Propositional Knowledge, Definition of | (2023)

The traditional "definition of propositional knowledge," emerging from Plato's Meno and Theaetetus, proposes that such knowledgeknowledge that something is the casehas three essential components. These components are identified by the view that knowledge is justified true belief. Knowledge, according to the traditional definition, is belief of a special kind, belief that satisfies two necessary conditions: (1) the truth of what is believed and (2) the justification of what is believed. While offering various accounts of the belief condition, the truth condition, and the justification condition for knowledge, many philosophers have held that those three conditions are individually necessary and jointly sufficient for propositional knowledge.

The belief condition requires that one accept, in some manner, any proposition one genuinely knows. This condition thus relates one psychologically to what one knows. It precludes that one knows a proposition while failing to accept that proposition. Some contemporary philosophers reject the belief condition for knowledge, contending that it requires a kind of mentalistic representation absent from many cases of genuine knowledge. Some other contemporary philosophers endorse the belief condition but deny that it requires actual assent to a proposition. They propose that, given the belief condition, a knower need only be disposed to assent to a proposition. Still other philosophers hold that the kind of belief essential to propositional knowledge requires assent to a known proposition, even if the assent need not be current or ongoing. The traditional belief condition is neutral on the exact conditions for belief and for the objects of belief.

The truth condition requires that genuine propositional knowledge be factual, that it represent what is actually the case. This condition precludes, for example, that astronomers before Nicolas Copernicus knew that Earth is flat. Those astronomers may have believedeven justifiably believedthat Earth is flat, as neither belief nor justifiable belief requires truth. Given the truth condition, however, propositional knowledge without truth is impossible. Some contemporary philosophers reject the truth condition for knowledge, but they are a small minority. Proponents of the truth condition fail to agree on the exact conditions for the kind of truth essential to knowledge. Competing approaches to truth include correspondence, coherence, semantic, and redundancy theories, where the latter theories individually admit of variations. The truth condition for knowledge, generally formulated, does not aim to offer an exact account of truth.

The justification condition for propositional knowledge guarantees that such knowledge is not simply true belief. A true belief may stem just from lucky guesswork; in that case it will not qualify as knowledge. Propositional knowledge requires that the satisfaction of its belief condition be suitably related to the satisfaction of its truth condition. In other words, a knower must have adequate indication that a belief qualifying as knowledge is actually true. This adequate indication, on a traditional view of justification suggested by Plato and Immanuel Kant, is suitable evidence indicating that a proposition is true. True beliefs qualifying as knowledge, on this traditional view, must be based on justifying evidence.

Contemporary philosophers acknowledge that justified contingent beliefs can be false; this is fallibilism about epistemic justification, the kind of justification appropriate to propositional knowledge. Given fallibilism, the truth condition for knowledge is not supplied by the justification condition; justification does not entail truth. Similarly, truth does not entail justification; one can lack evidence for a proposition that is true.

Proponents of the justification condition for knowledge do not share an account of the exact conditions for epistemic justification. Competing accounts include epistemic coherentism, which implies that the justification of any belief depends on that belief's coherence relations to other beliefs, and epistemic foundationalism, which implies that some beliefs are justified independently of any other beliefs. Recently, some philosophers have proposed that knowledge requires not evidence but reliable (or truth-conducive) belief formation and belief sustenance. This is reliabilism about the justification condition for knowledge. Whatever the exact conditions for epistemic justification are, proponents of the justification condition maintain that knowledge is not merely true belief.


Although philosophers have not agreed widely on what specifically the defining components of propositional knowledge are, there has been considerable agreement that knowledge requires, in general, justified true belief. Traditionally, many philosophers have assumed that justified true belief is sufficient as well as necessary for knowledge. This is a minority position now, owing mainly to Gettier counterexamples to this view. In 1963 Edmund Gettier challenged the view that if one has a justified true belief that p, then one knows that p. Gettier's counterexamples are:

  1. Smith and Jones have applied for the same job. Smith is justified in believing that (i) Jones will get the job, and that (ii) Jones has ten coins in his pocket. On the basis of (i) and (ii), Smith infers, and thus is justified in believing, that (iii) the person who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket. As it turns out, Smith himself will actually get the job, and he also happens to have ten coins in his pocket. So, although Smith is justified in believing the true proposition (iii), Smith does not know (iii).
  2. Smith is justified in believing the false proposition that (i) Jones owns a Ford. On the basis of (i), Smith infers, and thus is justified in believing, that (ii) either Jones owns a Ford or Brown is in Barcelona. As it turns out, Brown is in Barcelona, and so (ii) is true. So although Smith is justified in believing the true proposition (ii), Smith does not know (ii).

