The Gettier Problem is a philosophical conundrum that challenges the traditional understanding of knowledge as “justified true belief.” The problem is named after Edmund Gettier, who presented it in a 1963 paper titled “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?” Prior to Gettier’s critique, the commonly accepted definition of knowledge, which can be traced back to Plato, was that for a person to know something:
The belief must be true.
The person must believe it.
The belief must be justified.
In other words, if you have a belief that is both true and justified, then according to the traditional account, you have knowledge.
Gettier questioned this traditional definition by presenting scenarios in which all three criteria are met, but we would still hesitate to say that the person has “knowledge.” These scenarios are now known as “Gettier cases.”
Example of a Gettier Case
Imagine two people, Smith and Jones, applying for a job. Smith has strong evidence to believe that Jones will get the job (perhaps the boss told him so). Smith also observes that Jones has ten coins in his pocket. Based on this information, Smith concludes:
“The person who will get the job has ten coins in their pocket.”
As it turns out, Smith is later offered the job, not Jones, and he also happens to have ten coins in his pocket, a fact he was unaware of. So, Smith’s belief that “The person who will get the job has ten coins in their pocket” is true and justified, but it seems incorrect to say that he “knew” it, since his reasoning was based on a false premise.
The Gettier Problem raises fundamental questions about the nature of knowledge. If a justified true belief can be shown not to count as knowledge in certain situations, then philosophers need to revise or replace the traditional definition. Various responses to the Gettier Problem have been proposed, such as:
Adding a Fourth Condition: Some suggest adding a fourth criterion to filter out Gettier cases, though there’s little consensus on what this condition should be.
Reliabilism: This theory posits that a belief is knowledge if it is true and produced by a reliable process, irrespective of justification.
Virtue Epistemology: This focuses on the intellectual virtues of the knower, such as caution and rigor, as key elements in acquiring knowledge.
Deflationary Theories: Some philosophers argue that the traditional definition is mostly correct and that Gettier cases are exceptions that don’t necessarily debunk the rule.
The Gettier Problem has had a significant impact on epistemology, renewing interest in the field and generating numerous theories and debates about the nature of knowledge.