My question is on the history of the Justified True Belief conception of knowledge.

It is well known that this conception is considered in Plato's Meno, but dismissed.

I think Hobbes comes close to it in the Elements of Law ( saying that knowledge requires belief and evidence).

Kant says that knowledge requires true judgment plus an objective ground. But acccording to him a true judgment with justfication is not ipso facto knowledge, for faith is also grounded, though on a subjectively valid reason.

But I think that generally, since Descartes, epistemology has been more interested in knowledge by acquaintance than in propositional knowledge. I mean: in modern philosophy ( from Descartes to Hegel) the standard epistemological problem has been " how can our representations correspond to knowable objects ?" , that is " how is cognition possible? " rather than " how can my mind be related in the proper epistemological way to a true proposition?".

Hence my quetion: which contemporary philosopher ( or school of thought) came back to the JTB conception of knowledge; and which classical philosophers have been invoked as authoritative ancestors of this conception?

At what moment, in contemporary philosophy, did the JTB definition of knowledge become standard?

  • 1
    Not sure if you imply that JTB is currently the standard definition of knowledge, but just in case: it's not, and hasn't been since 1963.
    – E...
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 21:35
  • 2
    I think it is fair to say that JTB+ definitions, which are ideological descendants of JTB that add some tracking conditions, are close to a loose mainstream standard. In particular, various forms of the reliabilist epistemology are quite popular since 1980s.
    – Conifold
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 23:50
  • @Conifold There are many philosophers nowadays that take knowledge to be unanalyzable, especially after Williamson's influential knowledge-first arguments in Knowledge and Its Limits.
    – E...
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 17:07
  • @Eliran My sense is that skeptical positions, however popular, do not become a standard, at least not until non-skeptical options are all exhausted. And that did not happen so far. Denying the analytic/synthetic distinction is/was also popular, and Quine's arguments influential, yet 65% of academics still accept it according to PhilPapers poll.
    – Conifold
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 17:25
  • @Conifold It's not a skeptical position at all.
    – E...
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 17:40

1 Answer 1


This is discussed at length in "The Legend of the Justified True Belief Analysis" by Julien Dutant (Philosophical Perspectives 26(1)). He writes at one point (bolded mine):

In 1960, Gilbert Ryle still ascribes the infallible mental state view to the tradition in his “Epistemology” entry for Urmson’s Concise Encyclopedia. Seven years later, in the “Knowledge” entry for Edwards’s Encyclopaedia, Anthony Quinton (1967) writes that the Justified True Belief analysis was the traditional one and that it has been refuted by Gettier. What happened? Woozley (1949, 181-184), Malcolm (1952, 179–80) and Ayer (1956, 21) all took the infallible mental state view to have sceptical consequences. That was deemed unacceptable and prompted Malcolm, Ayer and Chisholm to defend the idea that fallible justification and truth were sufficient for knowledge. Gettier (1963, 121n) was perhaps the first to note that a formally similar account appeared in Plato. Soon some called the Justified True Belief analysis “traditional” and by 1967 the Legend coalesced.

This suggests that Gettier sparked the idea that JTB was classical and Quinton nailed that stipulation. Dutant also mentions that Malcolm, Chisholm, and Ayer, trying to counter scepticism with foundationalism, modified the actual traditional analysis to essentially become JTB, creating the position Gettier attacks with his cases.

Long story short: Even though there are people invoked as ancestors, the position of knowledge as JTB is one developed in the second half of the 20th century. Probably Malcolm, Ayer, and Chisholm (in that chronological order) are the ones to be 'blamed' for JTB, with Gettier and Quinton being the ones responsible for the rise of The Legend, ie.

Edmund Gettier’s landmark paper successfully refuted the traditional analysis of knowledge. (Sosa et al., 2009, 189, cited in Dutant 2015)

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