Stemming from the idea that knowledge is JTB (justified true belief), I have been thinking about the question posed above. There seems to be a difference between different kinds of knowledge. Take for instance, Kant's idea of analytic/synthetic and a priori/a posteriori judgements.

We have knowledge of the outside world: cows (most, anyway) have four legs, tennis is played with a strung racquet and a yellow/green ball, some plants are poisonous when consumed, the list goes on.

We also (somehow) have knowledge of mathematics and logic: 4 + 9 = 13, sqrt 2 is irrational, p ^ ~p is a contradiction, the list goes on.

But these statements of fact - cows have 4 legs. Is that statement in and of itself knowledge? Or does that statement become knowledge throught the human intellect? In other words, do we observe facts out there in the world (yet to be knowledge) and then through this 'processing of facts' does that fact in the world become knowledge?

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    Strictly speaking the statement such as "cows have 4 legs" is meant to be an objective proposition as a truth bearer independent of the specific language to describe it (in your case is plain English), thus in and of itself is not knowledge. OTOH, (JTB) knowledge believed by an agent is required to have some true proposition as its content and with either some internal reflective access or awareness to whatever justify said belief or some external usually reliable belief-forming process around its content (to rid of some edge case issue known as Gettier problem) or even a mixed both... Oct 15, 2022 at 5:02
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    Don't use such definition of knowledge because it begs the question. Better, consider this: knowledge is a model of the world (all physical and metaphysical objects and the subject itself) (a simple and logical definition I like to use). Now, the definition directly addresses the question.
    – RodolfoAP
    Oct 15, 2022 at 12:37
  • Sure. "What have I got in my pocket?"
    – BillOnne
    Oct 15, 2022 at 18:50

3 Answers 3


But these statements of fact - cows have 4 legs. Is that statement in and of itself knowledge? Or does that statement become knowledge throught the human intellect?

All that we have for inferring what the real world outside our mind may be is our mind itself. It cannot be meaningfully denied that we know the contents of our own mind, from feelings, to sensations, to recollections, to percepts, to ideas etc.

It may seem to us that we are creating our own ideas, that we decide to remember a memory, that we think up theories, but it is perhaps more realistic to say that our brain does it. This does not change the fact that we know the contents of our own mind, but these contents are probably created by our own brain.

Further, it is not because we know some content of our mind that this content is true of anything. We may know the beautiful image of a tree that we have in mind without really knowing that there is a tree, even if, and why not, there is a tree. If what we think about the material world is any good, it appears that it is good enough for us to believe that there is a tree when we see one, rather than know that there is one.

Even the supposition that our knowledge is created by our brain requires that we have a brain to begin with, something we don't actually know. However, we can believe it and believing it seems to have some advantages.

It may be even more realistic therefore to just accept that whatever knowledge we have is produced by reality. We know that reality exists since our own mind is real and we are aware of it. However, we don't know the whole of reality. Our mind seems to be a very small part of it. So, essentially, we don't know which part of reality creates what we personaly know.

That being said, we do have various theories about the world and some of them may well be advantageous to have and use to realise our desire to survive and prosper. Science seems to be more realistic that religion and fiction. Common sense seems to be more effective than wild speculation. Science and common sense still are beliefs, but they at least appear to be more useful than some other beliefs.

And, crucially, somehow, we know our own beliefs.


One way of framing it is that, information is about data like sensory inputs, and knowledge is about salience and situating yourself and other mental objects in relation to the information.

Observing a cow, we have images which we process and abstract from (eg small vs far away, it's blue vs white but in shadow) - this is a far more complex business than we typically realise, with around 1/3 of the brain occupied with visual and spatial processing alone.

Then we have non-conscious integration, into appearances of solid objects, in spatial relation to us. This corresponds with Aristotle's common sense, and the faculty of Manovijnana called the ayatana of mental consciousness in Buddhist thought.

Then we abstract mental tokens (eg human vs manikin, stranger or specific person, and attributes like number of legs). These abstractions form reused groups of phenomena which are defined by language use. Non-language using animals like octopuses and bears can clearly do a lot of reasoning, but it seems non-linguistic animals can only use subitism to experience numbers, limited to recognising small numbers in immediate awareness; whereas language users can count and do math operations (like the parrot Alex, the most sophisticated animal math user yet known, far better than any ape). This corresponds to Aristotle's imaginative faculty, and the seventh in the Mahayana elaboration of sense-gates. The idea we need language for advanced abstraction and inference is captured in The Private Language Argument developed from Wittgenstein's work - see his points about whether we experience pain privately in his beetle-in-a-box argument. I'd also relate this to the idea conscious awareness is a mental Global Workspace where conscious integration of mental objects and events happens.

