The Gettier problem in epistemology

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posted on Aug, 21 2008 @ 09:13 AM
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I had a chat with an old grad student chum last evening, where he brought up the Gettier problem in epistemology. I hadn't thought about it in over ten years, and thought I would throw it out to the community for comments and insight.

The classic definition of knowledge in philosophy is when a person has justified true belief about a state of affairs. Thus there are three parts to a knowledge claim: belief, truth, and justification.

In order for me to claim that I have knowledge about a certain state of affairs, I must believe in that claim. This is usually the least contentious part of the classic definition.

Further, my belief in a state of affairs must be true in order for me to claim knowledge about it. There are many theories of truth in philosophy, so there is much discussion here.

However, it does not appear that my true belief is enough to warrant a knowledge claim without being able to justify that claim. For example, I might say that, "at this very moment, there is a lady in a red dress by the Eifel Tower." Now, my belief in this state of affairs might indeed be true, but at this point I'm just guessing. For my true belief to rise to the level of knowledge of this state of affairs, I must have some justification for this. I can't just be lucky, or have it just happen to be true.

So the justified true belief theory of knowledge holds sway for a long time, until Edmund Gettier comes along in 1963 and publishes a three page article that raises questions to the standard theory. In short, he provides a series of counter examples to show that there are states of affairs where I can have justified true belief about a state of affairs, but still not have knowledge about them.

Here is one example: Say I am in a field, and I see a rabbit. So I have a belief that there is a rabbit in a field. I am justified in my belief because my senses are working normal, I am not dreaming, etc. However, when I go to look at the rabbit up close, I see that it is not a real rabbit, but a statue of a rabbit. But finally, when I get a little closer, I realize that there is a real rabbit behind the statue.

So the problem is this: I believe there is a rabbit; my belief is justified; and my belief is also true, since there is indeed a rabbit in the field. However, there's something fishy about my claim that I had knowledge about there being a rabbit in the field.

Anyway, that's the short of it. Now there's a whole branch of epistemology dedicated to unraveling the Gettier problem, and coming up with a possible fourth component of knowledge that might be needed in order to make a claim of knowledge. If anyone's interested in reading more, the wiki article on the Gettier problem is helpful.




posted on Aug, 21 2008 @ 12:40 PM
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So you are asking what other problems there could be to having supposed knowledge, and considering something as fact? What it takes to make a piece of knowledge fact?

It's usefulness?
Why is it useful to know there is a rabbit in a field? If you are a hunter, if you are a nature lover, a rabbit catcher, a hungry person.

Some people wouldn't even notice there was a rabbit in the field, even if it was there.
Let alone a fake rabbit.
No one answered so I thought I would give it a shot.



posted on Aug, 21 2008 @ 12:58 PM
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off-topic post removed to prevent thread-drift


 



posted on Aug, 21 2008 @ 01:43 PM
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Originally posted by seagrass
So you are asking what other problems there could be to having supposed knowledge, and considering something as fact? What it takes to make a piece of knowledge fact?


Hi seagrass. The Gettier problem has to do with how we justify our knowledge claims. The term "fact" is a little vague in philosophical circles since it tends to have multiple connotations. If by "fact" we mean a true state of affairs, than the Gettier problem is asking about how we justify these true state of affairs.


It's usefulness?
Why is it useful to know there is a rabbit in a field? If you are a hunter, if you are a nature lover, a rabbit catcher, a hungry person.


The utility of the problem isn't usually an issue, although to a pragmatist it might be. The rabbit example is just an example.



No one answered so I thought I would give it a shot.


I appreciate the input! I studied this problem and read countless papers on it. It's not clear cut sailing that's for sure.



posted on Aug, 21 2008 @ 01:45 PM
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reply to post by Silenceisall
 


Well, I'm not sure what to think about that, although I'm pretty sure I'm not schizophrenic.
(My wife might have other ideas about that, however.)



posted on Aug, 21 2008 @ 02:07 PM
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Justification of knowledge....fact requires some kind of evidence.

Evidence
A photo "of the lady by the Eiffel Tower."
A scientific correlation "Rabbits tend to be in fields"
cause and effect classification "I see a rabbit, so it must be a rabbit"

justification of a belief.... impossible, subjective, can't be analyzed by objective means.
can't be proven, requires faith.
truth is subjective. Can be many or multiple versions of the truth.
To the Szichophrenic, something can be truth, but to the average person, untrue.
Truth can become false. What was once, is no more.

