What Is The Difference Between Knowledge & Belief? How Can We Explain The Nature Of Knowledge?

Nurul Muhammad Haque*

Sydney, April 23,2014 (Alochonaa):  Theory of knowledge and belief have usually been the primary fields of philosophical investigation. In Phaedo, one of the brilliant dialogues by Plato (cited in Pojman, 2004), for the search of truth and acquirement of knowledge Socrates remarked to his disciples that, to attain virtue and knowledge, human beings should act as order that the body will not distract the soul, which is true self, seeking for the state of wisdom. And the pursuit of truth or knowledge is the philosopher’s task.

Plato, a philosopher from classical Greece & an influential figure in Western philosophy - Google Images

Plato, a philosopher from classical Greece & an influential figure in Western philosophy – Google Images

For the search of the truth and wisdom Plato was the first philosopher who defined knowledge. Plato, in his writings described knowledge as “true belief with an account (logos).”  (Scruton, 2004)

Although, starting with Plato’s Theaetetus, philosophers have usually defined knowledge as “true opinion combined with definition or rational explanation”. In this book, Plato also suggested that knowledge could be: 1.Perception or sensation, 2. true belief, and 3. true belief mega logou (accompanied by a rational account of itself or ground). (Bencivegna, 1999)

Nonetheless, it is generally assumed to be that ‘traditional’ theory of knowledge is “Justified true belief”. This is generally admitting that, we can have knowledge only of what is true. John Rawls examines this assertion by highlighting that we knowto be trued if and only if :

  1. It is true that p,
  2. John believes that p,
  3. John has a belief  that p is justified.         (Scruton,2004)

Thus, we can assume that, there are three minimum conditions for knowledge. They are, 1. True (it must be true) 2. Believe (we must actually believe it. Belief must be consciously held), 3. Justification is present (there must be sufficient evidence for it). Therefore, what is known has to be fact and thus true must come from the regard of the person acknowledging it as truth. The person must have an adequate basis for believing it, that is, have sufficient justification for believing it. (Conee & Feldman, 2005)

The purpose of belief is to represent the world accurately. Therefore, belief serves its role only if the formation, retention and revision of belief are sensitive to what one takes to be one’s evidence. In the definition of belief, “Belief is a species of propositional attitude distinguished by their having the mind-to-world direction of fit”. Most philosophers have assumed that belief is an inner state of mind, directly accessible to introspection and distinct from, though casually related to, the believer’s behavior. Thus, belief play a central role in theoretical reasoning (reason about what is so) and hence in practical reasoning (reason about what to do). We, therefore, need to know what we can do and how we can do is related to what we want. When seeking knowledge of these things we seek true belief about them. Thus, what we do is conditioned by what we believe. (Ludwig, 2005)

Scottish philosopher Alexander Bain (1859) suggested that, “belief should be defined in terms of behavior”. Belief issues in behavior only in conjunction with appropriate other propositional attitudes. In support of this theory, is the fact that not only can others check our claims to believe by considering whether we behave appropriately, but we ourselves may also take the results of such a test to overrule claims to believe that which we have sincerely made.

However, Kant (adopted from Ludwig, 2005), charts a different philosophical standpoint about belief, where he asserts that: ‘desire without belief is blind; belief without desire is empty.’ This statement suggests that, beliefs and desires are interlocking causes of behavior. In other words, desire motivates behavior but beliefs guides it.This conclusion is bolstered  Donald Davidson (1963) as he argued that, we sometimes have multiple reasons for doing something but we act on only one of them. i.e. – I may believe that if I don’t obey the speed limit when driving, I’ll likely receive a ticket, and I may wish to avoid receiving a ticket. I may believe also that obeying the speed limit is the right thing to do, and wish to do the right thing. I may obey the speed limit for the first reason rather than the second, or vice-versa. In either case, each reason would justify what I do, but only one would explain it. (Davidson, 2001)

Knowledge and belief are not only distinct attitudes but they also have a distinct and proprietary objectives. Whereas, belief can be true or false, knowledge is neither. But belief is a necessary condition for knowledge. (Bencivegna, 1999) Knowledge is acquired by deriving beliefs from other beliefs (foundation beliefs).Therefore, we accept belief(s)as a foundational principle because; 1. They are innate, 2.they are beliefs about present conscious experience, 3. They are beliefs that belong to our sense of experience. 4. They are self-evident.

