) Here Plato has Socrates, using his characteristic form of argumentation, attack Gorgias's defence of the public orators' sophistry:

Socrates:  Now take this point. You would agree that there is such a thing as 'knowing'?
Socrates:And such a thing as 'believing'?
Socrates:Well, do you think that knowing and believing are the same thing, or is there a difference between knowledge and belief?
Gorgias:I should say that there is a difference.
Socrates:Quite right; and you can prove it like this. If you were asked whether there are such things as true and false beliefs, you would say that there are, no doubt.
Socrates:But are there such things as true and false knowledge?
Gorgias:Certainly not.
Socrates:Then knowledge and belief are certainly not the same thing.
Socrates:Yet men who believe may just as properly be called convinced as men who know?
Socrates:May we then posit the existence of two kinds of conviction, one which gives knowledge and one which gives belief without knowledge?
Socrates:Now which kind of conviction about right and wrong is created by oratory in courts of law and elsewhere, the kind which engenders knowledge, or the kind which engenders belief without knowledge?
Gorgias:The kind which engenders belief, obviously.
Socrates:So it appears that the conviction which oratory produces about right and wrong is of the kind which is followed by belief, not the kind which arises from teaching?
Socrates:And the orator does not teach juries and other bodies about right and wrong – he merely persuades them; he could hardly teach so large a number of people matters of such importance in a short time.
Gorgias:Of course he couldn't.
Plato, Gorgias, § 454.
(There will be readings like this throughout the course, to help make certain points, and to include different 'voices'. A good way to use them in class is for volunteers, but not always the same students, to read them aloud.)

Attempt 2: Thus knowledge that p requires not only the belief that p, but also that p be a true proposition.
... but this is not yet enough for us to say that A knows that p.

Exercise 3.2.:
For each of the following situations discuss why we cannot speak of them as cases of knowledge. Hence try to formulate a further requirement for us to say that A knows that p.
  1. Although I have not heard from a certain friend for a while I believe that he is well, (which he in fact is.) Why can I not say that I know my friend is well?
  2. Suppose someone has been brought up as a Christian and for that reason has always believed in God, and that there is in fact a God. Why may we not want say that that person knows that there is a God?
Invent another situation which makes the same point about knowledge.
Attempt 3: Thus knowledge that p requires not only the belief that p, and that p be true, but that the knower, A, accepts that p for the purpose of attaining truth and avoiding error.
... but this is still not enough for us to say that A knows that p.
Exercise 3.3.:
For each of the following situations discuss why we cannot speak of them as cases of knowledge. Hence try to formulate a further requirement for us to say that A knows that p.
  1. The philosopher Democritus (?460 - ?370 B.C.) in ancient Greece held that all matter was made up of atoms, which combined in various ways to make up different substances. This we know today to be the case. Why can we not say that Democritus knew that matter was made up of atoms?
  2. Why can we not say, right now, that we know that the British Prime Minister has not been assassinated?
Invent another situation which makes the same point about knowledge.
Attempt 4: Thus knowledge that p requires not only that the knower, A, accepts that p, and that p be true, but also that A be justified in his acceptance of p.
... but even this is not yet enough for us to say that A knows that p.
Exercise 3.4.:
For each of the following situations discuss why we cannot speak of them as cases of knowledge. Hence try to formulate a further requirement for us to say that A knows that p.
  1. Someone looks out over a field and sees, not too far away, what he takes to be a sheep and a dog. Suppose now that what he takes to be a dog is in fact a sheep, and what he takes to be a sheep is a dog. Why can we not say that he knows that there is a sheep in the field?
  2. Someone looks, precisely at noon as it happens, at a clock which unbeknownst to him is not working and has for some days shown the same time, 12 o'clock. So he accepts that it is 12 o'clock, it is in fact 12 o'clock, and he is completely justified in accepting that it is 12 o'clock. Why can we not say that he knows that it is 12 o'clock?
Invent another situation which makes the same point about knowledge.
Final Version: Thus, finally, knowledge that p requires
  1. that the knower, A, accepts that p,
  2. that p is true,
  3. that A is justified in accepting that p, and
  4. that A is justified in accepting that p in a way which does not depend on any falsity.
Note that we are not 'decreeing' what knowledge is, in some abstract philosophical way, but have been analysing the way the word is ordinarily used. We have done this by considering a series of examples, to arrive at a consistent concept.

