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There is no standard definition for the term knowledge . As a first approximation, knowledge can be described as the process and result of knowledge gained through insight or experience .

On the concept of knowledge

The different aspects of the concept of knowledge

The concept of knowledge is one of the basic concepts of modern philosophy. It cannot be traced back to other more well-known or higher-level terms and can not be defined without reference to itself ( circular reasoning ). Its understanding must therefore be gained from an explanatory analysis of the terms ( explication ) and by determining the common use based on examples.

The concept of knowledge denotes

  • the result (what is recognized) and
  • the process of knowing (the act of knowing).

Knowledge always includes the relationship between a knowing subject and something known ( object ). Knowledge can relate to a fact as well as to a process. Depending on whether a knowledge is gained directly or whether it has arisen through indirect information, one speaks of direct ( intuitive ) or indirect ( discursive ) knowledge.

The prefix “Er-” in the word knowledge is similar to experience or experience a designation for an insight into an object that goes beyond mere knowledge, which u. a. characterized by understanding of characteristics and memory . Compared to knowing, knowledge has the character of something new. If you notice for the first time that a function is defective on a technical device, you have recognized this. If you use the device later, you will know the defect, unless you have forgotten it. Knowledge becomes knowledge when the knowledge is valid regardless of the knowing subject.

The concept of knowledge must be distinguished from similar concepts such as experience , insight , knowledge , conviction , opinion , belief and to be opposed to concepts such as hunch, assumption, speculation as well as prejudice and error . The following table gives a rough definition of the relevant terms that are related to the concept of knowledge. In addition to the content of the term, it is shown to what extent the respective term is connected with a claim to truth and what degree of justification is expected from it.

term Explanation truth Reason
Belief / certainty
Internal security in relation to an issue Emotional trust; Evidence; subjective belief no interest in justification; Revelation (religion)
idea facts not clearly defined high uncertainty unconscious, intuitive feeling without clear intellectual delimitation
Hypothesis about a fact Probability, not necessarily quantifiable argumentative, methodical depending on the level of knowledge
information Act or content of a message or message can be true or false; possibly probability Judgment on the quality of the source
Opinion / conviction
incomplete knowledge of the facts or
also in the area of ​​values ​​(ethics / politics)
Uncertainty depending on the extent of knowledge (suspected error) or not possible for values argumentative, but not methodologically complete
( nus )
spontaneous grasping of facts mostly low uncertainty due to evidence rational and argumentative, but often not methodologically complete
direct experience of action and factual contexts; experimental results in science high security based on trust in correct perception or measuring technology during observation Habit or methodological theory in science that has arisen from experienced examples
( episteme )
a) intersubjectively verifiable knowledge of facts
b) practical knowledge
a) very high security depending on the concept of truth
b) the success or, indirectly, the success of an action
a) methodically and conceptually rational
b) practice and habit
( gnosis )
Act and result of knowledge gained through insight and / or experience, not necessarily intersubjective very high security depending on the concept of truth methodically and conceptually rational, also pre-scientific

The result of the process of knowledge, when it has become a habit and can be checked intersubjectively, is also known as knowledge. However, knowledge is viewed independently of its origin. While one speaks of a faculty of knowledge, the analogous concept of faculty of knowledge does not exist. Epistemology deals with the creation of and the stock of knowledge. However, the concept of knowledge is not sufficient to explain the concept of knowledge. Knowledge also includes the insight into the meaning of a fact, whether z. B. information is important for problem solving. However, access does not necessarily require a justification, e.g. B. when one sees that something desired cannot be realized, but does not recognize the reason for it. Similar to knowledge, knowledge is linked to the claim of correctness. Realizations are always real realizations. However, the degree of justification is not necessarily linked to logical truth and to an intersubjective proof, as is the case with knowledge . In what is known, one can still see the subjective development process of knowledge, even when it has been completed. Knowledge does not have to be cross-subjectively verifiable. It is not limited to verifiable facts, but includes understanding the context. Findings can also relate to a pre-scientific area of ​​everyday experience. In a broad understanding of the concept of knowledge, even feelings such as B. seen love and art as possible sources of knowledge.

If one speaks of confirmed knowledge, the underlying idea is that the knowledge can be substantiated by scientific evidence. But the latest scientific research (e.g. quantum physics ) has shown that, at least in certain respects, statements can only be made with different degrees of probability . In addition, Gödel's incompleteness theorem applies in mathematics , according to which there are statements in every system that cannot be proven to be true or false within the system . This leads to the question of whether there can be any reliable knowledge at all. In view of the evolutionary functioning and the deceitability of human perception , questions also arise about the nature of actual reality , whether and to what extent the type of knowledge acquisition already influences the content of knowledge. Since perception already represents a (changing) interpretation of sensory data, every cognition must remain hypothetical .

