I am researching aspects of human knowledge acquisition and how it relates to early phases of learning and memorization. Basically, is there research and terminology for the distinction between memorizing a fact and true knowledge/understanding of that fact?

Consider the following examples:

  1. A person reads that the Eiffel Tower is in Paris. This person has never physically been to Paris, has never seen the Eiffel Tower in any real capacity, and does not know anyone who has done either. This person memorizes that the Eiffel Tower is in Paris, but at what point can we say that the person has the knowledge that the Eiffel Tower is in Paris?
  2. A person is asked the question: "What is the nationality of Jean-Pierre Renault?" This person has never heard of Jean-Pierre Renault, but he has memorized that the first name and last name are indicative of French people. So if this person correctly replies "Jean-Pierre Renault is French", can we say that this person has knowledge of that fact?

Thanks for any help and/or pointers to research literature.

  • 2
    I think this is more an issue of philosophy rather than psychology. A psychologist could choose to operationally define "knowledge" in some context and test for it, but in that case it's just a label applied to that operational definition. May 28, 2020 at 0:03
  • 1
    Agreed, this sounds a lot like the Chinese room thought experiment in which it is a philosophical question whether regurgitating is different from understanding. May 28, 2020 at 5:20
  • Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives seems relevant, but there "knowledge" marks the lowest level, i.e. memorization, "recognizing or remembering facts, terms, basic concepts, or answers without necessarily understanding what they mean". I suppose this is in line with Plato's formula knowledge = justified true belief, and textbook's or teacher's word is justification enough. The higher stages are comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation.
    – Conifold
    May 28, 2020 at 9:17
  • your question basically asks "what is knowledge?" I can recommend this video course: Epistemology: Introduction to Theory of Knowledge. For short, the formula "knowledge = justified true belief" can be the answer you are looking for. In cognitive psychology, "knowledge" is equivalent with "stored information" I think.
    – Ooker
    May 28, 2020 at 10:09
  • We can say that (1) is a knowledge of a fact because the memorization is of something that is defined to be true. (2) Could have been some weirdo hippies that decided to give their South Bronx child a French sounding name so it is not a known fact so it is not a known fact, it is a probabilistic assessment.
    – polcott
    May 30, 2020 at 15:51

1 Answer 1


The examples you give seem to point to the use of inductive reasoning, where, according to Wikipedia, is a method of reasoning in which the premises are viewed as supplying some evidence for the truth of the conclusion. It is also described as a method where one's experiences and observations, including what is learned from others, are synthesized to come up with a general truth.

So, if the answer to the question about Jean-Pierre Renault is correct, then the person in the example would be using inductive reasoning because the conclusions are based on his current knowledge and prediction.

As for recommendations, I would try some of Jean Piaget's work, more specifically: To understand is to invent: The future of education, Biology and Knowledge, and Genetic Epistemology. I would also say many of his other works as he covered a lot in the field of development of thinking and knowledge.

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