Do We “Know” Anything?

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.

– Socrates

When I think back to my lessons in French where we attempted to determine when to use Savior – “to know” – and when to use Connaître – also “to know,” the reasoning behind using one over the other often offered such a headache that most of us would end up picking one and just using that one – that way we would get at least half of the questions on the exam right… hopefully. Kidding. But, what we were taught was that we should use Savior when referring to something that we knew explicitly and that we should use Connaître when referring to something that we knew of. Unfortunately, I think we may have been educated incorrectly.

French Today

Through a post titled “Savoir versus Connaître – the Verb “to Know” in French” by Camille Chevalier-Karfis, it becomes painfully clear that the breakdown is not in “knowing explicitly” versus “knowing of,” but rather in the words proceeding the verb. The format that Camille explains is similar to what I learned, but not what I was taught.

So, now knowing that I knew nothing about knowing, I feel like there may be an opportunity to study what it really means to know something, and it would seem that others have wondered the same thing:

  • “… Knowledge [is] the capability to match the internal model with the external feedback and to correct the model if necessary. This kind of knowledge arises from learning”
  • “… to ‘know’ something is to be able to reproduce it”
  • “To know is to increase information, which is to eliminate uncertainty”
  • “… we can only know for certain ‘what we don’t know'”
  • “… knowledge is made up of perspectives, each of which answers a different aspect of will and gives us a different sort of power.”

The philosophy behind the definitions listed above is astounding when you read through the responses on the discussion: what does is mean to know something?  If possible, I felt like I knew even less after reading through their responses, but at the same time, I also felt like I knew a little more.

I am aware of many things and I understand many things, but I know nothing. I think this is true for everyone, though we are loath to admit it. I could say that I know how to use Microsoft Excel (Excel), which is true, but I do not know how to use all of Excel – how could I? How could anyone? Excel is a software that offers infinite ways in which to do the same thing, how could anyone possibly know a product like that? We can’t. What we can do is never close ourselves off from learning and growing.

Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago,
you knew that humans were alone on this planet.

Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.

Men in Black (1997)


The way I see it, I may know nothing, but I know a lot.
And even if I know nothing, I can always find out.

Thoughts? Comment below!

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