Gettier cases

School just started again so I’ve been away from this blog for a while. I think I’m settled in to my classes, and so hopefully I can write more philosophical posts.

Here’s a problem that I encountered a while back, but never really thought about seriously before. Now I’m in an epistemology class and it will of course be center stage.

Received wisdom for a long time was that knowledge was justified true belief (JTB). For instance, I know my friend is asleep if (1) I believe that he is (if you asked me I would say “yep, he’s asleep), (2) he is in fact asleep, (3) I have good reason to believe that he is asleep (perhaps its very late in the time zone where he is). (3) was primarily introduced to cut off situations where I guess something true, but had no reason to believe it. For instance, I could say “I know that the universe has an odd number of molecules,” but without some justification, it seems that I don’t know that. I’m just guessing, though my guess could turn out to be true.

Here’s one challenge to this picture.

Two job candidates, Smith and Jones, are trying to find out which one of them got hired. Smith gets very reliable information that Jones got the job. So, he looks over at Jones and sees that Jones has 2 pockets in his pants and so thinks “I know that the person who gets the job is wearing pants with two pockets.” Pretend that Smith, unbeknownst to him, is also wearing jeans with two pockets. Pretend also that Smith’s information was faulty and that he, rather than Jones, actually got the job.

So, it seems that Smith had good reason to believe that the person who got the job was wearing pants with two pockets, that also turns out to be true, and of course Smith believes it to be true. Nonetheless, it seems that Smith does not know that the person who gets the job was wearing pants with two pockets. He only thought that because he thought Jones got the job, it just turns out by coincidence that he was wearing pants with two pockets and that he got the job, so it turns out he had knowledge according to the JTB view.

First, it’s worth noting that the JTB view is still largely intact. It’s not that JTB is not necessary, but that it’s not sufficient in some cases for knowledge.

So there are two ways “out” of this example.

1. Claim that some adjustment needs to be made to JTB; something needs to be added.

2. Or claim that though at first it seems that Smith doesn’t know that the person who got the job had pants with two pockets, after thinking about it, we can say that he knew even though it’s kind of a weird case.

I don’t think either of these strategies is impossible, but at first glance, I think I’m attracted to 1, how I should go about doing that is going to be the topic of future posts…


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