Theory of Knowledge


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"What is Truth? Said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer."
Of Truth, Essays or Counsels Civil and Moral, Francis Bacon.

Definitions of Truth

In the gospel of John in the New Testament (18:28-40), Jesus is brought up before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of the region. Pilate, a practical and worldly man, is bemused as to why Jesus has been brought before him: what has he done?

During a brief exchange between Pilate and Jesus, we see two distinct concepts of truth at work. On the one hand, Jesus has a very firm idea (18:37):

"You are right in saying I am a king. For this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.

To which Pilate merely replies: "What is truth?" - as if to say, "You think truth exists independently of everyone as a standard by which we can judge our beliefs?"

This sort of debate has been central to philosophy for centuries. We will now look at different theories of knowledge, truth and belief.

What is Knowledge?

There are a number of different ways in which the verb 'to know' is used. I can know someone's voice, a piece of music or my own mind. However, this sort of knowledge seems less specific than factual knowledge: I can know someone's voice or face without necessarily being able to put a name to it; I may change my mind.

Factual knowledge usually entails knowing that something is the case. It is also called propositional knowledge because it can take the form of a logical proposition. For example, "Wales' rugby team is not as good as it once was" proposes a fact. It is something which might either be true or false.


1. Find a passage in a newspaper or book and note or underline every use of the verb 'to know'. Once you have about ten or so, try and decide in what sense the verb is being used.

2. Now, using the same or a different passage, take the first ten sentences or so and decide what is being stated (if anything). Can all of the statements be translated into the form "I know that…"? If so, does this make the meaning clearer.

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