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What problems arise in responding to Gettier problems with an assertion "the formal definition of knowledge, as justified true belief, does not need to exactly correspond to intuitive notions of knowledge."? As I understand it, the main claims are a series of situations which satisfy the formal JTB definition of knowledge, but which people intuitively balk at regarding as knowledge. It's not clear to me that the formal definition of this term needs to exactly match people's gut intuitions.

Basically one can say "who cares?" to Gettier, and go about your day accepting JTB as the formal definition of knowledge, by accepting that people's intuitions won't always exactly conform to that definition.

closed as unclear what you're asking by Joseph Weissman Feb 11 '16 at 21:46

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  • you mean as hume, or as imho bad philosophy ? – user6917 Sep 8 '14 at 21:49
  • @user3293056 elaboration on either of these points could constitute an answer. – Dave Sep 8 '14 at 22:09
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    Dismissing intuitions about what knowledge means is all very well, but bear in mind that linguists have observed that every language we know of has a word for "know" or "knowledge". A concept that is so widely employed, both geographically and historically, is almost certainly important. – Bumble Jan 10 '16 at 1:52
  • Nice edit Chris – Dave Jun 3 '16 at 21:42
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One crucial aspect of philosophy is to try and give exhausting analyses of concepts and notions. Often our intuitions play a big role in what a term means (this is very evident when it comes to debates in ethics). Finding out what notions mean and explaining our intuitions, is part of finding truth (or knowledge) about us and thus about the world. Of course you can still use JTB as a dictionary defintion but Gettier is suggesting that as a philosophical concept the JTB does not seem to be an exhausting account for our notion of knowledge. Asserting that this doesn't matter does not really concern only this case in particular, but it concerns the nature of philosophy. We would have to have a debate about what philosophy can and cannot achieve (a debate which is taking place, and has been for a long time) So I think the Gettier problem operates on two levels: (1) a methodological. as the others have already suggested, it seems to be very productive for not only philosophical discourse if the parties know what exactly is meant by a term, in order to avoid confusions that arise out of language use, but also (2) an explanatory level. JTB does not seem to be an completely accurate account of what our notion of knowledge is. whether we actually can give completely accurate accounts of notions and concepts is an even more tricky question.

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What problems arise in responding to Gettier problems with an assertion "the formal definition of knowledge, as justified true belief, does not need to exactly correspond to intuitive notions of knowledge."?

Gettier problems are that some ideas that allegedly satisfy the formula of being justified true belief are not knowledge. One example is suppose that Peter believes that he has ten coins in his pocket, that he believes he has ten coins in his pocket and that he is going to be given a promotion to chief toilet cleaner and has heard about from a reliable source. The Gettier claims Peter has a justified true belief that the man being promoted to chief toilet cleaner has ten coins in his pocket.

The Gettier problem highlights a real problem in an indirect way hidden by a lot of bad ideas. The problem is this. There are many facts that nobody gives a hoot about and don't seem particularly significant, like the colour of my computer mouse. Knowing the colour of my mouse won't shed any light on any issue. So people don't think the information about the colour of my mouse is knowledge, and they are right.

Your response is that this is just a problem of people having a false intuition, but you are wrong. This is an instance of a fatal problem with the JTB theory. A theory is deemed to be justified if it has gone through some process called justification that make it true or probably true. The model for how JTB knowledge is created goes something like this. You somehow (1) come to believe a theory and it is somehow (2) justified and (3) it is true.

JTB theories typically either have nothing to say about step (1), or they say something that is false. For example, inductivism (the belief in induction) claims that you somehow get a theory from experimental results. In reality, there is an infinity of ideas compatible with any experimental result, so you can't get a theory from experimental results. So then where do theories come from? Where could they come from? They can't come from the truth since you don't know what's true and they're not totally random. What happens is that you notice a problem with existing knowledge, something existing knowledge doesn't explain, and then you produce variants of that knowledge to try to solve the problem. You look for criticisms of the variants, including looking for cases in which they are incompatible with experimental results. You keep coming up with variants and criticising them until only one is left and the last variant standing solves the problem. You then look for problems with your new theory.

The growth of knowledge starts with problems. It starts with current, flawed knowledge. The knowledge it invents solves those problems. Knowledge is always a solution to a problem. The ten coins in the pocket example is just an example of somebody happening to be aware of some useless fact. The JTB theory doesn't explain why this is not knowledge. It also fails to solve a lot of other problems. JTB is false.

For more on why JTB is piffle and what should replace it, see "Realism and the Aim of Science" by Karl Popper and "The Beginning of Infinity" by David Deutsch.

