In these blogs I write on subjects that I find interesting and I use this writing for developing my mind. Because I publish my blogs on the Internet, I hope that my readers will profit by it as well. This week’s blog has a different purpose, though, for I have a problem. I read a lot on philosophy and then it’s normal that I often come across the same theories, arguments and cases. Therefore I have developed not only my ideas through the years but also I have acquired also a good knowledge of what is going on in philosophy, at least in the fields I am reading and writing on. Nevertheless, there are some subjects that, how often I have read on them, I always forget what they are about. For instance, I always forgot what Frankfurt cases are. However, since I have written a few blogs on them, they have been printed in my memory. Another example is the so-called Gettier problem. I have read on it several times. Often I have looked up what it is. But what happened today: I stumbled on it in a book on knowledge and despite all my efforts in the past, it had again slipped my memory what it involves. So I got the idea to write a blog on the Gettier problem, for what has helped me to remember what Frankfurt cases are will without a doubt help me keep the Gettier problem in my mind, as well. But I want to make excuses to my readers, if they find this blog boring, for what I actually do is merely repeating some stuff that I have found on the Internet.
A standard definition of knowledge says that knowledge is justified true belief: We belief that something is the case; we have good reasons for this belief; and what is believed is also true. So far, so good, but take this example, which I have adapted from the Wikipedia:
I am a bit worried whether my best cow Betsy hasn’t been stolen from the field where she is supposed to be at pasture. I walk from my farm to the field, where I see a cow in the middle of the herd that exactly looks like Betsy, although I don't find it necessary to walk so near to her that I am 100% sure that she really is Betsy. Back home, I tell my wife that I know that Betsy is safe. My wife wants to check it, too, and goes also to the field. There she sees Betsy somewhere in the back and Jane in the middle of the herd. Because Betsy is often confused with Jane, if you look at her from a distance, she makes herself 100% sure that it is really Betsy there in the back of the field. Betsy hasn’t been stolen, just as I thought.
Now the question is: Did I know that Betsy hadn’t been stolen? For (1) I believed that Betsy was safe; (2) my belief was justified for I had checked it; (3) it was true that Betsy hadn’t been stolen.
In a famous paper published in 1963 Edmund Gettier discussed cases like this one where we seemed to have justified true belief, but where most of us would not say that we “know”; cases that cast doubt upon the definition of knowledge as justified true belief.
What this example and other more refined “Gettier cases” show is that it is possible to have justified true belief without having knowledge. The theory of knowledge that holds that knowledge is justified true belief is therefore false. We need more for being able to say to have knowledge. But what?
But isn’t this exactly what we do in scientific research: looking for something that we belief to be true on good (i.e. methodologically justified) grounds? And yet often it happens that our theories, once believed to be true and justified by experiments and argumentations, are later rejected or revised on the base of new data, experiments and argumentations. But weren’t then the old revised ideas no knowledge it all? And how about the new ideas that replace the old ones and that are the best we have at the moment: Are they knowledge? Seen this way, we can doubt whether we have any knowledge at all; whether knowledge in science can exist anyhow. We simply have justified true belief. And isn’t that also so for most we think to know outside science? It seems better never to say “I know” but “I think I know” at most. A lot more can be said about this, but I only wanted to write on the Gettier problem in order to know it forever.
Some websites on the Gettier problem