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Knowledge as Justified True Belief

In the discipline of philosophy, knowledge has traditionally been defined as justified, true belief. Justification for knowledge means, in its most basic sense, that one has a reason—or rather, is justified—to believe what one believes. For example, if I claim to know that I am wearing a red shirt, I may find justification in the fact that when I look in the mirror, I see a red shirt on my body. The truth condition of knowledge points out that in order to claim knowledge about something, that thing cannot be false.

I may believe that a certain car can drive 100 miles on one gallon of gas, but unless it is true that the car can actually do this, I cannot claim to know that the car has this feature. Lastly, belief is a prerequisite to any knowledge claim insofar as a person cannot know something without believing it: it would be nonsense to say I know my hair is blue if I don’t believe this or if I were to believe a contrary, such as my hair is black. With these three criteria it is easy to give an example of what it looks like to have knowledge.

For example, take the knowledge claim “I know that the capitol of Minnesota is St. Paul”. I could be justified in believing this because I have learned it from my teachers, I have seen St. Paul on a map of Minnesota or I may have even personally visited the government offices. I can also know this fact not only because it is indeed true that St. Paul is Minnesota’s capitol, but also because I firmly believe it to be true. Therefore, within these justification-truth-belief categories I can claim to have knowledge.

Nevertheless, the concepts of justification, truth and belief do not always seem to capture the essence of what it means to know. This is seen most clearly in knowledge claims that have less to do with concrete facts, but are inter-personal or inter-subjective in nature, such as my claim to know without a doubt that my parents love me. In this I may have justification, namely that my mother and father’s words, actions and commitment give convincing reasons for their love.

In addition, because of this justification I may also believe that they love me. However, outside of their personal testimonies, I have no means to assess the truth of their love: it is likely that they love me, but it is also possible that they in fact do not love me and are merely pretending or putting on a facade for their friends and neighbors. In the case of the latter where the claim “my parents love me” proves false, I would not be able to claim knowledge insofar as the claim is not true.

Herein lies the tension with the justification-truth-belief categories: on the one hand it seems that I am unable to judge the truth of another person’s subjectivity sufficiently enough to assess the truth or falsity of my knowledge claim; but on the other hand, I have what amounts to something like an intuitive certainty of my knowledge claim. Critics may attack this intuition as mere emotivism or an implanted structure of culture and upbringing; however, such reductionism does not seem entirely warranted.

Instead, we must allow for the possibility, especially in knowledge claims regarding religious, personal or relational knowledge, of a tacit form that extends beyond the restrictions of justification-truth-belief categories. Without such an allowance epistemology runs the risk of defining away the most basic and central forms of knowledge that human beings are able to experience. References Gettier, Edmund. (1963). Is Justified True Belief Knowledge? Analysis, 23, 121-123. Pollock, John. (1986). Contemporary Theories of Knowledge. Totowa: Rowman and

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