I don't know what you are asking for?



posted on Aug, 21 2008 @ 02:16 PM
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No offense, but this seems to be much ado about nothing. To me, it is either fact or it's not. I mean, if I see a rabbit and say that there is a rabbit in the field and others se it as well, then I don't see any "problem" at all. Honestly, I don't understand what you are trying to get at.



posted on Aug, 21 2008 @ 02:30 PM
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The following is my opinion as a member participating in this discussion.


I've always been really fascinated by this topic. It's a real rabbit hole (no referenceintended) and I'm sure you realize beter than me, no real resolution.

You can contemplate things like this until the cows (no reference intended) come home. There's a distinct point, for me, where the philosophical contemplation stops and the real world application begins. Meaning, at some point you have to just make a decision and go with it. Self delusion? probably but I'm convinced we couldn't function without it (another topic).

When considering the question, "How do we 'know' what we 'know'?" I've come to rely on a three point guide: Reason, authority, experience. Depending upon the situation, any one of the three can be sufficient, and all three even better. That doesn't mean you can't still be wrong, though, even with all three passing the test.

Here's the other life lesson I've learned [but don't "know"]: I can't ever be 100% certain about anything. Or maybe, the only thing I'm 100% certain about is uncertainty.

I have degrees of certainty, some approaching 100%, but none reaching the level of Absolute Certainty.

Hey, I'm just rambling. Any notion anyone has that I might have a clue what I'm talking about is at best, an illusion.


As an ATS Staff Member, I will not moderate in threads such as this where I have participated as a member.



posted on Aug, 21 2008 @ 02:32 PM
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Absolute certainty is not possible. You can't be absolutely certain that you are sitting at your computer typing. Yeah that's what your "senses" seem to imply, but who is to say that your "senses" are not liars?

[edit on 21-8-2008 by SpeakerofTruth]



posted on Aug, 21 2008 @ 02:38 PM
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reply to post by SpeakerofTruth
 


The following is my opinion as a member participating in this discussion.


And that's the response to your previous statement. "It's either a fact, or it's not". While that may be true on some completely objective plane, we'll never absolutely know what's a "fact" and what isn't.



As an ATS Staff Member, I will not moderate in threads such as this where I have participated as a member.



posted on Aug, 21 2008 @ 02:46 PM
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reply to post by yeahright
 


True...



posted on Aug, 21 2008 @ 02:48 PM
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arguing logic with logic is fundamentally flawed.



posted on Aug, 21 2008 @ 03:28 PM
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Originally posted by SpeakerofTruth
No offense, but this seems to be much ado about nothing. To me, it is either fact or it's not. I mean, if I see a rabbit and say that there is a rabbit in the field and others se it as well, then I don't see any "problem" at all. Honestly, I don't understand what you are trying to get at.


The issue is how we establish, or justify, that a certain state of affairs is a "fact", if we want to use that term. Traditionally, we would think about different ways that claims of fact are justified, and then analyze if those means of justification are reliable, accurate, etc. For example, we can justify certain facts empirically, such as the fact that my shirt is brown, by looking at it. (A skeptic like Descartes might push the issue, but all things being equal, if my senses are in order, we trust them.) I could also justify certain facts rationally, such as mathematical "facts", if there are such things.

Gettier proposed there are certain conditions where my means of justification are working just fine, but I still can't claim that I've justified my knowledge of the fact, because there is some sort of disconnect or gap between the act of justification and the fact. The question becomes, what is this fourth condition of knowledge that must be ascertained in order to establish claims of knowledge.



posted on Aug, 21 2008 @ 03:37 PM
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I tend to follow the philosophical advice of a much earlier philosopher.


Socrates.


And, I also like Popper's take. That while we can never "know" anything positve conclusively, we can "know what something is not."

en.wikipedia.org...


He also held that scientific theory, and human knowledge generally, is irreducibly conjectural or hypothetical, and is generated by the creative imagination in order to solve problems that have arisen in specific historico-cultural settings. Logically, no number of positive outcomes at the level of experimental testing can confirm a scientific theory, but a single counterexample is logically decisive: it shows the theory, from which the implication is derived, to be false.


Why is it so difficult for humans to accept that we cannot know? (Where knowing is a solid, concrete and fixed for all time thing) Why is it so difficult to accept that all we have are operational hypothesis that stand until we find out more?

