PHIL 2100: Introduction to Philosophy
Dr. Robert Lane
Lecture Notes: Wednesday June 15, 2010


[4.] Epistemology.


epistemology (df.): the area of philosophy that attempts to answer questions about knowledge and rational justification; the word derives from the Greek episteme, meaning “knowledge” or “science.” It asks questions like the following:

·         What is knowledge? How should we define the word “knowledge”?

·         Do we have knowledge? If so, how often, and under what circumstances? What kinds of thing can we know?

·         Are we ever rationally justified in believing anything? If so, how often, and under what circumstances? What kinds of thing can we be justified in believing?

·         What is it to be rationally justified? How should we define terms like “rationally justified,” “good evidence,” “strongly supported by the evidence,” “well confirmed,” and “well founded”?


A perennial topic of debate within epistemology is


skepticism, a.k.a., philosophical skepticism (df.): the view that we never have knowledge, or that none of our beliefs are ever rationally justified.

·         This is usually just referred to as “skepticism,” but there are other sorts of skepticism (especially moral skepticism, the idea that there is no such thing as objective moral truth) from which it should be kept distinct.



[4.1.] Three Senses of “Knowledge.”


We need to be careful to distinguish three different senses of the word “knowledge.”


Sometimes when speaking about knowledge, we say something like: “Smith knows Atlanta,” or “Obama knows Biden.” Such ascriptions of knowledge have the form “S knows x,” where “S” stands for a subject of knowledge (typically a person) and “x” stands for something (an object) that S knows. This is object knowledge.


But other times, we say things like: “Smith knows that Atlanta is the capital of Georgia,” or “Obama knows that Biden is Vice-President.” This kind of knowledge ascription has the form “S knows that p,” and “p” stands for a proposition. This is propositional knowledge.


In English there is a single term, “know,” for both types of knowledge.


But different terms remain in some other languages:

·         Spanish (“conocer” vs. “saber”)

·         French (“connaître” vs. “savoir”)

·         German (“kennen” vs. “wissen”)


There is yet a third way in which we use the word “knowledge”: when we say “Smith knows how to drive” or “Obama knows how to light a cigarette.” Such ascriptions have the form “S knows how to a,” where “a” stands for some action. This is know-how knowledge.

Epistemology tends to be primarily concerned with propositional knowledge rather than object knowledge and know-how knowledge.



[4.2.] Propositional Knowledge vs. Object Knowledge.


Is propositional knowledge (PK) a necessary condition of object knowledge (OK)?  That is, in order to have OK of some person or place, is it necessary to have PK about that person or place?


Two reasons for thinking that OK is not necessary for PK:

·         An infant has OK of its mother, but no PK of her (or of anything else).

·         It seems natural to say that a dog can have OK of its owner; but it is not clear whether we should say that it has PK of its owner (or of anything else).


Sticking to adult humans, it seems true that some PK is a necessary condition of OK, but no particular PK about a given thing is needed to have OK of that thing.

·         For example, in order to have OK of President Obama, you need to have some PK about him, e.g., that he is the President, that he is married, that he is a former United States Senator. But there are no specific propositions about him that you have to know. You might still have OK of him without knowing any of the three propositions just listed, but you need to have some other PK about him.


IS PK a sufficient condition of OK? In other words, in order to have OK of some person or place, is it enough to have PK about that person or place?


No—you can have all possible PK about some person or place or thing without having OK of that person or place or thing. For example, a basketball fan might have spent years learning everything there is to know about the career of Kobe Bryant—but he would not have OK of Kobe Bryant, the way Bryant’s friends and family do.



Stopping point for Tuesday June 15. For next time, read ch.12 (originally assigned for today) and Descartes, Meditation I  (pp.207-210). THIS IS A CHANGE FROM THE ASSIGNMENT GIVEN ON THE ORIGINAL SYLLABUS.




Intro to Philosophy Homepage | Dr. Lane's Homepage | Phil. Program Homepage

This page last updated 6/15/2010.

Copyright © 2010 Robert Lane. All rights reserved.

UWG Disclaimer