This kind of analysis, by the way, is what much philosophical activity consists of, for a main purpose of philosophy – and of the Theory of Knowledge course – is to help develop 'clean', careful thinking.

  1. It has been suggested that the Theory of Knowledge course should be called "Ways of Understanding" instead. Try to state what we mean when we say that we understand something.
  2. What do we require to call a person wise? Begin by considering particular cases and distinguishing wisdom from knowledge.

4. Theories of Truth

Knowledge, as we have seen, requires acceptance of true propositions, so we need to consider on what basis we can describe a proposition as true. But first we must distinguish different uses of the word "true" in English.

This section is a rather more abstractly philosophical, but nothing in the subsequent course depends on it.

Exercise 4.1.:
Describe the different uses of the word "true" or its cognates in the following sentences. In which cases is it propositions that are described as true?
  1. True fishes do not include whales.
  2. "My true love hath my heart, and I have his" (Sidney.)
  3. He claimed it was a true story.
  4. The truth of the matter was that they had missed the train.
  5. "This above all: to thine own self be true" (Shakespeare, Hamlet.)
  6. To measure the true expansion of the liquid, we must take into account the expansion of the container.
  7. It is true that the earth moves around the sun.
There are three main theories of what is meant by "truth".
  1. Correspondence Theory:

    "A true proposition is a proposition which says that things are such and such, and things are just such and such" (Alfred Tarski) – i.e. for a proposition to be true it must correspond to or match a state of affairs in the world. This is clearly the common-sense view.

  2. Coherence Theory:

    According to this view, a proposition is true if it is consistent with all the other propositions we hold true.

    The following question arises of course: Without a basis, how can such a concept of truth ever get off the ground? There are clearly many sets of propositions, each one perfectly consisten within itself. So are we to consider each one of these sets as a set of true propositions? But if we have to accept some propositions as true so that others are true by virtue of being consistent with them, on what basis are those propositions true? However, rather than being a problem for the Coherence Theory, this turns out to be its appeal in many quarters.

    For while the Correspondence Theory is the common-sense view, it does, to be useful, depend on the assumption that we can have direct access to the world as it is. But this assumption is, according to many thinkers, such as the phenomologists, (Edmund Husserl) not valid. According to these thinkers, the closest we can come to the real world are statements of direct observations. And this is where the Coherence Theory comes into its own: we accept a proposition as true if it is consistent with all the other propositions we hold true, especially those propositions that express direct observations. The set of true propostions can then be thought of as the 'set of best fit', with certain kinds of propositions – which could, but don't need to, express observations – holding a privileged status.

  3. Pragmatism (from Gk. pragma, act, deed):

    This is a method of philosophy in which the meaning of an idea is to be found in an examination of the consequences to which it would lead (C.S. Peirce,) and the truth of a proposition is measured by its correspondence with experimental results and by its practical outcome – i.e. by its consequences rather than its origin. Thus pragmatists hold that truth is not absolute, but modified as discoveries are made, and that it is therefore relative to time and place and purpose of inquiry.

    "The pragmatic method ... is to try to interpret each notion by tracing its respective practical consequences. What difference would it practically make to any one if this notion rather than that notion were true? If no practical difference whatever can be traced, the alternatives mean practically the same thing, and all dispute is idle" (William James, Pragmatism, 1907.)

Exercise 4.2.:
  1. In the Coherence Theory, what kinds of propositions, other than those expressing direct observations, could be (or are, in fact,) given a special status by some people, so that the truth of any other proposition depends on its fitting in with these privileged ones?
  2. State how and in what terms you would defend the truth of each of the following propositions. In which cases do you tend to use each of the above approaches to truth?
    1. It is right to help those in need of help.
    2. I am here and not just dreaming that I am.
    3. The boiling point of water is 100 °C.
    4. Ghosts don't exist.
    5. Health is the most important thing.
    6. All swans are white.
    7. Julius Caesar died in 44 B.C.
    8. I have a tooth ache.
    9. Water has chemical composition H2O.
    10. 2 + 2 = 4.
There are also those who are, to a greater or lesser degree, sceptical of our ability to attain the truth, and therefore of the possibility of any knowledge: this kind of critical outlook is called 'scepticism'.

