Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Edmund L. Gettier III (born 1927 in Baltimore, Maryland) is a American philosopher and Professor Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who owes a substantial reputation to a single three-page paper published in 1963 called "Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?"
Gettier was educated at Cornell University, where his mentors included the ordinary language philosopher Max Black and the controversial Wittgensteinian Norman Malcolm. Gettier, himself, was originally attracted to the views of the later Wittgenstein. His first teaching job was at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, where his colleagues included Keith Lehrer, R. C. Sleigh, and Alvin Plantinga. Because he was short on publications, his colleagues urged him to write up any ideas he had just to satisfy the administration. The result was a three-page paper that remains one of the most famous articles in the history of modern philosophy. Gettier has since published nothing, but he has invented and taught to his graduate students new methods for finding and illustrating countermodels in modal logic, as well as simplified semantics for various modal logics.
In his main article, Gettier challenges the "justified true belief" definition of knowledge that dates back to Plato's Theaetetus. This account was accepted by most philosophers at the time, most prominently the epistemologist Clarence Irving Lewis and his student, Roderick Chisholm. Gettier's article definitively refuted this account, though some would say that the validity of this definition had already been put into question in a general way by the work of Wittgenstein. (And later, interestingly, a similar argument was found in the papers of Bertrand Russell).
Gettier provides several examples of beliefs that are both true and justified, but that we should not intuitively call knowledge. Cases of this sort are now called "Gettier (counter-)examples." Because Gettier's criticism of the Justified True Belief model is systemic, it has produced a great deal of derivative counter-examples that follow the same pattern. For example, Jones enters a room and sees what appears to be Smith sitting in a chair. However, it was not Smith in the chair but a lifelike replica, and the real Smith was hiding behind a curtain. Jones declares "Smith is in this room," a statement which he believes, is justified, and is true. However, most people would agree that Jones' statement is not knowledge.
Gettier inspired a great deal of work by philosophers attempting to recover a working definition of knowledge. Major responses include:
- Gettier's use of "justification" is too broad, and only some kinds of justification count;
- Gettier's examples do not count as justification at all, and only some kinds of evidence are justificatory;
- Knowledge must have a fourth condition, such as "no false premises" or "indefeasibility";
- Robert Nozick suggests knowledge must consist of justified true belief that is "truth-tracking"—belief held in such a way that if it turned out to be false it would not have been held, and vice versa;
- Colin McGinn suggests knowledge is atomic (it is indivisible into smaller components). We have knowledge when we have knowledge, and an accurate definition of knowledge may even contain the world knowledge.
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