Knowledge

Truth and knowledge are intimately linked. Our desire to accumulate knowledge stems from a desire to get at the truth. And certainly if one knows something, then the proposition known must be true: one cannot rightly be said to know that the cat is on the mat if the cat is not on the mat. The truth of a belief is certainly one necessary condition of that belief's being knowledge. So it may seem reasonable to suppose that if Jones believes that the government has been deposed in a military coup, and the government has been deposed in a military coup, then Jones knows that the government has been deposed in a military coup. This is to say that knowledge that such-and-such is the case is simply having a true belief that such-and-such is the case.

However, this is not correct. Having a belief that is true is necessary, but not sufficient for knowledge. Suppose that Smith has been given LSD. He is hallucinating like mad, and his reason has gone completely haywire. The conviction suddenly impresses itself upon his unhinged mind that there are leprechauns in the next room; and that because of this, his mother's house in Sydney, 15,000 miles away, is on fire. In fact, Smith takes LSD every day, and believes, every time, that his mother's house is on fire (though for a different reason each time). But this time, it just so happens that his mother's house is on fire. Just by chance, the belief, this time, was true. No one would say that Smith, in this situation, knows that his mother's house is on fire. It was true belief, but not knowledge. He is like a person who shoots at a target blindfolded, dozens of times, and finally hits it, despite not having had any idea where the target was.

So knowledge cannot be identified simply with having a true belief. A further ingredient must be added to true belief, if it is to be knowledge. In particular, a true belief counts as knowledge only if we arrive at that true belief via the right route: we have knowledge only if we have good reasons for a holding belief that turns out to be true. We have to be justified, have solid evidential support. We must, if you like, earn the right to be sure. Lucky guesses do not count as knowledge.

This third requirement is incorporated into the traditional philosophical account of knowledge, which is called the tripartite account:

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