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Epistemology / Psychology

Factual Knowledge

Previously, I have shown that experiential knowledge is just perception of particular things. Factual knowledge is a justified affirmation of something.

Factual knowledge is an affirmation. When we take two concepts and add them together, then something is affirmed. For example, “run” and “boys” are joined together to produce the affirmation “boys run”. All affirmations are either true or false. It is true that boys run because some boys run. Concepts can also point out individuals. So “Tim” and “is little” can be joined to make the affirmation “Tim is little”. We know that factual knowledge of a knowledge of affirmations because it is a knowledge of facts. Facts are just statements about the world that are true.

This means that factual knowledge is limited to true affirmations. False affirmations are not knowledge because they are not true statements about the world. Whether factual knowledge is simply true affirmations about the world is another matter. It seems that we could have a true affirmation that is not knowledge. For example, suppose a ‘remote viewer’ claimed to know what the President of the US was doing right now. Suppose that this remote viewer was correct. It certainly does not follow that the remote viewer knows what the President was doing right now. We would be foolish to act on the affirmations of this remote viewer or believe what she said.

Usually, the difference between a true affirmation and factual knowledge is described as justification. This is the reason necessary to bridge the gap between factual knowledge and true affirmations. We could also think of this as the reason why we know that the affirmation is true. In order to understand justification, we must know what the sort of reasons we have for believing various affirmations are. We believe affirmations for three reasons: testimony, perception and reasoning. Testimony is simply believing something because we are told by someone that it is true. Knowing your own birthday is an example of this. Perception does not only include the five senses, but also memory and our internal awareness of our own thoughts. Reasoning simply takes the previous two methods and extends our knowledge further.

Since factual knowledge is justified true affirmations, skepticism about this form of knowledge is skepticism that our justifications are good enough that we are actually justified. We know that some testimony is unreliable. We also know that our perception has problems. Finally, we know that we can make mistakes in reasoning – even when we are certain that we are making no mistakes at all! Skepticism looks at this situation and claims that there is no ground for justification that is good enough to support any true affirmation that we might make.

One again, I think that it is necessary to understand the final conception of knowledge before going on to the problems of perceptual knowledge and factual knowledge.

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