The Quest of Defining Knowledge

The challenge of defining knowledge has been plaguing epistemologists and philosophers since the origins of epistemology. There are two methods of classification for the definition of knowledge, methodism and particularism. Pritchard states that most epistemologists “have followed Chisholm in opting for particularism instead” (Pritchard 22).  Particularism is much more sensible than Methodism as it is much easier to produce a criteria for knowledge once you have identified a particular instance of knowledge.

Until 1963, the tripartite definition of knowledge had been relatively unquestioned and accepted as the definition of knowledge. That is until the tremendous epistemological impact of Edmund Gettier’s work. If the Gettier case presents a consistent counter-example to the JTB account of knowledge, then the JTB account of knowledge is not a valid definition of knowledge. Almost all epistemologists agree that Gettier disproved the justified true-belief conception of knowledge (Hetherington). According to Gettier, one could have a justified true belief and yet still lack knowledge as one can get lucky (Pritchard 23). The easiest example to understanding the Gettier case is case one about Smith and Jones. Gettier’s conclusion, “It is not the case that if S believes that P, is justified in believing that P and P is true, then S knows that P” is very easy to understand (Gettier). Due to the fact there is no universally accepted definition for knowledge, epistemologists will keep debating which definition they support.

The outside source I used talked about epistemologists use of Safety+.  Safety + states that a truly belief is safely formed “given how it has been formed and given the surrounding circumstances in which it has been formed, it would have only been formed if true (Hetherington). Although there is much debate on the concept of Safety +, the concept of Safety + generally supports the Gettier case. This is due to the fact that Smith had not formed his belief as true due to the fact that he overlooked facts that would have made the belief true (Hetherington). As previously stated, due to the fact that the Gettier example lacks safety, it cannot truly be defined as knowledge.

The counter arguments to the Gettier cases criticize the fact that the cases rely on the false principal that false propositions can justify one’s belief in other false propositions (Feldman). Those who argue against Gettier’s examples say that a proposition can only justify another proposition if it is true (Feldman). If more epistemologists were to agree with views like Feldman, the JTB account for knowledge would become the most accepted view. Defining knowledge becomes an almost impossible task, as the definition of what knowledge truly is, is rather subjective. This is because arguments can be made for any definition of knowledge.

I agree with the conclusion Pritchard ends the chapter with. I do not think that there will ever be a widely accepted definition of knowledge due to the abundance of counter examples to theories, and because knowledge of what knowledge is almost impossible to ascertain. Will knowledge ever have a perfect dictionary definition? Not in the sense in which epistemologists desire.



Hetherington, Stephen “Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” Knowledge []. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2014.

1 thought on “The Quest of Defining Knowledge

  1. I wanted to further discuss the arguments regarding the Gettier cases that you touched on. Beginning in the section “Responding to the Gettier Cases” in chapter 3 of “What is this thing called Knowledge” by Duncan Pritchard the idea of ‘presupposition’ is discussed. This counter to the Gettier case explains that in order to be a true belief, the idea must be justified and not come from false presuppositions. Therefore, the Gettier cases are not in fact bringing down JTB. I do not agree with this counter argument because I think that is exactly what Gettier is addressing in his work. That sometimes true beliefs can match up with false presuppositions, and that regardless it is a true belief that the person thinks is justifiable. The Gettier cases show that there is always room for dumb luck, and thus the definition of knowledge is not a concrete one. These counters to Gettier’s are looking for loopholes in his counter because they want there to be a definition of knowledge. But in reality, the idea of knowledge is something that is still evolving and this ongoing quest should be accepted in the philosophical world.

Leave a Reply