What is knowledge and is it ever non-empirical?

Something cannot rightly be called knowledge unless it can be demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt. Thus claims to knowledge that come down to belief which is in turn based on interpretation of scripture is not demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt. Thus all that is said and written in the theosphere which amounts to literal claims about the age of the earth, a great flood, and origins of humans is fruit of the same tree and cannot ever rightly be called knowledge.

Science was invented in part as an attempt to ground our ideas about the world in only what can be demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt, but with the caveat that if new information came along that shows this idea to be false, then we change our ideas. Ideas thus formed and tested and that survive this rigor, come as close as we can to knowledge - along with those of mathematics.

If one asserts a religious belief as knowledge, no matter how fervently and sincerely held, you are asserting knowledge where it is only belief, even though you may feel you have good reason to believe it. If you are asserting belief as knowledge, despite - as is the case with YECism - the fact that it has been demonstrated to be wrong then at best you are guilty of ignorance. That is, if and only if you are unaware of the fact that it has been shown to be wrong. If though, you are aware that it is untrue, you are lying.

If you have been shown that the counter-evidence exists but ignore it and deny it and do not bother to fact check your claims then this is a tacit lie. This is a lie by omission, a lie by neglect of effort, and of a positive decision to chose ignorance. This is willful ignorance. This is a lie that you want to deny even exists. There is the lie itself, and, the lie you are telling yourself which is that you are not lying. Then there is the lie you are telling everyone else which is that you are not being willfully ignorant or lying by omission even though you really are. This is a web of lies. This is a house of cards.

People who conduct themselves this way are deceiving themselves into thinking that it is ok to ignore counter-evidence and keep spreading unfounded claims despite not knowing what they are really talking about. This is actively denying other people the truth which is that you actually do not know what you are saying is really true. It is pretending that you have done all the research and they can trust what you say. It is telling yourself that it is ok to do this. These are all aspects of the total deception.

Ultimately for me, this is a question of personal integrity. I would not want to ignore evidence that goes against my current views. I want to know if I am wrong. I want to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible, and I would want to avoid pretending to know things I do not know, or opposing the views of others without being sure of my ground. To me the only thing that is important is that my ideas about the world comport with reality, that they are not based on what I want reality to be, but what reality actually is. Then and only then can I say that what I possess is knowledge.


Pretty sure this is not how philosophers approach epistemology. You can certainly know things that are not the result of the scientific method and are not objective facts. I know I am loved by my family. I know some things are beautiful and some things are ugly, some things are good, some things are bad.

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Christy, are you claiming that your feelings are objective knowledge?

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Personal experience can and does lead to knowledge, however. (Otherwise you know nothing.)


Hi Dale, I just edited that post but I will answer you by saying that leading to knowledge is not the same thing as being knowledge.


Of course.  

No, I am claiming that not all knowledge is objective knowledge.

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But you specifically refer to your feelings as an example of knowledge of some sort. What sort of knowledge is it?

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Intrapersonal metacognitive knowledge, maybe. I’m sure there’s a term.

It just sounds like you are defining knowledge as limited to verifiable facts that can be empirically observed. Empirical knowledge is certainly a form of knowledge, but human cognition is capable of so much more than just empirical observation.


I think the standard philosophy definition simply doesn’t apply to statements regarding certain kinds of beliefs we hold regarding interpersonal relationships and self reported intrapersonal states.

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Thanks Mark, that is exactly where I was headed.


The term non-empirical knowledge demands that we broaden our definition of knowledge to effectively mean any belief, claim, experience, feeling or conviction one might hold for any reason that is not amenable to independent or objective verification. Thus it is an unbounded and ultimately meaningless phrase. I am too lazy to start quoting philosophers here, but I assume Christy that you must know that vast tracts of epistemological discourse arguing both sides of this have demonstrated the impossibility and intractability of including ‘non-empirical knowledge’ in the definition of knowledge without effectively rendering the term ‘knowledge’ as either meaningless, or to become synonymous with simply thought or belief.

It is also asserted by many that knowledge is simply a subset of belief. I would hold, as others have, that the subset is defined best as that which can be independently and objectively verified, and that this is what separates it from simple belief. Personal experience is something you neither prove nor disprove to me, or really to yourself. To count this as knowledge is to devalue what we mean when we assign a piece of information or theory the title of ‘knowledge’.

I know this is not the topic of this thread so we perhaps should not get bogged down on this, but it does ultimately connect back to the idea of what you think you know and how you can or should apply appropriate levels of veracity to your claims in a public forum where what is actually true is more important than what one wants to be the truth. We are all attaching significance to what we and others say mostly on the basis of whether our statements are objective truth claims. Thus, a ranking and categorization of beliefs is germane to the discussion here.


I prefer to leave “knowledge” to the side unless we want to discuss the more demanding standard but of course English is very malleable and any way we have no authority to insist that others restrict their use of the the word as we would have it.

A bigger issue is that the continuum from strict knowledge to private knowledge tends to correspond to the continuum from little to greater interest. Private knowledge tends to be the sort which corresponds to worldview shaping commitments. We have less dispassion toward these commitments than we have to the facts which meet the stricter standard. Both are important though since we sometimes need to make plans which will absolutely and reliably conform to the world but at other times it is our selves and others we are trying to understand.

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You are a Christian? What do you do with all the scripture that talks about knowing God, knowing about God, knowing Jesus, etc.?

True testimony is a legitimate source of knowledge – you probably depend upon it dozens of times a day without realizing it (the testimony of your eyes, the testimony of your experience with a given chair, that it won’t collapse under you, the testimony of facts in books, of scholarly papers, and so on… and on). It is also why perjury is a felony.

And what about the idea that God is ultimately unknowable?

The English translation from the Hebrew that leaves us with the word ‘knowledge’ in scripture but is that the right word? It was chosen by translators as the closest word available, and it seems using a meaning of knowledge that I am rejecting.

I think it is possibly fairer to say that one could aspire to knowing God as well as one might know oneself, but how well can you know yourself, and how would you ‘know’ that such knowledge is really true or just a misapprehension?

Testimony and prior experience speak to practicability and pragmatism. We must live and make choices and we must base these on likelihoods. We know that chairs usually take our weight based on empirical tests of chairs. Testimony in court is often unreliable and eye-witness accounts more so, but often we are making decisions about guilt with imperfect information which could not be said to be knowledge, but claims for which the balance of probabilities is used as the means of veracity.

True testimony is only a valid form of knowledge if it is indeed true and verifiably so.

Facts in books are testable in principle if they relate to things that are verifiable in practice. If you say in a book that you love your wife, it is a fact that you said it in the book, beyond that we have no way of knowing if it is true, and ultimately neither do you, since you could be in a state of delusion.


You know a lot of things, legitimately, that you have not personally verified. You trust in testimony.

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That is what is so pernicious about conspiracism: it dupes its victims into believing false testimony, and even imbues them with a sense of nobility. Likewise YECism.


That is not knowledge though. If I cannot verify something, it is a belief. Give me one example within human experience that could be classed as knowledge that is unverifiable.


Totally agree with that.

I would love to continue this conversation as in it lies the seeds of our problem with YECs, flat earthers, anti-vaxxers and all the conspiracy nonsense out there.

If not in this thread, then perhaps I might begin another one.

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Can you personally verify, do you need to personally verify, that Kyrgyzstan exists? No, you accept it on testimony. It is a belief that is true, it is legitimate knowledge.

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