ⓘ Gettier problem. The Gettier problem, in the field of epistemology, is a landmark philosophical problem concerning our understanding of descriptive knowledge. A ..


ⓘ Gettier problem

The Gettier problem, in the field of epistemology, is a landmark philosophical problem concerning our understanding of descriptive knowledge. Attributed to American philosopher Edmund Gettier, Gettier-type counterexamples challenge the long-held justified true belief account of knowledge. The JTB account holds that knowledge is equivalent to justified true belief; if all three conditions are met of a given claim, then we have knowledge of that claim. In his 1963 three-page paper titled "Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?", Gettier attempts to illustrate by means of two counterexamples that there are cases where individuals can have a justified, true belief regarding a claim but still fail to know it because the reasons for the belief, while justified, turn out to be false. Thus, Gettier claims to have shown that the JTB account is inadequate; that it does not account for all of the necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge.

The term "Gettier problem", "Gettier case", or even the adjective "Gettiered", is sometimes used to describe any case in the field of epistemology that purports to repudiate the JTB account of knowledge.

Responses to Gettiers paper have been numerous; some reject Gettiers examples, while others seek to adjust the JTB account of knowledge and blunt the force of these counterexamples. Gettier problems have even found their way into sociological experiments, where the intuitive responses from people of varying demographics to Gettier cases have been studied.


1. History

The question of what constitutes "knowledge" is as old as philosophy itself. Early instances are found in Platos dialogues, notably Meno 97a–98b and Theaetetus. Gettier himself was not actually the first to raise the problem named after him; its existence was acknowledged by both Alexius Meinong and Bertrand Russell, the latter of which discussed the problem in his book Human knowledge: Its scope and limits. In fact, the problem has been known since the Middle Ages, and both Indian philosopher Dharmottara and scholastic logician Peter of Mantua presented examples of it.

Russells case, called the stopped clock case, goes as follows: Alice sees a clock that reads two oclock and believes that the time is two oclock. It is, in fact, two oclock. Theres a problem, however: unknown to Alice, the clock shes looking at stopped twelve hours ago. Alice thus has an accidentally true, justified belief. Russell provides an answer of his own to the problem. Edmund Gettiers formulation of the problem was important as it coincided with the rise of the sort of philosophical naturalism promoted by W. V. O. Quine and others, and was used as a justification for a shift towards externalist theories of justification. John L. Pollock and Joseph Cruz have stated that the Gettier problem has "fundamentally altered the character of contemporary epistemology" and has become "a central problem of epistemology since it poses a clear barrier to analyzing knowledge".

Alvin Plantinga rejects the historical analysis:

According to the inherited lore of the epistemological tribe, the JTB account enjoyed the status of epistemological orthodoxy until 1963, when it was shattered by Edmund Gettier. Of course, there is an interesting historical irony here: it isnt easy to find many really explicit statements of a JTB analysis of knowledge prior to Gettier. It is almost as if a distinguished critic created a tradition in the very act of destroying it.

Despite this, Plantinga does accept that some philosophers before Gettier have advanced a JTB account of knowledge, specifically C. I. Lewis and A. J. Ayer.


2. Knowledge as justified true belief JTB

The JTB account of knowledge is the claim that knowledge can be conceptually analyzed as justified true belief, which is to say that the meaning of sentences such as "Smith knows that it rained today" can be given with the following set of conditions, which are necessary and sufficient for knowledge to obtain:

The JTB account was first credited to Plato, though Plato argued against this very account of knowledge in the Theaetetus 210a. This account of knowledge is what Gettier subjected to criticism.


3. Gettiers two original counterexamples

Gettiers paper used counterexamples see also thought experiment to argue that there are cases of beliefs that are both true and justified - therefore satisfying all three conditions for knowledge on the JTB account - but that do not appear to be genuine cases of knowledge. Therefore, Gettier argued, his counterexamples show that the JTB account of knowledge is false, and thus that a different conceptual analysis is needed to correctly track what we mean by "knowledge".