Research directions

Research into the path to knowledge is a matter of cognitive science (from Latin cognitio knowledge) and epistemology (also called epistemology, Greek epistéme understanding, (theoretical) knowledge , knowledge, insight).

As a sub-discipline of philosophy, epistemology deals with the question of what the essence, the formation, the conditions, limits and principles of knowledge are. A key question is the question of the certainty of knowledge or whether there is any reliable knowledge at all.

The delimitation of philosophical epistemology from other scientific disciplines can be made as follows:

  • The logic is the science of logical thinking and relies knowledge already ahead. In particular, epistemic logic deals with the logical relationships of the concepts important in epistemology, such as belief, believing-is-possible, being convinced, or knowledge.
  • The philosophy of science concentrates on a sub-area of ​​knowledge and asks about the methodologically correct procedure for acquiring knowledge in the field of scientific research.
  • In psychology , the mechanisms and relationships of consciousness are examined in their effect on the psyche. The content of what is recognized has no primary meaning.
  • In addition to philosophy and psychology, the cognitive sciences also include neurosciences and sub-areas of linguistics and computer science .

Observations and experiments, if necessary, with trial and error are to be expected in relation to the methods of acquiring knowledge and verifying knowledge . These instruments include recording, documentation , measurement , comparison , questioning , interview and final procedures such as abduction , deduction and induction .

The concept of knowledge in the philosophy of science

In many systematic representations of epistemology, but especially in the philosophy of science, knowledge is understood as a result of empirical research in a restricted manner compared to the general conceptual content. These research results are incorporated into the knowledge base of the respective sciences. As a definition of knowledge in this sense, which is mainly shaped by the natural sciences, the definition that goes back to Plato's dialogue Theaeteto is usually used: Knowledge is true, well-founded opinion .

Even in the philosophy of antiquity , the terms contained in this definition were again critically questioned. Is there an absolute, unequivocal truth at all? There is a whole bunch of so-called truth theories about this . What does the reason have to look like so that it can be seen as a correct justification? Is there a criterion of meaning so that an opinion can even be recognized as a scientific theory?

An opinion is a view, attitude or belief that a person has acquired about a matter. Experience or existing knowledge is used in order to be able to assess the facts. So opinion arises in a thought process. If someone goes to a horse race without any knowledge of the matter, puts his bets on the horse he thinks is the most beautiful and wins it, then he has formed an opinion about the possible winner and is right. However, this type of opinion certainly does not have the same quality as the diagnosis of an experienced doctor who diagnoses the rubella or the static calculation of a civil engineer. An opinion differs from belief in that it can be justified. However, the examples mentioned show that the level of conviction can vary widely.

A common belief is that people should not be tortured. Such moral judgments, however, are not the subject of epistemology because, according to the general view, values ​​cannot be derived from knowledge (see naturalistic fallacy ).

While in positivism in particular it was assumed that one can obtain secure knowledge through verification in the empirical sciences , in fallibilism it is assumed that the human being cannot fundamentally obtain any finally secured knowledge. The fallibilistic position, which, for example, was already represented by Arkesilaos or Karneades in antiquity, has increasingly prevailed in the course of the history of philosophy. Hume made a significant contribution with the refutation of induction. For Hume, the assumption of causality in the world became an unprovable habit. Theoretically, this position was worked out in Critical Rationalism by Popper , who regarded all knowledge as provisional. Scientific findings are therefore theories that have proven themselves through empirical observations. In the possibility of checking a theory on the basis of observation sentences (basic sentences), Popper saw the decisive criterion for delimiting metaphysics and pseudosciences . Only a theory that is falsifiable meets the criterion of scientific validity. According to Popper, progress in knowledge occurs when science discovers contradictions in existing theories through observations or logical tests. Researchers must therefore endeavor to refute existing theories through experiments or to replace them with new, better theories. The quality of a theory increases the more it is falsifiable and the higher the degree of its validity. A confirmation of his opinion looked Popper in the theory of relativity , the theory as a better long considered irrefutable natural law applicable theory of gravitation Newton replaced.

The hermeneutic component of knowledge

In Wilhelm Dilthey an important distinction goes back between natural and social scientific methodology. Wilhelm Windelband made the distinction between explaining and understanding out of this . In the natural sciences , laws are explained ( nomothetically ). In cultural studies , on the other hand, the unique, individual and special ( idiographically ) are examined, for which methodically the concept of hermeneutic understanding is required. Fruitful hermeneutic approaches can be found in particular in the historical sciences , psychoanalysis or non-empirical sociology . The discourse theories of Karl-Otto Apel and Jürgen Habermas also have hermeneutical starting points .

The sharp distinction between humanities and natural sciences resulting from this opposition in the 20th century has tended to become blurred at the turn of the millennium. On the one hand, the humanities require systematic-analytical procedures, such as those dealt with in the teaching of empirical social research methods . On the other hand, the increasing complexity of the natural sciences requires an intuitive, understanding recognition of the relationships, especially since physics, for example, deals with theories about objects that are below the limit of observability.