The following passage, for example, is from the beginning of the first of Réné Descartes's famous Meditations, 1641:

It is now some years since I detected how many were the false beliefs that I had from my earliest youth admitted as true, and how doubtful was all I had constructed on this basis; ... All that at the present time I have accepted as most true and certain I have learned either from the senses or through the senses; but it is sometimes proved to me that these senses are deceptive, and it is wiser not to trust entirely to any thing by which we have once been deceived. ... At the same time I must remember that I am ... in the habit of sleeping, and in my dreams representing to myself the same things or sometimes even less probable things, than do those who are insane in their waking moments.
And according to 'perspectivism' and 'phenomenology' there is no one truth or reality, there is (or: we can have) nothing other than our different outlooks:
Friedrich Nietzsche. 19kB Our new 'infinity'. – How far the perspectivist character of reality extends, and even whether it has any other character ... – that can ... not be settled even by the most conscientious and painstaking analysis and self-examination of the intellect. ... But we are today, I think, at least far from the ludicrous arrogance of ruling from our corner that it is only from this corner that one can have perspectives.
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 1882.

The existence of the world on the basis of the natural evidence of experience cannot be an indisputable fact any more, but must itself be only a phenomenon of actuality. ... this method of 'bracketing' the objective world, then, does not confront us with a nothing ...: what I gain by it is my immediate life with all its immediate experiences and its immediate intentionalities, the universe of phenomena.
Edmund Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, 1931.
More recently, the French philosopher Michel Foucault (1866-84,) making explicit reference to Nietzsche, has taken the view that instead of trying to give and use a definition of absolute or universal truth, we can only study how the concept of truth has been and is being used in particular societies.
Each society has its regime of truth, its "general politics" of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true.
Power/Knowledge, 1980.
Exercise 4.3.:
In different societies different groups have been the 'guardians of truth.' In European history, which groups has this been, and what has their truth been based on, the modern world, the Middle Ages, ancient Greece ?
Try to give examples from other parts of the world.

5. The 'Eastern' Conception of Knowledge

The ThoK-course concentrates on one approach to knowledge and truth, which is the one that has developed in the West and in Western philosophy. Because this Western-style knowledge, and the science and technology that are part of it, has been very 'successful', it has today become the dominant conception throughout the world – but that does not mean that it is the only one, or 'the right one'.

In Eastern philosophy, too, knowledge is a mental state, a matter of truth and something to strive for. But it is less a specific belief or ability than a personal state of being, arrived at by certain observances. This conception of knowledge is largely derived from Buddhism, of which Zen is one form.

The traditional training given by Zen teachers was intended to teach novices 'to know'. The training might be physical or it might be mental, but it must be finally validated in the inner consciousness of the learner. Zen training of the fencer illustrates this well. The fencer, of course, has to learn and constantly practise the proper sword thrusts, but his proficiency in these belongs in the field of mere 'competence.' In addition he must learn to be 'muga'. He is made to stand first on the level floor, concentrating on the few inches of surface which support his body. This tiny surface of standing room is gradually raised till he has learned to stand as easily on a four-foot pillar as in a court yard. When he is perfectly secure on that pillar, he 'knows'. His mind will no longer betray him by dizziness and fear of falling. ...

The teacher might hold discussions with the novice, but he did not lead him gently into a new intellectual realm. ... The most favored technique for inducing the novice's desperate attempt 'to know' were the 'koan', literally 'the problems'. There are said to be seventeen hundred of these problems, and the anecdote books make nothing of a man's devoting seven years to the solution of one of them. They are not meant to have rational solutions. One is 'To conceive the clapping of one hand.' Another is 'To feel the yearning for one's mother before one's own conception.' ... In Japan they are a most important part of training in 'expertness'. Zen handbooks treat them with extreme seriousness. 'Koan enshrine the dilemma of life.' A man who is pondering one, they say, reaches an impasse like 'a pursued rat that has run up a blind tunnel,' ... he is 'a mosquito trying to bite a lump of iron.' ... Finally the screen of his 'observing self' between his mind and his problem falls aside; with the swiftness of a flash of lightning the two – mind and problem – come to terms. He 'knows'.

there is a general pattern in these revelations. ... What they learn, they say, is in the famous Chinese phrase, that they 'were looking for an ox when they were riding on one.' ... They learn, that is, in Occidental phraseology, that both horns of the dilemma are irrelevant. They learn that goals may be attained with present means if the eyes of the sprit are opened.

