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Knowledge, Belief and Truth

  • Date Submitted: 10/08/2012 05:53 AM
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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.


• Knowledge by Description and Acquaintance
Bertrand Russell identified two main types of knowledge: knowledge by description and knowledge by acquaintance. The second of these we might also call "propositional knowledge". In other words, I know that something is true (or false). These...

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