I’ve started preparing to teach PHIL 4300 (Epistemology) in the spring, and while doing so I’ve been kicking around the Gettier problem in my mind. What? Haven’t heard of it? Allow me to explain.
A standard account of knowledge in philosophy (since Plato) is this. I know something (call it “x”) when (1) x is in fact true, (2) I believe x, and (3) I have some good reasons for believing x. This seems to fit a great many cases of knowledge. It’s hard to come up with counterexamples. But then along came Edmund Gettier in the 1960s who provided cases like this one:
Suppose that Smith and Jones have applied for a certain job. And suppose that Smith has strong evidence for the following conjunctive proposition:
1. Jones is the man who will get the job, and Jones has ten coins in his pocket.
Smith’s evidence for (1) might be that the president of the company assured him that Jones would in the end be selected, and that he, Smith, had counted the coins in Jones’s pocket ten minutes ago. Proposition (1) entails:
2. The man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket.
Let us suppose that Smith sees the entailment from (1) to (2), and accepts (2) on the grounds of (1), for which he has strong evidence. In this case, Smith is clearly justified in believing that (2) is true.
But imagine, further, that unknown to Smith, he himself, not Jones, will get the job. And, also, unknown to Smith, he himself has ten coins in his pocket. Proposition (2) is then true, though proposition (1), from which Smith inferred (2), is false.
OK, sort of lame. But it is a counterexample.
My own temptation is to say that Smith was not justified in believing Jones was going to get the job, and so wasn’t justified in believing that the person who would get the job has ten coins in his pocket. Yes, he had some evidence for thinking Jones would get the job, and so maybe he was justified in believing that his belief was justified, but in fact it wasn’t justified. Does that make sense?