Ruth Benedict, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, 1946.
To understand this kind of knowledge it may help to start with the following question: Why did Japanese samurai warriors (at least in the movies ...) often go to a monastery to improve their fighting skills? What could the monks teach them? The answer is that to be successful as a fighter, one needs to empty one's mind: by the time one has consciously thought about one's opponent's next move and how to react, it will often be too late already! The monks teach different observances that enable one to practise entering that state of mind – the last character of the Japanese words for both the tea ceremony, Cha-Dou, and calligraphy, Sho-Dou, means "the way": they are ways to enlightenment, to knowledge.

(It is an insight supported by recent psychology and brain-research, that our automatic, unconscious mind works more quickly than the conscious mind, and that it determines more of our decisions than we can see or may be prepared to admit, with the conscious mind often being reduced to providing rationalisations for foregone conclusions – cf. Kahnemann Thinking, Fast and Slow, 2012.)

Apart from the koan mentioned above, Buddhist masters also use stories, often about a master and a pupil, to show what kind of knowledge we should not be seeking. Here are two such:

One day the pupil once again beseeched the master to tell him what he needed to know to finally achieve enlightenment. The master turned to him and calmly asked him: "Have you washed your rice bowl?"

One day the master and the pupil were sitting on the veranda in the early evening, enjoying a cup of tea. When the pupil, again, asked the master to explain about enlightenment, the master just raised his arm and pointed at the moon, which could be seen through the branches of a tree. "Ah, I finally get it," the pupil exclaimed excitedly. "The truth is like the light of the moon, and reality is like the branches of the tree which hide the truth from us." The master remained silent for a long time, but kept pointing at the same place in the sky. After some time he said: "Look again." In the meantime the moon had risen further.

Questions 5.1.:
  1. Karate is a Japanese word meaning "empty hands". What martial arts can you think of that end with the sound -Dou? All of these not only involve fighting skills but a certain kind of knowledge. Try to find out more about them.
  2. What are other examples of observances that might help us gain knowledge in the Buddhist sense? Do other religions have similar aspects/elements?
  3. There are not only Western and Eastern conceptions of knowledge. What do you think might be characteristic of traditional knowledge in Africa (or some African culture)? When would you say that someone has this kind of knowledge? How is it taught, passed on?
    (This question is not about what knowledge a traditional African might have, such as the healing properties of some plants, it is about what is meant by knowledge: for instance, it may be a state that is always shared, consensual, expressed in poetry rather than individual, confrontational, abstract.)
  4. In view of the above, can you think of reasons that our ThoK-course has such a bias towards knowledge in the Western sense?

6. The IB Syllabus: of AoK and WoK   (KA, workshop at LBIS, July 2006)

The IB-syllabus for the ThoK-course makes use of a distinction between Areas of Knowledge (AoK) and Ways of Knowing (WoK, which should really be "Ways of Gaining Knowledge".) Correspondingly, many of the recent prescribed essay titles for the assessment, partly to help students stay 'on topic', are formulated in terms of AoK and WoK.

Now, while it is easy to see what is meant by Areas of Knowledge, there seem to be two different kinds of things that could be called Ways of Knowing, depending on which one of two question is being asked.

How do I (= the individual knower) know?
 my sources of knowledgethrough education 
from teachers, trusted experts, books, the internet, ...
my means of gaining knowledgeperception

Note that (pace the IB) emotion may not be a way of gaining propositional knowledge.

reasoning (one form of which is logic)
intuition: something to discuss?
How do we (= mankind) know?
 natural sciencesthe hypothetico-deductive method, based on empirical evidence

Note that each Area of Knowledge has a characteristic Way of Knowing.

mathematicsproving discovered/invented theorems (in a mathematical theory)
social sciencessimilar to the method in the natural sciences, but ...
historyinterpretation: constructing stories making sense of the empirical evidence
ethics, aestheticsvalue-judgments, depending on experience, society, period, ...
other (people's) mindsinterpretation: attributing motives (beliefs and desires) on the basis of another person's behaviour, actions, utterances, ...

