Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

How do we know stuff?

University of Ljubljana


The lessons deals with the question of knowledge. What is knowledge, and how and when can we say that we know something? Besides defining the concept of knowledge (both in terms of declarative and procedural knowledge), it deals with several related topics. The first one is what are the most common sources of knowledge and in what way they prove to be authoritative. Second, do we have a special responsibility to gain knowledge or at least to strive to attain it as opposed to merely picking up whichever belief we encounter or find ourselves with? The third is the topic of intellectual virtues, that is, characteristics such as intellectual courage, curiosity, intellectual honesty, open-mindedness, perseverance, intellectual humility etc. Fourth, the lesson also includes a discussion about artificial intelligence and poses the question of what changes do systems based on artificial intelligence bring in our reflections about knowledge.

Source: © Pirillo & Fitz


The learning activities included in this lesson are intended to cover some of the basic questions that epistemology, as a philosophical discipline that deals primarily with knowledge, aims to answer. The starting question “How do we know stuff?” is, on the one hand, very simple, but once students begin to think about it, reveals several interesting issues and problems. The lesson begins by introducing the definition of knowledge and a distinction between different kinds of knowledge (e.g. between declarative and procedural knowledge). Next, it encourages students to reflect on different sources of knowledge and try to answer the question of whether one can trust them and when. One of the issues addressed is also the ethics of belief, which is our responsibility to form and hold beliefs in an apt manner. This is furthermore related to the topic of intellectual virtues and their role. Lastly, the issues that are connected to the online environment and the appearance of artificial intelligence are addressed.

Since the workshop is a composite of a number of activities, several materials and tools are needed to complete all of them. If you have trouble securing all the needed equipment, you can easily improvise (e.g. use a laptop instead of a smartphone etc.)

Materials that should be available and issued include several sheets of white paper (A4 or A3), pens, smartphones, an encyclopedia book, other possible resources on selected topics (see section 3.2. below).

Learning outcomes that will be attained through the workshop:

  • students gain a better understanding of the concept of knowledge and varieties of knowledge;
  • students gain awareness about the relevance and importance of knowledge in the contemporary world;
  • students learn to recognize the difference between mere belief and knowledge;
  • students learn the difference between different sources of knowledge and the authority that these sources have, including sources from the online environment;
  • students become aware of the responsibility we have in relation to forming our beliefs;
  • students get to know several intellectual or epistemic virtues, including their role and importance;
  • students gain insight into the changes that artificial intelligence brings in the field of knowledge and learning.


The lesson consists of five learning activities that are related to each other. Each of them is described in a separate subsection.


Knowledge is usually defined as justified true belief. A person knows something, e.g. that there is a bottle of water on the desk in front of her, when she has a belief about it, her belief is true, and she has good reasons for adopting or holding this belief that are the ground for it. All three elements seem necessary. (E.g., I cannot know something that I have no belief about, I cannot know something that is not true (I can believe it, but this is not called knowledge), and I do not know something if I am merely guessing or just happened to hold a true belief). This kind of knowledge is usually labelled as declarative knowledge or “knowledge-that” (e.g. Sarah knows that there is a bottle on the table in front of her.). Another type of knowledge is procedural knowledge or “knowledge-how”, e.g. knowing how to ride a bike or change a car tyre. The latter pertains to knowledge of how to perform a specific skill or task and often requires practice to gain it. Begin the learning activity by asking students to write down five things (examples) they know. Then ask some of the students to read their examples. After this initial step, begin the discussion with them, about what is common to all these examples, what knowledge is, and how we can define it. You can use the following prompt questions to stimulate the discussion.

When do we use the words “knowledge/know/…”. In TV quiz shows like “Who wants to be a millionaire?” the host often asks, “Do you know this or merely believe it?” – how to understand this question?

The goal is to acquaint students with the basic definition of declarative knowledge and be able to recognize the difference between declarative and procedural knowledge.

Sources of knowledge

Start this part of the activity by assigning students into several groups with roughly four or five members in each group. Then hand them written tasks, which will be the same for all the groups. (The task might be to composite and consist of several questions that they must answer. In the box below, the tasks written are merely a suggestion, and you can adapt them according to the level of knowledge of students or the class that you are teaching.

Please complete or answer the following tasks/questions.   1. Define the term “discrimination” in a single sentence using no more than 50 words.   2. Explain why education is important?   3. What percentage of the world’s population has red hair?