Why is it so difficult for humans to accept what I would argue Plato was guiding us towards, which is a continual dialectic, a continual dialog with "what is" that ends in no firm conclusion, but instead meanders on, with greater wisdom gained along the way, primarily because the act of "knowing" itself is released?

A mind that "knows" ceases to learn, to look. If you already know, why bother?

A philosopher, a lover of wisdom, never achieves this state. The romance goes on til death do you part. Or perhaps beyond. Who really knows?

Edit; glaring spelling error.

[edit on 21-8-2008 by Illusionsaregrander]



posted on Aug, 21 2008 @ 05:35 PM
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Originally posted by Toromos
The issue is how we establish, or justify, that a certain state of affairs is a "fact", if we want to use that term. Traditionally, we would think about different ways that claims of fact are justified, and then analyze if those means of justification are reliable, accurate, etc. For example, we can justify certain facts empirically, such as the fact that my shirt is brown, by looking at it. (A skeptic like Descartes might push the issue, but all things being equal, if my senses are in order, we trust them.) I could also justify certain facts rationally, such as mathematical "facts", if there are such things.



Well, I don't agree with Descartes on much, but on this issue I might. Honestly, I think that Cartesian philosophy has caused much harm. However, I would agree with Descartes here. Should your "senses" be trusted? Do we know for a fact, and in the light of quantum pysics we don't, that anything is as it appears to the senses?



posted on Aug, 21 2008 @ 07:44 PM
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The answer resides within the model of the analogy you supplied.

Verification, not verifiability but actual verification. He had false knowledge because his knowledge was of a statue not a rabbit. He was mistaken. Inspection of the field determined the existence of the rabbit. The only proof is proof, and no proof is absolute.

Philosophers should work in terms of degree of reasonable validity of a proof. A scale which can never reach absolute zero or absolute certainty.

A genetic test of the rabbit might have proven that it was infact a mutant un-antlered jackalope.

He could have examined the field meticulously and found no rabbit, just a hole. But the rabbit could have gone through the hole and come out another and be on the field. So a negative proof is not a proof, but a failure to disprove.

Belief remained belief, true or false, justified or unjustified. Still belief.

You are seeking the philosophers stone, to transmute belief to certainty. I believe I have just demonstrated with middling certainty of validity that it does not exist.

[edit on 21-8-2008 by Cyberbian]



posted on Aug, 22 2008 @ 02:19 PM
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reply to post by Illusionsaregrander
 

My feeling is that Plato and Popper tend in opposite directions, but I agree with you that absolute knowledge - of the kind that has to be assumed, in the formulation of this problem, to exist - is impossible.

Incidentally, I don't believe this fundamental uncertainty about what is known has any bearing on the dangerous question of whether truth is an absolute.



posted on Aug, 22 2008 @ 02:30 PM
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That makes me curious. Why do you feel that not being able to know has no impact on our ability to be able to know what is truth?

Edit to add;

I am not surprised that you would say that about Plato. I am well aware that how he is viewed by most modern philosophers and interested readers is very different from my own view of him.

I personally think that the majority in this case is wrong.
But of course, that only has meaning to me. I am sure the majority have an equally strong feeling that I am. I have made the argument in numerous papers in school, and it can be substantiated, but it is a lengthy one I will not repeat here.

[edit on 22-8-2008 by Illusionsaregrander]



posted on Aug, 22 2008 @ 02:40 PM
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reply to post by Illusionsaregrander
 


Why do you feel that not being able to know has no impact on our ability to be able to know what is truth?

Eh? No, I said it has no bearing on whether or not absolute truth exists. We cannot be certain it exists, but it still may. My own feeling is that it probably does.



posted on Aug, 22 2008 @ 03:05 PM
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Ah. I see. I would agree. There may very well be an Absolute Truth that is unknowable to us. And perhaps unknowable as we think of "knowable" at all.

Since in a previous post you mentioned Hinduism, I like this;

www.sacred-texts.com...


6 Who verily knows and who can here declare it, whence it was born and whence comes this creation?
The Gods are later than this world's production. Who knows then whence it first came into being?
7 He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it,
Whose eye controls this world in highest heaven, he verily knows it, or perhaps he knows not.


Although this is discussing the "knowing" or "truth" of the creation itself, I think it can be applied to "absolute Truth" as well.





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