The ThoK-course can then be thought of as a critical investigation of these different Ways of Knowing, and in particular the limitations and problems of each, so that students should for example become aware

Some other aspects of the concept of knowledge that could/should be addressed – if in some cases only briefly – in a ThoK-course, and may need to be for students to be able to write essays on some of the prescribed titles, are:

the knower's perspectiveknowledge is always knowledge from a certain (religious or other) basic outlook or worldview
different conceptions of knowledgeWestern (which is what the ThoK-course mostly deals with)
Eastern, Buddhist
African, aboriginal (?)
different kinds of knowledgeknowledge that ... (propositional knowledge, which is what the ThoK-course mostly deals with)
knowledge how to ... (perform an action)
knowledge of ... (knowledge by acquaintance)
'archealogy' of knowledgealchemy → chemistry, astrology → astronomy
creation myths → history
customs → moral judgments (?)
uses/applications of knowledge"knowledge is power"
science v. technology, moral judgments v. a country's laws

7. A Theory of Knowledge Course

We can now try to state the role of the Theory of Knowledge course in the context of the IB:

In each individual subject you learn what is true and how to argue in that particular area, and thereby you gain knowledge in that subject and the ability to support it, (and you become able to answer questions in exams.) In ThoK we ask questions about subject areas, and in particular we try to establish what constitutes a valid justification of knowledge in each one. (This last question is of course one which is, or should be, addressed within each course as well.)

Exercise 7.1.:
For each of the following subject areas, describe something you do or learn in the subject, and the different way in which it might be looked at in ThoK.

In a science subject you do experiments, in ThoK we discuss why experiments play a role in science, but don't in mathematics, say.
a.Language A (literature) b.History c.Mathematics
d.Language B (a foreign language) e.Economics f.Music
The following is a list of the topics we shall be covering, in some 'logical' arrangement. For practical reasons, and to increase variety, we shall not be covering the areas in strictly this order, but in the order indicated by the numbers in brackets. However, for a proper understanding it is essential to have something like the following 'logical' arrangement in mind throughout the course, especially at the start and end of each topic.
  1. What Is Knowledge?     (1)
  2. Foundations of Knowledge
    1. sources of knowledge     (2)
      1. perception
      2. memory
      3. language
    2. reasoning and logic     (3)
  3. Empirical Knowledge
    1. natural sciences     (4)
    2. mathematics     (5)
    3. social sciences     (8)
    4. history     (9)
      case study: Karl Marx
    5. the mind
      1. knowing others     (10)
        case study: Freud and psychoanalysis
      2. language etc.
  4. Value judgments
    1. morality     (6)
    2. art, aesthetics     (11)
  5. Metaphysical Positions
    1. religion     (7)
    2. 'different worlds'

'Green' Readings:

[14c; from Old E. cnawlaecan, knowledge.]
One aspect of knowing, that which conventionally comes from "study, investigation, observation or experience" (Websters, 1986.) Knowledge comes both from direct experience and from information provided by others. Some psychologists discern three types of knowledge: "Propositional knowledge is knowledge of facts or truths stated in propositions; it is entirely language-dependent. Practical knowledge is knowing how to do something, as exemplified in the exercise of some special skill or proficiency. Experiential knowledge is knowing some entity by direct face-to-face encounter with her/him/it; it is direct discrimination of what is present in relation with the knower" (John Heron, 1981, quoted in John Rowan, 1983.) "If you know what you are doing, you can do what you want" (Moshe Feldenkrais, 1986.)

