In traditional western epistemology, the definition of ‘knowledge’ is usually associated with justified true belief from Plato to Kant. It is known as a tripartite definition of knowledge. There are three main factors of the tripartite definition of knowledge, which should be satisfied for the statement to be knowledge.
- P is true;
- S believes that P; and
- S is justified in believing that P.
However, Edmund Gettier challenges the tripartite definition of knowledge in his article “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?”. At the same time, Timothy Williamson’s ‘knowledge first’ approach is not influenced by Gettier’s counterexamples.
Briefly, Gettier provides example cases where the proposition is shown not to be knowledge, even if all three factors of the tripartite definition are met and satisfied. In both his two examples, Gettier puts attention on the justified but false belief of the person. In the examples, the person has an opinion and justification for believing that the proposition is true. However, it turns out that the belief was false, which does not contradict the conditions of the tripartite definition. Still, the proposal becomes not valid and cannot be considered knowledge.
Timothy Williamson has developed a new ‘knowledge first’ theory in epistemology. The main idea of his theory is that the ‘knowledge’ is a unique, or so-called ‘sui generic mental state. A combination of internal conditions, including believing or justification for believing, and external conditions like environmental conditions cannot adequately explain a mental state.
Williamson argues that knowledge cannot be defined by means of justified belief, along with some other conditions breaking Gettier’s counterexamples. Instead, he insists that justified belief can be understood in terms of knowledge. Therefore, Timothy Williamson’s ‘knowledge-first’ theory cannot be related. Thus, it is not vulnerable to Gettier’s counterexamples.