Is an idea knowledge?

I think there are various example that is an idea and seems different from normal knowledge.

I believe "Steve Jobs invented iPhone" is knowledge. However, when Jobs conceived the idea of iPhone such as "Novel smartphone using touch panel is brilliant!", can that idea be called knowledge?

Ideas are created by a human nature, and take various forms such as propositions, methods to solve problems, characteristics of something. It might be hypothesis. It might not be justified. So, some types of ideas seems not satisfy JTB.

Can I call ideas knowledge? If no, I'd like to know what the idea is.

As a background, I'm considering about computational representation or data structure of ideas as a researcher in artificial intelligence field. We can represent propositions on computers using logic programming like Prolog. But, I do not know how to represent an idea on computer.

  • 1
    You seem to be talking firstly about definitions and then about programming. It's not quite clear what you are asking, the question "Can I call ideas knowledge?" is one of language and is best solved by the OED. You've already identified that some features of ideas distinguish them from other types of knowledge, so we know they differ to some extent. What remains is a question of categorisation. As any system of categorisation is an entirely human construct, it would seem you could answer your own question in whatever way most suits your endeavours, there would be no right answer.
    – user22791
    Nov 15, 2016 at 11:13
  • Knowledge is empirical verification of what is, else how do you know what is? There is a vast difference between having an idea and the statement of that idea.
    – MmmHmm
    Nov 16, 2016 at 20:16

2 Answers 2


If you stick with the classical JTB definition of knowledge, then ideas cannot be justified in a clear sense- so ideas cannot be knowledge. Moreover, ideas in general do not have to be true. For example, you may have the 'idea' that people want a triangular iphone, which is obviously false.

More importantly, including ideas in the definition of knowledge would weaken it considerably and open many more objections to its true nature.

So what are ideas? For me, ideas are thoughts which you assign value to. They are concepts, feelings or truths which you seek to turn into reality. Now, nobody would call the abstract concept of 'the iphone' knowledge. 'The iphone exists' is knowledge nowadays. 'The iphone will exist' cannot, in my view, be considered knowledge beforehand, since there is a reasonable chance the idea would be discarded in development.


From a Lacanian (or any less physicalist idealist) point of view, ideas are the only place knowledge can arise.

Whether you are imagining the phone of the future, or guessing where your cat is hiding, you are imagining possible scenarios, and the two things are not really different except in their degree of 'futurity'. You will or will not succeed at making that phone or finding the cat. But the ideas about the cat will be tested more immediately and more completely than those about the phone, which will have to be combined with other imaginary criteria over the course of months or years before they are validated or abandoned.

If an idea is validated by experience, it becomes an 'observation' and if it associates itself with existing observations it becomes a 'symbol', but the only thing that can be represented in thought is an idea arising from the imagination.

This is a psychological elaboration of the older notions behind idealism as an epistemology. We have to build a model of the world out of imaginary projections validated by experience instead of being able to build it out of actual experiences. There is no actual experience except for a mere sense impression, and we know that our picture of the world does not consist primarily of raw sense impressions. It is made up of objects, people, actions, interpretations etc. Those things are representations that we have to have imagined and tested out as models. They capture sense impressions that validate or challenge them, but they are whole objects with identities in a way not directly determined by those impressions.

I like this model as an approach to perception, science and representation because it has a built-in dynamic.

In this model, there are three 'realms': the Ideal, the Symbolic and the Real, from which we seek different kinds of knowledge. The Ideal realm determines what is logically possible, the Real realm determines what is actually effective, the Symbolic realm determines whether what is contextually relevant.

Of course we live communally in environments that lead to our sharing a lot of experiences, so our collections of facts are similar, and we bind those similar facts together into cultural symbols which shape our future imagination. So we converge, under pressure from reality on sets of symbols that we reference in language. But since the detailed models are constructed internally, we do not share exact copies of these symbols and meanings.

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