17 June 2011

Knowledge vs Belief - Part 1

You'd think it'd be easy to distinguish between the two...

Knowledge(1) : the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association (2) :acquaintance with or understanding of a science, art, or technique

Belief: a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing

Merriam-Webster appears to sum up the two as experience vs trust.  Makes sense on a practical level, but there are all kinds of experience, and there are varying levels of trust.  AND - you can't experience something without trusting your senses, and you can't trust things without having some experience upon which to base that trust.

Practically speaking, we trust science.  We do this because we know it's worked in the past, and we know there are people who do it professionally as well as those who pursue it merely to understand.  We can look around us and see products made possible only by science.  There's no doubt that science generally works.

So... how should we distinguish between knowledge and belief?  More importantly, how can you tell when a person makes a claim of knowledge that should instead be a claim of belief?

Interestingly, the word "knowledge" seems intuitively to have more authority/credibility.  You'll often find people claiming to know things they simply believe, but you will rarely (if ever) find people claiming to believe things they know.  Belief seems to involve personal conviction, something that holds authority only with the person making the claim.  You wont convince anyone of anything if your argument is merely that you believe it to be true.

Objectivity is what distinguishes knowledge from belief.  If two people are able to experience the same thing and come to the same conclusion, "the ball is red" is no longer a statement of belief but a statement of knowledge.

How this ties into intellectual honesty is something I'll get into next post.


MaxFF said...

You know this post is great. I've only found D.A.N.'s site recently but it seems that in most cases if he can't reply to something, he just says, "how do you KNOW?" in response to an argument. (I'm beginning to see why everyone is frustrated when talking to him, I'll probably give up pretty soon as well)and I couldn't think of a good answer. Maybe this will change things.

Pretty interesting blog posts so far. Look forward to reading more.

Whateverman said...

Hey Max, thanks for stopping by!

I have plans for this blog, but so far they mostly involve trying to express my thoughts better, and only talking about issues of honesty and introspection. As such, I *never* expected someone to comment - thanks, this was a nice surprise.

D.A.N. isn't interested in talking with people. He really isn't. Part of me feels bad about painting for you an obviously biased picture of the man, so by all means, don't just listen to me. Maybe you'll have success where I failed. With that said, everyone who spends time there seems to come to the same general opinion of him.

Truth be told, this blog is being started in part because of Dan and people like him. I don't think they're aware of how dishonest they're being.

Nonetheless, I hope to write enough here to keep people occasionally visiting. Thanks again Max

Sye TenB said...

"If two people are able to experience the same thing and come to the same conclusion, "the ball is red" is no longer a statement of belief but a statement of knowledge."

Seriously? So if two people experience God, then they know that God exists? Man, this is bad even for you.

Whateverman said...

Intellectual honesty demands that I treat nothing you say seriously. Go be dishonest somewhere else, Simple Syeman

Sye TenB said...

Good argument there WEM! :-)