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    A quibble: "Your response is that this is just a problem of people having a false intuition" - is it? I don't see any instance where OP claims that folk intuitions are false. He simply says that a formal definition of knowledge shouldn't need to pass a 'folk intuition test' for some borderline cases. – DBK Sep 9 '14 at 20:33
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    BTW: Is it some kind of in-joke that most if not all of your answers on SE, regardless of the topic, end with a recommendation of Popper and Deutsch? :) – DBK Sep 9 '14 at 20:34
  • Most of my answers on SE concern epistemology or moral philosophy. There is a very short list of people who have written anything worth reading on those topics. Popper and Deutsch are good on epistemology. Deutsch is good on the moral philosophy in his books. Ayn Rand is also worth reading on moral philosophy. Other philosophers (people who write philosophy not necessarily academics) who I consider good include Elliot Temple, William Godwin, Edmund Burke and Thomas Szasz, see fallibleliving.com fallibleideas.com. – alanf Sep 9 '14 at 23:00
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The problem is one of terminology and effective communication. Suppose we have a mathematics paper that includes the line, "For the purposes of this proof, we refer to numbers of the form 2^2^n + 1 as 'prime'", and then begins to prove all sorts of things about prime numbers. This is terrible use of terminology, because it uses the word "prime" to mean something that is definitely not the same as prime, but overlaps somewhat. It's a disaster for correct intuition.

The problem is no less severe when the collision in terminology is between an intuitive (rather than a precise mathematical) term and a formal definition that agrees in some places but collides violently in others. This is exactly what the Gettier problems illustrate: violent collision between the intuitive idea and the formal definition.

If there was no term for "justified true belief" (hereafter JTB), then philosophers could perhaps be excused by using the term "knowledge" in philosophy to specifically meant JTB. But we already have a perfectly serviceable term: justified true belief. Thus it is hard to view the "I will use knowledge to mean JTB" stance as anything but intentional obstinacy or an intent to mislead.

If one wants to work on (quasi-formally defined) justified true belief instead of (colloquially and intuitively defined) knowledge, one can simply say so.

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    On the other hand, often mathematical concepts don't exactly agree with the intuitive meaning either. Consider the term "continuous" for example. The intuitive meaning would exclude things like functions that are continuous exactly on the irrational numbers. – celtschk Sep 9 '14 at 5:00
  • I don't think the math analogy matches up. In JTB epistomolgies, all knowledge is JTB, the Gettier cases indicate that there is a contrived subset of JTB cases that are not intuited as being knowledge; Your set of "prime" numbers don't have this kind of relationship with all of the prime numbers. – Dave Sep 9 '14 at 13:28
  • @Dave - JTB works for the first few easy cases and then falls apart as you stress it, just like 2^2^n+1. (Sorry, had typoed a - before.) – Rex Kerr Sep 9 '14 at 15:29
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What problems arise in responding to Gettier problems with an assertion "the formal definition of knowledge, as justified true belief, does not need to exactly correspond to intuitive notions of knowledge."?

None. Colloquial definitions being different from academic definitions is common, and generally not a problem - just make clear what you mean.

As I understand it, the main claims are a series of situations which satisfy the formal JTB definition of knowledge, but which people intuitively balk at regarding as knowledge. It's not clear to me that the formal definition of this term needs to exactly match people's gut intuitions.

Actually, none of the Gettier problems satisfy JTB as none of them are justified beliefs. They're only problems under a loose/colloquial use of "knowledge" or "justified".

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Increasingly it is being argued that Knowledge is in some way distributed or external to the individual.

A big problem about words like "know"/"knows"/"knowledge" etc is that their sense is to a considerable degree contextual. In other words they are syncategorematic. Consider the adjective "good": a "good batsman" is not necessarily a "good man"; a "good meal" is an experience but not necessarily a good experience; and so forth.

Similarly, to say I know the ten times table is not necessarily talking about knowledge in the same sense as to say I know "War and Peace". Knowing my ten times table is a "got-it" expression implying I can recite the table faultlessly; knowing "War and Peace" implies I have a good deal of familiarity with that novel, for example I can recognise which character is being referred to when another person refers to "Pierre", I have some notion of the ideas that Tolstoy is trying to convey by means of the novel, and so forth; there could never be a "got-it" usage of "he knows War and Peace" because the possibilities of discussion, investigation and interpretation of such a novel are endless.

So far, I have just considered individual knowing - and of course one can see that actually my examples although perfectly proper usages of the verb "know" have nothing to do with true belief whether justified or not. But suppose we talk about "human knowledge" we are certainly not talking about something that can be encompassed in one individual's brain/mind or whatever you take to be the cognitive apparatus humans employ. Suppose we talk about the relationship between data, knowledge and information, many people think that we process data to produce information and we process information to produce knowledge; however, I would argue that knowledge precedes information in that information is the answer to a question, and knowledge is what enables the question to be put. But in that case (or in the context of that usage of "knowledge") we are using the term to refer to something socially distributed and not peculiar to the individual mind. Regarding the whole issue of knowledge as "external" to the individual, there was a special issue of the journal "Philosophical Issues" devoted to "Extended Knowledge". I'd particularly recommend one of the papers in it, by Eric Kerr and Axel Gelfert: "The Extendedness of Scientific Evidence".

Reference: Kerr, E & Gelfert, A (2014) "The Extendedness of Scientific Evidence". Philosophical Issues, 24, Extended Knowledge. doi:10.1111/phis.12033

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