‘The following four rules explain what it is to know something. X knows the proposition p if and only if:
- X believes p;
- p is true;
- if p weren’t true, X wouldn’t believe it;
- if p were true, X would believe it.’
This raises an interesting question. A common position of religious people (or at least religious philosophers) is: ‘I believe in the existence of God, but I cannot know whether God exists’. God’s existence is a matter of faith, not proof. I don’t hold such a position myself, but would be very reluctant to denounce it on purely epistemological grounds.
Now if we suppose for the sake of the argument that God does in fact exist, and that the religious philosopher, X, would not have believed in the existence of God in case God would not have existed (quite coherently, since typically in such views nothing would have existed without God, so no one would have believed anything). Our philosophers’ belief would satisfy the above four criteria. Yet, could we say ‘X knows p’, when X himself assures us he does not know whether p is true? In other words: doesn’t knowing something presuppose the knower would be willing to assert knowing his or her knowledge?