Gettiers case is based on two counterexamples to the JTB analysis. Each relies on two claims. Firstly, that justification is preserved by entailment, and secondly that this applies coherently to Smiths putative "belief". That is, that if Smith is justified in believing P, and Smith realizes that the truth of P entails the truth of Q, then Smith would also be justified in believing Q. Gettier calls these counterexamples "Case I" and "Case II":


4. False premises

In both of Gettiers actual examples see also counterfactual conditional, the justified true belief came about, if Smiths purported claims are disputable, as the result of entailment but see also material conditional from justified false beliefs that "Jones will get the job" in case I, and that "Jones owns a Ford" in case II. This led some early responses to Gettier to conclude that the definition of knowledge could be easily adjusted, so that knowledge was justified true belief that does not depend on false premises. The interesting issue that arises is then of how to know which premises are in reality false or true when deriving a conclusion, because as in the Gettier cases, one sees that premises can be very reasonable to believe and be likely true, but unknown to the believer there are confounding factors and extra information that may have been missed while concluding something. The question that arises is therefore to what extent would one have to be able to go about attempting to "prove" all premises in the argument before solidifying a conclusion.


5. More general Gettier-style problems

In a 1966 scenario known as "The sheep in the field", Roderick Chisholm asks us to imagine that someone is standing outside a field looking at something that looks like a sheep although in fact, it is a dog disguised as a sheep. They believe there is a sheep in the field, and in fact, they are right because there is a sheep behind the hill in the middle of the field. Hence, they have a justified true belief that there is a sheep in the field. But is that belief knowledge? A similar problem which seeks to be more plausible called the "Cow in the Field" appears in Martin Cohens book 101 Philosophy Problems, where it is supposed that a farmer checking up on his favourite cow confuses a piece of black and white paper caught up in a distant bush for his cow. However, since the animal actually is in the field, but hidden in a hollow, again, the farmer has a justified, true belief which seems nonetheless not to qualify as "knowledge".

Another scenario by Brian Skyrms is "The Pyromaniac", in which a struck match lights not for the reasons the pyromaniac imagines but because of some unknown "Q radiation".

A different perspective on the issue is given by Alvin Goldman in the "fake barns" scenario crediting Carl Ginet with the example. In this one, a man is driving in the countryside, and sees what looks exactly like a barn. Accordingly, he thinks that he is seeing a barn. In fact, that is what he is doing. But what he does not know is that the neighborhood generally consists of many fake barns - barn facades designed to look exactly like real barns when viewed from the road, as in the case of a visit in the countryside by Catherine II of Russia, just to please her. Since if he had been looking at one of them, he would have been unable to tell the difference, his "knowledge" that he was looking at a barn would seem to be poorly founded. A similar process appears in Robert A. Heinleins Stranger in a Strange Land as an example of Fair Witness behavior.

The "no false premises" or "no false lemmas" solution which was proposed early in the discussion proved to be somewhat problematic, as more general Gettier-style problems were then constructed or contrived in which the justified true belief does not seem to be the result of a chain of reasoning from a justified false belief.

For example:

Again, it seems as though Luke does not "know" that Mark is in the room, even though it is claimed he has a justified true belief that Mark is in the room, but it is not nearly so clear that the perceptual belief that "Mark is in the room" was inferred from any premises at all, let alone any false ones, nor led to significant conclusions on its own; Luke did not seem to be reasoning about anything; "Mark is in the room" seems to have been part of what he seemed to see.

To save the "no false lemmas" solution, one must logically say that Lukes inference from sensory data does not count as a justified belief unless he consciously or unconsciously considers the possibilities of deception and self-deception. A justified version of Lukes thought process, by that logic, might go like this:

  • "Mark is in the room" or, "I can safely treat that as Mark".
  • Therefore, I can safely ignore that possibility.
  • No factor, right now, could deceive me on this point.
  • That looks to me like Mark in the room.

The second line counts as a false premise. However, by the previous argument, this suggests we have fewer justified beliefs than we think we do.


6. Constructing arbitrary Gettier problems

The main idea behind Gettiers examples is that the justification for the belief is flawed or incorrect, but the belief turns out to be true by sheer luck. Thus, a general scenario can be constructed as such:

Bob believes A is true because of B. Argument B is flawed, but A turns out to be true by a different argument C. Since A is true, Bob believes A is true, and Bob has justification for B, all of the conditions JTB are satisfied. However, Bob had no knowledge of A.


7. Responses to Gettier

The Gettier problem is formally a problem in first-order logic, but the introduction by Gettier of terms such as believes and knows moves the discussion into the field of epistemology. Here, the sound true arguments ascribed to Smith then need also to be valid believed and convincing justified if they are to issue in the real-world discussion about justified true belief.

