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Common Knowledge and Scientific Knowledge' Difference and Interdependence


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Title: Common Knowledge and Scientific Knowledge' Difference and Interdependence

Common Knowledge and Scientific
Knowledge.Difference and Interdependence
  • Renata Zieminska
  • Uniwersytet Szczecinski

  • 1. Human knowledge in general
  • 2. Science and scientific knowledge
  • 3. Common knowledge as a kind of non-scientific
  • 4. Difference and the demarcation problem
  • 5. Interdependence (source and control,
    superiority and development)

1. Human knowledge in general
  • Common knowledge and scientific knowledge are two
    kinds of human knowledge (justified true
  • There are two big philosophical problems
    concerning human knowledge
  • the problem of its existence
  • the problem of its definition
  • Its existence was questioned by sceptics, its
    definition was recently discussed in Gettiers

  • The problem of scepticism (do any of our beliefs
    belong to real knowledge?) is connected with the
    way we understand knowledge.
  • Ancient sceptics presumed that to know is to know
    with certainty in a conscious and rational way.
  • Even contemporary sceptical hypothesis brain in
    a vat ends with the question are you sure that
    you are not a brain in a vat?.

A quick antisceptical argument
  • We can eliminate the problem of scepticism if we
    reject the sceptics strong concept of knowledge
    with certainty condition.
  • If we accept that knowledge may be fallible, the
    problem of global scepticism is eliminated.
  • Then, we have right to believe that our beliefs,
    both scientific and common, belong to knowledge
    and fulfil the condition of truth.

Beyond Gettiers problem
  • There are counterexamples to the standard
    definition of knowledge as true justified belief
    (Gettiers cases). So we lack good knowledge
  • But, we can accept the standard definition of
    knowledge with some understanding of the
    situation. It seems obvious today that our
    concept of knowledge works as a prototype concept
    and we can not define it by necessary and
    sufficient conditions.

Goldmans theory of prototype concepts
  • Concepts are represented in terms of properties
    that need not be strictly necessary but are
    frequently present in instances of the concept.
    These properties are weighted by their frequency
    or by their perceptual salience. A collection of
    such properties is called a prototype. Under the
    prototype view, an object is categorized as an
    instance of a concept if it is sufficiently
    similar to the prototype (Goldman 1993, 128).

Other kinds of human knowledge
  • Besides common and scientific knowledge we have
    some small kinds of knowledge that are
    non-scientific and non-common esoteric religious
    knowledge, knowledge how possessed by craftsmen,
    writers, painters and musicians, astrology etc.
  • Let us start with scientific knowledge.

2. Science
  • Science is a part of our culture (like religion,
    art, literature, architecture, law or
    technology). It is the set of institutions doing
    the systematic investigation of nature and
  • It is usually said that the core of science is a
    method of investigating that discovers reliable
    knowledge. We can also say, like Popper, that
    science is not the method but a system of
    knowledge (concepts, problems and theories).

Karl Popper (1902-1994)
Scientific knowledge
  • Scientific knowledge seems to have some specific
  • new in the world (what is known to most people is
  • systematic gained by using established methods
  • rationally justified on a base of empirical data
    and in a system of other accepted knowledge
  • expressed in inter-subjective and precise
  • self-improving (critical and fallible).

Scientific method as a key to describing
scientific knowledge according to Goldman
  • The most distinctive feature of empirical
    science is its requirement that beliefs be
    founded on precise measurement and careful test.
  • Critical feature of science is invention,
    calibration, and utilization of ever more
    powerful and accurate instruments of
  • Science has at its disposal a systematic and
    sophisticated set of inferential principles for
    drawing conclusions about hypotheses from
    observations (Goldman 1999, 250, 251).

Some examples
  • Medical science uses instrumentation to observe
    cells so far not perceivable. Physics uses
    accelerators to perceive small particles.
  • Social scientist usually observes experimental
    groups and control groups to make licensed
    inference that certain dependent variable
    causally depends on a certain independent

Scientific method?
  • It seems that scientific method consists of
    special language and justification. The language
    is more exact than everyday language and the way
    of belief justification is more sophisticated and
    reliable than common beliefs.
  • But, it is difficult to articulate the general
    features of scientific reasoning, because
    traditional confirmation theory has many rivals
    like Poppers hypothetical-deductive method.
  • Let us look at common knowledge.

3. Common knowledge
  • Common knowledge (everyday, pre-scientific)
    contains all information we encounter in our
    everyday life and reasonably accept as our
  • It probably (if the condition of truth is
    fulfilled) encloses most our everyday beliefs
    about the world, popular religious, moral and
    esthetical beliefs, knowledge how to earn money
    or get food, knowledge how to communicate and
    make decisions etc.

Common knowledge - some features
  • Our common knowledge is subjective, difficult to
    express in exact language it is an accidental
    composition of different takings from different
    points of view.
  • We accept common beliefs usually in a hurry, not
    enough carefully, usually on emotional reasons.
    That is why the common beliefs are not
    systematic, have gaps and even contradictions
    (see Kaminski 1981, 24).

Common knowledge is first knowledge
  • Common knowledge is fundamental for our life
    because it is our first and basic knowledge. We
    can say metaphorically that science emerges as a
    beautiful coral-reef out of the big ocean of
    common knowledge. They belong to the same nature
    but the big ocean is the ground for the reef.

Common knowledge is practical
  • Scientists after leaving their desks and
    laboratories must use common knowledge. They must
    communicate with colleges and family, eat
    breakfast, cross the street etc.
  • Science is theoretical knowledge and even if it
    contains much information about balance food, it
    is not enough to make the decision what to have
    for breakfast today.
  • Common knowledge with its flexibility and
    ambiguity is better to deal with everyday
    problems. We can say that common knowledge is
    practical one.

4. Difference and the demarcation problem
  • The problem of demarcation between science and
    common sense is theoretical and practical.
  • From the theoretical point of view it is
    difficult to find any absolute ground for the
    distinction. K. Pooper says that there is no
    specific scientific method, P. Feyerabend that in
    science anything goes, and L. Laudan that the
    demarcation problem is pseudo-problem.
  • But in practice we can demarcate science quite

Popper about demarcation
  • Popper criticizes traditional inductionism
    (accepted at Vienna Circle) and says that there
    is no unique methodology specific to science .
  • He advocates falsibility as the criterion of
    demarcation for science. A theory is scientific
    only if it is refutable. That is why astrology is
  • But Poppers falsificationism is no better than
    inductionism, because every strange belief that
    can possibly be falsified must be called

Feyerabend about demarcation
  • According to Feyerabend theoretical pluralism is
    the best for the development of human knowledge
    and for culture in general. It is a myth that
    science has priority to other kinds of knowledge.
  • Facts are not enough to accept or refute a
    theory. Every theory is in conflict with some
    observations. Theories are accepted by decisions,
    tacit voting, discussions. Scientific discoveries
    are sometimes accidental and gained by irrational

According to Feyerabend
  • Copernicus has done only some improvements to
    ancient Filolaos theory, speculative and
  • Galileo contributed to the development of
    mechanics by using technical skills of craftsmen
    and artists.
  • Pre-scientific cultures were able to build
  • Demarcating science and non-science is artificial
    and harmful for the development. The best method
    is anything goes (Feyerabend 1975).

Paul Feyerabend (1924-1994)
Larry Laudan Demarcation is pseudo-problem
  • The criterion of demarcation was to support the
    epistemic priority of science to non-science.
  • Method, development, prediction or truth are not
    good ways to discriminate science. Probably all
    present theories are false, some are no
    developing and have no power to predict.
  • There is no essential but only degree difference
    between science and non-science.
  • So, if Laudan is right, our concept of scientific
    knowledge must stay unclear.

Larry Laudan, born 1941
No big divide
  • Let us observe that the lack of demarcation
    confirms the lack of big divide. Scientific
    knowledge seems close to common sense.
  • It does not confirm ontological divergence and
    the idea that only scientific knowledge is true
    or close to truth.
  • Both scientific and common knowledge are
    approximations, both are results of human
    deperate efforts to understand nature.

Demarcation as a practical problem
  • In practice scientific method is the best way to
    demarcate science.
  • As we have already said scientific knowledge has
    more exact language and more reliable
    justification. It arises from sophisticated
    methods of observation and inferences (tested and
    corrected by many investigators, concerned with
    narrow phenomena that are easier to explain and
    predict). Science is specialized and systematic
    (theses are mutually connected and included to
    the theory).
  • Laudan is right that it is the degree difference.

Demarcation in practice
  • The scientific knowledge inherits the general
    condition of human knowledge. We have no good
    definition of scientific knowledge and we are not
    certain its existence (does present scientific
    beliefs fulfil the condition of truth?).
  • We must agree with Feyerabend that absolute
    demarcation is hopeless. Our knowledge is
    fallible and our distinctions are fallible.
  • But in practice we can demarcate scientific
    knowledge due to approximations, keeping
    tradition, using conventions, by decisions of
    scientific institutions etc.

