What is the difference between knowledge and belief?

  • Sometimes this image is used to explain what agnosticism is and how it's independent from belief:

    enter image description here

    It makes some sense but I still have confusion understanding it.

    What is the difference between knowledge and belief?

    Suggest that you add the tag epistemology (to which knowledge should be a synonym tag IMO but I can't edit tags yet...)

    What is the source of that image?. I think of agnosticism is very much interdependent with belief, it is a qualifier of belief, how -strongly- one believes. TO me in that picture, agnostic atheist and agnostic theist are pretty close together, in that they just have milder leavings towards one direction or the other. And it would kinda weird to have someone who is gnostic (totally sure of themselves) but somewhere between theist and atheist.

    @Mitch I've added the source.

    The classical answer here is that knowledge is *justified true belief*.

    Knowledge - You learn it from your own experience Belief - You learn it from others

    Whoever draw the chart doesn't know what an atheist is. There is no lack of belief. An atheist cannot even be bothered not to belief.

    I think that one needs to make the distinction between the technical philosophical term "belief" and the word "belief" which is a synonym for "faith." The two are related, but have subtle differences - clearly atheists have beliefs in the first sense but not in the second sense.

    It's a fair question but very 'Western'. What is a 'gnostic theist' or 'gnostic atheist' and what have they got to do with the difference between belief and knowledge? Either they know what is the case or they don't. What about someone who knows that 'atheism' and 'theism' are clumsy words that cannot convey the actual truth and that that this is the reason why the argument is so hopeless? Your terms do not cover someone like Meister Eckhart or the Buddha. Your chart does not seem to contain a category for anyone with actual knowledge.

    I find it helps to consider the question from the position of 'not knowing', and using less developed or intricate constructs from others. Consider this: knowledge that rain falls from clouds, and belief the cause of this is some life-affirming force of nature. Knowledge (fact of) may also begin as (false) belief: clouds causes the air to release rain. Which seems like a reasonable assumption. Knowledge: provable fact (empirical) gained through rational iniquity. Belief: an assumption based on partial information & observation, which may or may not be true until proven. Belief can be power!

  • Strictly speaking I believe definitive knowledge is never obtainable, as Karl Popper has convincingly argued.

    Simply put; Karl Popper argued that there can always arise occasions where that, that which we hold to be confirmed knowledge (truth), will be falsified by a new observation.

    In other words; what we accept as being knowledge is actually merely belief with a certain degree of perceived certainty. I say perceived certainty, as Popper argued that it holds no actual certainty value at all; it can merely be perceived as propositions that have consecutively been corroborated by evidence. But as stated before: only one observation that contradicts such a proposition, believed to be knowledge, could be enough to falsify it.

    Therefor, I think we'd be wiser to classify different gradations of belief (and disbelief for that matter) on imaginary scales:

    • Irrational belief1--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--Rational belief2
    • Irrational disbelief3--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--Rational disbelief4

    1) Belief despite the lack of corroborating evidence
    2) Belief due to overwhelming corroborating evidence
    3) Disbelief despite overwhelming corroborating evidence
    4) Disbelief due to the lack of corroborating evidence

    Knowledge then, I think, should be considered that part of the first scale that leans towards the right end of the scale (rational belief), while keeping in mind that this knowledge is never definitive.

    Perhaps this image, somewhat in line with your image, better demonstrates what I mean: enter image description here

    What's the source of that picture?

    @Mitch: It's my own actually.

    Shouldn't the two labels on the bottom be reversed? If one gains corroborating evidence, one would go from irrational to rational, not the reverse.

    @MichaelDorfman, No, you're not reading the sign correctly. Assume the person below the axis disbelieves regardless of evidence; their disbelief is rational to the extent there is no corroborating evidence, and their disbelief is irrational comensurate with the amount of evidence supporting that view.

    @bwkaplan: Sorry, I'm still not getting that. If the person below the line disbelieves regardless of evidence, their disbelief is irrational and independent of evidence (by definition.) It still seems to me that this graphic would make more sense if we reversed the bottom two labels; then we have a vertical axis running from disbelief to belief (bottom to top), and a horizontal axis running from no evidence to a plenitude of evidence (left to right).

