Christian Theology, Biblical Theology

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Gettier Problem Answered

The Gettier Problem as it has been called which is a challenge to the tripartite view of knowledge (knowledge as a justified true belief) really turns on a fallacy of "Hasty Generalization" or "Over Simplification" and I am astonished that it has been bantered around for so long in the philosophical community. I hope to show in this short article that Edmond Gettier's attack on the tripartite view of knowledge is not as strong as once believed.

In philosophy we have the "doctrine of charity" which allows us to repair propositions or premises when we know there is a missing, tacit, or implied premise which is referred to as an enthymeme. For example the argument "the pope knows there are nine planets:. therefore the pope believes there are nine planets". This argument is not valid but can be repaired with the following corrections and additional premise. The enthymeme here is "if the pope knows there are nine planets, then the pope believes there are nine planets. So if we add this premise to the argument we have a valid argument a la modus ponens.

With Gettier this principle can be applied as well. The typical example for Gettier is that someone looks 100 feet out their kitchen window and sees a sheep in the pasture and therefore is assumed to have knowledge that "there is a sheep in my pasture" but the reality of it is what they see is a stuffed animal, yet there really is a sheep in the pasture; it just happens to be out of site behind the barn. So the ostensible problem is the person had a true belief but the issue of justification is in question. So Gettier thinks he has thrown a wrench in the gears of the tripartite view of knowledge because we supposedly have a true belief that was justified and unjustifed. I would argue that these Gettier examples take advantage of a contextual error and misrepresents what the knower really believed. We all know that if someone believes the proposition "there is a sheep in my pasture" what they really mean is "I see a sheep 100 feet in front of me in my pasture". So there really is no Gettier problem because this was never a true belief. If the object of belief was the stuffed animal 100 feet out, then the knower never had a true belief, and had no justification for the fact that there really was a sheep in the pasture. Secondly we all know that this repaired version of the premises is what all of these Gettier examples overlook. Another example "a man digs in his front pocket and believes "I have $1.00 in change on me". When he takes the change out he only had $.90 cents but he unknowingly had a dime in his other pocket so again we have a true belief, yet his justification was in question.

Here again this is a misrepresentation of the actual proposition that the man believed; the proposition he really believed was "I have $1.00 in my front pocket" in which case he obviously never had a true belief and therefore -- no Gettier issue, hence the tripartite view of knowledge holds up to Gettier. No issue with this being an ad hoc solution either because these conditions of justification are intuitive and universally applicable. I believe that philosophers have allowed Gettier to be a stumbling block for a few reasons, first off they need something to argue about to justify their employment and secondly when these Gettier arguments are posed they will hold the criteria for justification to a standard that is not consistent with what we know about knowledge and fallibility. For no knowledge is infallible including knowledge grounded in reason (we simply have to deny the convention or argue and infinite regress or employ the problem of the criterion). Philosophers arguing for Gettier's position will argue that the justification for the knowledge in should be treated deductively, yet we know that justification is in degrees and really deemed acceptable to whomever one is trying to convince! I have yet to see a challenge to the tripartite view of knowledge that destroys this theory because we have to submit to a fallibility theory of sorts because as humans we are not privy to any brute facts, we cannot see the extended world objectively and all of our knowledge is either subject to an infinite regress, circular reasoning, or the problem of the criterion. Hence most attacks on this view do presume standards of justification that are just not possible.Gettier Problem Answer

Would anyone take issue with this analysis of Gettier's attack? What say you?

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