The following stems from a conversation I had a couple weeks ago with our weekly discussion group, after a question about the meaning of Truth was raised.
When dealing with philosophical matters, I find that one of the most difficult, yet essential, problems we face is in carefully defining what various terms mean. More often than not in serious conversation, I will find that what I mean by a particular word is at odds with what others interpret that word to mean. Perhaps this is an issue only of my idiosyncratic use of some words, but I am convinced such problems are very widespread.
The word “knowledge”, as applied to a particular item or field of items, I understand to mean the accumulated content of a concept or a hierarchy of concepts an individual holds regarding those items. By “content of a concept”, I mean the common attributes or variables that have been abstracted from the observation (physical or mental observation) of concrete examples. Per Ayn Rand’s framework, these common attributes, with their measurements omitted, define the concept. I further limit the application of the term knowledge to those conceptual frameworks which have been created with appropriate use of reason – insisting in each step of construction that the framework is integrated with the rest of the individual’s knowledge.
I’ve been struggling to find an appropriate word to describe the content of invalid frameworks of concepts in which proper validation has not been performed, and haven’t yet resolved this problem. My limitation allows the use of the term knowledge to imply certainty – we are certain of the accuracy of our knowledge.
It should further be noted that I limit the term “knowledge” to apply exclusively to the content of an individual’s conceptual framework. There is no social knowledge under this definition, though there certainly is shared knowledge. The attempt to communicate knowledge between individuals – through conversation, writing, public speech – I recognize as at best partially successful. Separate individuals can develop similar conceptual frameworks through communication, but these knowledges will never be exactly matching. This issue merits its own phrase, and I call it “the problem of communication”.
Next up – defining truth.