Epistemology 103: Knowledge As Justified True Belief

A brief description of justified true belief. A philosophical search in epistemology.

Most people claim to know what ‘knowledge’ is, and yet it is one of the most disputed questions of all philosophy.  What is ‘knowledge’ we may never know.  But, we have something close, something that seems oh so likely to win over our reason and tell us we know ‘knowledge.’  And yet ‘knowledge’ per se remains undefined.

What we have from the evolution of philosophy is the concept of knowledge as justified true belief. In order to know something it is necessary that it must be believed.  For we believe we have ‘x’ before and during our possessing knowledge of ‘x.’ In order to know something it is necessary that it must be true.  It is logically impossible to possess something that is not.  We claim to possess knowledge, such that what ever is knowledge must be true in order to be possessed. In order to know something it is necessary that it be justified.  Justification allows our belief in ‘x’ to be checked by our reason (weighing options) in order that we may find it to be true or false.  Such that justifications provide us with the answer as to if our believe ‘x’ is justifiably true. 

Where as Belief and True are states; Justified is the process by which a belief can be ‘known’ to be true. In this way, Justified True Belief, provides us with the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge.  This justified true belief, is a state of possessing knowledge.  Where as justifying is the act of knowledge not knowledge itself. The act/potential distinction comes to mind in reference to Aristotle and Act/Potency.  Truth and Belief are passive/potential attributes of knowledge.  Something that all knowledge possesses regardless of if it is ‘known’ by a knower (disregarding the fact that something ‘known’ requires a ‘knower’).  The act or actuality of knowledge exists when the potential is actualized. 

When true belief is justified this is the actualization of knowledge.  Once knowledge is actualized the act and potential unify as knowledge. true belief = potential knowledge justification = actualization of knowledge It might further the concept to give an example failing justified true belief. If a subject believes ‘x’ which is false the justifications would necessary fail. If a subject does not believe ‘x’ the subject necessarily cannot claim ‘x’. If a subject believes ‘x’ which is true, and fails to justify ‘x’ the subject simply believes something that just so happens to be true.  The subject does not posses knowledge of ‘x’ but incidentally believes it.

Further readings:

Introduction to Epistemology

Introduction to Infinitism

Three kinds of knowledge


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