An originally Platonic concept
dealing with the origin
s of knowledge
Plato deals extensively with this idea in the Meno, but a preliminary understanding can be seen in his work Theaetetus:
"Oh, yes, Socrates, that's just what I once heard a man say; I had forgotten, but now it's coming back to me. He said that it is true judgment with an account 1 that is knowledge; true judgment without an account falls outside of knowledge ..." 2
In this section of the Theaetetus, Plato works with the notion that knowledge is a true belief that is tied down to the facts of reality through an account of the reason why 1 the belief is held. This can be defined in the following manner:
S knows that X:
- X is true.
- S believes that X.
- S is justified in believing that X.
Socrates explores this idea further in the Meno:
"What am I thinking of when I say this? True opinions. For true opinions, as long as they remain, are a fine thing and all they do is good, but they are not willing to remain long, and they escape from a man's mind, so that they are not worth much until one ties them down by giving an account of the reason why. And that, Meno my friend, is recollection, 3 as we previously agreed. After they are tied down, in the first place they become knowledge, and then they remain in place. That is why knowledge is prized higher than correct opinion, and knowledge is prized higher than correct opinion, and knowledge differs from correct opinion in being tied down." 4
A rational account of the reason why is what secures an individual's true beliefs and transforms them a system of knowledge. This account must explicitly identify the principles involved in every belief the individual holds. In order to organize such an account, the nature or essence of a thing must be identified along with the properties that all things of that type have in common. In so creating a system of knowledge, the individual is engaging in an exhaustive assessment of the reality in which they exist. They are taking transitory, accidental sets of beliefs and transforming them into systems of knowledge which are firmly anchored to the facts of existence. The individual is then placed in a position where their information is true and noncontradictory, and they can then act with the conviction that they are acting correctly and also why it is they are doing so. This process is known in the Meno as the method of answering the Ti Esti (What Is It?) question 5 in respect to true belief.
If true opinions are acted upon, they will yield virtuous actions just as often as knowledge will. According to Socrates, "Correct opinion is then neither inferior to knowledge nor less useful in directing actions ... " 6
A famous counter argument as to the validity of true belief as the basis for knowledge was put forth by Edmund Gettier in his essay "Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?" 7. Gettier's two counterexamples can be summed up as follows:
- It is possible for S to be justified in believing X when X is in fact false.
- In believing X, which is flawed, it is still possible for all of the conditions for the acquisition of that knowledge to be met without S actually knowing X.
1 gk. logos
2 Plato. Theaetetus. tr. M. J. Levett, rev. Myles Burnyeat. Stephanus p. 201 d.
3 Here, Socrates is speaking of The Theory of Recollection, which is examined earlier in the dialogue with Meno, Stephanus pp. 82-83.
4 Plato. Meno. tr. G. M. A. Grube. Stephanus p. 98 a.
5 The Ti Esti question is looked at in many parts in the Meno, however, I've noted it to be the most prominent in the discussion throughout Stephanus pp. 71 b, 72 b-c and 79 a - 80 b.
6 Plato. Meno. tr. G. M. A. Grube. Stephanus p. 98 c.
7 Edmund Gettier's essay can be read at: http://www.ditext.com/gettier/gettier.html