JUSTIFIED TRUE BELIEF

This traditional unpacking of the idea of knowledge follows naturally after the Student knowledge claims. The Wittgenstein and the polysemy of language unit will also inform the class activities presented below; especially for differentiating between opinion and belief.   

For the JTB model to hold, knowledge must be:

  1. JUSTIFIED:
    The knowledge claim is justified with adequate evidence. Justification requires Coherence with previous data and Clarity with regard to language and logic. There can be no Contradiction or strong Counter evidence.
     
  2. TRUE:
    The knowledge claim is True rather than False. It corresponds to the real world. It is a fact. It is “what is the case.”
     
  3. BELIEVED:
    The knowledge claim is a matter of Conviction. We must own our knowledge. 
Why the visual metaphor of the three legged stool is being used here?

Why the visual metaphor of the three legged stool is being used here?

CLASS ACTIVITY

Next the class should be divided into four groups. Each group is handed a card with a Knowledge Question exploring a slippery aspect of knowledge viewed as justified true belief:

A. Do we have to believe what we know?
B. Is there a difference between opinion and belief?
C. Must all knowledge be true? Provide examples?
D. When, if ever, can we know something with absolute certainty?

Spokespersons from each group report back to the entire class. This should generate some interesting discussion and provide a good first pass at some perennial epistemological conundrums. The following additional question may or may not be necessary to enhance student thinking:

  • To what extent are private sensations like immediate experience, emotion and self-awareness part of the justified true belief model?
     
  • Can there be knowledge without mind? Is "man the measure of all things"?

 

Dog-faced baboon: measurer of a few things?

Dog-faced baboon: measurer of a few things?

I wonder that he did not begin his book on Truth with a declaration that a pig or a dog-faced baboon, or some other yet stranger monster which has sensation, is the measure of all things…
— Scathing Socratic critique of the sophist and rhetorician, Protagoras who had written: "Man is the Measure of all things..."

As with Socrates himself (in the original examination of justified true belief in Plato's famous Theaetetus dialog) the students' conversations may end in paradox and impasse. No simplistic resolutions seem possible. Everyone should emerge slightly dazed, but wiser and rewarded with a much richer understanding an enduring problem. 

This is a powerful TOK lesson. The valuable thing is the discursive to and fro between living, breathing human beings who are not afraid to question, or risk their own assertions to be scrutinized critically in the public arena. The quality of the quest is what counts. 

This JTB tripartite view of knowledge is powerful, but we should approach it with caution. We should keep in mind that ultimately Knowledge may be sui generis, that is: a holistic notion that stands by itself—unique in its blend of characteristics—rather than being perfectly and fully analyzable into a set of simpler foundational concepts. Also, Wittgenstein's advice about looking to the use of a word like knowledge rather than agonizing over its definition may come into play. 

Next, let's dig deeper into the nature of Truth and Certainty in Coherence, Correspondence and Pragmatic Theories of Truth.

On the first day of the week, Elegua donned a hat — red on one side, white on the other — and traveled to a crossroad. Stepping silently, he walked between two friends, one seeing the red side of his hat, the other seeing the white. Later in the day the two friends spoke to one another about the mysterious man. "It was a fine white hat that he wore," said the first man." "No, you are mistaken, my friend," said the second man. "I saw it clearly and his hat was brilliant red." "Are you calling me a liar? It was white as that cloud in the morning sky." "Do you say that I am blind? It was red as the blood that will flow from your nose!" "White!" "Red!" "White!" "Red!" Their quarreling turned to blows, as each man insisted that he was right and the other wrong. Trickster Elegua, who had been secretly watching them fighting from a distance, chuckled at the sight. He walked over to the bloodied and furious men and separated them at arm's length. "See, fools, this hat of mine — red on one side and white on the other. Ha! I laugh at you from the depth of my belly, that you would strike each other over something so ridiculous as the color of a stranger's hat. Your clothes are in tatters, and so is your friendship. Should you not choose to wrestle with more important matters, and together defeat your families' hunger? Clothe your children? Improve your lot?" In this version Elegua leaves them there, weeping and apologizing to each other, but in other versions, their struggles continue until their entire village is destroyed. Elegua is the name for the the Yoruba trickster deity also known as Eshu. This cautionary tale, elegantly retold by Brenda Sutton at the Mythic Passages site, is a playful counterexample that partially undermines the idea of Knowing as Justified True Belief. The Elegua story is a traditional (but still living and breathing) indigenous perspective on what contemporary analytical philosophers categorize as a "Gettier case."

On the first day of the week, Elegua donned a hat — red on one side, white on the other — and traveled to a crossroad. Stepping silently, he walked between two friends, one seeing the red side of his hat, the other seeing the white. Later in the day the two friends spoke to one another about the mysterious man.

"It was a fine white hat that he wore," said the first man."

"No, you are mistaken, my friend," said the second man. "I saw it clearly and his hat was brilliant red."

"Are you calling me a liar? It was white as that cloud in the morning sky."

"Do you say that I am blind? It was red as the blood that will flow from your nose!"

"White!"

"Red!"

"White!"

"Red!"

Their quarreling turned to blows, as each man insisted that he was right and the other wrong.

Trickster Elegua, who had been secretly watching them fighting from a distance, chuckled at the sight. He walked over to the bloodied and furious men and separated them at arm's length.

"See, fools, this hat of mine — red on one side and white on the other. Ha! I laugh at you from the depth of my belly, that you would strike each other over something so ridiculous as the color of a stranger's hat. Your clothes are in tatters, and so is your friendship. Should you not choose to wrestle with more important matters, and together defeat your families' hunger? Clothe your children? Improve your lot?"

In this version Elegua leaves them there, weeping and apologizing to each other, but in other versions, their struggles continue until their entire village is destroyed.

Elegua is the name for the the Yoruba trickster deity also known as Eshu. This cautionary tale, elegantly retold by Brenda Sutton at the Mythic Passages site, is a playful counterexample that partially undermines the idea of Knowing as Justified True Belief.

The Elegua story is a traditional (but still living and breathing) indigenous perspective on what contemporary analytical philosophers categorize as a "Gettier case."