The traditional theory of knowledge, i.e.:’ justified true belief’, gives us three conditions for the existence of knowledge, which it holds to be necessary and together sufficient. The truth of the proposition is known is necessary for knowledge. But, arguments have been presented against the necessity of each of the other two.

  1. Knowing without believing: according to Colin Radford, someone can know a truth even though they do not believe it.
  2. Knowing without justification: someone knows something because he has learned, or, without having learned and acquired any reasons for his judgments that would tend to establish their validity. (Scruton, 2004)

In a famous article, Edmund Gettier (1943) pulled the rug out from under this conception, which seems to show that the traditional theory must be wrong. Since the fulfillment of the three conditions for knowledge as well as they could be, we may not have a case of knowledge.  Gettier’s illustrations are:

  • Smith has evidence that Jones will get the job and john has 12 coins in his pocket
  • Thus Smith refers P: “ the man who will get the job has 12 coins in his pocket”
  • But unknown to smith, smith will get the job and also 12 coins in his pocket,
  • So, smith believes P, P is true, and smith is justified in believing P, but smith does not know P because he thinks the wrong man will get the job and the evidence on which he believes P is not evidence that makes P true.

Thus ‘Gettier’s problem’ suggests that we could infer a true circumstance from a false one then find belief and will be satisfied. In this proposition we would have made our way to knowledge from a false claim, making the road to this something of a fluke. (Paul Newall, 2003)

Most Epistemologists responded to Gettier’s example by seeking a fourth condition for knowledge in addition to justified true belief. Some proposed that to have knowledge, it is also required that the justification for one’s belief be undefeated, meaning roughly that there is no truth that would undermine the justification of belief (Klein, 1976). Others have suggested that in cases of knowledge justification does not involve a falsehood (Chisholm, 1989). Some philosophers reject the justification condition for knowledge. One proposed replacement requires a suitable causal connection between a known belief and the facts that make the belief true (Armstrong1973, Goldman, 1967). Another suggested replacement wants a known belief to vary counter-factually with the truth of that belief: if the belief were not true, it would not be believed by the same method, and if it were true, it would not be believed by the same method (Nozick, 1981).

According to Scruton (2004), philosophers have concluded ‘Gettier’s problem’ as two interesting authority. First, “we ought to cease thinking about knowledge from the first person viewpoint, which leads us to muddle the question whether I know P, with the question whether I have adequate grounds for believing it”. Secondly, “we ought to recognize the concept of knowledge is designed to distinguish reliable from unreliable beliefs, and is applied in order to endorse the epistemological capacities of the knower, rather than to evaluate his reasoning.”

We can use our senses, memory, testimony or reasoning and some other ways to arrive to meaningful knowledge. However, any or all of these could be flawed, so there are some other methods of ‘knowing’ used in epistemology: the study of Knowledge. Rationalism: Knowing through self-consciousness (Some of the knowledge is not wholly observational), Empiricism: Knowledge through experience (Based on senses, i.e. – rational intuition, causation, tracking/observational). Coherent-ism: Knowledge as a coherent system. It suggests that our idea/knowledge hang together and support each-other. Skepticism: Skepticism is the impossibility of certain knowledge. Generally ‘Fallibilism’ – Latin meaning “liable to err” (idea that all knowledge is provisional and could have to be revised at any instant) can lead to skepticism. (Newall, 2003)