[14c; from Old E. cnawan, to know.]
A deep sense of understanding and awareness; sometimes used by green-thinkers rather than knowledge, which has overtones of superiority and unfounded certainty. "But in a moment that which is behind naming makes itself known. Hand and breast know each one to the other. Wood in the table knows clay in the bowl. Air knows grass knows water knows mud knows beetle knows frost knows sunlight knows the shape of the earth knows death knows not dying. And all this knowledge is in the hearts of everything, behind naming, before speaking, beneath words" (Susan Griffin, 1984.)

[14c; from Lat. informare, to give form to.]
Knowledge about somebody or something. To have appropriate information is to have power; to have inappropriate information is to have power over. ... That is why green-thinkers believe it to be vitally important that we know what information other people have about us ('freedom of information',) and that important information is made as widely available as possible. "What does it mean that ten thousand merchants all over the country [the USA] are able to obtain a summary fact sheet about any one of 86 million individual Americans in a matter of three of four seconds from a single data base in southern California? ..." (David Burnham, 1983.) Ours is a society based on information – far too much of it for most of us, pushing us into 'information overload' (Alvin Toffler, 1970) and persuading us that information, even information for its own sake, always has value: ... "We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge" (John Naisbitt, 1984.)

[early 16c; from Lat. factum, something done.]
An event or circumstance which is known (at least by its observers) to have happened. Thus a fact is very different from an interpretation, and it is extremely common for interpretations to colour 'facts'.

[before 12c; from Old E. treowth, fidelity.]
If 'true' means 'real', you have to question reality. If 'truth' means 'the facts' you are on slightly firmer ground, as long as everyone agrees on the facts, and as long as factual truth is seen only as a useful way of comparing experiences, and not as a Universal Truth. Simply put, there is no Universal Truth, or at least not one that we can expect to comprehend.
John Button, A Dictionary of Green Ideas, 1988.

Teaching Notes:

As this will usually be the first topic of the course, it may be worth spending one lesson before starting it on a general introduction: One way to introduce the section might be to ask students to make various statements of the form "I know ...," and then to ask for a justification of their claims of knowledge.

While epistemology is the theory of knowledge, metaphysics (C16, from Lat. from Gk. ta meta ta phusica, the things after the Physics-section in Aristotle's treatment) is the theory of reality. These have often competed for primacy in philosophy.

2. Propositional Knowledge
Relating to distinction (i), between descriptive, normative and metaphysical propositions, consider the following:
Imagine a machine that could give you any experience (or sequence of experiences) you might desire. When connected to this experience machine, you can have the experience of writing a great poem or bringing about world peace or loving someone and being loved in return. You can experience the felt pleasures of these things, how they feel 'from the inside.' You can program your experiences for tomorrow, or this week, or this year, or even for the rest of your life. ... Would you choose to do this for the rest of your life?

The question of whether to plug in to this experience machine is a question of value. (It differs from two related questions: an epistemological one – Can you know you are not already plugged in? – and a metaphysical one – Don't the machine experiences constitute a real world?)

Robert Nozick, The Examined Life, 1989. pp. 104f.
3. Analysis of 'Knowledge That'
What we are trying to do in this section is to capture what we mean when we use the word "knowledge" (in one of its senses) in ordinary language: so the `evidence' for the analysis, is the students' own understanding and use of the term, not some bit of academic philosophy.

Attempt 1, etc.:

Initially, many people seem to think that "to know" means no more than "[1. ...] to be or feel certain of the truth or accuracy of (a fact, etc.)" (Collins English Dictionary, 1991,) i.e. that knowledge is a strong form of belief. The sequence of attempts should help students to see that more is required.

Before reading the passage from Plato, with two students taking the two parts, introduce the beginning of (Western) philosophy – Socrates, Plato and Aristotle – and explain the Socratic method of argument used here.

4. Theories of Truth
  1. Questions: While we may always have something like the correspondence theory in mind when we call a proposition true, can we actually use it to establish the truth in all those cases? And in the case of a negative proposition – that Paul is not here, for instance – what in the world 'corresponds' to the proposition? – In relation to the correspondence theory, cf. also positivism, verificationism.
  2. Although on the coherence theory, true propositions mutually support one another in a kind of web, an infinite regress of looking for or needing support can be avoided, because in a social context we only need to continue as long as some claim of truth is disputed.
  3. However, William James also wrote: "We cannot reject any hypothesis if consequences useful for life flow from it. ... If the hypothesis of God works satisfactorily in the widest sense of the word, it is true" (quoted in Russell, History of Western Philosophy, 1946.) – In relation to pragmatism, too, cf. also positivism, verificationism.

