Definitions of Knowledge and Action

Knowledge and Belief

Knowledge is not always knowledge; it is necessary to distinguish between knowledge and true belief. A person who believes that leaves of a red tree are green definitely knows about his or her belief. Hence, there is knowledge that depends on states in the outer world (it being a purely empirical question whether the leaves are green or red) and on other knowledge that is a priori true (i.e., my knowledge about my beliefs). In the philosophy of language, this position is called externalism. For the issues considered in this chapter, it suffices to state that I am talking about the person’s internal knowledge not at a metalevel but rather at the level of assertions that are believed to be true.

Types of Knowledge

The distinction between explicit (verbalizable, declarative) and implicit (nonverbal- izable, tacit) knowledge is well known and relates to the distinction between conscious and nonconscious knowledge. Cognitive processes in general are often seen as working in two modes, a deliberate, conscious one and an automatic nonconscious type of processing (e.g., Evans, 2008; Kahneman, 2011).


The definition of action as goal-directed human activity helps set it apart from pure behavior (e.g., sneezing, which is not directed to any particular goal). Action is that part of behavior which occurs intentionally. Keep in mind that even trial-and-error behavior could be classified as action if it happens intentionally.

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