Plato, in his work Theatetus, stated: 'I once heard someone suggesting that true belief accompanied by a rational account is knowledge, whereas true belief unaccompanied by a rational account is distinct from knowledge' (Plato 1987). Plato puts forward the idea that to obtain knowledge, one must have a justified true belief. However, how far can wisdom truly be justified by true belief when the human mind is able to draw on accidental beliefs and luck? In this essay, I am going to assess Plato's original thesis that knowledge and justified true belief are one and the same and, following that, I will discuss why this thesis has remained strong in light of subsequent criticisms.
Knowledge makes itself apparent in a variety of forms: ability knowledge (I know how to swim), acquaintance knowledge (I know my house), and propositional knowledge (I know that a Dalmatian is a dog). In relation to the question of whether knowledge is justified true belief, we need specifically to focus on the truths and mistruths of propositional knowledge. The tripartite definition of knowledge, dating back to the deliberations of Plato, holds that propositional knowledge requires three conditions to be considered functional: truth, belief, and justification. This is often expressed through the equation:
1. p is true.
2. s believes that p.
3. s has justification for his belief that p.
Dan O'Brien claimed that these three conditions 'are jointly sufficient for knowledge, that is, you always have knowledge when these three conditions are met' (O'Brien 2006; 11). A natural conclusion to draw from this would thus be that knowledge and justified true belief are not only one and the same but are also sufficient and necessary for learning.
Succeeding Plato's thesis, a number of philosophers have attested to the tripartite definition of knowledge. Utilizing hypothetical scenarios and drawing criticisms from the original thesis, they aim to prove that one can have justified true belief without knowledge. Intuitively humans are able to make a distinction between belief and knowledge. One is able to believe a proposition is false, but if one knows the proposition to be true, then that proposition is subsequently true. However, it has been later argued that the tripartite conditions are not sufficient as one can also obtain accidental beliefs: I may believe it to be ten o'clock, yet I am unaware that my, usually reliable, watch has stopped. Thus I have been mistaken in believing a falsehood and could not have claimed that I knew it to be ten o'clock as one cannot know something that is false.
The main critic of the tripartite theory is Edmund Gettier. In his work 'Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?' (Gettier 1963) Gettier attempted to disprove the claims of the tripartite analysis by suggesting that people are able to have justified true beliefs even though they lack knowledge. Gettier highlights that the three conditions that make up the tripartite are not join...