Responses to Gettier problems have fallen into one of three categories:

  • Justification replacement response: This response also accepts the problem raised by Gettier cases. However, instead of invoking a fourth condition, it seeks to replace Justification itself for some other third condition?TB or remove it entirely that will make counterexamples obsolete.
  • Fourth condition responses: This response accepts the problem raised by Gettier cases, and affirms that JTB is necessary but not sufficient for knowledge. A proper account of knowledge, according to this type of view, will contain some fourth condition JTB +?. With the fourth condition in place, Gettier counterexamples and other similar counterexamples will not work, and we will have an adequate set of criteria that are both necessary and sufficient for knowledge.
  • Affirmations of the JTB account: This response affirms the JTB account of knowledge, but rejects Gettier cases. Typically, the proponent of this response rejects Gettier cases because, they say, Gettier cases involve insufficient levels of justification. Knowledge actually requires higher levels of justification than Gettier cases involve.

One response, therefore, is that in none of the above cases was the belief justified because it is impossible to justify anything that is not true. Conversely, the fact that a proposition turns out to be untrue is proof that it was not sufficiently justified in the first place. Under this interpretation, the JTB definition of knowledge survives. This shifts the problem to a definition of justification, rather than knowledge. Another view is that justification and non-justification are not in binary opposition. Instead, justification is a matter of degree, with an idea being more or less justified. This account of justification is supported by mainstream philosophers such as Paul Boghossian


7.1. Responses to Gettier Fourth condition JTB+G approaches

The most common direction for this sort of response to take is what might be called a "JTB+G" analysis: that is, an analysis based on finding some fourth condition - a "no-Gettier-problem" condition - which, when added to the conditions of justification, truth, and belief, will yield a set of necessary and jointly sufficient conditions.


7.2. Responses to Gettier Goldmans causal theory

One such response is that of Alvin Goldman 1967, who suggested the addition of a causal condition: a subjects belief is justified, for Goldman, only if the truth of a belief has caused the subject to have that belief in the appropriate way; and for a justified true belief to count as knowledge, the subject must also be able to "correctly reconstruct" mentally that causal chain. Goldmans analysis would rule out Gettier cases in that Smiths beliefs are not caused by the truths of those beliefs; it is merely accidental that Smiths beliefs in the Gettier cases happen to be true, or that the prediction made by Smith: "The winner of the job will have 10 coins", on the basis of his putative belief, see also bundling came true in this one case. This theory is challenged by the difficulty of giving a principled explanation of how an appropriate causal relationship differs from an inappropriate one without the circular response of saying that the appropriate sort of causal relationship is the knowledge-producing one; or retreating to a position in which justified true belief is weakly defined as the consensus of learned opinion. The latter would be useful, but not as useful nor desirable as the unchanging definitions of scientific concepts such as momentum. Thus, adopting a causal response to the Gettier problem usually requires one to adopt as Goldman gladly does some form of reliabilism about justification. See Goldman s Theory of justification.


7.3. Responses to Gettier Lehrer–Paxsons defeasibility condition

Keith Lehrer and Thomas Paxson 1969 proposed another response, by adding a defeasibility condition to the JTB analysis. On their account, knowledge is undefeated justified true belief - which is to say that a justified true belief counts as knowledge if and only if it is also the case that there is no further truth that, had the subject known it, would have defeated her present justification for the belief.


7.4. Responses to Gettier Pragmatism

Pragmatism was developed as a philosophical doctrine by C.S.Peirce and William James 1842–1910. In Peirces view, the truth is nominally defined as a signs correspondence to its object and pragmatically defined as the ideal final opinion to which sufficient investigation would lead sooner or later. James epistemological model of truth was that which works in the way of belief, and a belief was true if in the long run it worked for all of us, and guided us expeditiously through our semihospitable world. Peirce argued that metaphysics could be cleaned up by a pragmatic approach.

Consider what effects that might conceivably have practical bearings you conceive the objects of your conception to have. Then, your conception of those effects is the whole of your conception of the object.

From a pragmatic viewpoint of the kind often ascribed to James, defining on a particular occasion whether a particular belief can rightly be said to be both true and justified is seen as no more than an exercise in pedantry, but being able to discern whether that belief led to fruitful outcomes is a fruitful enterprise. Peirce emphasized fallibilism, considered the assertion of absolute certainty a barrier to inquiry, and in 1901 defined truth as follows: "Truth is that concordance of an abstract statement with the ideal limit towards which endless investigation would tend to bring scientific belief, which concordance the abstract statement may possess by virtue of the confession of its inaccuracy and one-sidedness, and this confession is an essential ingredient of truth." In other words, any unqualified assertion is likely to be at least a little wrong or, if right, still right for not entirely the right reasons. Therefore one is more veracious by being Socratic, including a recognition of ones own ignorance and knowing one may be proved wrong. This is the case, even though in practical matters one sometimes must act, if one is to act at all, with decision and complete confidence.


