Justified True Belief

‘Justified true belief’ was Plato’s attempt to bring rigour to his claim to know something. Briefly explain what he meant by ‘justified true belief’ and, more importantly, attempt to relate it to your own ways-of-knowing and your personal conviction of what it is to know something. Plato founded an academy almost two and a half thousand years ago that was concerned with validating its knowledge in the areas of science, mathematics and philosophy. On what grounds can we be certain that we really know something? This was the question addressed by Plato himself and the students of the academy.

Plato’s answer was that knowledge must be certain Knowledge. Certain Knowledge must be believable, true and justified. This is the basis of ‘justified true belief’. So for a piece of knowledge to be valid according to Plato’s ‘justified true belief’ theory you must be able to believe the statement, your belief has to be true and your belief must be justified. An example of this is to take the statement that ‘all living things are made of cells’. For this statement to be true it must pass three tests, firstly you must believe that all living things are made of cells.

All living things must be made of cells if you know one that is not then your belief is not true which it must be. Finally, you must have justification for the statement that you know all living things are made of cells. What are the ways for me to know something keeping in mind Plato’s ‘justified true belief’ theory? There are a number of ways of knowing something such as empirically, by authority, by memory, instinctively, through practice, through acquaintance, through introspection, by empathy, by faith and through the conscience. These are all the different ways of knowing something.

Some of these are easier for us to accept than others because some of them concern knowledge that is true for everyone. Empirical knowledge is knowledge through observation. This is a way of knowing something by using the senses. I know that a flame will not continue to burn when it is placed in a test tube of carbon dioxide. I know this empirically because in the laboratory I saw a flame go out when it was placed in a test tube of Carbon Dioxide. Knowledge through authority is knowledge using authority such as textbooks, where the information in the textbook (the authority) came from is a prominent issue in theory of knowledge.

I know that cells were first described in 1665 by Robert Hooke. I know this by authority by using my Biology textbook. Knowledge by memory is knowledge that comes through remembering something. I know that that the first day of school this year was the 23rd of August. I know this because I remember it. I know that 2+2=4. I know this logically because I know that in the two times table 2×2=4 so logically two lots of two added would make four. These four ways of knowing logically, empirically, by authority and by memory are all types of impersonal propositional knowledge.

This means that they are the types of knowledge that are easier for other people to accept because they produce knowledge that is acceptable to all of us as true. Other ways in which I can know something are personal ways, which produce personal knowledge, which is less likely to be accepted by other people as true. There are four types of personal knowledge by conviction, by acquaintance, by introspection and knowledge by practice. These types of personal knowledge will differ between people and may conflict. Knowledge by conviction is knowledge in the areas of faith and belief.

I know that China’s occupation of Tibet is a violation of Human rights and it is my Moral belief that it is wrong. I know this through conviction. Knowledge by acquaintance is knowledge acquired through acquaintance. I know that some of my friends are sensitive while others are not. I know this because of the length of time I have spent acquainting myself with them. Knowledge by introspection is knowledge through examining one’s own feelings. This knowledge includes empathy and conscience as well as introspection.

These are all things that we only know if we examine our own feelings. I know that I love my brother. I know this because I have examined my own feelings about being in love and I know that I am. Knowledge through practice is knowledge that was learned through practising something. I know how to sight-read music. I know this because I practised it when I learnt to play an instrument. I agree with Plato’s argument that to know something you must believe it but the argument that it has to be true is a more difficult issue depending on your definition of truth.

In my opinion it is this second part of Plato’s theory about true belief that presents the most problems because what is it that makes a statement true? Truth is Public, Truth is independent of anyone’s belief and truth is eternal according to Philosophers who have for many years been debating the issue with Politicians. In my opinion the above statements about truth are an acceptable way of testing how true a statement is but I am very aware of how it may conflict with ways of knowing such as faith.

Is a person’s belief in god true if it is not true for everybody? In my opinion, it is but the fact that it is not true for everybody could make it not so under these statements. I am sure there are people who would disagree. In my opinion, although there are points of discussion such as the definition of truth and justification Plato’s ‘Justified True belief’ is a working theory that that can be applied to examples. Plato’s theory has been well respected for due reason for many years and still is today.


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