Is Belief Required for Knowledge?

Over the past two months, I’ve used a series of surveys to examine the relationship between the concept of knowledge and the concept of belief. So far, the results suggest that many people have intuitions which are
in opposition to the claim that knowledge is a species of belief. For those who are interested, a summary of the results are posted over at Experimental Philosophy.

Comments are welcome.


  1. When i check out basic textbooks (the concise routledge encyclopedia of philosophy) the relation among belief and knowledge is a two-way path.

    Either belief is identical to knowledge, or belief entails knowledge, and only one thesis, the independent thesis, susggests a difference.

    I belive that the tendency people have in thinking that “belive” judgements are accompnaied by knowledge is weaker, becuase of Roderick Chisholm´s ideas on opaque contexts.

    A “belief” is a psychologial state usually described with mental predicates that are intentional (opaque) rather than factual (knowledge)and people have more tendency to think that “knowledge” judgments are accompanied by belief because from factoids you are able to make beliefs but no the other way around, form beliefs you are not able to acquire knowledge: if, it´s raining and i don´t belive that it is, is only true if the part “i don´t belive it” is true but if it is false, the fact that is raining makes my “brlief” contradictory.

  2. Eric Thomson

    A naive question: let’s say nobody (outside of philosophy or psychology) thinks knowledge requires belief. How many theories of knowledge within philosophy would this actually affect? Do many philosophers still think they are just doing analysis of the concepts (as used by nonacademic types)? Most of the philosophers I read take themselves to be making ur-scientific theories, not doing analysis of ordinary language.

    This isn’t meant to be antagonistic toward the enterprise at all: for those interested in ordinary language analysis this kind of study is absolutely crucial, and I always found it strange that professional philosophers would analyze ordinary language without actually studying ordinary people. Hence, kudos for doing this work. My question is more along the lines of whether it reveals anything that we should base a substantive cognitive theory upon.

  3. That´s an interesting question (if studying our implicit, intuitive reactions to events is [in]sufficient to build a substantive cognitive theory) only time would answer.

    But the truth is, that we function in that way, either professional academics in philosophy or psychology, or ordinary people.

    The main hurdle to me with all this is that perhaps we only move from conceptual analysis (aka the school of ordinary language use analysis)in the armchair to conceptual anlaysis with “data”, but maybe folk psychology is a bad theory about our daily psychological activities and we have to wait, as Churchland(s) warn us, to a more valid take on it.

  4. Thanks for these comments!

    Anibal, you suggest, “people have more tendency to think that ‘knowledge’ judgments are accompanied by belief because from factoids you are able to make beliefs but not the other way around.” So, I take it that you’re associating ‘knowledge’ with facts that we are *able* to make beliefs about. On this account, we don’t need to *believe* P in order to know P. We just need to be *able* to believe P. This reminds me of a comment that Eric Schwitzgebel made on the experimental philosophy blog. He suggested that knowledge might reflect a *capacity* and belief a *tendency*. I’m quite sympathetic to this line of thought. It seems to have a fair amount of potential in explaining the results of the surveys.

    Eric, good question. Currently, I don’t have any commitments as to whether these results have any impact on philosophical theories of knowledge. For now, I’m mostly interested in what these results might reveal about the role that belief-judgments play (or don’t play) in knowledge-judgments.

  5. We can know without knowing we know, because there are different levels of knowing. “Knowing that we know”–that sort of knowing does involve belief. Intuitive knowing does not involve belief, until it does, but then it is ‘reasoned’ knowing. Spiders know webs, but they don’t know they know webs. Birds know nests, but they don’t know they know nests. We know moral truth intuitively, but many of us do not know we know it.

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