In Akira Kurosawa's remarkable film Rashomon (1950) a certain sequence of events, as a result of which a samurai has been killed and his wife raped, is described before a court (in the place of which we, the audience, are sitting) by the four people who were in some way involved: the attacker, the wife, the dead man, (whose spirit speaks through a medium,) and a hidden observer. But their stories, told one after the other by being shown to us on screen, differ very fundamentally on what actually happened – and the film does not resolve the conflict between the different stories.

More from Michel Foucault:

In societies like ours, the 'political economy' of truth is characterized by five important traits. 'Truth' is centered on the form of scientific discourse and the institutions which produce it; it is subject to constant economic and political incitement (the demand for truth, as much for economic production as for political power); it is the object, under diverse forms, of immense diffusion and consumption (circulating through apparatuses of education and information whose extent is relatively broad in the social body, notwithstanding certain strict limitations); it is produced and transmitted under the control, dominant of not exclusive, of a few great political and economic apparatuses (university, army, writing, media); lastly, it is the issue of a whole political debate and social confrontation ('ideological' struggles). ...

'Truth' is to be understood as a system of ordered procedures for the production , regulation, distribution, circulation and operation of statements.

'Truth' is linked in a circular relation with systems of power which produce and sustain it, and to effects of power which it induces and which extends it. A 'regime' of truth.

This regime is not merely ideological or superstructural; it was a condition of the formation and development of capitalism.

"Truth and Power", 1980.
Exercise 4.3.:
  1. scientists, whose knowledge (typically) based on experience/experiment;
  2. priests, whose knowledge derived from God;
  3. philosophers, whose knowledge could result from clear thinking alone (– Democritus did not 'know' about atoms from doing experiments.)
5. The 'Eastern' Conception of Knowledge
We are of course, none of us, experts on this kind of knowledge.
Suzuki, the great authority on Zen Buddhism, describes muga as 'ecstasy with no sense of I am doing it,' 'effortlessness.' The 'observing self' is eliminated; a man 'loses himself,' that is, he ceases to be a spectator of his acts. Suzuki says: 'With the awaking of consciousness, the will is split into two: ... actor and observer. Conflict is inevitable, for the actor(-self) wants to be free from the limitations' of the observer-self. Therefore in Enlightenment the disciple discovers that there is no observer-self, 'no soul entity as an unknown or unknowable quantity.' Nothing remains but the goal and the act that accomplishes it.
Ruth Benedict, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, 1946.
Questions 5.1.:
  1. Raking of gravel in temples and gardens, martial arts, ikebana, the tea ceremony, etc. In other religions: rituals, repeated prayers, fasting, asceticism, etc.
  2. Reasons for the Western bias might include the following:
    • teachers' lack of expertise,
    • the Western context: the other IB-subjects, university applications, etc.,
    • that a theory of knowledge is of necessity a Western one: on the Eastern conception, precisely what is essential cannot be explicitly formulated, and
    • that examining knowledge, too, rather than practising it, is non-Eastern.
(It may also be worth discussing what in the Western sense a Zen master knows; and whether it is right – or makes sense, or is helpful – to use the same term, "knowledge", in both cases.)

Ruth Benedict, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, 1860. Tuttle.

Réné Descartes, "Meditations", in Melvin Rader (ed.,) The Enduring Questions, 1969. Holt, Rinehart and Winston. pp. 248-265.

Michel Foucault, "Truth and Power", 1980, in Paul Rabinow (ed.,) The Foucault Reader, 1984. Penguin Books. pp. 51-75.

William James, "What Pragmatism Means", in Melvin Rader (ed.,) The Enduring Questions, 1969. Holt, Rinehart and Winston. pp. 111-119.

Keith Lehrer, Theory of Knowledge, 1990. Routledge, London. Especially pp. 1-19.

Brian Street (ed.,) Theory of Knowledge: Teachers' Guide (Final Proof), 1989. International Baccalaureate. Sections I. and II.5.)