What Does Belief Mean in Epistemology?


Vincent White

Belief, in the context of epistemology, is a crucial concept that plays a fundamental role in shaping our understanding of knowledge. In this article, we will explore the meaning of belief in epistemology and its implications.

What is Epistemology?

Before delving into belief, let’s first understand what epistemology means. Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with the study of knowledge.

It examines the nature, origins, and limits of knowledge and justification. In other words, epistemology aims to answer questions like how we acquire knowledge, what counts as knowledge, and how we can be certain about what we know.

What is Belief?

Belief is an attitude or mental state that represents our acceptance or conviction about something being true or real. For instance, if someone says “the earth revolves around the sun,” our belief in this statement indicates our acceptance that it is true.

In epistemology, belief plays a crucial role in determining what counts as knowledge. Theories of knowledge hold that beliefs must satisfy certain conditions to qualify as knowledge.

Theories of Knowledge

One such theory is called justified true belief (JTB). According to JTB theory, for a belief to count as knowledge it must satisfy three conditions:

  • Truth: The belief must be true.
  • Justification: The belief must be supported by good reasons or evidence.
  • Belief: The person holding the belief must actually believe it to be true.

While JTB theory has been widely accepted for decades, it has faced several criticisms from philosophers who argue that there are cases where one can have justified true beliefs but still fail to have knowledge.

The Gettier Problem

An example of such a criticism is the Gettier problem. The Gettier problem is a thought experiment proposed by philosopher Edmund Gettier, which challenges the JTB theory.

In one version of the experiment, a person looks at a clock that reads 2:00 PM and believes that it is 2:00 PM. However, unknown to the person, the clock stopped at precisely 2:00 PM and has not moved since.

By coincidence, when the person looks at the clock, it happens to be exactly 2:00 PM. Thus, their belief that it is 2:00 PM is true and justified but not knowledge.

This thought experiment demonstrates that there can be cases where one’s belief can be true and justified but still fail to qualify as knowledge.


Belief is a crucial concept in epistemology as it plays a fundamental role in shaping our understanding of knowledge. While theories of knowledge have traditionally held that beliefs must satisfy certain conditions to qualify as knowledge, challenges like the Gettier problem have highlighted limitations in these theories. Nonetheless, belief remains a central concept for understanding how we acquire and justify our claims about what we know and what counts as knowledge.