Gettier counterexamples are cases where one has a justified true belief that p but lacks knowledge that p. The Gettier problem is the difficulty of finding a modification of, or an alternative to, the traditional justified-true-belief analysis that avoids difficulties from Gettier counterexamples.

Contemporary philosophers have not reached a widely accepted solution to the Gettier problem. Many philosophers take the main lesson of Gettier counterexamples to be that propositional knowledge requires a fourth condition, beyond the justification, belief, and truth conditions. Some philosophers have claimed, in opposition, that Gettier counterexamples are defective because they rely on the false principle that false evidence can justify one's beliefs. There are, however, examples similar to Gettier's that do not rely on any such principle. Here is one such example inspired by Keith Lehrer and Richard Feldman:

  • (III) Suppose that Smith knows the following proposition, m : Jones, whom Smith has always found to be reliable and whom Smith has no reason to distrust now, has told Smith, his officemate, that p : He, Jones, owns a Ford. Suppose also that Jones has told Smith that p only because of a state of hypnosis Jones is in and that p is true only because, unknown to himself, Jones has won a Ford in a lottery since entering the state of hypnosis. Suppose further that Smith deduces from m its existential generalization, o : There is someone, whom Smith has always found to be reliable and whom Smith has no reason to distrust now, who has told Smith, his officemate, that he owns a Ford. Smith, then, knows that o, since he has correctly deduced o from m, which he also knows. Suppose, however, that on the basis of his knowledge that o, Smith believes that r : Someone in the office owns a Ford. Under these conditions, Smith has justified true belief that r, knows his evidence for r, but does not know that r.

Gettier counterexamples of this sort are especially difficult for attempts to analyze the concept of propositional knowledge.

One noteworthy fourth condition consists of a "defeasibility condition" requiring that the justification appropriate to knowledge be "undefeated" in that an appropriate subjunctive conditional concerning defeaters of justification be true of that justification. A simple defeasibility condition requires of our knowing that p that there be no true proposition, o, such that if q became justified for us, p would no longer be justified for us. If Smith genuinely knows that Laura removed books from the office, then Smith's coming to believe with justification that Laura's identical twin removed books from the office would not defeat the justification for Smith's belief regarding Laura herself. A different approach claims that propositional knowledge requires justified true belief sustained by the collective totality of actual truths. This approach requires a precise, rather complex account of when justification is defeated and restored.

The importance of the Gettier problem arises from the importance of a precise understanding of the nature, or the essential components, of propositional knowledge. A precise understanding of the nature of propositional knowledge, according to many philosophers, requires a Gettier-resistant account of knowledge.

(Video) Propositional Knowledge

See also Coherentism; Epistemology; Kant, Immanuel; Plato; Reliabilism; Truth.


Audi, Robert. Epistemology. London: Routledge, 1998.

BonJour, L. The Structure of Empirical Knowledge. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985.

Carruthers, P. Human Knowledge and Human Nature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Chisholm, Roderick. "Knowledge as Justified True Belief." In The Foundations of Knowing. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982.

Chisholm, Roderick. Theory of Knowledge. 3rd ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1989.

(Video) The Meaning of Knowledge: Crash Course Philosophy #7

Goldman, A. Epistemology and Cognition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986.

Greco, John, and Ernest Sosa, eds. The Blackwell Guide to Epistemology. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998.

Klein, Peter. "A Proposed Definition of Propositional Knowledge." Journal of Philosophy 67 (1971): 471482.

Lehrer, K. Theory of Knowledge. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1990.

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Moser, Paul. "Epistemology (1900Present)." In Routledge History of Philosophy. Vol. 10: Philosophy of the English Speaking World in the 20th Century, edited by John Canfield. London: Routledge, 1996.

(Video) PHILOSOPHY - Epistemology: Introduction to Theory of Knowledge [HD]

Moser, Paul. Knowledge and Evidence. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Moser, Paul, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Epistemology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Moser, Paul, and A. vander Nat, eds. Human Knowledge: Classical and Contemporary Approaches. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Pollock, J. Contemporary Theories of Knowledge. Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Littlefield, 1986.

Shope, Robert. The Analysis of Knowing: A Decade of Research. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983.

Sosa, E. Knowledge in Perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

(Video) Peter Klein- A Proposed Definition of Propositional Knowledge

Paul K. Moser (1996)

Bibliography updated by Benjamin Fiedor (2005)


What does propositional knowledge mean? ›

By “propositional knowledge”, we mean knowledge of a proposition—for example, if Susan knows that Alyssa is a musician, she has knowledge of the proposition that Alyssa is a musician. Propositional knowledge should be distinguished from knowledge of “acquaintance”, as obtains when Susan knows Alyssa.

