What is Knowledge

knowledge according to the tripartite theory of knowledge, is merely Justified True Belief (JTB) Epistemology is the study of knowledge.

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Whenever we hear some interesting information we quickly forward it to our acquittance without verification, we assume we know it is true. However, this sort of behaviour is reckless as it fuels misinformation. We human beings should be epistemically responsible for the believes we pass to other human beings because they may have an intense impact on our society.

Knowledge according to the tripartite theory of knowledge, knowledge  is merely Justified True Belief (JTB). Meaning when something is true, justifiable and you believe it, then it is knowledge. The “study of knowledge” or “theory of Knowledge” is called Epistemology.


What is JTB as per the definition of knowledge?

Belief: It is a high cognitive state that is not yet certain but justifiable.

Truth: What is true is in accordance with reality, the world or the universe.

Justification: it is the rational explanation. With regards to knowledge, it concerns itself with trying to rationally explain why our beliefs resemble the universe. And there are two ways of offering justification which are internalism and externalism.

Internalism is the view that we can offer justification through the link of beliefs to other beliefs. Internalism is in two ways, that is; it is called foundationalism when we link a belief to self-justifying or terminal belief to justify it and it is called Coherentism when we link a belief to other beliefs that are not necessarily terminal or self-justifying in nature to justify it.

Externalism is also known as Reliabilism the view that we can offer justification through a reliable belief formulation process.

Types of Knowledge in philosophy 

    1.   Personal knowledge is knowledge by an acquaintance, for example, you know Eniya because you met Eniya.

    2.   Procedural knowledge is knowledge on how to do something e.g. Being able to cook soya chunks.

    3.   Propositional knowledge is knowledge of facts e.g. We know the earth is a sphere.


Is it possible to acquire knowledge?


Yes, we can acquire knowledge according to dogmatism.

Dogmatism is the belief that we as human beings can know, regardless of our limitations.

How can we know?

knowledge is possible through Rationalism or Empiricism


a)   Rationalism

Rationalists argue that we can acquire knowledge through reasoning or reflection on innate ideas. Their justification of knowledge is based on internalism. They believe in knowledge from before (Apriori) not requiring experience, for example, the idea of a triangle. the rationalists we will focus on here are Plato and Rene Descartes

                     i.         Plato

Plato argues for the existence of innate ideas and that we can only know through the recollection of these innate ideas.

Plato’s divided line and The allegory of the cave

In the divided line, Plato demonstrates how we move from sense knowledge of this world to knowledge about the world of forms through reason. Watch the divided line explanation here

In the allegory of the cave, Plato enlightens us on the difference between people who rationally see the truth by seeking it and those who mistakenly take sensory knowledge to be true, for Plato these people (empiricists) are in a cave of misunderstanding or ignorance. Watch the allegory of the cave explanation here

                     ii.         Rene Descartes

Descartes argues for absoluteness and certainness. We cannot know anything without certainty and to come up with knowledge we need to destroy everything we know and establish a new foundation of knowledge that is certain and absolute.

Descartes argues that we cannot trust our senses as the empiricists suggest our senses can deceive us just like the way they deceive us with dreams. Thus, for Descartes, everything has to be doubted until they are a logical justification. This view of doubting everything until it is justified is called the radical doubt approach or the methodical doubt.

The radical doubt approach is necessary for that it makes an individual avoid confirmation bias (evading others claims and evidence but priorities their conclusion)

Should we doubt everything

According to Descartes, Yes, but it is important to note that there are some things one cannot doubt e.g. Truths of math, reason or logic.

How did Descartes prove that he exists?

In his famous quote, Descartes argued that that “I think, therefore I am.”

Descartes was asked  again if he does not exist, but he is dreaming that he exists and he answered that “For me to dream, I need to exist

How did Descartes prove that other things exist?

   Ø The mind

The mind exists and has innate ideas that include self-identity, substance, and God

  Ø The truths of logic

The truths of logic exist and are clear no evil demon can confuse one on the answer to 2+2=.

