We say that knowledge is connected with beliefs. Infants do some basic things required to sustain their life, like breathing. We can say they know how to breath. Maybe they do it aimlessly, but they know the method.

But can we call this knowledge a belief? In philosophical sense, of course. Is it a problem for philosophy? And if we can't call it a belief, how can we?

  • I am not up on this stuff, but I think there’s a knotty set of problems of epistemology in non-lingual (animal) and pre-lingual (babies) agents. – Dan Bron Sep 16 '18 at 12:14
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    Knowledge how is distinguished from knowledge what, only the latter is a belief. And yes, infants do have beliefs. – Conifold Sep 16 '18 at 21:32
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    @rus9384 What are you counting as a belief? Is the infant’s desire for its own survival a “belief “? – Mark Andrews Sep 18 '18 at 5:02
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    @rus9384 I recommend that you revise your question to include this definition of belief. This change might bring a close to the extended number of comments and prompt more answers. – Mark Andrews Sep 18 '18 at 6:41
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    @rus9384. If you are so unclear about the definition of belief, how will you know when your question has been answered? – Mark Andrews Sep 19 '18 at 3:35

Knowledge is connected to beliefs, but they actually have very different meanings.

Knowledge is something we know to be true and usually requires evidence- such as 2+2=4 or that most Christians believe in hell. These are both true statements. That doesn’t mean our knowledge is always correct, but we usually have no reason to question it until better evidence is presented.

Belief is something that is impossible to know, but we use our current knowledge to interpret ideas and come to conclusions that are important to us. So while a Christian knows that English Bibles have the word “hell”, they believe it’s a real place.

Knowledge does not require beliefs, but beliefs require knowledge.

There is some evidence that infants have knowledge, and it’s possible the study also found that infants have beliefs:

At that age [two months], infants show an understanding that unsupported objects will fall and that hidden objects do not cease to exist.

Even though infants cannot know for certain that hidden objects do not cease to exist, the researchers have found evidence that infants believe the objects still exist. Then again, this study was based on the measurement of an infants “gaze”, and the researchers say:

”We believe that infants are born with expectations about the objects around them, even though that knowledge is a skill that's never been taught. As the child develops, this knowledge is refined and eventually leads to the abilities we use as adults."

So who knows? Whether they have beliefs is something we can only believe, or disbelieve, because they can’t talk.

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  • So, you do not agree with justified true belief formula? – rus9384 Sep 17 '18 at 6:15
  • @rus9384 No, because all of Gettier’s examples either include deceit or misinformation, so I don’t agree with his definition of justify. As I said, sometimes our knowledge is not true, and sometimes we’ve been lied to. Christians believe the NT talks about a place called “hell” where God will send people to have their flesh burned forever. They know or have knowledge that their English translations say this, but they believe it’s true. That doesn’t mean their belief or their knowledge is justified, just that they’ve used the knowledge they have to formulate a belief. – Cannabijoy Sep 17 '18 at 6:37
  • Two years is a toddler, not an infant. The study says two months, but you can observe an infant in these early stages and realise it's possible for them to learn this knowledge and developed beliefs based on them, even in that short time from experience and observation, without being 'born' with these 'intuitive' expectations as the researcher suggests, and without structured lessons. – Possibility Sep 17 '18 at 9:23
  • @Possibility thanks for pointing that out. I don’t know why I wrote two years. My inclusion of the study wasn’t meant to offer support for it. I don’t know how someone can come to conclusions about what’s going on in a human mind based on their “gaze” anyway. – Cannabijoy Sep 17 '18 at 10:45

An infant might be said to 'know' how to breath, but our use of 'know' here is misleading. We observe an infant breathing, and assume they 'know' how to do it. But do they really know?

Knowledge is defined as information, skills or awareness gained by experience or education. It requires an awareness of relationships between experiences.

So breathing for an infant is not 'knowledge' as such. For the most part, infants are not yet aware of a relationship between these actions we collectively call 'breathing', nor are they aware of how they perform these actions, or that they do so without needing to be consciously aware of it.

An organism's life support systems operate most efficiently on a 'need to know' basis. The total knowledge required by a human being in order to 'breath' is held, not in the consciousness of the infant, but across various cells within the life support system: from air sacs in the lungs to diaphragm muscles and airways. Each of these cells has the capacity for limited functions including relationships with other cells, accomplishing what is required of it by the organism, but each cell is unaware of what we call 'breathing' as a cooperative effort on their part.

In this sense, there is no need for an infant to know they are breathing in order to breath successfully. It's only when they experience or observe a struggle to breath, or receive some other relevant education, that they begin to gain knowledge of what breathing entails. This, of course, can start earlier for some than for others.

Belief, on the other hand, connects knowledge as gained through conscious experience (or education) with conscious thought, word or action. When a child can be said to 'know how to breath' in this sense, they would have some awareness of what it means to 'breath' - for instance, they can respond consciously to an instruction given to 'breath'.

Note: this response, or the knowledge that informs it, need not be correct for it to be a belief. A child in distress, for instance, may simply raise and lower their shoulders or open their mouth - believing these actions to constitute the action 'breath' - without managing to take a breath.

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  • Do you consider other actions done by infants (like milk sucking and crying) done unconsciously as well? Do infants lack consciousness then? Is consciousness required for beliefs? – rus9384 Sep 16 '18 at 15:56
  • Initially, yes - milk sucking and crying are unconscious at first, but the child quickly becomes conscious of these actions, and of the response/comfort/rewards they bring from the environment. Infants do have consciousness - it is limited at first, but develops at a rapid rate as everything they experience is related to each other in time and space, building an ever broader awareness and knowledge of their world. There is much they are aware of in the womb (sounds, etc) - but not breathing, sucking or crying. And yes - consciousness is required for beliefs. – Possibility Sep 16 '18 at 16:19
  • But then are beliefs required for knowledge? Can we say an infant knows how to breath even if doing it unconsciously? – rus9384 Sep 16 '18 at 16:27
  • 1.No - some knowledge (even if incorrect) is required for beliefs. 2.Knowledge is an awareness of relationships between experiences. An observer often projects this awareness onto who/what is observed, mistakenly assuming knowledge. Although cells in their body know how to contribute to breathing (but not that it is 'breathing' they're contributing to as such), the infant remains unaware of what breathing entails. So an infant as a conscious being doesn't 'know' how to breath - they can suffocate themselves because they're still unaware of the relationship between airway access and breathing. – Possibility Sep 17 '18 at 1:38

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