Friday, January 5, 2007

What is the relationship between truth and knowledge?

I have been spending a considerable amount of time lately thinking about the phrase "justified true belief" and whether or not it constitutes an acceptable definition for "knowledge." I have worked through the Gettier examples, and while he may have had a point, the problem I'm talking about is of a much more fundamental nature. Gettier attacked justified true belief at the application level. He attempted to conceive of some scenario where all three elements could be accounted for, and yet, to claim knowledge would be erroneous. In other words, he was attempting to think of a situation where justified true belief would not equate to knowledge. For the record, I do not believe that the Gettier examples, nor any of the "Gettier-type" examples that I have encountered thus far, actually demonstrate that justified true belief is not an acceptable definition of knowledge. I hope to post more on this later, but for now, I mention it so that the reader will not think it is an area that I have overlooked.

Consider the following definition: A proposition q is knowledge for person P if and only if q is justified for P, true, and believed by P. The question that I have is this: If I can determine that q is true, why do I need the justification and belief? It seems to me that the very question that is being asked when I inquire about knowledge is whether or not I have a cognitive grasp of a proposition's truth.

Consider the set of all true propositions, T. It seems to me that the set of propositions K that P could claim as knowledge is the subset of T that P knows to be true. In other words, a true proposition does not become knowledge until its truth is known by someone. The only distinction that can be made between a proposition that is true and a proposition that is known is that the known proposition is comprehended in a special way by P. Any q that is a member of K is so because P has a cognitive grasp of the truth of q. It seems to me that whenever we talk about knowledge, it is this attribute or property that we call "truth" and its comprehension that is in question. In my mind at least, this is the very issue that epistemology as a discipline attempts to address. Can we ever cognitively grasp the truth of a proposition?


Alan Knox said...


I'm glad to see that you started your blog with a simple post. Honestly, I hope you get alot of interaction here. This could be very interesting (if it is true, because if it is not true, then it might be interesting, but it wouldn't be "is" because it would not truly exist... I don't know what I'm talking about).


Gary Harris said...


On one hand, it seems to me that we could just leave "true" out of the definition "justified true belief," since the truth of the proposition is the very fact we are attempting to establish. On the the other hand, I may be missing the intended purpose of the "true." It may be something that we "shove in" for the sake of definitional completeness. In other words, "true" means that in order to be a candidate for knowledge, q must at least be a member of T. We may be trying to discover whether or not q is a member of T, but we still need to acknowledge that if q is to ever be knowledge for us then it must be contained within T. We need to clarify that a prerequisite for establishing the truth of q is that q be true.

The traditional definition, however, seems to imply that discovering the truth of q is a necessary precondition to declaring q as knowledge, when in reality, the truth is what the knower is actually in search of. To illustrate, consider a situation where a person has significant justification for q and has established the truth of q, but hasn't ascented to belief in q!? How can one know that q is true and not believe that q is true? Perhaps a redefinition is in order. For the purposes of illustration only, I submit the following definition(s) for your consideration:

Knowing is the state characterized by the human cognitive assent to the truth
of a proposition. Only propositions which are a member of T, the set of
all true propositions, are candidates for knowing. A proposition q is knowledge for P if and only if q is both justified for P and believed by P.

How do you think this definition fares?