Concepts and the Nature of Knowledge

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What is the Nature of Knowledge?

There are two major kinds of knowledge:

  1. Knowledge of things (descriptive knowledge) and
  2. Knowledge of changes in things (productive knowledge).

Each of these kinds of knowledge can occur in either of two forms (see Figure 1):

  1. Particulars are single, unique cases, often referred to as referents, examples or instances.
  2. Generalities are statements which apply to more than one particular.

Kinds of Knowledge Things.

Things. Particulars of things are instances of concepts, and include objects (e.g., one particular computer), actions (e.g., one particular debate), ideas (e.g., one particular thought), and symbols (e.g., one particular fraction). Generalities of things are what we usually call definitions of concepts.

Changes. Particulars of changes are instances of procedures and principles, and include specific events, like the evaporation of a puddle on my driveway last Sunday, the growing of a particular flower from a seed in front of my neighbor's house, and my son's writing of an essay last Tuesday night. Generalities of changes are what we usually call statements of principles and procedures.

It is helpful to distinguish between what content is learned and on what level it is learned:

  • Content (what is learned) can be classified in accordance with the type of knowledge. Concepts and facts represent knowledge of things, and principles and procedures represent knowledge of changes.
  • Level of learning can be classified as memorization, understanding, or application.