7.5. Responses to Gettier Revisions of JTB approaches

The difficulties involved in producing a viable fourth condition have led to claims that attempting to repair the JTB account is a deficient strategy. For example, one might argue that what the Gettier problem shows is not the need for a fourth independent condition in addition to the original three, but rather that the attempt to build up an account of knowledging by conjoining a set of independent conditions was misguided from the outset. Those who have adopted this approach generally argue that epistemological terms like justification, evidence, certainty, etc. should be analyzed in terms of a primitive notion of knowledge, rather than vice versa. Knowledge is understood as factive, that is, as embodying a sort of epistemological "tie" between a truth and a belief. The JTB account is then criticized for trying to get and encapsulate the factivity of knowledge "on the cheap," as it were, or via a circular argument, by replacing an irreducible notion of factivity with the conjunction of some of the properties that accompany it in particular, truth and justification. Of course, the introduction of irreducible primitives into a philosophical theory is always problematical some would say a sign of desperation, and such anti-reductionist accounts are unlikely to please those who have other reasons to hold fast to the method behind JTB+G accounts.


7.6. Responses to Gettier Fred Dretskes conclusive reasons and Robert Nozicks truth-tracking

Fred Dretske developed an account of knowledge which he called "conclusive reasons", revived by Robert Nozick as what he called the subjunctive or truth-tracking account. Nozicks formulation posits that proposition p is an instance of knowledge when:

  • if p werent true, S wouldnt believe that p
  • S believes that p
  • p is true
  • if p were true, S would believe that p

Nozicks definition is intended to preserve Goldmans intuition that Gettier cases should be ruled out by disacknowledging "accidentally" true justified beliefs, but without risking the potentially onerous consequences of building a causal requirement into the analysis. This tactic though, invites the riposte that Nozicks account merely hides the problem and does not solve it, for it leaves open the question of why Smith would not have had his belief if it had been false. The most promising answer seems to be that it is because Smiths belief was caused by the truth of what he believes; but that puts us back in the causalist camp.

Criticisms and counter examples notably the Grandma case prompted a revision, which resulted in the alteration of 3 and 4 to limit themselves to the same method i.e. vision:

  • if p werent true, S using method M wouldnt believe that p
  • p is true
  • S believes that p
  • if p were true, S using M would believe that p

Saul Kripke has pointed out that this view remains problematic and uses a counterexample called the Fake Barn Country example, which describes a certain locality containing a number of fake barns or facades of barns. In the midst of these fake barns is one real barn, which is painted red. There is one more piece of crucial information for this example: the fake barns cannot be painted red.

Jones is driving along the highway, looks up and happens to see the real barn, and so forms the belief

  • I see a barn

Though Jones has gotten lucky, he could have just as easily been deceived and not have known it. Therefore it doesnt fulfill premise 4, for if Jones saw a fake barn he wouldnt have any idea it was a fake barn. So this is not knowledge.

An alternate example is if Jones looks up and forms the belief

  • I see a red barn.

According to Nozicks view this fulfills all four premises. Therefore this is knowledge, since Jones couldnt have been wrong, since the fake barns cannot be painted red. This is a troubling account however, since it seems the first statement I see a barn can be inferred from I see a red barn ; however by Nozicks view the first belief is not knowledge and the second is knowledge.


7.7. Responses to Gettier Robert Fogelins perspectival account

In the first chapter of his book Pyrronian Reflexions on Truth and Justification, Robert Fogelin gives a diagnosis that leads to a dialogical solution to Gettiers problem. The problem always arises when the given justification has nothing to do with what really makes the proposition true. Now, he notes that in such cases there is always a mismatch between the information disponible to the person who makes the knowledge-claim of some proposition p and the information disponible to the evaluator of this knowledge-claim even if the evaluator is the same person in a later time. A Gettierian counterexample arises when the justification given by the person who makes the knowledge-claim cannot be accepted by the knowledge evaluator because it does not fit with his wider informational setting. For instance, in the case of the fake barn the evaluator knows that a superficial inspection from someone who does not know the peculiar circumstances involved isnt a justification acceptable as making the proposition p that it is a real barn true.


