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Philosophy of Knowledge

a. What are the major areas addressed by traditional philosophers of knowledge, and how do they compare with modern day concerns in this area? Consider a broad spectrum of eras and approaches in your response.

b. What avenues of epistemic exploration will be useful in business endeavors, and which do you consider inapplicable?

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Philosophy of Knowledge

Epistemology or theory of knowledge is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature, methods, limitations, and validity of knowledge and belief. Much of the debate in this field has focused on analyzing the nature of knowledge and how it relates to similar notions such as truth, belief, and justification. It also deals with the means of production of knowledge, as well as skepticism about different knowledge claims. In other words, epistemology primarily addresses the following questions: "What is knowledge?", "How is knowledge acquired?", and "What do people know?".

The primary question that epistemology addresses is "What is knowledge?". This question is several millennia old.

Distinguishing knowing that from knowing how

In epistemology the kind of knowledge usually discussed is propositional knowledge, also known as "knowledge-that" as opposed to "knowledge-how". For example: in mathematics, it is known that 2 + 2 = 4, but there is also knowing how to add two numbers. Or, one knows how to ride a bicycle and one knows that a bicycle has two wheels.

Philosophers thus distinguish between theoretical reason (knowing that) and practical reason (knowing how), with epistemology being interested primarily in theoretical knowledge. This distinction is recognised linguistically in many languages but not in English. In French (as well as in Portuguese and Spanish), for example, to know a person is 'connaître' ('conhecer' / 'conocer'), whereas to know how to do something is 'savoir' ('saber' in both Portuguese and Spanish). In Greek language the verbs are (gnorízo) and (kséro), respectively. In Italian the verbs are 'conoscere' and 'sapere' and the nouns for 'knowledge' are 'conoscenza' and 'sapienza', respectively. In the German language, it is exemplified with the verbs "kennen" and "wissen." "Wissen" implies knowing as a fact, "kennen" implies knowing in the sense of being acquainted with and having a working knowledge of. But neither of those verbs do truly extend to the full meaning of the subject of epistemology. In German, there is also a verb derived from "kennen", namely "erkennen", which roughly implies knowledge in the form of recognition or acknowledgment, strictly metaphorically. The verb itself implies a process: you have to go from one state to another: from a state of "not-erkennen" to a state of true erkennen. This verb seems to be the most appropriate in terms of describing the "episteme" in one of the modern European languages.


Sometimes, when people say that they believe in something, what they mean is that they predict that it will prove to be useful or successful in some sense - perhaps someone might "believe in" his or her favorite football team. This is not the kind of belief usually addressed within epistemology. The kind that is dealt with, as such, is where "to believe something" simply means any cognitive content held as true ? e.g., to believe that the sky is blue is to think that the proposition, "The sky is blue," is true.

Knowledge implies belief. Consider the statement, "I know P, but I don't believe that P is true." This statement is contradictory. To know P is, among other things, to believe that P is true, i.e. to believe in P.


If someone believes something, he or she thinks that it is true, but he or she may be mistaken. This is not the case with knowledge. For example, suppose that Jeff thinks that a particular bridge is safe, and attempts to cross it; unfortunately, the bridge collapses under his weight. We might say that Jeff believed that the bridge was safe, but that his belief was mistaken. It would not be accurate to say that he knew that the bridge was safe, because plainly it was not. For something to count as knowledge, it must actually be true.


In Plato's dialogue Theaetetus, Socrates considers a number of theories as to what knowledge is, the last being that knowledge is true belief that has been "given an account of" ? meaning explained or defined in some way. According to the theory that knowledge is justified true belief, in order to know that a given proposition is true, one must not only believe the relevant true proposition, but one must also have a good reason for doing so. One implication of this would be that no one would gain knowledge just by believing something that happened to be true. For example, an ill person with no medical training, but a generally optimistic attitude, might believe that she will recover from her illness quickly. Nevertheless, even if this belief turned out to be true, the patient would not have known that she would get well since her belief lacked justification. The definition of knowledge as justified true belief was widely accepted until the 1960s. At this time, a paper written by the American philosopher Edmund Gettier provoked widespread discussion.

According to Plato, knowledge is a subset of that which is both true and believed.

The Gettier problem

In 1963 Edmund Gettier called into question the theory of knowledge that had been dominant among philosophers for thousands of years. In a few pages, Gettier argued that there are situations in which one's belief may be justified and true, yet fail to count as knowledge. That is, Gettier contended that while it is necessary for knowledge of a proposition that one be justified in one's true belief in that proposition, it is not sufficient. As in the diagram above, a true proposition can be believed by an individual but still not fall within the "knowledge" category (purple region).

According to Gettier, there are certain circumstances in which one does not have knowledge, even when all of the above conditions are met. Gettier proposed two thought experiments, which have come to be known as "Gettier cases", as counterexamples to the classical account of knowledge. One of the cases involves two men, Smith and Jones, who are awaiting the results of their applications for the same job. Each man has ten coins in his pocket. Smith has excellent reasons to believe that Jones will get the job and, furthermore, knows that Jones has ten coins in his pocket (he recently counted them). From this Smith infers, "the man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket." However, Smith is unaware that he has ten coins in his own pocket. Furthermore, Smith, not Jones, is going to get the job. While Smith has strong evidence to believe that Jones will get the job, he is wrong. Smith has a justified true belief that a man with ten coins in his pocket will get the job; however, according to Gettier, Smith does not know that a man with ten coins in his pocket will get the ...

Solution Summary

This solution discusses the philosophy of knowledge, as well as the topics of belief, truth and justification. The Gettier problem is also considered in terms of the theory of knowledge. The debate between the nature of knowledge - externalism and internalism - is also presented.