Smith asked:

Is the question whether or not a particular true belief counts as ‘knowledge’ merely vague or a matter of degree? If you think it is, what problem does that solve?

Answer by Peter Jones

Hello Smith,

I find your question difficult to disentangle but here’s a few thoughts.

Philosophy does not explain how we know things. Russell considered the question of how we know things to be the most difficult in philosophy but I feel this was mistake. Philosophy (as he did it) cannot answer this question. It has to be answered by self-examination.

What you do know is that nobody else can know if you know something. So you are the only person who can decide what you know. All this stuff about justified true beliefs is a red herring in my opinion. If we do not know that a belief is true then we do know that it is not knowledge.

In response to your first question I would answer that ‘matter of degree’ and ‘vague’ are not different things. We either know something or we don’t. For the second I would say that an approach to knowledge via the idea of ‘true belief’ solves no problems.

I do not believe it is possible to understand ‘knowing’ by analysis. Rather, I would agree with this ancient sage.

‘All men desire to know, but they do not enquire into that whereby one knows.’ Kuan Tzu (4th-3rd century B.C.)