7.8. Responses to Gettier Richard Kirkhams skepticism

Richard Kirkham has proposed that it is best to start with a definition of knowledge so strong that giving a counterexample to it is logically impossible. Whether it can be weakened without becoming subject to a counterexample should then be checked. He concludes that there will always be a counterexample to any definition of knowledge in which the believers evidence does not logically necessitate the belief. Since in most cases the believers evidence does not necessitate a belief, Kirkham embraces skepticism about knowledge. He notes that a belief can still be rational even if it is not an item of knowledge. see also: fallibilism


7.9. Responses to Gettier Attempts to dissolve the problem

One might respond to Gettier by finding a way to avoid his conclusions in the first place. However, it can hardly be argued that knowledge is justified true belief if there are cases that are justified true belief without being knowledge; thus, those who want to avoid Gettiers conclusions have to find some way to defuse Gettiers counterexamples. In order to do so, within the parameters of the particular counter-example or exemplar, they must then either accept that

  • Gettiers cases are not really cases of justified true belief, or
  • Gettiers cases really are cases of knowledge after all,

or, demonstrate a case in which it is possible to circumvent surrender to the exemplar by eliminating any necessity for it to be considered that JTB apply in just those areas that Gettier has rendered obscure, without thereby lessening the force of JTB to apply in those cases where it actually is crucial. Then, though Gettiers cases stipulate that Smith has a certain belief and that his belief is true, it seems that in order to propose 1, one must argue that Gettier, and who makes assertions about Smiths "putative" beliefs), goes wrong because he has the wrong notion of justification. Such an argument often depends on an externalist account on which "justification" is understood in such a way that whether or not a belief is "justified" depends not just on the internal state of the believer, but also on how that internal state is related to the outside world. Externalist accounts typically are constructed such that Smiths putative beliefs in Case I and Case II are not really justified even though it seems to Smith that they are, because his beliefs are not lined up with the world in the right way, or that it is possible to show that it is invalid to assert that "Smith" has any significant "particular" belief at all, in terms of JTB or otherwise. Such accounts, of course, face the same burden as causalist responses to Gettier: they have to explain what sort of relationship between the world and the believer counts as a justificatory relationship.

Those who accept 2 are by far in the minority in analytic philosophy; generally those who are willing to accept it are those who have independent reasons to say that more things count as knowledge than the intuitions that led to the JTB account would acknowledge. Chief among these are epistemic minimalists such as Crispin Sartwell, who hold that all true belief, including both Gettiers cases and lucky guesses, counts as knowledge.


7.10. Responses to Gettier Experimental research

Some early work in the field of experimental philosophy suggested that traditional intuitions about Gettier cases might vary cross-culturally. However, subsequent studies have consistently failed to replicate these results, instead finding that participants from different cultures do share the traditional intuition. Indeed, more recent studies have actually been providing evidence for the opposite hypothesis, that people from a variety of different cultures have surprisingly similar intuitions in these cases.

  • known as the Gettier problem Gettier was educated at Cornell University, where his mentors included Max Black and Norman Malcolm. Gettier himself, was
  • if infallibilism is true, that would seem to definitively solve the Gettier problem for good. Infallibilism states that knowledge requires certainty, such
  • justification, which will avoid the Gettier problem Whatever the analysis, though, the standard view both pre - Gettier and post - Gettier pushes for narrower analyses
  • are the much - cited Theories of Truth MIT Press, 1992 Does the Gettier Problem Rest on a Mistake? Mind 1984. Vol.93, No.372 and On Paradoxes
  • has drawn on the Navya - Nyāya fallibilism tradition to respond to the Gettier problem Nyaya theory distinguishes between know p and know that one knows
  • in Philosophical Explanations, advocated that, when considering the Gettier problem the least counter - intuitive assumption we give up should be epistemic
  • proposition, one must be justified in believing p and p must be true. Since Gettier proposed his counterexamples the traditional analysis has included the
  • Generativity Genetic epistemology George Berkeley George Pappas Gettier problem Giambattista Vico Gila Sher Gilbert Harman Gilbert Ryle Giulio
  • of truth Descriptive knowledge Enactivism psychology Explanation Gettier problem Justification Knowledge Objectivity Perception Induction Other minds

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