5. Interdependence between common and scientific
  • Science seems continuation to common knowledge
    (making it more exact, clear and reliable,
    theoretical expanding, eliminating common
    ambiguities, too quick inferences etc).
  • But many say that science is a jump to special
    thinking. Einstein is considered to say that
    scientist must refute common sense to discover
    something new. Especially great discoveries
    require rejecting usual way of looking and
    thinking. That is exactly the thesis of T. Kuhn
    about scientific revolutions.

Thomas Kuhn 1922-1996
Common knowledge is a source of scientific
  • There are many arguments that science is
    dependant on common knowledge
  • Science has evolved from pre-scientific culture
    in ancient Greece.
  • Every child first uses common knowledge and then
    some of children gradually learn science.
  • All scientists are first of all people in society
    using common knowledge to survive.

Scientific method is connected with common sense
  • We have said that the characteristic feature of
    science is sophisticated method and using special
  • But, the main method of science is observation
    and reasoning, using senses and drawing
    conclusions. They are only strengthened by
    machines and cumulated knowledge.
  • Even special thinking is immersed in common

Scientific knowledge brings growth of common
  • The most precious part of the scientific
    knowledge of the XVI century (for instance the
    discovery that our planet Earth circulates around
    the Sun) today belongs to common knowledge.
  • Education and media are ways to disseminate
    scientific knowledge and to introduce some
    scientific findings in popular form to common
    knowledge. It brings enrichment and development.

Value of scientific knowledge
  • The representatives of scientism say that
    scientific knowledge is the most precious part of
    human culture and others, including common
    knowledge, are inferior. They say that science
    and only science can give answers to all
    answerable questions.
  • But Foucault says that science is no better than
    other practices. What we call facts are just
    conventions established by a group. We know
    themselves that science can not answer many our

Superiority of science
  • Alvin Goldman defends superiority of science. It
    is not popular today to say that scientific
    theories are just true or even that their goal is
    achieving truth. We all know that they are not
    certain, that they are self-improving and develop
    as better and better approximations.
  • But scientific practices are veritistically
    better than any set of non-scientific practice,
    science is better than non-science in generating
    accurate observable predictions on many topics
    (Goldman 1999, 247, 250).

Goldmans scientific realism
  • Goldman proposes to re-express the Poppers idea
    of approximate truths or truthlikeness as
    different from truth. We can say that scientists
    believe not just F but F, to some
    approximation. If the approximation quantifier
    is suitably chosen, the believed propositional
    content can be actually true, not just
    approximately true (Goldman 1999, 246).

Scholars in society
  • The status of scientific knowledge in culture is
    similar to the status of scholars in the whole
    society. Many people working in politics and
    business are cleverer and more practical. Many
    artists and writers are more popular. That is why
    they are better paid and admired.
  • The reason is that our present science is
    important for future but not so important for
    today. Our present society uses the past scholars
    generations work. Present scholars prepare
    inventions for future society.

Conclusion dynamic interdependence
  • First, scientific knowledge is dependent on
    common knowledge which is its source and support.
  • Second, scientific knowledge is more effective
    and reliable and in this sense superior to common
  • Third, applied and popularized scientific
    knowledge is incorporated into common knowledge
    and brings its development.
  • But, forth, common sense must control science to
    avoid averts effects like environmental

  • Feyerabend Paul K. 1975 Science. The Myth and
    Its Role in Society Inquiry 18, 167-181.
  • Goldman Alvin I. 1999 Knowledge in a Social World
    Clarendon Press Oxford.
  • Goldman Alvin .I 1993 Philosophical Applications
    of Cognitive Science Westview Press, Boulder,
  • Kaminski Stanislaw 1981 Pojecie nauki i
    klasyfikacja nauk 3rd edition TN KUL Lublin.
  • Laudan Larry 1983 The Demise of the Demarcation
    Problem Polish edition 1998 Zgon problemu
    demarkacji in Muszynski Z. ed. Z badan nad
    prawda, nauka i poznaniem seria RRR 31,
    Wydawnictwo UMCS Lublin.
  • Sady Wojciech 2000 Spór o racjonalnosc naukowa
    od Poincarego do Laudana Monografie FNP, Wroclaw.
  • Thornton Stephen 2006 Karl Popper in Stanford
    Encyclopedia of Philosophy http///entries/popper/
  • UNESCO WCS Declaration on Science and the Use of
    Scientific Knowledge, Budapest, Hungary 1 July
    htm (28.05.2007).