Knowledge and interest

Jürgen Habermas took up and worked out the thesis already formulated by Karl Mannheim in Ideologie und Utopie (1929), that ruling groups and their interests are so closely tied to a situation that they lose the ability to reflect on certain facts. In his work, Knowledge and Interest, Habermas turned against the naive view of an objective science that is often found in the individual sciences. The epistemological insight that every experiment and every observation in the empirical sciences depends on the question being asked and the test arrangement is undisputed. Every observation is loaded with theory. The different views on the definition of terms and the possibility of objective knowledge between critical theory and critical rationalism were fought out in the 1960s in the positivism dispute .

The critique of pragmatism

With Schopenhauer , Nietzsche , but also Eucken and Dilthey , a critique of the purely cognitive concept of knowledge developed in modern philosophy . In a holistic view, experience not only contains cognitive, but also always affective elements. Reason, feeling and will cannot be isolated. These conceptions, often subsumed under the collective term of the philosophy of life , were taken up in pragmatism and existential philosophy and, at the end of the 20th century, re-thematized in neopragmatism, especially by Richard Rorty .

In the sensational work Der Spiegel der Natur. A criticism of philosophy (1979, German 1987) he rejected epistemology as a meaningful discipline:

“Wittgenstein's, Heidegger's and Dewey's common diagnosis is that the idea that recognition is accurate representation - made possible by special mental processes and understandable through a general theory of representation - must be given up. The talk of “foundations of knowledge” and the idea that philosophy has the Cartesian undertaking of refuting the epistemological skeptic as its central task are both declared null and void by them. Furthermore, the common idea of ​​Descartes, Locke and Kant of “consciousness” is being abolished as a special research area located in an inner space, in which the components and processes are found that enable our knowledge. This does not mean that they have alternative “theories of knowledge” or “philosophies of the mind”. They say goodbye to epistemology and metaphysics as possible disciplines. "

- 1987, 16

Instead of epistemology, which Rorty would like to place in cultural anthropology or the sociology of science , he calls for a hermeneutic discussion and considers the question of the ultimate justification to be irrelevant ( relativism ).

For their part, the critics of Rorty argue that his approach does not do away with the question of the essence of knowledge. Epistemology is above all a reflection science, a non-empirical science about dealing with the empirical.

See also


Philosophy Bibliography : Knowledge - Additional references on the topic

  • Kurt Eberhard: Introduction to the theory of knowledge and science. History and Practice of Competing Paths of Knowledge . Kohlhammer, 2nd ed. Stuttgart 1999 (Highly recommended as a second reading, as some surprising but plausible considerations are made from a social science perspective.)
  • Gottfried Gabriel: Basic problems of epistemology. From Descartes to Wittgenstein . Schöningh, Paderborn, 2nd ed. 1998 (Particularly suitable for starting out. Historically oriented. Ends at Wittgenstein. Therefore, it complements Norbert Schneider very well.)
  • Richard Hönigswald: Basic questions of epistemology . Edited by Wolfdietrich Schmied-Kowarzik. Philosophical Library Vol. 510. Meiner, Hamburg 1997, ISBN 3-7873-1349-4 .
  • Peter Janich: What is knowledge. A philosophical introduction . Beck, Munich 2000 (Many critical questions on classical epistemology with a broad concept of knowledge from the point of view of methodical constructivism. Recommended as an introduction, very important as a second reading.)
  • Alfred Lorenzer : Scenic Understanding. To the knowledge of the unconscious. Tectum Verlag, Marburg 2006, ISBN 3-8288-8934-4 .
  • Hans Günther Russ: Theory of Science, Epistemology and the Search for Truth. An introduction . Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2004 (classic position of critical rationalism. Relatively easy to understand.)
  • Herbert Schnädelbach: Epistemology as an introduction . Junius, Hamburg 2002 (language-analytical pragmatic approach with a brief historical introduction. Not easy to get started, but highly recommended)
  • Norbert Schneider: Epistemology in the 20th Century. Classic positions . Philipp Reclam jun., Stuttgart 1998 (Very important as an introduction, relatively easy to read and with a broad spectrum of the positions shown. Including Piaget and materialism in Russia. Very good, historically oriented introduction.)
  • Anna-Maria Schirmer: Shaping knowledge . Dissertation, Kopaed, Munich 2015, ISBN 978-3-86736-436-2
  • Max Weber : The Objectivity of Sociological and Sociopolitical Knowledge . Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, Schutterwald / Baden 1995 ISBN 978-3-928640-07-7 (Weber discusses the question of how social science arrives at objectively valid truth. Standard work on a science free of value judgments)

Web links

Wiktionary: Knowledge  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Gerhard Vollmer : Biophilosophie. 1st edition. Reclam, Stuttgart 1995, pp. 110, 111, 114-116.