From True Belief to Confident Knowledge

by Brett Kunkle

I don’t want students to merely believe true things.  That’s a start, but it’s not enough.  I want students to know true things.  So what’s the difference? 

What would you think if I said I know it’s raining outside, but I didn’t believe it was raining outside?  You’d be puzzled.  It doesn’t make sense to say I know something that at the same time I don’t actually believe.  All the facts we think we know are also facts we believe, so knowledge includes belief. 

What if I said I know it’s raining outside, but it’s not true that it’s raining outside?  Again, you’d be confused and wonder, “How can you know something that’s not true?”  You can’t.  A belief is true if it matches reality and it’s false if it doesn’t.  So to say someone’s belief is false means they don’t know.  Therefore, knowledge not only includes belief, but truth as well. 

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Now, what if I said I know it’s raining outside and it turns out that I actually believe it and it’s true?  Would you say I have knowledge it’s raining outside?  At first glance, you’d probably answer yes.  But what if my true belief is the result of a lucky guess?  I don’t have any good reason to think it’s raining outside, it’s just pure speculation that happens to be accurate.  In that case, it doesn’t seem my true belief rises to the level of knowledge.  We wouldn’t equate dumb luck with knowledge.  So what’s missing?  What would transform my true belief into knowledge?  Justification. 

Justification is simply the reasons we believe things–it’s the “why” behind the “what.”  We may think our beliefs are true, but how can we be sure?  We justify those things with reasons and evidence.  Justification gives us confidence our true beliefs are not merely guesses, but actual instances of knowledge.  The more justification we have for the truthfulness of a particular belief, the greater our confidence will be…


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