Take the 2-minute tour ×
Philosophy Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for those interested in logical reasoning. It's 100% free, no registration required.

We know that these can all be considered as knowledges:

  • 1 + 1 = 2
  • free delivery for purchases over $100
  • there are approximately 100 people in this village
  • Alice is dating Bob
  • universe is probably started by a big bang

Mathematical knowledge tends to be very "exact", and we rely on them to be just that. What is the nature of the difference between a mathematical knowledge, for example, 1 + 1 = 2, and a more general knowledge, suppose, Alice is dating Bob or universe started by big bang? Or do these knowledge all have something in common?

share|improve this question
Mathemathics is an ideal abstraction. It is in some sense discussible how real it is. :-) But it's based on perfect abstractions and can therefore reach a sort of perfect knowledge that things dealing with the real world can't reach. Because although 100*2000 = 2 000 000 in maths, if you take 2000 piles of hundred apples, a whole lot of them will be squished, so you end up with less than 2 million apples. The real world are often not quite as perfect and self-evident as maths is, so we are less sure of it. –  Lennart Regebro Jun 19 '11 at 8:58

2 Answers 2

Although not a definitive answer to the complete depth of the question some light may be shed looking at the difference that Immanuel Kant makes between the two types of knowledge.

Mathematical knowledge is idealistic. It can be proven in a purely rational way, it is what Kant called a priori knowledge which means you have no need for the senses to come to a conclusion about it's being correct or not.

Knowledge of facts is empirical. It can only be proven through mediation from the senses, it is what Kant called a posteriori knowledge which means you need the senses for verification.

share|improve this answer

From a foundational perspective: A considerable part of the philosophical activity of the 20th century has been devoted to this inquiry. Frege, Russel, Wittgenstein, the inquiries around Hilbert 2nd problem, formalization, and the following Goedel's theorems, and more followed that - Hilbert's first problem etc. .

So giving a brief answer is not only difficult but embarrassing - still, after suggesting studying the authors mentioned above (which I did a log time ago) one can try a brief answer, which is... that there is no difference, in that if the inquiry is pursued with sufficient depth and competence, some reliance on subjective intuitions is found in all cases, even 1+1=2.

From a non-foundational perspective: in this case one could analyze your sample questions as acts of language, socially contextual sentences, and more, and there find non-deterministic criteria to separate the questions in families with their internal rules. Here again there is simply too much litterature starting from (again) Wittgenstein - gets too wide a theme to get a single answer.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.