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What is Knowledge?

5. Beyond the Analysis of Knowledge

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In the previous three modules, we’ve been thinking about the ‘analysis’ of knowledge, i.e. the identification of necessary and sufficient conditions to help us distinguish when we actually know something versus, e.g. simply making a lucky guess, and we have seen that each approach has been beset with problems. In this module, we consider whether we should do away with the attempt to ‘analyse’ knowledge altogether, focusing in particular on: (i) the fact that we have no problems using the words ‘I know that…’ in everyday speech, even if we cannot provide a watertight definition for what knowledge actually is, cf. Wittgenstein’s discussion of the word ‘game’; (ii) the approach of W. V. Quine, which holds that we should just drop the idea of knowledge altogether; (iii) the approach of Edward Craig, who thinks about knowledge in the same way as the ‘state of nature’ method in political theory; and (iv) the approach of Timothy Williamson, who argues for ‘conceptual primitiveness’ of knowledge.


In this course, Dr Arif Ahmed (University of Cambridge) explores the question ‘What is knowledge?’. In the first module, we introduce the idea of ‘analysing’ knowledge and arrive at the classical, tripartite definition of knowledge as justified true belief. In the second module, we introduce a series of examples known as ‘Gettier cases’ that seem to undermine the analysis of knowledge as justified true belief. In the third and fourth modules, we explore several analyses of knowledge that attempt to get round the Gettier problem, and show the advantages and disadvantages of each, before turning in the fifth question to the possibility that there is no satisfactory analysis of knowledge, and that we should change our approach entirely. This module includes three such new approaches – that of W. V. Quine, that of Edward Craig, and that of Timothy Williamson.


Dr Arif Ahmed is Reader in Philosophy at the University of Cambridge. He writes mainly on decision theory, but also has an interest in religion and has debated the subject against William Lane Craig, Tariq Ramadan, Rowan Williams and others. Some of his recent publications include (as editor) Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations: A Critical Guide (2010), Evidence, Decision and Causality (2014) and (as editor) Classical Philosophical Arguments: Newcomb's Problem (2018).

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APA style

Ahmed, A. (2021, January 02). What is Knowledge? - Beyond the Analysis of Knowledge [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Ahmed, A. "What is Knowledge? – Beyond the Analysis of Knowledge." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 02 Jan 2021,

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