Knowledge, in the classical philosophical sense, has three criterion for being such: Justification, Truth, and Belief. This study of Knowledge and what it means to Know is called Epistemology. Now, I have some qualms with these criterion as they presently stand in the traditional history, but I’ll get to those at the end. Before we get to my own theories, let’s look at the meat and potatoes of the theory.
The biggest quandary in Epistemology has been over what it means when one says that they have Justification. Simply put, one has certain pieces of evidence, rationale, feelings, leanings, or understandings to say in the face of any doubt that this belief they hold is true, and Justification is what differentiates between Knowledge and Merely True Belief.
Belief is of course the crux of Knowledge. If you don’t believe something, then there is no point in saying you know it. There is much debates as to the nature and direction of Knowledge and whether Knowledge is Deontological (Knowledge as duty), Ontological (Knowledge as a thing-in-itself), Teleological (Knowledge is a purpose one seeks after), Aesthetic (Knowledge as a feeling one seeks after), or Utilitarian (Knowledge as a tool for society). Of course there are other Beliefs (no pun intended) about Knowledge and what it means for one to Know or need to Know, but one thing commonly held is that Belief is necessity for Knowledge.
Back to Justification, which is the most hotly debated aspect of the trilateral criterion. The questions that arise regarding knowledge are multiple and unending. One might ask, what is the makeup of Justification? Does it require Evidence, or does Memory, Intuition, Introspection, and Reflection play a role in one’s Justification? Does Justification always come from within our subjective shells, or is there an external presence which gives one justification? Are there beliefs that require no Justification, that they are properly Basic? These are just some of the many questions one might ask in regards to the nature of Justification (or J-factor, if you’d like).
Edmund Gettier essentially turned the Epistemic world on it’s head in 1963. In his short little essay, he poses the following scenario:
Imagine you are driving through a hill of Barn façades, and there is one real barn on the hill. You are asked to point to what you Know is a barn, and you feel justified in your belief that the one you chose is in fact a barn. You happen to, by mere coincidence, choose the one real barn on the hill. But there is an element of luck to this, isn’t there? Although you feel Justified (you see a barn and have every rationale to believe it is a real barn) , and have a True Belief, this doesn’t seem to be knowledge.
So, the challenge began, to solve the question if one can feel justified, and yet not be certain that what they are looking at is in fact what they are justified in looking at, can they really say that they have knowledge that “I am pointing to a real barn” when there is an element of chance? Of course, many people have traveled down the rabbit hole of J-factor and will continue to do so. However, I think there is a problem, not with Gettier, but with the whole classical model.
When one says they have truth, what does that mean? The abstract word ideally means that one Knows (Huh…) that what they Believe is True. Well, that doesn’t tell us much for Epistemology does it? What is a more philosophical definition of what it means for something to be True? Perhaps something like the correspondence theory of Truth is more accurate for us here, that what one believes or thinks is relationally similar to what in fact is. Or another way to say this is to say that there exist a universal fact that is the same in nature as what one believes. Do we have concrete access to something like this? Is objectivity attainable to us as subjective beings? I don’t think so, not in a way that is universal, but perhaps more so probable. We probably have truths about the world and the laws of nature, but we could be wrong, and these things are external to us, which means we don’t have a universal relation to them. We may be deceived by a Cartesian demon, or we could be Brains in a vat controlled by a mad scientist. So to say that Knowledge necessarily requires Truth, is damning to the subject.
My theory is that we do not have justified-true-beliefs, but we have Subjective Inferences about the world, which are Coherent to one another. There may be some properly basic beliefs, which are not justified by further beliefs, and these beliefs create a foundation for the rest of our beliefs (such as the world exist, I exist, the laws of nature exist in such a way that are evidential and observable, further understanding of the natural world and our own consciousness is obtainable, etc.). However, this has no impact on whether those Beliefs are true or not.
We may look at a hill of barn façades and believe that they are all real barns and so, if we had chosen a false barn instead of the one real barn on the hill, we would still be justified in this false belief. So, some might say that this is not Knowledge i the epistemic sense, and that one cannot Know what isn’t True. But what about those that hold opposing beliefs and, with all sincerity, feel that their belief is justified to be true? One of them must be wrong, but that doesn’t mean that both don’t have extensive knowledge of what they believe. I would argue that Knowledge in a subjective, autonomous sense, means that one has Justified Subjective Inferences that are Coherent with the rest of their Beliefs. This means that one makes assumptions about the world from intuition, experience, perception, and introspection to form basic beliefs about the world and from these beliefs create a coherent worldview and knowledge structure. I Know that the sky is blue because I have basic beliefs about color, and subjective consciousness, and the way that light particles react with my eyes. I justify my perception based on the experience and memory of always seeing what I describe as Blue to be the same. Therefore, I Know that the sky is blue (that is I subjectively infer this belief, which is coherent with my other beliefs).
I would like to deal with this topis in more detail and upon further reading, but in order to get a more full grip of the topic and to make sure I cover all the possible objections, please feel free to contribute and share your own thoughts, readings, and objections.
(conclusion: Knowledge is not JTB, because T is abstract, ambiguous, and impossible. Knowledge is more like a Coherent set of Subjective Inferences which adapts and evolves with more understanding of the world from introspection, memory, and experiment.)
CORRECTION: the example I give regarding a Gettier problem, is not from Gettier’s article “Is JTB Knowledge?” It is actually was first mentioned in an article by Alvin Goldman from the November 18, 1976 edition of the journal of philosophy titled “Discrimination and Perceptual Knowledge.” The example itself is attributed to Carl Ginet. The Gettier Examples are, famously, “Smith’s Job,” and “Jone’s Ford,” which are both in the Gettier article. Thank you to Reddit user’s mmorality and SubDavidsonic for pointing this out to me!
P.s. The Goldman article is itself impossible to find without JSTOR but here is a open outline of his article: