I realize that the JTB theory of knowledge has problems, but IF it were true, then innate knowledge would be impossible, right? This seems to follow from the 'justified' portion of JTB: justification seems to be another way of saying 'reasoned to' or 'based on evidence'. Innate knowledge, by contrast, is, well, innate, i.e., not figured out, or learned, acquired, or what have you.

Is this on the right track?

  • Reason is innate
    – user18800
    Jan 25, 2016 at 18:29
  • @BenPiper, can you elaborate? Jan 25, 2016 at 19:21

2 Answers 2


Seems like a reasonable assessment - the justified component means that you have to believe something for a reason, not just because you believe it from birth. I'm not sure of any major philosophical theories that put much stock in the value of innate knowledge, however.

  • I can't speak for philosophy, but many linguists and psychologists believe in innate knowledge. Jan 22, 2016 at 4:58
  • Could you provide me with examples? I'm honestly interested in reading this, particular as it applies to linguistics. Jan 22, 2016 at 5:02
  • 1
    Sure. It's all over, but to give just a couple prominent examples, check out core knowledge theorists like Susan Carey. And in linguistics, I'm pretty sure all generative grammarians endorse innate linguistic knowledge. Jan 22, 2016 at 7:29

I think this is an interesting question but things might be cloudier if we ask what is meant by knowledge in each case.

Yes, on the simplest reading, if JTB states all knowledge is justified true belief, then it would, as Derek suggests, seem to be incompatible with a claim that people can have innate knowledge.

But we need to ask if these two things do mean knowledge in the same way. JTB seems to be mostly talking about facts (Sache) or states of affairs. And it's a theory about when we "know" a state of affairs to be true. A relevant SEP article for instance points out that what is meant is "propositional knowledge."

Innate knowledge, in contrast, may or may not be about facts. Plato's version clearly seems to include something along these lines in that the true knowledge (which depending on the dialogue is either innate or inaccessible is the Forms). More often, in contemporary versions, it seems to be about structures or even a theory about how cognition works (i.e. Kant or perhaps implicit grammar). As such, the idea that there's some sort of "innate knowledge" or "a prior cognition" is not automatically incompatible with a JTB approach to fact claims.

Moreover, it seems difficult to design a form of JTB that by that means something completely expansive about "knowledge." For instance is knowing that JTB is true a JTB? Is recognizing that we apply cause to things in the world a JTB?

See also: If there is a difference between a priori knowledge and innate knowledge, what is it?

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