"Suppose that Jones is told on fully reliable authority that a certain class of his memory beliefs are almost all mistaken. His parents fabricate a wholly false story that Jonese suffered from amnesia when he was seven but later developed pseudo-memories of that period. Though Jones listens to what his parents say and has excellent reason to trust them, he persists in believing the ostensible memories from his seven-year-old past. Are these memory beliefs justified? Intuitively, they are not justified. But since these beliefs result from genuine memory and original perceptions, which are adequately reliable processes, our theory says that these beliefs are justified." What is Justified Belief Alvin Goldman

So, Jones' parents are lying to him? If so, why would we at all trust the parents? Goldman wants us to believe Jones' psuedo-memories are unjustified by claiming that his parents have good evidence, although they fabricated a story.

If you could help clarify this for me, I would greatly appreciate it.

Thank you.

1 Answer 1


Goldman is addressing a standard problem in epistemology, namely, what it is about knowledge that distinguishes it from mere true belief. Goldman originally defended a causal theory of knowledge, which has it that a true belief is knowledge only if it has been caused in an appropriate way. In the passage you quote, he seems to be referring to a reliabilist account of knowledge, which has it that knowledge is true belief that is reliably obtained.

In order to test these theories of knowledge, he engages in a thought experiment. Jones has beliefs about his childhood based on his memories, and these beliefs are in fact true because his memories are in fact reliable. We would ordinarily say that a person has justification to believe that their childhood memories are true, because while our memories are far from perfect, some of our recollections at least are reliable and would qualify as being knowledge.

But now there comes a twist. Jones' parents lie to him about his childhood, and tell him that he suffered amnesia and a portion of his memories are false. We are not told why they do this, but Jones has reason to believe them because they are his parents, and they normally never lie to him. On a common intuitive understanding of justification (or of knowledge) we might say that his childhood beliefs are not justified, because he now has conflicting evidence for them. His memories indicate one thing, but seemingly authoritative information from a previously reliable source indicates the opposite. In cases where we are faced with conflicting evidence, often the appropriate course is to suspend belief and not suppose that we are justified in accepting either option.

But Goldman says that on the theory he proposes, Jones' beliefs would be justified, because they were acquired in a reliable way. The contrary statement from his parents does not make his senses or memories any less reliable.

Whether this is plausible is questionable. We might say that receiving information from normally reliable sources is itself part of the causal, and usually reliable, process of forming true beliefs. So, if apparently reliable information conflicts with our existing beliefs, it is quite appropriate to regard them as not justified, until the conflict is resolved.

  • Since knowledge can be usually well defined as justified true belief, isn't Goldman's weak point is to how to pass the true part test? Genuine Knowledge is power (per Bacon) but also rare and hard to acquire compared to mere information or memories. To me one's personal memory certainly is emotional and contentful, but to elevate the study about the truth/falsity of memories as a study of knowledge seems not that pertinent... Dec 14, 2021 at 7:10
  • Well, I don't agree that knowledge is justified true belief. Gettier cases, among other things, make that position difficult to defend. Truth is not really the issue in these cases. The believed proposition is simply proposed to be true. The problem is that we don't accept that a true belief, or even a justified true belief, constitutes knowledge if we just got lucky about it being true. There needs to be some connection or relevant condition that rules out being right by luck. The various different theories of knowledge are mainly just proposals about what that connection should be.
    – Bumble
    Dec 14, 2021 at 10:14
  • JTB is still the best and most popular definition of knowledge within philosophy's field despite edge cases like Gettier's, BIV's and controversies of truth. Alternative theories are more complicated or problematic such as Nozick's truth-tracking modal theory which is essentially a form of reliablism depending squarely on the method by which S came to arrive at a belief whether or not P (from WP), and in the meantime must discard epistemic closure. It's kind of circular reasoning because the method on which he knows he's competent to judge "he's in Boston" but "not a BIV" has no logic backing. Dec 17, 2021 at 6:18
  • Nozick also employs a primitive concept of truth in one of his 4 conditions for the tracking truth condition in those closest accessible possible worlds. In addition to the circular foundation of above mentioned "method to arrive at a belief", epistemic closure is really intuitive and demanded for most people (otherwise why we ever need a proof system and study logic?) As the Wikipedia ref of Lottery propositions pointed out Kyburg's approach (similar to Nozick) is not optimal compared to traditional probabilist' rejection of the 1st principle , eg, "rational acceptance of highly likely event" Dec 17, 2021 at 6:27
  • A Kyburg's approach (besides rejecting epistemic closure) has to abandon the JTB definition, instead it essentially has to additionally define a new version of the definition of knowledge, something like K_new(p):=K_jtb(Pr(p) >= t) for a likely proposition p (almost all knowledges are such kind). But as WP mentioned Lottery paradox is not a real paradox but an error in implicitly modifying the usual JTB version of K to above subtle new version K mixed with probability modality.. for a very likely event, the rational belief about that event is just that it is very likely, not that it is true. Dec 17, 2021 at 6:38

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