Knowledge is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education.
I’m going to focus on the facts and information in this post. Skills are important, but unless they are verbal, I’m not concerned with them here.
In conversation, we use the word ‘knowledge’ for four distinct aspects of informational knowledge: facts, evaluations, explanations, and predictions.
Often people call diverse bits of knowledge “facts”, but that is too loose for precise logic and communication. The current bugaboo “fake news” are mainly evaluations and explanations which are improperly treated as facts.
- Facts are occurrences in the past, which can be independently verified. These are objective fragments of knowledge.
- Evaluations which meld facts with a personal belief system (aka value-laden observations). These are subjective arrangements of facts into a larger structure. You may agree with some, most, none, or all of another’s evaluations. If you disagree with some basic premises of another person’s belief set, that person’s facts will not be shared by you.
- Explanations which unite facts under a theory (aka theory-laden observations). These are also subjective, but instead of personal values being the reason, theoretical precepts, maybe confirmed now, unknown in the past, and rejected in the future. Yet now the theories are taken to be true, so conclusions based on facts will be taken as true too. While I merely see a trail in a Wilson cloud chamber, a physicist sees the action of a charged particle. The physicist’s fact is different than mine.
- Predictions in which we forecast the future based on facts, evaluations, and explanations. There can be fragments of truth, pieces of personal beliefs, and various current theories mixed together in a subjective picture of the future.
Examples of Knowledge Types
Facts themselves have two flavors, binary and blended.
- Binary. Yea or nay. We had a party of your birthday. True or False. A historical occurrence which can be checked and validated.
- Blended. Does true or false cover the many meanings of the statement. It helped the Iraqis that we disposed Saddam. It’s a historical circumstance, but Iraqis are not a monolithic people. For the Shias who weren’t killed, maybe yes. For the Sunnis who weren’t killed, mostly not.
- Blended. There are multiple factors to the situation’s occasion. You are a good student. Are you even hungover from a campus open house? In a subject that you despise? It may be a fact only with some qualifications.
- Blended. Statistical truths.
- It’s good we went to war in Iraq. One’s answer depends on multiple assumptions, facts (simple and compound) and overarching worldview.
- The Middle East exploded because we left Iraq too quickly.
- The Fed increasing rates will damage the US economy. One’s answer depends on the economic situation, personal financial situation, and one’s knowledge of past economic actions , the theories relating economic variables, and a myriad of other factors which are involved in the US economy, but which are not mentioned.