Unjustified True Belief

Classroom Edit

Last Tuesday night, Professor Lockwood was leading an undergraduate seminar on the subject of Epistemology. In this lesson, the students were learning and discussing the definition of knowledge when the conversation digressed onto the Matrix and other science-fictions. Nearing the end of class, one especially enthusiastic student, Kyle, who happened to be very interested in recent advancements in technology and science, pulled out a prototype for a holographic projection device that was able to create a three-dimensional, colored hologram of the objects it scanned.

To show off his amazing gadget, Kyle asked the class to join him on one side of the room while he set the device on the middle table to scan them. After activating the device, an almost perfect mirror image of the whole class could be seen standing on the opposite side of the room – all except for Justin who was very late to the class.

Justin was unsure of whether or not he was late, however, because he had no watch and his phone had died — so he decided to check to see if his classmates were still having an interesting discussion or standing, ready to leave. Justin arrived outside the classroom moments after the projection and peeked through the door’s window to see if class was nearing an end. In seeing the holographic projection of his classmates already standing near the wall closest to the door, he reached the conclusion that class was ending and he was, therefore, too late to participate. But does he know that?

If he was on time for class he would have learned that knowledge is traditionally defined within the purview of philosophy as a justified true belief:

(a)    Justin knows that P IFF (i.e., if and only if):

(i)     P is true.
(ii)    Justin believes P.
(iii)   Justin is justified in believing that P is true.

Unfortunately, he was not present for that discussion and missed the entire conversation on the Gettier problem and would never know that he did not actually know whether or not the class was ending.

It is easy for us to say that Justin did not know that the class was ending – or even that his classmates were present in the room – despite these being parts of his conclusion. This is because in order for a proof (justification) to validate a belief it must itself be valid. If the justification is false, then he would have reached the correct conclusion merely by coincidence – which in this case, he did. Therefore he did not have a justified true belief (knowledge). Unless we are to admit of an incredibly broad definition of justification (and not take into account its quality, origin, or validity) — justified true belief remains both sufficient and necessary conditions in meeting knowledge.

It was especially unfortunate that Justin missed the discussion of the Gettier problem because he would have enjoyed seeing his fellow classmates nod in agreement as they all, after having read the problem and seen its major flaw, realized that just because the three criteria of knowledge (justification, truth, and belief) seemed to be met in Gettier’s examples, seeming is not the same as being.

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