The standard definition of knowledge, canonized in epistemology textbooks, is that knowledge is “justified true belief.”
I think that this is badly wrong, and to put it right, we should return to where this idea comes from: Plato’s argument (“argument”) in Meno. I suggest, based in part on Plato, that we should reject the JTB definition of knowledge in favor of knowledge as articulated insight.
In Meno, Socrates and Meno begin by asking “how is virtue taught?”. The dialogue progresses as Socrates asks Meno for a definition of virtue, rather than specific examples of virtues.
The underlying idea here is that one cannot have been taught what virtue is unless one is able to show that one knows what virtue is, but one cannot be said to know what virtue is unless one can show that one knows how to define what virtue is. Hence if one cannot define virtue, then one cannot be said to know what it is, and hence one cannot have been taught what virtue is.
(An important context here is that Meno has studied under some of the best Sophists in Athens — those who claim to be wise.)
One of the important turning points in the dialogue comes when Socrates proposes that knowledge is (quoting from memory) “true understanding with an account.”
This may look like JTB, but I think it is not, and that Plato is much more insightful here.
First, belief is itself an ambiguous word. It’s a problem that English allows us to use “belief” to mean such wildly different things as perceptual reports, memories, and hypotheses of dubious evidence. (It’s also used to express intentions, muddying the waters further.) This gives us the sense of belief as “a commitment to a proposition”, or a willingness to act as if a certain proposition were true. “I believe that p” means that I am prepared to act in ways that are reasonable if p is true in the world.
But “true understanding”, in Plato’s sense, is even more embodied and pragmatic. The examples he gives of people who have “true understanding” are craftspeople (cobblers, tailors, etc.) and poets. They exhibit a genuine understanding of their craft, and Socrates is willing to say that the poets are divinely inspired.
In other words, those with true understanding have insight.
What these people lack is “an account”: they aren’t able to discursively represent to others what it is that they implicitly understand. They have insight but they cannot articulate it.
And without discursive explication of implicit knowledge, the implicit knowledge cannot be made fully public to all, which means that it cannot function in rationally persuasive language that is at least partly insulated from the distortions of propaganda. The implicit knowledge also cannot be taught if it cannot be made fully explicit.
In other words, articulating insight becomes crucial for (1) thinking about how to protect the people from the effects of propaganda and (2) thinking about what education is and how one should be educated.
And these were the two major issues that affected Athenian society during and after the Peloponnesian War, and especially Plato himself.
In short, we’re going to get a much better handle on epistemology if we start off thinking about knowledge as articulated insight. We can then ask, “what distinguishes insightful perception of a situation from non-insightful perception of a situation?” as well as “can insight be taught?” — we can ask, “how are people best taught to articulate their insight?” and “why is articulation important?” and “is there a single best method of articulation?” and so forth.
My own thinking about these issues wants to proceed from Plato — to whom I am constantly returning over and over — to Dewey (Democracy and Education, Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, The Quest for Certainty) and recently to Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. (Freire has been massively influential around the world, but his work has had almost no impact on Anglophone epistemology. We tend to shy away from anything that smacks too much of real-world relevance.)