Knowledge - Theories of Knowledge

Theories of Knowledge

See also: Epistemology
The eventual demarcation of philosophy from science was made possible by the notion that philosophy's core was "theory of knowledge," a theory distinct from the sciences because it was their foundation… Without this idea of a "theory of knowledge," it is hard to imagine what "philosophy" could have been in the age of modern science.
— Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature

The definition of knowledge is a matter of on-going debate among philosophers in the field of epistemology. The classical definition, described but not ultimately endorsed by Plato, specifies that a statement must meet three criteria in order to be considered knowledge: it must be justified, true, and believed. Some claim that these conditions are not sufficient, as Gettier case examples allegedly demonstrate. There are a number of alternatives proposed, including Robert Nozick's arguments for a requirement that knowledge 'tracks the truth' and Simon Blackburn's additional requirement that we do not want to say that those who meet any of these conditions 'through a defect, flaw, or failure' have knowledge. Richard Kirkham suggests that our definition of knowledge requires that the evidence for the belief necessitates its truth.

In contrast to this approach, Wittgenstein observed, following Moore's paradox, that one can say "He believes it, but it isn't so", but not "He knows it, but it isn't so". He goes on to argue that these do not correspond to distinct mental states, but rather to distinct ways of talking about conviction. What is different here is not the mental state of the speaker, but the activity in which they are engaged. For example, on this account, to know that the kettle is boiling is not to be in a particular state of mind, but to perform a particular task with the statement that the kettle is boiling. Wittgenstein sought to bypass the difficulty of definition by looking to the way "knowledge" is used in natural languages. He saw knowledge as a case of a family resemblance. Following this idea, "knowledge" has been reconstructed as a cluster concept that points out relevant features but that is not adequately captured by any definition.

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