Knowledge Book Summary - Knowledge Book explained in key points
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Knowledge summary

Jennifer Nagel

A Very Short Introduction

4.2 (100 ratings)
25 mins

Brief summary

'Knowledge' by Jennifer Nagel explores how we acquire, evaluate and justify beliefs. It challenges us to question our assumptions and engage in critical thinking to enhance intellectual skills and knowledge.

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    The verb “to know” is simple, but carries a complex meaning.

    These days, knowledge is within easy reach. The internet is only ever a click away, and media operates on a 24-hour cycle. But that knowledge is intermingled with opinion and propaganda. And in an era of information overload, it’s natural to wonder which is which. Scratch the surface, and you’ll find deeper questions: How do we know what we know? And what is knowledge, anyway?

    These questions are at the heart of epistemology, the philosophical field devoted to the study of knowledge.

    The key message here is: The verb “to know” is simple, but carries a complex meaning.

    There are a few things we need to get straight about knowledge.

    For one thing, knowledge is not a naturally appearing resource like gold or coal. It’s generated by a knower. Imagine a coin that's shaken in a box. It lands heads side up. That’s a fact. But until someone looks in the box, this fact isn’t knowledge, simply because it isn’t known. Knowledge is what happens when a person accesses a fact.

    For another thing, there’s a difference between knowing something to be true and believing it to be true. Sounds simple enough – but how can you tell whether you know something or merely believe it? Some cynics say that we can’t tell the difference, or even that there is no difference: knowledge is just a label we give to the beliefs of certain elite people like CEOs and scientists. A more generous approach might point out that even expert knowledge can be, and is, challenged. And besides, everyone can know. There’s a reason why “to know” is one of the ten most commonly used verbs in the English language.

    Here’s where things get really meta: we can only know things that we are confident are true. But who’s to say what “true” is? Plenty of philosophers think truth is objective, meaning it can’t vary from knower to knower. But the fifth-century Greek philosopher Protagoras thought differently. He posited that truth is subjective. After all, if two people stand in a breeze, one of them can know the breeze is cold while the other, with equal certainty, can know it's warm.

    But to take Protagoras’s argument to its logical conclusion, we’re forced to say that everyone is always right about what they feel to be true, and no one is ever wrong. So, then, for the purposes of interrogating knowledge further, let’s side with Plato and countless other philosophers who believe Protagoras is wrong and truth is objective; it’s something that exists as an entity outside any individual human self. 

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    What is Knowledge about?

    Knowledge: A Very Short Introduction (2014) is an accessible introduction to the complex field of epistemology. Epistemology is concerned with the nature of knowledge itself. What can we know? And how do we know that we know it? Knowledge surveys epistemological thinking from the ancient Greeks to contemporary philosophy, shining a bright light on this fascinating field of thought.

    Knowledge Review

    Knowledge by Jennifer Nagel (2018) is a thought-provoking exploration of how we acquire knowledge and why it matters. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Offers a comprehensive overview of the main theories and debates surrounding knowledge, providing readers with a solid foundation to understand the topic.
    • Examines real-life scenarios to illustrate the complexities of knowledge, making the book relatable and relevant to our everyday lives.
    • Challenges readers to question their own beliefs and consider the implications of different perspectives, fostering critical thinking skills and intellectual growth.

    Who should read Knowledge?

    • Philosophy buffs and newbies alike
    • Skeptics who take everything with a grain of salt
    • Knowledge workers interested in delving deeper into knowledge itself.

    About the Author

    Jennifer Nagel is a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto. A highly respected epistemologist, her work focuses on the nexus of knowledge and belief. In addition to Knowledge: A Very Short Introduction, she’s written numerous academic articles on the topic of knowledge

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    Knowledge FAQs 

    What is the main message of Knowledge?

    Knowledge explores the nature and limits of human knowledge, and offers insights on how we can acquire and evaluate knowledge.

    How long does it take to read Knowledge?

    The reading time for Knowledge varies, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Knowledge a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Knowledge is worth reading because it helps us understand how knowledge works and how we can make better decisions based on it.

    Who is the author of Knowledge?

    The author of Knowledge is Jennifer Nagel.

    What to read after Knowledge?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Knowledge, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • The Moral Animal by Robert Wright
    • Lying by Sam Harris
    • The Story Factor by Annette Simmons
    • Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Erik Klinenberg
    • The Anxious Generation by Jonathan Haidt
    • Why We Make Mistakes by Joseph T. Hallinan
    • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
    • How Highly Effective People Speak by Peter Andrei
    • The Art of Influencing Anyone by Niall Cassidy
    • Get Better at Anything by Scott H. Young