October 06

How do we know what we think we know?

How do we know what we think we know?

We think we know things, but do we really? What do we know, and more importantly how do we know that we know it?

Think of something, anything, that you think you know.

Let’s start with this: “I am a human being.”

What is it that you know when you think you know that “you are a human being.”

First of all it means you think you are a thing called a human being.

What does that mean?

Well one thing that it means is that if I tell someone that I am a human being they will agree. If I ask someone what I am, they might say I am a human being. So at one level knowing refers to a certain type of verbal agreement.

But does knowing mean more than this?
William James would add to this understanding of knowing that knowing also had to do with the ability to predict the end points of certain sets of behavior. This was a pragmatic account of knowing.

In one of his famous essays, James describes how if I know what a Bengal tiger is, that means that if I were to take a trip to India I would be able to successfully point to a Bengal tiger if I saw one. Similarly, if I know what Independence Hall is I would be able to go to Philadelphia, find it and recognize it when I saw it.