Then you instruct each group that they may use only one source of information they can consult, e.g.,

  • Group A: only smartphone and internet;
  • Group B: only encyclopedia (you provide them with a general encyclopedia) or textbooks,
  • Group C: they can only discuss the answers among themselves and come up with the best solutions,
  • Group D: they can only ask the relevant question a chatbot (using, e.g. a computer or smartphone and AI-based chatbot SimSimi at;
  • Group E: each member writes down his or her answers, and then they choose a random sheet with answers to represent the group.

They have 8 to 10 minutes to complete the task, and then they present the results and you all together discuss the similarities and differences between the answers. Which group had the easiest tasks? In which way? Are they any relevant differences between the three questions/tasks they had to complete?

Ethics of belief and responsibility

Distribute to the students the following two cases or stories.

Case 1: David allows a group of his friends to use his car, even though he initially has serious doubts that the car is not safe to use at all (at times, there is a loud clunking noise at the wheel, etc.). But, he pushes his doubts away, reckoning that the car has always served him well and that he must just trust the car to behave well this time. His friends make the trip and arrive at their destination successfully, safely, and unharmed.

Case 2: Mary allows a group of her friends to use his car, even though she initially has serious doubts that the car is not safe to use at all (at times, there is a loud clunking noise at the wheel, etc.). But, she pushes her doubts away, reckoning that the car has always served her well and that she must just trust the car to behave well this time. Her friends start the trip, but the tie rod at the front wheel fails on the highway, causing the car to crash and resulting in serious injuries to all the passengers.

Then ask them to answer the following questions. Is Mary somehow responsible for the injuries to the car passengers? Why? Is David in any way to blame also? Why, if the passengers made the trip safely? What are the similarities and differences between both cases? Then move on to a more general discussion. Are we in any way responsible for what we believe or refuse to believe? In which way? Can you think of any similar cases or examples from the real world? How could such responsibility be understood, and what role does it play in our society?

Intellectual virtues

First, begin by assigning students into pairs. One member of the pair has a task to think of three persons that he or she thinks are wise. Then this pair member must state several qualities that make these persons wise. The other member of the pair has a task of writing down these qualities, but in a way that at the same time challenges the proposed answers, e.g. is that really something that makes you wise or good in relation to knowledge? He or she then only writes down answers that are finally accepted and agreed upon by both members of the pair. 

Then both members of the pair switch their roles, this time, they are discussing habits and characteristics of persons that are contrary to being wise (ignorant, foolish etc.), and they are looking for and discussing characteristics that make them so.

After 5 to 10 minutes for this activity, each pair report their selection of intellectual virtues and vices, and the teacher writes them on the blackboard. For discussion, the question of how intellectual virtues and vices are related to moral virtues and vices get started. Are there any characteristics that are both an intellectual and moral vice e.g. having prejudices and acting on them? In which way? Can somebody be morally good without being intellectually virtuous or vice versa? …

Artificial intelligence and knowledge

The last activity in this lesson concern the aspect of artificial intelligence (AI) in relation to knowledge. Start it by again splitting students into several groups, each consisting of 4 to 6 members. One group will play the role of a  jury and, at this time, leaves the classroom until being called back in. All other groups have the task of writing a very short essay on a specific topic (e.g. “The problem of discrimination in Slovenia”; you can adapt this topic to your own preferences). One of the groups will write this essay on their own, while the other groups should use the AI text generators. They can use the following ones (each group a different one):

(* A note regarding the language: since these AI text generators are operating in English language, the translation into other languages will be needed if your class is in another language. Students can use an automated translator, but make sure that they correct the translation for possible mistakes.)

After some time (5 to 10 minutes), the jury is called back into the classroom, and each group then reads the first 75 or 100 words of their essay to the jury. The jury’s task is to determine which text is written by humans and which ones are generated by computer systems. They can ask groups to repeat parts of the essays if they need more input and time to deliberate. In the end, the jury must proclaim their results and the groups then reveal in which way they have written their essays.

After this, you proceed with the concluding discussion with all the students. In which way can computer-generated essays be called knowledge? A computer can write a thousand or a million essays in just a second – was this possible before computers, and what does this mean for society? What if an AI system sends you a thousand emails per minute or thousand messages per minute? …


The following questions can be used to expand on the topics explored through the course of the workshop:

  • Google translate can translate your own language into 132 other languages. Does Google translate know how to translate? Why yes or no?
  • In the past, you could write down what you learned and really wanted to remember in a pocketbook. In what way is the modern smartphone better or worse than a pocketbook?


Leave a comment

2021 – 1 – SK01 – KA220-SCH-000034395

This website reflects the views only of the PLATO’s EU project consortium, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

Get In Touch

Plato’s EU© All Rights Reserved.

Skip to content