What is propositional knowledge in education? ›

What is propositional knowledge and how does it affect learning? The Propositional Knowledge theme measures what the instructor knows in addition to how well it is organized and presented in a learner-oriented setting.

What is propositional knowledge in psychology? ›

the abstract representation of knowledge, words, or images. Propositions are the smallest units of meaningful thought, and knowledge is represented as a series of propositional statements or as a network of interconnected propositions.

What is propositional knowledge vs procedural knowledge? ›

Propositional knowledge or Declarative Knowledge, which is knowledge of facts (like who won the FA cup, or what last month's sales figures are); Procedural knowledge, which is knowledge of how to do something (like ride a bicycle);

What does propositional mean? ›

/ˌprɑː.pəˈzɪʃ. ən. əl/ relating to statements or problems that must be solved or proved to be true or not true: The second chapter introduces propositional logic.

What does propositional mean example? ›

It is this type of meaning that provides the basis on which we can judge an utterance as true or false. For instance, the propositional meaning of shirt is 'a piece of clothing worn on the. upper part of the body'.

What is propositional knowledge quizlet? ›

What is propositional knowledge? Knowledge 'that' something, factually or truly, is the case. I know Paris is the capital of France.

What are the key ingredients of propositional knowledge? ›

Then we saw that there are two basic constituents of propositional knowledge that everyone agrees upon. And these are the, when do you have propositional knowledge. The proposition in question must be true, and you must believe that proposition. So knowledge requires true belief.

What is proposition knowledge synonym? ›

Propositional knowledge, also termed factual knowledge or knowledge-that, is the most paradigmatic form of knowledge in analytic philosophy, and most definitions of knowledge in philosophy have this form in mind.

What is the opposite of propositional knowledge? ›

Non-Propositional Knowledge (also Procedural Knowledge) Non-propositional knowledge (which is better known as procedural knowledge, but I decided to use “non-propositional” because it is a more obvious antithesis to “propositional”) is knowledge that can be used; it can be applied to something, such as a problem.

What are the 4 types of knowledge? ›

He distilled knowledge into four types: Factual, Conceptual, Procedural and Metacognitive.

What are the 3 types of knowledge? ›

Three Kinds of Knowledge
  • Physical knowledge: These are facts about the features of something. ...
  • Social knowledge: These are names and conventions, made up by people. ...
  • Logico-mathematical knowledge: This is the creation of relationships.
Jan 4, 2010

What is an example of procedural knowledge? ›

It's basically “how” you know to do something. The classic example of procedural knowledge is riding a bicycle. When someone was teaching you how to ride a bicycle, no matter what they said, you probably struggled to grasp it until you'd actually done it a few times.

What does propositional mean in philosophy? ›

The term 'proposition' has a broad use in contemporary philosophy. It is used to refer to some or all of the following: the primary bearers of truth-value, the objects of belief and other “propositional attitudes” (i.e., what is believed, doubted, etc.), the referents of that-clauses, and the meanings of sentences.

Is propositional a form of thought? ›

Propositional thought is the reasoning that one does without specific objects involved. Instead, one develops logical propositions, which one can tie together by thinking.

What is propositional logic in simple words? ›

Propositional logic, also known as sentential logic, is that branch of logic that studies ways of combining or altering statements or propositions to form more complicated statements or propositions. Joining two simpler propositions with the word “and” is one common way of combining statements.

Where is propositional logic used in real life? ›

Propositional Logic plays an important role in computer science as well as in a person's daily life. The main benefits of studying and using propositional logic are that it prevents us from making inconsistent inferences and incautious decisions.

How can we use propositional logic in our life? ›

Applications of Propositional Logic
  1. In the specification of software and hardware. Nonsense claim made in book: ...
  2. To design computer circuits.
  3. To construct computer programs.
  4. To verify the correctness of programs.
  5. To build expert systems.
  6. To analyze and solve many familiar puzzles.

What is propositional knowledge a level philosophy? ›

Propositional knowledge is defined as justified true belief: S knows that p if and only if: S is justified in believing that p, p is true and. S believes that p (individually necessary and jointly sufficient conditions)

What does a posteriori knowledge mean? ›

a posteriori knowledge, knowledge derived from experience, as opposed to a priori knowledge (q.v.).

Is propositional knowledge a priori? ›

“A priori” and “a posteriori” refer primarily to how, or on what basis, a proposition might be known. In general terms, a proposition is knowable a priori if it is knowable independently of experience, while a proposition knowable a posteriori is knowable on the basis of experience.

