Now I know Gettier presents cases of JTB that are not cases of knowledge (e in case I, h in case II), but the other way round?

For a proposition p not JTB, we need either p is not true or S doesn't believe that p or S is not justified in believing that p.

Can p still be knowledge?

  • Gettier did not provide such cases, but anyone who understands empiricism realizes that all empirical knowledge violates JTB. First, we can never know "truth" for an empirical question. Second, all "justifications" of a belief run into the Munchausen Trilemma, and those justifications are therefore all fallacious, if pushed to their limit. Hence we cannot have JTB for any empirical question. However, we have developed a massive amount of knowledge of our empirical world -- hence JTB is not necessary for knowledge.
    – Dcleve
    Nov 3, 2022 at 19:28

3 Answers 3


Knowledge is never justified true belief (JTB).

Justification is an alleged process that shows knowledge is true or probably true. Knowledge is never justified because justification is impossible, unnecessary and undesirable. If you assess ideas using argument then the arguments have premises and rules of inference and the result of the argument may not be true (or probably true) if the premises and rules of inference are false. You might try to solve this by coming up with a new argument that proves the premises and rules of inference but then you have the same problem with those premises and rules of inference. You might say that some stuff is indubitably true (or probably true), and you can use that as a foundation. But that just means you have cut off a possible avenue of intellectual progress since the foundation can't be explained in terms of anything deeper. And in any case there is nothing that can fill that role. Sense experience won't work since you can misinterpret information from your sense organs, e.g. - optical illusions. Sense organs also fail to record lots of stuff that does exist, e.g. - neutrinos. Scientific instruments aren't infallible either since you can make mistakes in setting them up, in interpreting information from them and so on.

Knowledge need not be true. Newtonian mechanics was knowledge, but it was never true. Also, quantum mechanics and general relativity contradict one another but we don't have replacements for either of them. they are both false but they are also both knowledge.

Knowledge also need not be belief. There is a lot of knowledge encoded in computer programs or books that nobody believes. The point of writing stuff down is so that you don't have to remember it.

Knowledge consists of solutions to problems, not JTB.

For more criticisms of the JTB theory see "Realism and the Aim of Science" by Karl Popper, "The Beginning of Infinity" by David Deutsch, http://www.curi.us/1232-justified-true-belief-speech.

  • I'd agree that true knowledge is more secure than JTB. It would have to be KBI (knowledge by identity). A quibble - data is encoded in computer programs, not knowledge.
    – user20253
    Aug 2, 2018 at 13:12
  • My position is that JTB doesn't exist, so JTB is neither secure nor insecure whatever secure means. Knowledge is encoded in computer programs. For example, a computer program may sometimes be the most complete existing description of all the knowledge required to understand some business process.
    – alanf
    Aug 2, 2018 at 13:20
  • Fair enough. I prefer to reserve the term 'knowledge' for what is known for otherwise we would have to say that computers know things and epistemology would become chaotic. .
    – user20253
    Aug 2, 2018 at 19:17
  • @PeterJ Your position involves saying you can have the same information that performs exactly the same task in two different forms and one is knowledge while the other isn't. For example, a computer program that does matrix algebra better than a person can doesn't instantiate any knowledge of matrices but a person who can do smaller calculations with a much higher error rate does instantiate that knowledge. That is an arbitrary distinction.
    – alanf
    Aug 3, 2018 at 7:27
  • I see it as a vital and necessary distinction. I haven't come across any philosophers who see it as arbitrary. I would have no idea how to discuss epistemology with someone who believes computers have knowledge. The discussion would be chaotic. We might have to say that abacus has knowledge or that a piece of paper with a formula on it has knowledge.
    – user20253
    Aug 3, 2018 at 11:05

No, all of the examples in "Is Justified True Belief Knowledge" are examples of the form where the proposition is a JTB, but fail to be (commonly percieved as) cases where the person had knowledge.

One way of interpreting this is that Gettier showed that naive JTB (or anything like it, i.e. the three definitions indicated at the start of the paper) is at best a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for knowledge.


Let me complete Dave's answer by discussing whether JTB is necessary for knowledge.

Obviously something cannot count as knowledge if it is false.

Some kinds of "know-how" may not count as beliefs, but we're talking about propositional knowledge here and I doubt that one can know something to be true while not believing it (arguably the colloquial sense "I know it but I can't believe it" expresses astonishment rather than a lack of commitment). It seems hard to make sense of knowledge without somehow relating it to belief. A possible case is when you don't have second order knowledge (you don't know that you know). E.g.: you learnt the capital of a foreign country by heart a long time ago and still can tell it automatically, while not being sure it's the right answer. But isn't it a case of "know-how"?

Finally justification of a belief means that it is rational for you to believe it, that you have good reasons to believe it. Maybe these reasons are not accessible to you (as externalists would have it) but it seems doubtful that an irrational belief, something you believe randomly, can count as true knowledge. Some counterexamples might involve mystic or supernatural intuitions, but it's not clear that we would talk about knowledge (instead of strong belief or faith) in such cases.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .