The picture is of Rosalind Franklin who originally discovered the structure of DNA which was stolen by Crick and Watson who took credit for it.

In the article, "Mind" I introduced a description of knowledge as part of the description of the intellect. That description was very brief and incomplete. The purpose of this article is to provide a somewhat fuller introduction to the nature of knowledge. It may be thought of as an introduction to epistemology.

What Does The Word "Knowledge" Identify

In every day speech the words "know" and "knowledge" are used to identify many different things, such as developed skills and abilities (he knows how to drive, she knows how to type, he knows how to used the computer), things one has experienced (I know what cinnamon tastes like) or is acquainted with (I know where the library is) or even for things animals can do (Rex knows his way home).

Intellectual knowledge, however, pertains only to knowledge acquired and held by means of language.

Reality, That Which Is Known

Reality is all that exists and has the nature it has independently of anyone’s knowledge or awareness. "Independently of," does not mean, "separate from," it means whether or not anyone has any knowledge or awareness of any particular aspect of reality. It is the fact that reality is what it is and no human ideas about it or consciousness of it has any affect on its nature that it is called, "objective," reality, and why any correct identification or description of any aspect of reality is called, "objective knowledge." Only objective knowledge is intellectual knowledge.

Reality has two aspects: the primary aspect of reality is all that a human being can be conscious of, the physical aspect of reality, that is, all that can be seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or felt externally, and all that can be perceived about ones own body internally (called interoception). The other aspect of reality is consciousness itself by which physical existence is perceived. Both aspects are objective in that they exist independently of anyone's knowledge or awareness of them and both have the natures they have absolutely.

[NOTE: It is not necessary at this point to understand this, but consciousness itself is not physical. The physical is all that one can consciously perceive, but one cannot perceive consciousness itself and that which is perceived and perception itself cannot be the same thing. What "consciousness itself cannot be perceived" means is it cannot be seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or felt; it means the same as saying one cannot see their seeing. One knows they can see, not by seeing it, but because they see. One knows they are conscious, not be perceiving it, but by being conscious.]

Reality (or existence) is everything that exists including every existent (both physical {entities} and abstract), their qualities (attributes or characteristics), their behavior, and their relationships. Note that qualities, behavior and relationships do not exist independently of the existents they are the qualities and behavior of, or relationships between.

Every existent has a specific nature which is determined by its qualities. The qualities of an existent do not make a thing what it is, they are what it is.

(Beyond this is the field of ontology which is too large for this introduction. For more on this subject, see, "Basic Principles of Ontology.")

Concepts, The Building Blocks of Language

The basic building blocks of language are concepts, which are also the foundation of all knowledge. The basic function of concepts is the identification of existents, which is what all knowledge is about.

A concept is a complex consisting of two components, a word and a definition; its only function is to identify something which is isolated or indicated by the definition. What a concept identifies are existents; existents can be anything: entities, events, qualities, relationships, or other concepts; concrete or abstract.


If you ask a young boy what he'd like, he might point at an apple in a bowl of fruit and say, "I'd like one of those please." He might otherwise say, "I'd like an apple, please." In both cases the boy has identified what he would like, pointing at an apple and saying the world, "apple," perform exactly the same function of identifying a particular kind of existent, and that is the only function a concept performs.

The Word

A word is not a concept, it is a symbol for a concept. The word "apple" is the symbol for the concept that identifies any existent that is an apple. A concept only has psychological existence, the word provides the means of holding the concept in consciousness, and of communicating the concept by means of speech or writing.

The Definition

We usually refer to a "definition" of a word, but a definition actually defines the concept a word is the symbol for. A definition is a verbal means of indicating what a concept identifies by isolating the existents identified from all other existents, usually by means of the existents attributes. It is important to understand a word, or more precisely the concept the word symbolizes does not mean its definition, it means the actual existents the definition isolates.

The Meaning

A word (concept) means the actual existents it identifies, which are also called its referents, units, or particulars; and it means them with all their attributes and all that can be known about them, whether they are actually known or not. It must be emphasized (because there is so much confusion in this matter) that it is the actual existents and only the existents a concept means; not anything about the existents or anything actually known about the existents.

When a young boy uses the word apple and a botanist specializing in apples uses the word apple, the word apple means exactly the same thing for both of them, actual apples. The boy's limited knowledge about apples and botanist's advanced knowledge about apples does not change the nature of the things identified by the word apple.

Concepts Are Not Knowledge

I said concepts are the foundation of knowledge, but, by themselves, they are not knowledge, because their function is identification. In most cases knowing a concept implies knowledge (at least of the concept's definition) but a concept, all by itself is not knowledge. To be knowledge a thing must be true, but a concept is neither true or false.

All Knowledge Is Propositional

All knowledge exists in the form of propositions, because only propositions can be true or false.

A proposition is a statement that asserts something about an existent or existents. If I simply write or say the word "Zeus," it is neither true or false. In classical logic it is called a simple apprehension. If I say, "Zeus is a god worshiped by the ancient Greeks," it asserts something about Zeus. If what is being asserted is correct, the proposition is true; if what is being asserted is incorrect, the proposition is false. The assertion, in this case, and therefore the proposition, is true, even though the concept "Zeus" is a fiction. The same concept can be use in both true and false propositions. "The phoenix is a common bird found in the forests of Colorado," is false, but, "the phoenix is a mythical bird of ancient Egypt," is true.

All knowledge consists of propositions that assert something correct about some aspect of reality. By the time one is an adult one has stored millions of propositions, many explicitly and many more implicitly or derived from other propositions. All these propositions make up all our basic views of life, of reality, and our values—in other words, all that we believe and guide our lives by.

The most important thing to human life, if there is anything that can identified as an ultimate requirement or need, it is knowledge. For a human being, it is more important than water, or food, or clothing, or shelter, because before any of these can be acquired one must know why one needs them, what they are, and how to acquire them. Because a human being must live by conscious choice, and our only means of making choices is by means of reason, and because knowledge is all we have to reason with or reason about, the limit of a human life is the limit of one's knowledge. Knowledge is the one thing a human being can never have enough of.

[NOTE: To properly address every aspect of the subject of epistemology would require several volumes. I've attempted to introduce the fundamentals of a correct epistemology as briefly as possible. A hundred possible questions about every point presented themselves, but I forced myself to ignore them since brevity was the goal. A more complete introduction to epistemology can be found here: "Concepts—Simple"]