Then in Aristotle's picture is nous, active intellect. In Mahayana thought the final eighth consciousness corresponds with the memesphere or substrate-independent concepts, comparable to Plato's accessing logos through the faculty of reasoning. In this realm is the concept of being a self, and inferences derived from intersubjectivity in general, the source of advanced or elaborated systems of inference.

Aquinas recognised four internal senses: the common sense, imagination, vis cogitativa, and memory. Avicenna argued for five internal senses: the common sense, imagination, fantasy, vis aestimativa, and memory. Descartes and Hobbes recognised 'five wits', complementing the five external senses.

Aristotle's picture of a tripartite soul, pictured the vegetative soul as supervened over by the animal soul, and the animal as supervened on by the rational soul. In this picture the supervening layer can be a cause on the supervened layer, but in reverse causes are optional not necessary. This implies either the mental (subjectivity) is fundamental as in pansychism, as in idealism, or the 'mind only' Buddhist Yogacara philosophy. Or, that the mental is emergent from the physical, forming supervenient explanatory layers, where phenomena are grouped lumped or chunked with a mental shorthand that grants them causes in their own terms in a layer of similar groups (eg of human character and intentions, far more efficient a predictor than knowing a humans atomic states even if they could give more complete predictions).

Hostadter's Strange Loops picture relates human cognition to there being something important about the point where a layer of abstraction can include a self-model, because then feedback and self-reference can occur, and relationships between layers of explanation and situating, can be organised into tangled hierarchies that can loop back on themselves - solving the problem face by a Foundationalist picture of knowledge summarised in Munchausens Trilemma, with a Coherentist picture of an adapting and growing basis. Discussed in more detail here, and related to intersubjectivity (extended our minds by seeing each other's points of view): According to the major theories of concepts, where do meanings come from?

Vervaeke's picture that knowledge is about salience landscapes that give us cognitive grip is useful too I think. We arrange information in relation to ourselves, that situates us to information, and this helps enable the kinds of tasks we want to do. That relates to Wittgenstein's language games:

"In this sort of predicament, always ask yourself: How did we learn the meaning of this word ("good", for instance)? From what sort of examples? In what language-games? Then it will be easier for you to see that the word must have a family of meanings."

-Wittgenstein, in Philosophical Investigations

I would relate mathematics specifically to abstraction from a shared experience of spatial geometry, so as getting it's apparent universality from necessarily shared experiences related to being in spacetime. Discussed here: The Unreasonable Ineffectiveness of Mathematics in most sciences I like the point that imaginary numbers represent rotations, which allows them to capture amplitude and phase. More on math as a ladder from specific to abstract here: What do we explictly refer to in mathematical expressios

So in summary, I would say we observe information, and abstract knowledge from that by relating or situating ourselves to it (science focuses on getting the best observations, and we can understand it's distinct contribution to knowledge-making from that). Situating ourselves, can involve creativity, like deciding what kind of person we want to be in relation to inferences about the future; or by how we assemble our ideas into an inferred meaning-cosmology; so knowledge-making can be creative. See Popper's points about how hypothesis generation in science cannot be automated, it must involve creativity - we get the best information, but then we situate ourselves eg geocentric or heliocentric model.

Consider also the relationship of knowledge to wisdom, discussed here: Wisdom and John Vervaeke's awakening from the meaning crises?


We should make the distinction between information and knowledge. Our senses bring in only information about the world outside. Information becomes knowledge only by interpreting it, by understanding what it means.

Facts are knowledge that are known to be true. Claims are knowledge that we don't know whether they are true or false. Beliefs are like claims, except that we intuitively think that they are more probably true than false.

Knowledge exists only in people's minds. We can share knowledge through communication, by encoding our ideas in physical form as information for others to interpret. The problem with communication is the high risk of misinterpretations.

AFAIK there are four ways to create new knowledge:

  • By interpreting information.
  • By imagination.
  • By creative problem-solving.
  • By making plans for the future.
  • I did not downvote this answer, but since the downvoters did not say why they downvoted, I thought I'd mention that it was probably because while this may be a useful analysis in a vacuum, you are not writing in a vacuum but in a philosophy group, and your analysis does not seem to be related to any philosophical tradition. Oct 15, 2022 at 11:02
  • I don't understand. What exactly is wrong about my answer? Oct 15, 2022 at 13:19
  • What is wrong is that it is something you just made up. It ignores the tradition of philosophy that this group is supposed to be about. Oct 15, 2022 at 20:31
  • I don't understand. The question was not about any tradition or history of philosophy. This group is supposed to be about questions and answers about philosophy. Oct 16, 2022 at 5:52
  • Look, I don't think it was worth downvoting, I was just trying to let you know what probably prompted the downvotes. This is not a list for original research into philosophy, especially original research that seems completely unaware of the enormous existing literature on the topic. Oct 16, 2022 at 15:20

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