Square and Flat Earth

By Orlando Ferguson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I recently signed up for a philosophy class and I chose to type up an answer to the question: “Is belief good enough for knowledge?”.  Here is my answer:

Is belief good enough for knowledge?

Interesting question, I think it comes down to how you frame it. I believe… Belief is a prerequisite of knowledge. If you do not believe something exists or can happen how can you have knowledge of it or conceive it? The testing of belief leads to knowledge if you pursue it, however it does not have to. I will put in a joke I heard from a science teacher as a thought.

A man starts an experiment (this is not a very humane experiment… but this is hypothetical so take it with a grain of salt). This man takes a frog, sets it on the table, and slams his hand own on the table behind it. The frog makes a wild leap. The man measures it. The man then proceeds to cut off one of the front legs of the frog and stitch it up. He repeats his experiment. The frog jumps, but it is lopsided and does not go nearly as far, and the man measures the results. The man then proceeds to cut off the other front leg and stitch it up. He en repeats his experiment. The frog slides forward a bit, the man measures the results again. He then cuts off one of the hind legs, and does the same thing. This time when he slams his and on the table the sad frog just kinda slides forward a bit with one leg. He measures the results. Finally the man removes the frog’s last leg… he repeats the experiment. The frog doesn’t move. The conclusion the man came to… Frogs with no legs are deaf. As a side note he was able to repeat his results reliably under all conditions.

I know that was long, but I think it made my point: just because we have observed the world, measured it, and even tested it, that does not mean our conclusions will always be knowledge. Some of the things our grandparents thought of as knowledge are truly laughable now. I read a science book from the 1890’s and it was pretty funny. Yet at the time it was treated as fact, people who disagreed were uncouth or uneducated. Will the thoughts I have, or the thoughts you have be just as dated or laughable to our grandchildren? In my opinion… probably.

So according to what I understand so far of philosophy, knowledge is belief that we/I have tested to our/my satisfaction. There MAY always be another question, test, or vantage point that could blow it away. That however does not mean there always will be, and I think that was the point of one of the speakers we may never know if what we had was true knowledge because we may never know if it could stand all possible testing.

I believe the average person has thousands of beliefs that are untested in their head that they rely on every day to function. I say belief because many people have not actually thought through or even considered them. They are innate. People believe they will continue existing tomorrow, they trust in social contracts, they believe that brushing their teeth will keep their teeth clean. Have you ever “tested” to see if brushing your teeth actually makes them cleaner? or prevents cavities? I mean, it makes “sense”… but then again in the 1890’s so did the theory that steam caused earthquakes. You believe brushing your teeth helps and there is nothing wrong with that. We have to believe things every day. We could not possibly “prove” everything in life. Everyone has underlying beliefs (in my opinion… my belief). We accept that some things are “knowledge” because others have told us, does that count as knowledge? Your dentist told you that brushing your teeth helps keep them clean and cavity free. Does that make it true? Did he test it? Or did someone tell him? Was it in some medical journal? Do I trust the medical journal? How do I test that? What about that infomercial on the TV at 2AM should I trust what it tells me?

My point is we all believe a lot of things. We think we know some things. Belief has to be enough because it is the only way to find knowledge. If you don’t believe matter is made up of atoms how or why would you bother to look? Why would you bother to conduct an experiment that atoms exist, unless you believe they exist and you want to prove your belief right or wrong.

So finally to address the starting question: Is belief enough for knowledge? Possibly. It is possible to believe something that is knowledge to others without knowing or proving it. It is possible to use belief to head asymptotically towards knowledge. However by definition belief is not knowledge. Belief is what we make of it, it is a tool. We need it to function, and we can use it to lead us to more tested belief, or we can stake a claim in belief and use belief itself as rational. It is nothing more than what we make of it.

Just my 2 cents. 🙂

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