KNOWLEDGE AND FAITH
What is called "knowledge" may be either practical or
propositional in character.
Practical knowledge is 'knowledge-how', whereas
propositional knowledge is 'knowledge-that'.
In the context of the concept of truth we shall be concerned with
propositional knowledge only.
In a broad sense a theory of truth should
include a theory of (propositional) knowledge of what is true,
or a theory of what we know to be true. Similarly, a theory of
relevancy should include a theory of (propositional) knowledge
of what is relevant, that is, of what we know to be relevant;
and a theory of property a theory of (propositional) knowledge
of what is someone's property, that is, of what we know to be
someone's property. Whether a theory of knowledge of what is
relevant, and of what is property, is simply part of a theory of
knowledge of what is true is itself an issue for those theories.
Propositional knowledge is true belief, but true belief need
not be knowledge, because a belief may just happen to be true. If
someone believes that it will rain at a particular moment in the
future, and it does indeed rain at that moment,
'er belief is
not knowledge or has not been knowledge for that reason. What
distinguishes such a lucky guess (if it is one) from knowledge
is at least justification, epistemic justification to be precise.
But even this standard definition of knowledge as
justified true belief has been attacked for being too simple.
Traditionally its criterions are: (1) p is true; (2) S
believes that p; and (3) S's belief that p is justified. It has
been argued that these three criterions are minimal ones, and
that S should also not believe that p, if p is not true.
Moreover, S should indeed believe that p, if p is true. On such a
conception of knowledge it is said to 'track', as it were, the
truth that p. For our present purpose, however, it is not
necessary to consider such additional criterions. The first
step, that is, the one from true belief to justified or
grounded true belief is the most important one for us here.
The central problem for those interested in theory of
knowledge is, of course, whether something can ever be known for
sure, and if so, how. If something cannot be known for sure,
the problem is whether one can still be justified in considering
something true nonetheless. Extreme skepticists would say that
one cannot know anything for sure. They doubt everything.
Dogmatists, on the other hand, claim knowledge without ever
seriously and honestly examining what their claims are based
upon. They do not doubt their 'truths' which they may readily
call "self-evident truths" or "revelations". (Such 'truths'
which are mere products of belief we shall henceforth call
"doxastic truths". As a product of belief a doxastic truth
need not be false: it may happen to be true.)
Skepticism admits of degrees. A skepticist may only doubt
certain kinds of belief, or specific opinions regarded as
knowledge by others.
'E may be skeptical about the 'apriori
intuition' or 'knowledge' of a rationalist, but also about
the 'empirical intuition' or 'knowledge' of an empiricist.
Rationalism in the epistemological sense, or apriorism, is,
then, the view that there is knowledge which does not depend on
experience for its justification, knowledge which can be derived
from 'self-evident' axioms or principles by deduction. It is
also called "rationalism", because this knowledge is said to come
from reason or from ideas the mind would be endowed with
independently of any experience. The complement of apriorism,
empiricism, is the view that all knowledge depends on experience
for its justification. Sense perception and introspection
are the sources of empirical knowledge which can be derived from
those sources by induction.
Both apriorists and empiricists may consider themselves
skepticists, or may start as such, the former ones with regard
to empirical knowledge, the latter ones with regard to apriori
knowledge. The apriorist may show how people can be deceived by
their senses, and tell us that we cannot be certain that this
does not happen all the time.
The by now trite standard example is that of a stick partially immersed
in water which seems to be crooked when looking at it, but which turns out
to be straight when feeling it.
(It should not go unnoticed, however, that we can only be sure that we are
deceived visually here, so long as we assume that our sense of touch
cannot or does not deceive us.)
The empiricist on 'er part can easily point at the many
apriorist beliefs which have once been presented as 'indubitable
truths', but which are now controversial or acknowledged to be
Thus, for apriorists it was once self-evident that one, and only one,
line could be drawn parallel to another line
thru a given point, that
—what has later been denied by mathematicians believing in the
existence of infinite sets— a whole is greater than any of its parts,
that in all changes of the material world the quantity of matter remains
unchanged (not 'of matter and/or energy'), and so on and so forth.
