Trying To Think
Wednesday, June 16, 2004
First Short Essay - JTB account of knowledge
The traditional account of knowledge attempts to describe the requirements of propositional knowledge. It states that there are three requirements, all of which must be fulfilled. First, a person claiming to know something is also claiming to believe it; Moser et al (1998) describe belief as “a logically necessary condition for knowing” (pg15). However, mere belief is insufficient for knowledge; the statement must be a true one. In the past, people believed that the earth was flat, but they were wrong if they claimed to know the earth was flat, since it is not (Moser et al, 1998, pg15). In particular, it is obvious that our beliefs can be mistaken, and having truth as a prerequisite for knowledge allows for this fact (Moser et al, 1998, pg74-75). Additionally, lucky guesses, even if believed, do not count as genuine knowledge – the true belief must have “supporting reasons” (Moser et al, 1998, pg15). This justification is the third requirement of knowledge, and completes the justified true belief (JTB) definition. In the words of Moser et al, “If you have good reasons in support of the truth of your belief, and your belief is true and is based on good reasons, then you have knowledge, according to the traditional analysis” (Moser et al, 1998, pg16).

We will set aside à priori statements as special cases of knowledge, and instead focus on à posteriori statements which make claims about the external world, such as “The earth is not flat”, and “London is the capital of England”. In particular, we will focus on “Gettier-style counterexamples”. The following is based on one of the counterexamples in Gettier, 2004:

Smith and Jones are both applying for a job. Smith believes, and has evidence for, two facts: (a) Jones will get the job, and (b) Jones has 10 coins in his pocket. Smith concludes, and has a justified belief, that (c) the person who gets the job will have 10 coins in their pocket. However, it turns out that Smith gets the job; however, since Smith happens to have 10 coins in his pocket, (c) remains true. Although (c) is an example of justified true belief, it is not intuitive to say that Smith knew (c).

In this example, and others like it, belief and truth are treated as simple, definite and atomic. On analysis, few of our beliefs are absolute, and many propositions are too complex for a simple truth value. However, restating the problem with a more complex analysis of Smith’s belief-states does not seem to remove the quandary. Also, the treatment of truth, though naïve, seems sufficient for the simple propositions that the example uses. Instead, Gettier-style counterexamples highlight that we need to be more specific about what we mean by "justification". They show that a justified belief can be true, and yet not count as knowledge, when the justification, though seemingly overwhelming, is only coincidently related to the truth. We need to add a further condition to the JTB analysis, which clarifies the relationship between justification and the truth.

Two such conditions have been proposed (Moser et al, 1998, pg95-98):
1. A causal relationship. We naturally expect that our justification will have something to do with the relevant facts of the world. The situation we assume is that our justification is caused by the relevant facts of the world. Obviously, something will have caused our justification; the issue is whether the cause was related to the proposition in question. In Gettier-style counterexamples, this is not the case.
2. No defeating facts for our justification. We do not expect there to be additional facts that reveal one or more of our assumptions to be incorrect. Furthermore, we also do not expect there to be further evidence that, while not actually dismissing our previous justification, would add justification to opposing propositions.

We naturally expect objective reality to be consistent. This consistency means that justification that is caused by a fact of the world would not be defeated by other facts of the world. Therefore, given our intuitions about objective reality, we would expect this second condition to be a consequence of the first. The defeating facts in Gettier-style counterexamples can act as our addition criterion of knowledge because they reveal that the justification is unrelated to the truth.

If the facts of the world have not caused our justification, then we do not have knowledge. This lack of causal relationship means that are defeating facts. In the Gettier-style counterexamples, we can see this lack of causal relationship, and defeating facts are exhibited that undermine the justification. The counterexamples challenge our intuitions about knowledge, and force us to analyse the concept in greater detail. This analysis reveals a further condition implicit to the concept of knowledge: our justification must be related to the truth.

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