(by Blake Myers-Schulz and Eric Schwitzgebel)
Virtually every introduction to epistemology (online examples include the Stanford Encyclopedia and the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy) highlights the debate about what is commonly called the “JTB” theory of knowledge – the view according to which for some subject S to know some proposition P, it is necessary and sufficient that
(1.) P is true.
(2.) S believes that P is true.
(3.) S is justified in believing that P is true.
According to the JTB theory, knowledge is Justified True Belief. Perhaps the most-discussed issue in the last 40 years of epistemology is whether the JTB theory is true. Debate generally centers on whether there is a way of interpreting or revising the third (justification) condition or adding a fourth condition to avoid apparent counterexamples of various sorts (e.g., Gettier examples). Nearly all contemporary analytic philosophers endorse the truth of conditions (1) and (2): You can’t know a proposition that isn’t true, and you can’t know a proposition that you don’t believe. Few assumptions are more central to contemporary epistemology.
However, we – Blake and Eric – don’t find it intuitive that (2) is true. We think there are intuitively appealing cases in which someone can know that something is true without believing (or, per Eric, determinately believing) that it is true. We have four examples:
(A.) The unconfident examinee (from Colin Radford 1966, one of the very few deniers of (2)): Kate is asked on an exam to enter the date of Queen Elizabeth’s death. She feels like she is guessing, but enters the date correctly. Does Kate know/believe that Elizabeth died in 1603?
(B.) The absent-minded driver (from Schwitzgebel in draft): Ben reads an email telling him that a bridge he usually takes to work will be closed for repairs. He drives away from the house planning to take an alternate route but absent-mindedly misses the turn and continues toward the bridge on the old route. Does Ben know/believe that the bridge is closed?
(C.) The implicit racist (also from Schwitzgebel in draft): Juliet is implicitly biased against black people, tending to assume of individual black people that they are not intelligent. However, she vehemently endorses the (true and justified, let’s assume) claim that all the races are of equal intelligence. Does Juliet know/believe that all the races are intellectually equal?
(D.) The freaked-out movie-watcher: Jamie sees a horror movie in which vicious aliens come out of water faucets and attack people, and she is highly disturbed by it, though she acknowledges that it is not real. Immediately after the movie, when her friend goes to get water from the faucet, Jamie spontaneously shouts “Don’t do it!” Does Jamie know/believe that only water will come from the faucet?
In each case, we think, it is much more intuitive to ascribe knowledge than belief.
So, naturally (being experimental philosophers!), we checked with the folk. We used fleshed-out versions of the scenarios above (available here). Some subjects were asked whether the protagonist knew the proposition in question. Other subjects were asked whether the protagonist believed the proposition in question.
The results came in as predicted. Across the four scenarios, 75% of respondents (90/120, 1-prop z vs. 50%, p < .001) said that the protagonist knew, while only 35% said the protagonist believed (42/120; 1-prop z vs. 50%, p = .001). Considering each scenario individually, in each case a substantial majority said the protagonist knew and in no scenario did a majority say the protagonist believed. (A separate group of subjects were asked “Did Kate think that Queen Elizabeth died in 1603?” [and analogously for other scenarios]. The “think” results were very close to the “believe” results in all scenarios except for the unconfident examinee where they were closer to the “know” results.)
We think epistemologists should no longer take it for granted that condition (2) of the JTB account of knowledge is intuitively obvious.
[Cross-posted at The Splintered Mind.]