What is knowledge?

what is knowledgeFor centuries philosophers have indulged in query of what is the nature of knowledge. Hetherington asserts that epistemological thinkers reflect on it by having claims, counter-claims, questioning and answering (2012, p. 7). Great philosophers like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle indulged in a profound thinking about what it is. Socrates not only pondered what knowledge is but doubted if he ever knew much at all, however, he identified that knowledge might come through perception, or by way of reason. Socrates also believed that the ability to give an account or explanation to what is conceived as a true belief is called knowledge (Hetherington, 2012, p. 9; Crumley, 2009, p. 54).

For so long knowledge has been related to true belief. Williamson (2000) mentions that epistemologist have taken considerable efforts to state precisely what kind of true belief knowledge is since Gettier showed that even justified true belief is insufficient for knowledge (p. 2). To be acknowledged as knowledge a true belief need to be defended by way of reasons. Hetherington asserts “Nothing -no state, such as a belief – is knowledge if it is not somehow well supported” (2011, p. 4). In his Epistemology: The Key Thinkers, Hetherington (2012) also heightens the importance of reasoning and thinking clearly in investigations as he believes they reveal the systematic connections between what already been grasped and further truths to be revealed (p. 52). Thus, it can be seen that the distinction between knowledge and true belief lies on the ability to provide an account or explanation. Crumley (2009) claims that Plato already recognized this as he viewed knowledge as true belief plus accounts and since then many twentieth-century epistemologists view and explain knowledge as justified true belief based on Plato’s idea (p. 54).

When it comes to Plato’s epistemological thinking, another theory of knowledge is generated. The answer to the question would become metaphysical as somehow Plato identified knowledge as being related to form (Hetherington, 2012, p. 10), not only that he also concerned in how it is produced. Crumley states “Plato (c. 429-347 BCE) developed an analysis of knowledge in a larger context of his metaphysical and ethical concerns” (2009, p. 53). Whereas, Aristotle expressed his methaphisycs by saying that it is human nature to have an insatiable desire to know and to know means not to be content with things as presented but to have an inclination to reveal what is beneath appearance as he himself searched within not beyond for his explanations (Gasset, 1960, p. 67; Hetherington, 2012, p. 11). Aristotle did not only seek to comprehend the observable world but more than that the process of obtaining the understanding people have upon it, “What is the world like? How do we know what it is like?” where the latter question becomes the very ground of epistemology, Hetherington asserts (2012, p. 11).

Crumley (2009) defines epistemology as the study of the nature of knowledge and justification which includes looking at the origins and states of knowledge and justification. However, it is crucial to notice the difference between looking and knowing. Gasset draws distinction between them “to look is to run the eyes over what is here, and knowing is to search for what is not here: the being of things. It is a refusal to be content with what can be seen, a denying that what can be seen is enough, a demand for the invisible, the beyond” (1960, p. 67).

In order to know and discover the truth people need to search. Research is a systematic, controlled, empirical and critical investigation of hypothetical propositions about possible relations among natural phenomena and a further means where truth is discovered (Kerlinger, 1970; Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2011). In line with Kerlinger and Cohen, et al., William and Ormond (2010) highlight the significance of systematical process when they conceive research as a creative and explorative process of seeking explanation and meaning of phenomena where the investigation is framed by organized and systematic procedures of inquiry that might be called methodology (p. 1).

Punch (2011) defines methodology as methods of inquiry that can be used for studying reality. He goes on to clarify that methods of inquiry are built upon assumptions – expectations about the truth, about reality being investigated, what constitutes knowledge of that reality, and proper ways (or methods) of building knowledge of that reality. He assumes that although these assumptions are often implicit, they comprise the key idea of the term “paradigm” in research methodology. Generally, paradigm means a set of assumptions about the world, and proper techniques and topics applied for investigating the world or simply can be defined as an approach of looking at the world. This definition covers how science should be done and at the same time encompasses elements of epistemology, theory and philosophy, along with methods (p. 15-6). Denzin and Lincoln (1994) describe a paradigm as “… a set of basic beliefs (or methapysics) that deals with ultimates or first principles. It represents a worldview that defines, for its holder, the nature of ‘the world,’ the individual’s place in it, and the range of possible relationship to that world and its parts…” (p. 117). Moreover, according to Punch (2011, p. 16) inquiry paradigms address three fundamental questions as stated below:

  1. The ontological question: what is real (ontology).
  2. The epistemological question: what is the nature of knowledge or what is true (epistemology).
  3. The methodological questions: how can the inquirer explore and find out what can be known and what methods are appropriate for investigating a phenomenon  (methodology).

To sum up, defining knowledge has always been a challenging issue. Many great philosopher like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle conceived knowledge in different perspectives. While Socrates and Plato highlighted the importance of reasons in defending knowledge and later Plato distinguished knowledge from true belief, Aristotle put more focus on how knowledge is produced, what lies beyond the truth. In order to discover what the truth is research is needed and it is regarded to be an organized, systematic process which is covered by methodology. Whilst, paradigm in methodology convey ontological, epistemological, and methodological questions that together support a research.


  • Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. ( 2011). Research methods in Education. New York: Routledge.
  • Crumley II, J. S. (2009). An introduction to epistemology 2nd edition. Canada: Broadview Guides to Philosophy.
  • Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (1994). Handbook of Qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Gasset, J. O. Y. (1960). What is philosophy. New York, US: W.W. Norton and Company.
  • Hetherington, S. (2011). How to know. Oxford, UK : Wiley- Blackwell.
  • Hetherington, S. (Ed.). (2012). Epistemology: The key thinkers [MyiLibrary Version]. Retrieved from http://ez.library.latrobe.edu.au:2057/patron/FullRecord.aspx?p=918764&echo=1&userid=MRQrlZSIzO8%3d&tstamp=1344475570&id=9799350116CDB15C551CE1024801CE36069BE143
  • Kerlinger, F. N. (1970). Foundations of behavioral research. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
  • Punch, K. F. (2011). Introduction to research methods in Education. London: Sage.
  • Williams, L. R. T., & Ormond, A. (2010). What is research. Research Development Workshop 1, 3, 1-6. Retrieved from http://www.review.mai.ac.nz/index.php/MR/article/view/398/543
  • Williamson, T. (2000). Knowledge and its limits. New York, US: Oxford University Press.

Flora Bere Leki

Flora Bere LekiFlora Bere Leki adalah seorang guru pada salah satu sekolah menengah kejuruan di Kabupaten Belu, Nusa Tenggara Timur. Saat ini sedang menyelesaikan pendidikan masteralnya dengan jurusan Manajemen Pendidikan pada Universitas La Trobe, Victoria, Australia.

One Response to What is knowledge?

  1. nice to read this “insight”….good job, dear sister….

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