Gettier Problems
Hetherington (Stephen)
Source: The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Paper - Abstract

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  1. Introduction
  2. The Justified-True-Belief Analysis of Knowledge
  3. Gettier’s Original Challenge
  4. Some other Gettier Cases
  5. The Basic Structure of Gettier Cases
  6. The Generality of Gettier Cases
  7. Attempted Solutions: Infallibility
  8. Attempted Solutions: Eliminating Luck
  9. Attempted Solutions: Eliminating False Evidence
  10. Attempted Solutions: Eliminating Defeat
  11. Attempted Solutions: Eliminating Inappropriate Causality
  12. Attempted Dissolutions: Competing Intuitions
  13. Attempted Dissolutions: Knowing Luckily
  14. Gettier Cases and Analytic Epistemology
  15. References and Further Reading


This isn’t my area of study, so I’ll be brief:-
  1. The examples given in Gettier’s original paper were complex cases – either conjunctions or disjunctions. Those given in "Pritchard (Duncan) - What do you know? What is Knowledge? And Do We Have Any?" are simple propositions – one being that of Chisholm’s mentioned in this article (“The sheep in the field”), the other (“The Stopped Clock”) isn’t mentioned here – which is a shame, as it’s particularly clear (unlike “The pyromaniac”),.and suitable for the “No false lemmas” attempted correction of JTB (Knowledge = Justified True Belief) – see section 9 - Eliminating False Evidence.
  2. I wasn’t impressed by the motivating suggestion in Section 2 that if we don’t fully understand what knowledge is, will we fully understand ourselves? I doubt we do fully understand ourselves, but can’t see the connection (other than the dictum “Know Thyself”). Even if external-world scepticism is true, we might still know ourselves, if Descartes is right (our real, immaterial selves, that is, not whether we have hands).
  3. Section 2 didn’t mention the possibility of Tacit Beliefs – those we must hold, because we appear to act on them – but which we aren’t conscious of, and may not be able to articulate. Knowledge of Universal Grammar – if we have it as the Chomskyans claim – is a case in point.
  4. Interesting to note "Ayer (A.J.) - The Problem of Knowledge" as the classic pre-Gettier statement of K=JTB.
  5. The analysis of Gettier cases as involving Fallibility and Luck is not quite the same as in "Pritchard (Duncan) - What do you know? What is Knowledge? And Do We Have Any?", where the focus is on Luck only. The formula suggested by Prichard is to come up with some justified belief that is false, and then make it true by adding some further fact unknown to the epistemic agent.
  6. Noted: that the attempted repairs to JTB have a tendency to make knowledge too hard to obtain, and hence lead to scepticism.
  7. Alternatively, they are of vague application. Hetherington seems supportive of Epistemic accounts of Vagueness – usually responded to with the “incredulous stare” – and references "Williamson (Timothy) - Knowledge and its Limits", at least in the bibliography – though surprisingly not "Williamson (Timothy) - Vagueness" – the text refers to "Keefe (Rosanna) & Smith (Peter) - Vagueness: A Reader" only, which has a paper – "Williamson (Timothy) & Simons (Peter) - Vagueness and Ignorance" – by Williamson.
  8. The two attempts to dissolve (rather than resolve) the problem are interesting:-
    • Doubt the force of the intuitions that Epistemologists have about the cogency of the Gettier cases. Interestingly, I’ve listened to a podcast – "Williamson (Timothy) - Philosophical Expertise and the Burden of Proof" – lambasting the approach of “experimental philosophers” such as Stephen Stich in getting the untrained to give their intuitions on thought experiments1. This was referenced in "Papineau (David) - The Importance of Philosophical Intuition", which mentions Gettier cases and much else.
    • Hetherington’s own theories – that – I suppose – there are degrees of knowledge, one of which is “lucky knowledge”. I wonder whether this is just a matter of semantics – what difference would this allowance make to our use of the term “knowledge”? Probably not much in everyday life, but I suppose we’re agreeing with the experimental philosophers if we do. Analytic philosophy as prescriptive as well as descriptive.
  9. There’s an interesting-sounding paper referenced – Mark Kaplan’s 1985 “It’s Not What You Know That Counts.” Journal of Philosophy 82: 350-63 – which I unfortunately don’t have, but which sounds as though it represents my view that scepticism – that we don’t have much knowledge as such – isn’t a problem (my view is that justified belief is fine, whether or not this amounts to knowledge properly so-called).
  10. There’s also a reference to David Lewis as a “contextualist philosopher” (a term I’ve not heard of – but it looks like “only in the context of epistemology“ – there’s a SEP article – “Epistemic Contextualism” – Link – which references Lewis’s work) – and to his "Lewis (David) - Elusive Knowledge", which I’ve allegedly read. The issue is to watch out for oddities – as in the Gettier cases – and be extra careful before attributing knowledge.


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