Hence, more options unfold when we find that there are several kinds of knowledge and reasoning which also affect our ideas and rational belief. Knowing that: is the objective of proposition, and it is our paradigm of theoretical success. Its goal is truth and matter is belief. Knowing which and knowing who: involves the understanding of language itself, and precedes our capacity to form specific beliefs. For example, to understand a name in the language, I must know which objects it refers to. This is a matter of being able to identify the object. Knowing how: Gilbert Ryle (1949) suggested this term. Philosophers have often used it in order to explain what they mean by practical knowledge. Knowing how is a matter of skill and technique. It involves mastery of the means. Knowing what: A person may not know what to do or what to feel, and it is in learning what to do and what to feel that we acquire moral competence. Aristotle calls it “Virtue” (which he expressly contrasts with technique). The person who knows what to do is the person who reliably does what is right. The knowledge involved here is a matter of first person acquaintance, and we value it because we value all the other things that flow from a person, when he is familiar with the forms and varieties of human experience. (Ludwig, 2005)

In conclusion, I would like to remind the reader that, knowledge is valuable, it is important for the vitality of belief. It enables us to rely on our beliefs, and the beliefs of others. Beliefs aim at  the greater truth, and are successful when they achieve it. Knowledge talks about the truth. The one who knows is the one who reaches the target of truth dependably. The impact of knowledge, belief and truth, shape us and our ideas of mind, which reflects in our worldly life. Its outcome affects the people and society of our own. We, the human beings are interested in knowledge, because we are interested in the truth of our belief and the search for knowledge is the search for justification, which guarantees the truth.

*Nurul Muhammad Haque works as an analyst and adviser for non-profit organization and Govt. Research body. His area of works include  International Affairs & security, Government & Politics and Economic Developments. He also has interests in history, philosophy and religion. To download the bibliography  —-Click Here
** is not responsible for any factual mistakes (if any) of this analysis. This analysis further is not necessarily representative of’s view. We’re happy to facilitate further evidence-based submissions on this topic. Please send us your submission at 


Categories: philosophy

Tagged as: , ,

6 replies »

  1. I think truth is unattainable although it should be the goal when seeking knowledge. I think knowledge is human theories involving observation and experimentation to explain problems and find answers to human curiosity, but it is far from what reality is in actuality. I think belief is the logical outcome of our experiences with nature where we try to understand what we are doing here and our surroundings but cannot as human beings or have not as yet worked out how to understand or even lazy about making an effort to explain, from big to small, phenomena that are part of our lives as individuals and groups.

    • Sir,your topic is so importable for me today , because I am preparing my Master’s paper 1026 ,sir thank you so much ,,and I also want write a book after examination in this topic , please pray for God .


    This is a section from the Abstract of my PhD.

    “This study aims to identify the relationship between epistemology and politics. In other words, it seeks to understand how theory of knowledge is related to political theory. However, the question is, is it important to have knowledge of such a relationship? The answer seems to be an obvious yes. The value in having this knowledge comes from the need to know, on the one hand, the basis on which a political theory is looked on as the most appropriate, or the best, or the only one suitable for the political organisation of society, and, on the other, the mechanism of the human epistemic process which produced the theory. Consider the case of Marxism, for example, the justification for its political programme comes from the perceived ability of human beings to have knowledge of social developments and the historical destiny, through an analysis of concrete economic and survival activities of human beings. Further, as the historical destiny and the concrete processes that generate historical movements can be known, this means that it is possible to devise a political system that would help society to move towards the historical destiny and ‘lessen the birth pangs’ of the inevitable. Ultimately, evidently, the political programmes of Marxism are justified on epistemological grounds, namely, through the human ability to know and the extent of what can be known. This means that the credibility of a political theory depends on the validity of the epistemology from which it receives its justification. On the other hand, if a political theory, based on an invalid epistemology, is implemented, then, this may not only produce results not intended, but generate disastrous consequences, as argued by Karl Popper against the political theory of Marxism. One reason why Marxism was said to have failed and did so badly, was because it did not have any foundation in human knowledge. This means that, without a theory of knowledge to back up a political theory, there can be no way of knowing why a particular political theory, rather than an alternative one, should be chosen.”

    • Sir,your topic is so importable for me today , because I am preparing my Master’s paper 1026 ,sir thank you so much ,,and I also want write a book after examination in this topic , please pray for me .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.