    @MichaelDorfman: if there is overwhelming evidence for a proposition and you are still inclined to disbelief that proposition: that is irrational. If there is no evidence for a proposition and you are inclined to disbelief that proposition: that is rational.

    @fireeyedboy: OK, now I think I get what you did there. I was interpreting the horizontal axis as running (as I said above) from no evidence concerning a given proposition (on the left) to strong evidence (on the right). It seems that you intended it to go from strong evidence against a proposition (on the left) to strong evidence for a proposition (on the right), presumably passing through "no evidence" in the middle somewhere. Is that correct?

    Karl Popper didn't say that we don't have knowledge, just that all knowledge is conjectural. He also said that knowledge is not a kind of belief. See, for example, "Objective Knowledge" or "Realism and the Aim of Science".

    @MichaelDorfman No, that can't be right. Otherwise it would say "knowledge" at the bottom right. I think its correctly interpreted with disbelief associated with a credence of 0.5 (I would personally reserve this label for a credence of 0) and belief with a credence of 1.

    Like the OP's your chart does not contain a quadrant for knowledge but covers just four types of belief. You equate 'rational belief' with knowledge but in this case why call it 'rational belief'? We all have many rational beliefs that are not knowledge.

  • Knowledge is a particular kind of belief, one that has (or has more) evidence, and justified at that (of course there is the classic Gettier problem with this definition).

    The picture you gave shows two axes, one from theism to atheism (the subject matter about what one knows/believes), and an orthogonal one or gnosis to agnosis, or what I take it, to be the degree of belief with gnosis being knowledge (certain belief) and agnosis being...

    Well, that's the problem. What is that axis 'measuring'? Is it the certainty (which would presumably go from 'sure' knowledge to ...unsure. Is unsure knowledge the same as belief? I think of knowledge as one kind of belief, a very sure kind of belief, rather than in opposition to belief.

    For the diagram, I'd say that the a/gnosis axis is really trying to quantify 'certainty'. At one end one is -very- sure of one's belief that a god exists (or doesn't). At the other, one is completely unsure of the statement.

    My problem with this diagram is that is seems perverse to say 'I believe that X, but I am completely unsure of X'. Those seem contradictory. If you are completely unsure of X, then I would say you can't believe it. I guess one could be a theist and be unsure about it, but if one were -completely- unsure of it, then that wold just be an agnostic, directly in the middle, rather than being an agnostic theist.

    The meta-lesson that I learn from this diagram is that a nice clean diagram does not necessarily exhibit coherent or consistent concepts.

    Is the 'gnostic/agnostic' axis about a continuum between proof and faith? That might be a more orthogonal and coherent thing, but there's no evidence in the picture that that is the case.

    +1 for "The meta-lesson that I learn from this diagram is that a nice clean diagram does not necessarily exhibit coherent or consistent concepts."

    The analysis of the diagram is incorrect here. An agnostic doesn't say they are "completely unsure" - they say either that they are not completely convinced "yet", or that what they believe cannot be completely proven. One could view this simply as believing based on an inductive proof while understanding that's evidence, but not a strong or often conclusive proof, and desiring a deductive method instead (sometimes even understanding or believing that is impossible).

    Many folk would disagree that knowledge is a kind of belief. For logical reasons certain knowledge has to be 'knowledge by identity' and is therefore an experience or state of being rather than a belief. But this may be debatable depending on how we use the words. Is the experience of pain a belief? To me it seems to be 'knowledge by identity'.

    Knowledge is not a type of belief. If you witness a car crash, you don't have to believe in it for its reality to remain in place. The knowledge is there both in the witness and the marks it's left in the world.

    Perhaps a better example, is that 1 + 1 = 2, doesn't require any belief.

  • Knowledge, of the kind you're asking about, I think, usually requires evidence and reasoning. In extreme cases where such knowledge doesn't require both evidence and reasoning, such as in parts of symbolic logic, knowledge requires only reasoning.

    On the other hand, belief doesn't require any reasoning or evidence whatsoever.

    If I know that the sun burns at, or around, a certain temperature, then either there exists some perceptual data as evidence of this, or some perceptual data exists which, along with reasoning, implies the sun as burning at, or around, that certain temperature. So, a claim of the sun burning at, or around, that certain temperature comes as sufficiently grounded.

