Is there an empirical difference between thinking and knowing, perhaps one based in neuroscience?

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    Welcome to Philosophy.SE. If you're looking for neuroscientific research, that may have uses in philosophy, but I'm not sure this is the best site to ask on. Perhaps Psychology & Neuroscience (disclaimer: I don't know that community)? – user2953 Oct 26 '15 at 22:15
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    You can make the question more appropriate for the Philosophy.SE by removing the words empirical and neuroscience, both of which make the question seem to require "lab results" based answers and puts it outside of the context of philosophy. – Alexander S King Oct 26 '15 at 23:28
  • @AlexanderSKing I posted in cognitive science as suggested. although I will accept a philosophical answer, it's not what I originally intended. – Tony Oct 27 '15 at 0:10
  • What meaning of "thinking" are you intending to use. There's an answer now using thinking as the verb "to think about things," but I get the impression your question might be more about "I think _____ is true" vs. "I know _____ is true." Which meaning are you looking for? – Cort Ammon Oct 27 '15 at 4:44

For both terms to think and to know philosophical definitions exists:

To think means in according to a classical definition

  • to form concepts
  • to state propositions. i.e. sentences which are either true or false, and
  • to draw conclusions from propositions.

To know a proposition means

  • to believe in the truth of the proposition
  • to be able to present arguments for this believe and as a basic condition
  • that the proposition is true.

All three conditions are necessary: True belief without argumentation as well as false belief with argumentation are no knowledge.

Note. Apparently these are different mental activities. Do you ask whether one can detect different brain activities by imaging techniques relating to "I think employing modus ponens" versus "I know that snow is white"? I doubt that neuroscience has already reached that degree of selectivity. In addition, it seems difficult to prepare two groups of probands who focus themselves on the corresponding mental activity.

Added: I learned by the Gettier counter-example, that in certain cases the conjunction of the above named three conditions is not sufficient to assure the intended meaning of to know, see http://philosophyfaculty.ucsd.edu/faculty/rarneson/Courses/gettierphilreading.pdf The Gettier counter-example comprises a correct argumentation, the conclusion is also true, but the argumentation starts with a false premiss. The counter-example is designed cleverly so that it fullfills all three conditions. Nevertheless, one would not name the resulting statement knowledge.

  • Yes it would be interesting to see which parts of the brain are activated when deep in thought and what parts are activated when presented with things or activities one "knows" or is deeply familiar with, such as a novice vs a master in martial arts where one is highly self-concious, hesitant, and overly critical. Whereas the master does the exact same thing but automatically and "without thought". – Tony Oct 27 '15 at 20:13

Thinking implies a conclusion based on an observation that has not been verified beyond the fact of the observation. Knowing implies a conclusion based on a verified observation. IOW: knowing is a form of experiential knowledge, whereas thinking is a form of assumed knowledge.


I think the Moderator may have been a little quick to push this to Neuroscience. See the work of Patricia Churchland if you want to explore the interface/overlap between the Philosophy of Mind and Neuroscience.

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