What were the aims of the rationalist?

  Ø To establish knowledge that is absolute and certain

  Ø To prove that the only way we know is through absolute and certain truth.

  Ø They justify the existence of principles comprehended by the mind known as innate ideas.


b)  Empiricism

Empiricists argue that we can acquire knowledge through sensory experience. Their justification of knowledge is based on externalism. They believe in knowledge from after (Aposteriori) requiring experience e.g. The idea of a Mango we can imagine, remember the taste, the colour of the Mango because we have had a sensory experience with it before. the empiricists we will focus on here are John Locke and David Hume

                     i.         John Locke 

Locke argues that at birth we are born with a tabula rasa (a blank slate) where our experience is written on. According to Locke, all our ideas come from our experience. We only know what our senses tell us not what the external objects are really like. Locke despised the theory of innate ideas put up by some rationalists by using Occam's razor theory that states that one should prefer a simple theory over a complex one. Thus, Locke claims the rationalist theory of innate ideas could not be simplified.

Locke’s views on ideas

Locke further suggested that there are two types of ideas 

  ü Simple ideas: which we get from sensation e.g. sweet or sour

  ü Complex ideas:  which are made up of the combination and reflection of simple ideas.

Locke’s views on objects

An object has two qualities

  ü Primary qualities: which are the objective attributes of an object which include size, weight, shape

  ü Secondary qualities: which are the psychological attributes of an object that exist in the mind e.g. colour, taste, sound?


                    ii.         David Hume

Hume argued that through an experience we have impressions thus knowledge is only possible through these impressions (sensations).

The difference between idea and impressions

Hume suggests impression or sensations are different from ideas in that ideas are simply memories of impressions while the impression they are more vivid and forceful Hume sensations are the principal source of knowledge. All genuine knowledge must have impressions, for example, you get the impression of sweet when tasting sugar, but the experience of u tasting sugar and knowing its sweetness that is encoded in your mind is an idea


Types of knowledge by Hume

Hume highlights two types of knowledge that is synthetic and analytic knowledge. Synthetic knowledge is knowledge about the matter of facts, for example, fire is hot. And analytic knowledge is the knowledge that is true by definition e.g. 4+4=8

What were the aims of the empiricist? 

  ü to establish the principle of verifiability

  ü To establish the principle of regularity

  ü To establish the principle of resemblance?


No. We cannot acquire knowledge according to skepticism.

Skepticism is the belief that we cannot have any knowledge as human beings, Knowledge is impossible. Skeptics argue on the following levels

The first level is by Rene Descartes, it suggests that we develop an attitude of suspended judgement until we pass the test critical analysis

The second level is Immanuel Kant, who suggests that we human beings can only have limited knowledge of the world. It is also known as academic skepticism.

The third level is by Gorgias, which holds that human beings can never attain certain knowledge of the world. It is also known as global skepticism.

Importance of skepticism

In as much as one would want to think the skeptics were just trying to make the attainment of knowledge impossible. they highlighted the following important things to note

  Ø Human faculties are weaker and limited

  Ø Knowledge is a human being’s accomplishment

  Ø Both the senses(empirical) and the human reasoning(rational) are unreliable sources of knowledge


Relativist argued that we can acquire knowledge and this knowledge is true because the truth is relative.

Relativism is a view that truth is relative either subjective (personal) or conventional for example culture, history or family.




Adapted from:

A Little Bit of Philosophy. (2021, March 12). Overview of Epistemology (part 1) [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhwIm39BSos&t=1s

A Little Bit of Philosophy. (2021, March 13). Overview of Epistemology (part 2) [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7y4m5263SmM

Popkin, R.H & Stroll, A. (1972). Introduction to philosophy. 2d ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Law Student, The University of Zambia


  1. Thank you, good timing as we prepare for tomorrow's exams
    1. 😇🙏