(One idealist who tried to synthesize rationalism and empiricism said that
the laws of science are not drawn from nature, but prescribed to it.)
The most egregious historical example of 'skeptical rationalism'
is that of a philosopher who purported to doubt everything,
but who, all the same, maintained that 'e had a 'clear and
distinct' conception of one 'supremely perfect god'. It is in
such monotheist dogmatism that 'skeptical rationalism' and
'empiricism' even used to meet each other, for also empiricists
once claimed to have 'demonstrative knowledge of God's existence'.
Altho their 'knowledge'
was not apriori but empirical, the ideological result was the same, and
had to be the same to start with.
(It would, of course, have been equally dogmatical to claim that apriori
intuition or empirical evidence prove that there is not any god or demon
to be found in the universe.)
One would expect that the end of this theist dogmatism was in sight when,
with the synthesis of rationalism and empiricism, it was argued that the
supernatural entities to which concepts like god, demon and
immortality refer were beyond all possible experience, and
could therefore never be objects of knowledge. What does the
trick in this case tho, is a marked contrast between knowledge
and faith, and the possibility not only of justified knowledge
but also of justified faith which is not knowledge. (Faith in
immortality but somehow not in preexistence, for instance.)
When hearing or reading the word faith one should bear in
mind that this word is used in several senses. Three forms of
faith which have been distinguished are: faith in spite of
evidence to the contrary, in the absence of such evidence, and
on account of evidence. Now, when contrasted with knowledge,
faith means ungrounded belief so far as evidence is
concerned, that is, faith in the absence of (and possibly in
spite of) evidence to the contrary. But why would we have to
have faith that there is at least one god, and that 'man' is
immortal? According to one monotheist philosopher and ideologue,
because 'man's nature demands it', because 'man is not merely an
animal that knows but one that acts and feels'.
One must have faith in this sort of reasoning to consider it reasoning in
the first place.
Another philosopher of later times has also admitted that
there is no scientific evidence for or against the existence of
gods or immortality, yet the justification of the belief in one
or more gods, and the belief in immortality, is according to
that such beliefs are 'the deepest cravings of man'. Without
them people's moral standards would collapse.
On the pragmatist outlook of this philosopher —or should we say
"ideologue" again?— there is said to be a close connection between
what is good and what is true.
Alas, the close connection is not really between what is true and what is
good, but rather between what is believed to be true and what is
believed to be good by adherents of the same ideology, in this case
of the same monotheist religion.
If the right to believe something is indeed determined by the will to
believe something in the absence of evidence, if not in spite of evidence
to the contrary, then the right to disbelieve something is equally
determined by the will to disbelieve something.
The 'deepest craving' of some people
may be a belief in gods, demons and immortality, yet the
'deepest craving' of other people is a belief in a conceptual
austerity which does not allow for notions like god, demon
(or names like God or Devil) and immortality. And
while one group of people may defend the existence of one or more gods
and immortality on the basis of their system of norms and
values, other persons may reject the belief in the normative
supremeness of such a god, or such gods, and/or in immortality
on the basis of a different system of norms and values. (The
very fact that they reject something on principle presupposes
and requires moral standards.)
Hence, the pragmatist theory of truth is an instrument which merely
The idealist distinction between knowledge and faith is
itself not justifiable, for given that knowledge is grounded
belief and given that it need not always be based on empirical
evidence (altho it may never be contrary to it), there is no
place for faith in the religious, that is, supernaturalist, sense.
It is precisely religious faith and religious authority which have always
been the cornerstones of denominational dogmatism.
And it is in turn this religious dogmatism which has historically
been most inimical to the advance of scientific knowledge, at
least until its role was taken over by other forms of ideological
dogmatism in politically totalitarian countries. If one can
just take anything for gospel and present it as absolute,
indubitable or infallible 'truth', this has nothing to do with
knowledge or justification anymore.
To call one's belief in such gospel 'truth' "religious science" or
"(mono)theist science" or something similar with
"-ology" —as has been done— is, then, the ultimate corruption
of language and a travesty of truth itself.