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Introduction to Philosophical Inquiry

Polar Bears, Planets, and Believing in Knowledge – Kelly

How do we know something to be true, and how do we know if that knowledge is real?

In class the other day, while waiting for an explanation of The Allegory of the Cave to buffer on YouTube, we were talking about the difference between Knowledge and True Belief, and the definitions of each.  If you ask me, though, the two topics are too interconnected to be defined separately or contrasted when speaking of them together.  I guess knowledge is meant to be more fact based and true belief is based in faith, but, in my opinion, they are much related.

In our class discussion, someone mentioned that knowledge relies on the backing of experiences and things we know to be true.  That’s when a few pathways in my mind really connected, and I came to question ‘How can we know something to be true if we don’t believe it to be?’

If Knowledge is, ‘Knowing something to be true,’ and True Belief is, ‘Believing something to be true,’ one hugely relies on the other.

Take the example of my fellow classmate, who I am not saying is wrong, but am just arguing my opinion against.  If knowledge must be experienced, how do we know there is anything outside of what we can see?  I have not been to Saturn, but I know it is there.  I have not seen a polar bear, but I know that if I were to be near one, it would kill me.

I know the previous two statements are true because I believe in them, not because I have experienced them.  I know that Saturn exists because I have faith in the knowledge that I have been given in the hopes that it is reliable.  I know that a polar bear would eat me because I trust the information I have been given.  But that doesn’t mean I know it from something I have experienced.

A few weeks ago, someone in my History 12 class asked my teacher why we should believe everything he says.  His response was, ‘Because it is true.’  But I think the real response to that is, ‘Is there any reason not to?’

For our entire upbringing, we have been taught to believe what our teachers tell us, taking it as unconditional fact, and storing it in our ever-growing bank of knowledge.  And we accept that it is fact because that is what we have been conditioned over time to do.

But, in reality, we do put a large amount of belief and faith into our teachers, true belief that the knowledge they give us is accurate.  And that is where the two cross over.  True Belief is the basis for Knowledge.

And without belief and faith, the only things we would know would be limited to the things we can see.



9 thoughts on “Polar Bears, Planets, and Believing in Knowledge – Kelly

  1. Insightful commentary. Well-written. Have young people put so much faith in their teachers that they are robotic to the point where they struggle to think on their own? Teachers simply convey knowledge unless they have you critique that knowledge and see where it fits in your belief system.

    Posted by gleneagletalons | September 26, 2012, 4:24 am
  2. I think you nailed it with your razor, “is there any reason not to?” That is the key question many fail to ask. When Carl Sagan asserts there is an invisible fire-breathing dragon in his garage, you are naturally skeptical. If instead he said he had a common house cat, you would not be. This is an extreme example. It’s the little, subtle things people say where we fail to apply the razor; we take it as truth, and sometimes repeat it to others. We are even less likely to apply the razor if the statement or assertion matches our existing belief systems, even with more extreme statements.

    There is another question, which I know you were not trying to address. What is truth? I was at my 29-year high school reunion this past weekend. While talking about how school and teaching has changed over the past three decades, someone commented, “well at least history doesn’t change.” It was quickly pointed out, though, that history does indeed change. The description of Louis Riel and his rebellion is different in today’s text books than it was 30 years ago. What happened in 1885 has not changed, yet the truth as taught in school has changed. How does the razor apply to this?

    Posted by Mike van der Velden (@mikevdvelden) | September 26, 2012, 5:31 pm
    • Mr. Van der Velden, as much as I would love to say I know how to apply the razor to truth, I am not going to pretend to have an answer to that. I would have to say, though, that truth is subjective, and truth is not final, and no one could every say they possess the absolute truth. Even in Science, where the knowledge of the nature of everything lies in Truth, nothing can be proven to be true, only disproven as false. That says that, really, we don’t have any indisputable truths, and, although it is highly unlikely, one could not say that it is impossible to teleport or travel at the speed of light. It is simply impossible to know.

      Posted by kellyannebryant | October 2, 2012, 2:08 am
  3. Mike, that’s an interesting point. Society itself has evolved much from older times, and with it perspectives change as well. Adding on to your history point, we talked in our English class about how Sharkespeare was the revolutionary, dirty-minded South Park of his time. It’s astounding how our society has evolved and changed so that previous ideas may be completely obsolete or irrelevant.

    As for belief, I think the taking in of knowledge is largely based on both trust that someone gives and the trustability of the source TO the one receiving the information. Our class discussions and activities have really been revolving around different perspectives and ways to look at things. Things are different for everyone. Who’s to say what’s truly true and what’s truly not?

    Posted by carrotdandan | September 26, 2012, 6:36 pm
  4. “I have not been to Saturn, but I know it is there.” Would you stake your life on it? I am being a little facetious in asking that question, but also not. By asking for definitions of “knowledge” and “belief,” we reify them as something that exists apart from “knowers” and “believers” and end up chasing our tale 😉 round and round for a model of truth that _only_ deals with “correspondence with physical reality” but doesn’t ask for the relevance to the knowers’ situation, the effects on that knowledge on themselves and their surroundings, as if these were not relevant at all. We feel it’s uncontroversial to say “the belief that the earth was the centre of the universe is now clearly known to be wrong.” To me this is because we have reified knowledge as something that only exists independently of the society it was created in. And the challenging piece is – that’s true! But it’s also NOT true (cf. Non-dualism http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-dualism and ask Mr Jackson who this weirdo commenting on your blogs is). Knowledge isn’t just “is” – it structures the way we then relate to the world. This is one of the reasons the French philosopher Michel Foucault coined the term Knowledge/Power, to indicate that these are not divorce-able. For me, it’s why I prefer to talk about “knowing” and “knowers” than “knowledge,” as it situates these always as relational and causes me to bring them back to my actual lived experience.

    Posted by nessman | September 26, 2012, 9:51 pm
    • Heh, I will make a lengthier introduction in class, but it’s great to have you in the action here on the blog, Mr. Leslie! This comment is especially mind-expanding for it’s reference to “the relevance to the knowers’ situation, the effects on that knowledge on themselves and their surroundings..” This idea, and that of knowledge “structur[ing] the way we then relate to the world” are extremely interesting to contemplate in lieu of our discussions this week around ‘knowability.’

      Looking forward to diving more into this in our coming units (Epistemology coming up soon!).

      Posted by bryanjack | September 26, 2012, 11:28 pm
      • It all comes down for me to Aristotle’s Law of the Excluded Middle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_excluded_middle) pretty much the cornerstone of Western philosophy, thought, logic and science. It seems so obvious; something either “is” or it “is not.” But that is also the logic that, once followed, has us freely developing inscrutable, reductionist explanations of the world that then have us questioning how there can actually be “free will” (watchit bub, I might just punch you in the nose. Or I might not.) Instead, a law of the included middle would argue that both a reductionist/correspondent model of truth AND a relativistic/constructivist/evolutionary one are both equally right (and both equally wrong.) Teehee

        ‘I know what you’re thinking about,’ said Tweedledum; ‘but it isn’t so, nohow.’

        ‘Contrariwise,’ continued Tweedledee, ‘if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.’

        Posted by nessman | September 27, 2012, 11:30 pm


  1. Pingback: Sticky Posts for the Week of September 24th – 28th « Philosophy 12 - September 26, 2012

  2. Pingback: The Meeting Point of Experience and Universal Truths – Kelly « Philosophy 12 - November 14, 2012

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