    On the other hand, if one believes the sun burns at a certain temperature, there might not exist any evidence or reasoning which grounds such a claim. One could believe something in one's sleep quite easily. Unless you believe dreams provide us with empirical information about the sun, I think this indicates beliefs as not needing evidence or reasoning. This isn't to say that no beliefs can get grounded via reasoning or evidence. Plenty of knowledge, also is believed (I know I have a hand, and I believe it too). However, no belief purely as a belief need get grounded via reasoning or evidence to qualify as a belief. Knowledge does need at least some sort of ground, and if a claim is not grounded via reasoning or evidence, then it comes as a strongly believed speculation at best.

    Unfortunately I don't have any "atheist" or "agnostic" literature citations here, but as I recall reading "atheist" and "agnostic" literature they do seem to use the terms at least somewhat in that way.

    The Wikipedia on "Descriptive Knowledge" says this: "The difference between knowledge and beliefs is as follows:. A belief is an internal thought or memory which exists in one's mind. Most people accept that for a belief to be knowledge it must be, at least, true and justified."

    Belief requires evidence. But it can be completely subjective or personal evidence. Everyone has a reason for each of their beliefs, even if the rest of humanity disagrees with that reasoning or sees the evidence for it as false or inconclusive.

  • Broadly speaking, knowledge is objective truth while belief is subjective truth. That is, knowledge is typically thought to be that which is true independent of circumstance; it is universally true (non-contingent). Belief, however, is an idea or concept which is held as true to the individual who holds it, and not necessarily to anyone (or everyone) else.

    It is, however, entangled with many other ideas and notions in philosophy and as such there is no simple definition that will wholly suffice in answering your question. See Epistemology {SEP}{Wiki}, PhilosophyOnline's article on knowledge and belief, Analysis of Knowledge from SEP as Joseph also points out, and (philosophical) Hermeneutics.

    Is your first sentence *true*? How did you prove it? Or is it *subjective*? If belief forms the bedrock of an understanding between knowledge and belief, what does that say about the vulnerability of belief?

    Belief and knowledge have ***always*** been vulnerable to philosophical skepticism. This problem is inherently unresolvable, given the way things are (i.e. we don't observe things directly, only representations of things, our minds can always be fallible, etc). Some things require a leap of faith. :)

    @stoicfury - One solution would be is to reserve 'knowledge' for 'knowledge by identity'. This can be certain and absolute since it is not belief.but experience. Thus the sage does not believe but becomes truth. (Al-Halaj was crucified for claiming 'I am truth'). This issue captures a vital epistemological difference between 'Western' philosophy, which must be content with belief, and mysticism, which has little respect for mere belief.

    @Axeman: it doesn't say anything about the vulnerability about the belief -- it says the belief has the possibility to be WRONG.

    @TheDoctor, "vulnerability of belief" is my own shorthand, which stoicfury had no problem comprehending. It says something about "vulnerability of belief" to the extent that I meant that phrase to represent what stoicfury was distinguishing about belief, the potential to be proven more complicated than stated. That you think that the main challenge to belief is that it could be WRONG shows a simplicity of thought, that really doesn't even understand my major challenge to his *statement* of how to partition knowledge from belief.

  • Suppose I flip a coin and don't look at it. I have no knowledge that the coin landed heads up. But I may choose to believe it landed heads up if I want to.

    Interpreting your diagram:

    Agnostic atheist: "I do not believe that a god exists. God might exist or might not, I don't know. Perhaps evidence might make me believe in the future, but right now, I don't."

    Agnostic theist: "I choose to believe that a god exists by faith. I wouldn't consider this knowledge though, as I don't have rigorous evidence or proof."

    Gnostic theist: "I know that a god exists. I have proof/evidence that I consider rigorous."

    Gnostic atheist: "I know that no god exists. I have proof/evidence that I consider rigorous."

  • Knowledge

    • What is knowledge?

      • Knowledge could be a part of particular truth or universal truth.

      • When we are aware of knowledge from other source, we consider it as valuable facts that may be adapted for our own purpose relevantly. We consider knowledge as facts that have possibilities to be useful for us.

    • Failure on Knowledge

      • If such knowledge unable to be implemented successfully to support our purposes, this will not be our knowledge and we disbelieve it, but still there is a chance it will be valuable for someone else, and we can share it to someone else. Knowledge may be a particular truth, therefore knowledge may be shareable.


    • What is belief?

      • Belief must be considered as a part of a universal truth.

      • Belief is our assertion to knowledge. Belief is knowledge as universal truth that we accept.

      • We accept a knowledge as a belief and we share a belief as a knowledge to someone else.

    • Failure on Belief

      • Since belief is a part of universal truth, therefore if our belief was proved to be wrong, it shouldn't be shared as knowledge to someone else.

    The points are:

    • Knowledge is what possibly useful facts for us,

    • Where, a belief is an assertion of usefulness of a knowledge.

    • May be a knowledge is someone's belief, but what i believe for sure is a knowledge (knowledge is not always a belief, but a belief is always a knowledge)

  • Knowledge is useful or explanatory information. An item of knowledge need not be believed by anybody. For example, there is lots of knowledge in books, computer programs and even genes that nobody knows. The information is just as valuable and just as much in need of explanation as knowledge that happens to be believed by somebody. See "Objective Knowledge" and "Realism and the Aim of Science" by Karl Popper for more on this issue.

  • You aren't alone - far too many people get Belief and Knowledge confused.

    A Truth is something grounded in reality - demonstrable either directly or via sound rational progress from direct evidence.

    Any concept one considers to be true (which is not the same as a Truth) is a Belief. When that concept is a Truth, then that Belief is Knowledge.

    Not a terrible answer by any means, but is there any chance I could persuade you to unpack this a little bit? Maybe back up some of your claims with citations?

    Well, the specific way of putting it as I did goes back to Epistemology 101 which I took in '90 so I don't remember (hopefully understandably) the *exact* citation - but one need only consult a dictionary to see that the definitions of the words line up with what I've said...

    Offering an actual citation from a dictionary might be acceptable, but I would definitely encourage you to please provide a cite from a philosopher if you can.

    Just in passing, SEP has an article on "knowledge analysis" that might be helpful as far as identifying potential sources to cite.

    If the question were one along the lines of "how to we establish that something is grounded in reality" or "how do we identify a belief", I'd think a cite from a philosopher is necessary. When we're dealing with basic terms and just clarifying what they mean, it seems rather silly. Words have meanings - and dictionary definitions provide the common frame of reference for the conceptual meanings of words to be made clear. If we can't at least agree on a frame of reference for conceptual definitions then it doesn't matter what we know anymore, communication is impossible.

    I am not sure I really understand what you are trying to say. It just seems to me your own personal definitions are not a constructive response to the question. It's *because* we're in subjective-definitional territory that I would suggest you try to back up the claims you are making here *somehow* -- at any rate, I would certainly reconsider my downvote if you did.

  • Knowledge is based on evidence whereas belief does not need any evidence.

    I think the "Knowledge hierarchy" is interesting in this case:

    enter image description here

    So let's get through it:

    Data is only symbols / signs. Data comes from sensors. A simple example is the output stream a visual sensor produces. This sensor might be your eye and the data comes in the form of electrical impulses.

    Information is data with context and interpretation. In the eye example that could be some structure: Your brain knows that the data it gets is grouped. What arrives at the same time is related; things that are closer together are related. From the different signals of single rod cells an image is formed. So information can only exist with data, but it is more.

    I would define knowledge as an extrapolation of information. So you try find patterns in information with context. In the eye example I would say that knowledge is the following: You see the following image:

    enter image description here

    Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Puppy.JPG

    But without knowledge that has no further meaning. But you have seen that pattern before. And you have seen the pattern what happens next before:

    • People say sweet
    • You feel happy
    • You're tempted to +1 this post ( :-) )

    You got this knowledge by combining lots and lots of information:

    • You have seen the pattern "fur", "eyes", "mouth" before
    • You have seen the combination before
    • In your first years you were told many times "that's a dog"

    so you derived that "dog" is what these patterns mean. And as you know these patterns, you have compresses a lot of information and even more data: You can predict what can happen and what can't. Your predictions might not be always right, but they have to be right most of the time. How do you know they are right? Well, that's another question.

    One questions that I think is interesting is:

    Is knowledge always correct?

