According to Wikipedia (indeed not the most trustworthy source, but the SEP article also portraits it this way) the classic belief-justification-truth method of defining knowledge has only been rejected since Gettier-cases. Meaning that, all the way until 1960, the majority believed in a justified true belief definition of epistemology.

It seems rather odd to me. Doesn't justified true belief have a very bold issue with the "truth" criterion, so that you can never really "know" that your justified belief is true (leading straight to some sort of pragmatism, or some sort of post-truth position)? Did it really take that long to figure out that justifying your belief needs "defeaters", reliable sources, etc.?

2 Answers 2


The problem Gettier points out is not with "truth", but with the analysis of knowledge as justified true belief. After his paper it has become common to say that this analysis is traditional. It is perceptive of you to see the oddness in the story according to which Gettier undermined the traditional understanding of knowledge. Julien Dutant calls this story "The Legend". If Dutant is right, the reason Gettier's problem is modern is that the conception it concerns is modern.

Also: What Gettier's problem shows is not (at least not straightforwardly) that "justifying your belief needs 'defeaters', reliable sources, etc". It is very much up for debate what the right response to his paper is. Just to mention one alternative to your pragmatist response: John McDowell thinks that knowledge requires conclusive grounds. That is to say, the justification one has when one has knowledge, guarantees that things are as you take them to be. According to this view, one does not have the relevant kind of justification in the Gettier-cases.

Here is Dutant's paper on "The Legend"

Here is a paper by Pierre Le Morvan that contains more relevant references and supports Dutant's claim.

For McDowell's view on knowledge, see his "Knowledge and the Internal".

  • I think this is close to the actual answer. JTB is an aspect of fundamentalist epistemologies which have been widely accepted, discussed, and defended in the 1950s. The normative nature of justification (and truth) have been laid bare by Gettier, Sellars, and others who turned against this kind of neoplatonism. Hence, it is a modern answer to a modern discourse, although the oscillation between realism and appearance as basis of knowledge about the world is much older.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Jul 14, 2019 at 9:37
  • I thought that this might be the case - but if so, can you elaborate on what exactly has changed in the conception of knowledge, justification, or truth, that made this a modern problem? And can we pinpoint as to when such conception change (paradigm revolution?) has occurred? Commented Jul 14, 2019 at 11:56
  • @YechiamWeiss Have you had a look into the Dutant paper? It essentially tells a story about what the traditional view really was and the stages of transformation leading to JTB.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Jul 14, 2019 at 21:58
  • @PhilipKlöcking After quite a bit of time I actually got to read Dutant's paper, and I must admit that it is at least satisfactory to the strict phrasing of my question; but it still doesn't answer the deep question here, which Durant raises himself at the end - even if it's not JTB, why did it take so long to raise issues with Classical Infallibilism? Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 9:59
  • My intuition is that even classifying the "traditional" view as Classical Infallibilism is not true; rather we need to explore the possibility that historically philosophers didn't call out their views in strict definitions. This kind of style is prominent starting with the analytical tradition, which is why it was raised only recently. Commented Feb 8, 2020 at 9:59

Bertrand Russell, Problems of Philosophy (NY: H.Holt & Co., 1912), p.131

If a man believes that the late Prime Minister’s name begins with the letter B, he believes what is true, since the late Prime Minister was Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman. But if he believes [we can add: for good reason] that Mr. Balfour was the late Prime Minister, he will still believe that the late Prime Minister’s name began with the letter B, yet this belief, though true, would not be thought to constitute knowledge.. Thus it is clear that a true belief is not knowledge, when it is derived from a false belief [we can add: however well justified]

  • 2
    This is excellent, but far too modern as well. I could adjust my question to "20th century philosophy". The point is, thousands of years went by without philosophers noting such a simple and crucial mistake in one of the most basic areas of expertise in philosophy? Commented Jul 13, 2019 at 15:10
  • In most languages and epochs the semantics of "knowing' and 'believing' are markedly different so JTB would have appeared as an obviously flawed definition. There is a lot of history behind the recent attempts to promote it as an acceptable view.
    – sand1
    Commented Jul 13, 2019 at 19:37
  • can you elaborate? Commented Jul 13, 2019 at 19:57

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