A brief sketch of Gibbons and commitment

: In this post I roughly show Gibbons’ ideas (2013, 2014). I pay special attention to his notion of commitment and its epistemic consequences in the difference between truth and knowledge.

Resumen (aragonés): En iste post amuestro de traza zaborrera as ideyas de Gibbons (2013, 2014), fendo ficacio en a suya noción de compromiso y as suyas consequencias epistemicas en a esferencia entre verdat y conoiximiento.

Resumen (español): En este post muestro toscamente las ideas de Gibbons (2013, 2014). Presto especial atención en su noción de compromiso y sus consecuencias epistémicas en la diferencia entre verdad y conocimiento.

Following my keystone, ‘Belief aims at truth’ (Williams, 1970), I consider Gibbons’ ideas very interesting to its analysis and its applications.

Gibbons considers that epistemic commitment is intrinsic of truth and knowledge. So, when we say that an agent develops a belief P aiming at truth, we say that this agent is committed with true in P. Nevertheless, the grade of commitment in knowledge is bigger than in belief.

Apart from that, Gibbons considers that belief is not the only state or propositional attitude that aims at truth. Desire and guess also aim at truth. He finally establish that ‘belief aims at knowledge’ analyzing Gettier examples and Pollock conditionals.

Desire aims at truth

When we desire something, we would like it to be true. I desire to be Natalie Portman’s boyfriend, I would like it to be true. If we consider ‘aiming’ in that way, we are considering it in a connative manner. But in that case, that meaning of ‘aiming’ is different from the one I am studying about belief. In short, we are talking of different things: this aim is not epistemic, and I am aware that it is very unlikely that I can be Natalie Portman’s boyfriend.

Guess aims at truth

This is a more interesting case. As it happens when believing, when we try to guess something, we are looking for the epistemic truth. Let’s think of a guess: “I am between mountain and valley, but I am not a mountain nor a valley. What I am?” We may think of a lot of possible answers, but mountain and valley are not. As guess aims at truth, we cannot say ‘mountain’ or ‘valley’. But our epistemic commitment is weaker here than in beliefs: I guess that it can be a forest, a river or a deer (actually, the answer is ‘and’), I aim at truth when guessing, but my epistemic commitment is very weak.

If you guess that p, then you’re aiming at the truth or trying to get things right (..) But when you believe that p, you’re not just hoping or trying to get it right. You commit yourself to having done so. If you merely guess that p, it’s still an open question whether or not you’ve gotten it right. But then you believe that p, it can’t be an open question whether or not you’ve gotten it right (Gibbons, 2014, 112).

The epistemic commitment of beliefs is stronger than the one guesses have. Beliefs are better justified than guesses. Gibbons (2013, 2014) applies the notion of commitment to this question, but he does not apply it making differences between kinds of ‘aims’. He prefers to establish a difference between ‘truth’ (weak commitment and epistemic justification) and ‘knowledge’ (strong commitment and epistemic justification). So, his final proposal is: belief aims at knowledge.

Knowledge is justified, true belief plus X, where X is whatever it is that rules out Gettier cases. From the point of view of belief, knowledge is an added accretion or an optional extra (…) [But] knowledge is not an optional extra. For you, the question of whether you ought to believe that p is simply not independent of the question of whether you know that p (Gibbons, 2014, 112-3).

The kind of extra that assures a correct justification (observational, social…) is not clear in Gibbons (2014):

At very least you need evidence, and what we look for in evidence is a genuine connection to the facts. The connection can come in many forms. There’s seeing that p; being told by someone who knows; or figuring it out on the basis of other things we know. This isn’t always what we get. Appearances, like people, are sometimes defective. But it’s what we are looking for. And it’s what we commit ourselves to having when we make up our minds. Taking a stand on how things are, like taking a stand on what to do, commits you not only to being in the world. It commits you to being connected to the world. And the connection we’re looking for and that we’re committed to is not just safety, or sensitivity, or reliability, but knowledge, perception and intentional action (113).


Gibbons, J. (2013). The Norm of Belief. Oxford University Press.
Gibbons, J. (2014). Knowledge versus Truth. In Littlejohn, C. & Turri, J, Epistemic Norms: new essays on action, belief and assertion. Oxford University Press.