Do all true beliefs count as propositional knowledge? ›

Knowledge, then, requires belief. Of course, not all beliefs constitute knowledge. Belief is necessary but not sufficient for knowledge. We are all sometimes mistaken in what we believe; in other words, while some of our beliefs are true, others are false.

Is epistemology a propositional knowledge? ›

Epistemology is often defined as the theory of knowledge, and talk of propositional knowledge (that is, “S knows that p”) has dominated the bulk of modern literature in epistemology.

What is proposition thinking? ›

The proposition is a concept borrowed by cognitive psychologists from linguists and logicians. The propostion is the most basic unit of meaning in a representation. It is the smallest statement that can be judged either true or false.

What is propositional knowledge of God? ›

If God's thought structure is propositional, this means that either God's beliefs just are propositions or the content of his beliefs are of mind-independent propositions.

What is propositional vs nonpropositional? ›

To conclude, propositional attitudes have propositional contents and every propositional attitude represents the same as some proposition. A representational mental state has non-propositional content just in case it is a state that represents differently than any proposition.

What are the five levels of knowledge? ›

Five Levels of Learning
  • Level 1 – Cognitive Understanding.
  • Level 2 – Basic Competence.
  • Level 3 – Mastering the Basics.
  • Level 4 – Beyond the Basics.
  • Level 5 – The Mindset of Continuous Improvement.

What are the two forms of knowledge? ›

Different Types of Knowledge: Implicit, Tacit, and Explicit
  • Explicit Knowledge: Knowledge that is easy to articulate, write down, and share.
  • Implicit Knowledge: The application of explicit knowledge. ...
  • Tacit Knowledge: Knowledge gained from personal experience that is more difficult to express.
Jan 16, 2018

What are the six levels of knowledge? ›

The six levels are remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.

What are Piaget's 3 types of knowledge? ›

Piaget believed that children actively approach their environments and acquire knowledge through their actions." "Piaget distinguished among three types of knowledge that children acquire: Physical, logical-mathematical, and social knowledge.

What are the three types of knowledge in education? ›

Three Kinds of Knowledge
  • Physical knowledge: These are facts about the features of something. ...
  • Social knowledge: These are names and conventions, made up by people. ...
  • Logico-mathematical knowledge: This is the creation of relationships.
Jan 4, 2010

What is an example of a posteriori knowledge? ›

A posteriori is a judgment or conclusion based on experience or by what others tell us about their experiences. For example, I know the Sun will set this evening because it always has. My a posteriori knowledge tells me that the sun will set again.

What is posteriori knowledge give example? ›

A posteriori knowledge is empirical, experience-based knowledge, whereas a priori knowledge is non-empirical knowledge. Standard examples of a posteriori truths are the truths of ordinary perceptual experience and the natural sciences; standard examples of a priori truths are the truths of logic and mathematics.

What are the 3 types of teachers knowledge? ›

Technological pedagogical content knowledge TPCK is an emergent form of knowledge that goes beyond all three components (content, pedagogy, and technology). Technological pedagogical content knowledge is an understanding that arises from an interaction between content, pedagogy, and technology knowledge.

What are the 4 branches of knowledge? ›

Epistemology proposes that there are four main bases of knowledge: divine revelation, experience, logic and reason, and intuition.

What is priori vs posteriori knowledge? ›

A priori knowledge is independent from current experience (e.g., as part of a new study). Examples include mathematics, tautologies, and deduction from pure reason. A posteriori knowledge depends on empirical evidence. Examples include most fields of science and aspects of personal knowledge.

What is priori vs posteriori? ›

A priori knowledge refers to knowledge that is justified independently of experience, i.e., knowledge that does not depend on experiential evidence or warrant. In contrast, a posteriori knowledge is justified by means of experience, and depends therefore on experiential evidence or warrant.

What is the difference between a priori and a posteriori epistemology? ›

A priori knowledge is, in an important sense, independent of experience. In contrast, a posteriori knowledge depends on experiences such as empirical observations and introspection of one's conscious states.

What is an example of priori knowledge? ›

Examples of A Priori Knowledge

Someone who knew what dog means could know that all dogs are animals without having any experience related to dogs. Therefore, their knowledge that all dogs are animals is a priori knowledge.

What is the difference between a priori and a posteriori Kant? ›

Whereas a priori claims seem to be justified based on pure thought or reason, a posteriori claims are justified based on experience. We can only know a posteriori claims after experience.

What are the 3 C's in teaching? ›

Based on her extensive experience in early childhood education, Patricia A. Dischler bridges the gap and demonstrates how incorporating the three Cs—creativity, curiosity, and courtesy—into classroom instruction can support the development of academic skills.

What are the three fundamental of knowledge? ›

We can link these three types of knowledge to the three key terms, facts, values, and agency.


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