    Well, I think here you will get problems with terms. I would call one of them universal knowledge and the other personal knowledge. The universal knowledge does fit to every information all the time. In that sense it cannot be wrong. But it is rather a theoretical construct. We only have personal knowledge as we only have limited data and therefore limited information. As our capacities to detect patterns are limited we also accept errors. So our knowledge has not to fit all information we get. We sometimes simply ignore information (Was that fish just talking? Nah, I have never seen that before. Let's ignore it.) or we actively try to get more information (Did the fish talk again? Probably somebody tried to fool me. Lets seek for hidden cameras.)

    Humans have developed amazing abilities to get and share knowledge. A good strategy for checking if knowledge is useful / valid is falsification. For everything you know, there has to be some information that had the possibility to change your mind: "If XY happens, then my knowledge about Z is wrong.".

    So much about knowledge. But what is belief?

    Belief does not need any data / information / knowledge. When you ask religious people what you could do that would make them not belief in god any longer, you will get one answer: Nothing. No data / information can "remove" belief.

    Colloquial meaning: I belief

    Sometimes people say I belief when they are not sure about something. But that's something different.

  • To begin, we should be wary of the fact that the term 'knowledge' is used in different ways in colloquial speech, and is often the focus of highly contested political issues. 'Knowing' (in the understanding of the lay public) invokes existential security: to know something is to have a solid foundation on which further human action can rest. In the absence of knowledge people can become frightened, indecisive, and weak — they lose that firm foundation on which their actions might be based, and hesitate — and thus debates about what constitutes knowledge are (more often than not) thinly-veiled, aphilosophical attacks meant to undercut the political or social power of some disliked person, group, or institution. We should take care to segregate these political gambits from the proper philosophical question.

    Philosophically speaking, the term 'knowledge' is best thought of as the systematic suspension of disbelief. When we say we know something, we mean that we accept a particular claim about the world without entertaining the possibility that it might be incorrect. This is broad definition of knowledge that only deals with the cognitive aspect (it is pre-epistemological), but what's important to note is that it is not affirmative — not a protestation of truth — but anti-disfirmative. Knowledge doesn't have to express itself as true, it merely rejects critiques and counter-assertions. When a claim is forced to affirm itself against critiques and counter-assertions, its status as knowledge is explicitly in question; it does not regain its status as 'knowledge' until the opposing arguments are put to rest and can once again be systematically ignored.

    Of course, justifying such systematic suspension of disbelief analytically is a more complicated undertaking, and there have been several historical approaches to the problem. The three most prominent have been:

    • Idealism, in which action and understanding are predicated by transcendental 'ideals' or 'forms' that determine the nature of things
    • Rationalism, which holds that logical consistency, intellectual rigor, and introspective analysis yield fundamental 'truths' from which action and understanding can proceed
    • Empiricism, where sensory experience (through precise and systematic measurement) determines the functional application of action and understanding, and thus delimits and constitutes knowledge

    These are often held as exclusionary positions — I generally argue against that, since it's clear that each position necessarily invokes elements of each of the others — and they generally each have their unique ways of standing up against cynicist and nihilist arguments that seek to deny the mere possibility of knowledge or meaning. But it's through this common effort to try to systematically justify the suspension of disbelief that we can approach the religious problem laid out in the questions and start to understand what 'knowledge' means in each case:

    • Theists 'know' there is a god, and justify that suspension of disbelief by pointing at an assortment of moral virtues, communitarian values, and philosophical ideals they find difficult to hold or imagine in the absence of a god.
    • Atheists 'know' there is no god, and justify that suspension of disbelief by referencing the absence of evidence or certain logical paradoxes that are entailed in such a belief (depending on whether they lean more towards empiricism or rationalism)
    • Gnostics (or mystics more generally) 'know' that there is a higher order to the universe that can be accessed (if not necessarily expressed), and justify that suspension of disbelief (as often as not) by seeking to transcend the failures of lower-order 'knowing' encapsulated in 'worldly' knowledge
    • Agnostics 'know' that some things cannot be known, and justify that suspension of disbelief by pointing at the excesses of overcommitment to points of knowledge

    Each group 'knows' by suspending disbelief in a dimension important to it; each group's 'knowledge' is mere belief to the other groups; everyone fails to recognize that disputes aren't mere matters of difference but cut down to the foundational bones of worldviews, bones that support and structure human action and understanding. It is not a simple problem by any means, and treating it as though it is does disservice to all.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM