Reading the paper Gettier and Factivity in Indo‐Tibetan Epistemology the author claims at some point early in the paper that

There are two initial problems which make it difficult to compare factive assessment with true belief and the Gettier problem. The first is that factive assessment is held to be a specific typeof mental episode, whereas true belief is not. No one thinks that true belief is a particular type of mental state different from (mere) belief. Yes, some beliefs are true and others are false; but this distinction applies to the content of beliefs, and not to the mental state of belief. The second problem is that the justified true belief analysis of knowledge is quite remote from Indo-Tibetan epistemology, and so finding a parallel to ‘justification’ within this context is not straightforward. This problem is compounded by the fact that if we are to attribute theories of justification to Indo-Tibetan epistemologists, many of these theories will need to be externalist in nature. Externalists commonly eschew the justified true belief model of knowledge, however.

I shall discuss both of these two issues at greater length in subsequent portions of this paper. For the time being, I shall temporarily ignore these two problems, so that I can draw closer comparisons between Tibetan examples of factive assessment and both Gettier cases and genuine examples of inferential knowledge. By detailing each of the various subtypes of factive assessment discussed by Tibetan thinkers, I can show better where Gettier cases would be located in this typology, and why Tibetan typologies of factive assessment do not provide Gettier situations. While this discussion focuses entirely on the Tibetan notion of factive assessment, I believe that it is possible to generalize from this single case to a much broader domain of the Indo-Tibetan tradition of epistemology, and conclude that there are no relevant analogues of Gettier cases.

Now I am interested in what this extension would consist of. Would it consider new cases of assessments? Or would it be a meta paradigm that encompasses all (in the Indo-Tibetan tradition?

  • First, there is a whole spectrum of Indo-Buddhist philosophies from pure monotheistic dualism to monistic, and the philosophical arguments and assertions that they give are very different. For anyone to think that they can extend any philosophical argument to all shows a naivety regarding Eastern philosophies. From what I understand of Getteir's JTB, his arguments could be extended to certain Dvaita Vedanta schools but not to the Advaita Vedanta nor the tibetian Mahayana school of Buddhism. Most schools, including the Buddhist, have their roots in the Nyaya philosophy - a school of logic. Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 9:41
  • In the Nyaya (an ancient school), inferential knowledge was considered a valid means of knowledge. But Inferential knowledge was later considered inadequate by later advaita and mahayana thinkers. You might like reading "A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy" by Chandrahar Sharma Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 9:44
  • @SwamiVishwananda The author believes such extension is possible, as he later claims, based on the fact that pramāṇa would represent the closest analogue to justification in the indo-tibetan tradition, and claims that this concept does not hold logical independence of justification and truth, as it is required by getter cases. Does the Dvaita Vedanta school hold logical independence of truth and justification? And would it be right to say that Advaita Vedanta and the tibetian Mahayana school do not hold such independence?
    – Gabriel
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 13:18
  • It may be a good idea to distinguish between relative and absolute knowledge, usually indicated by the use of lower and upper-case 'knowledge' and 'Knowledge'. The latter is not inferential and is known and not 'justified'. For the advaita view epistemology eventually morphs into ontology and is solved by reference to identity with the Real. Relative or inferential knowledge would be subject to all the considerations discussed by Western philosophers but they usually pay little attention to absolute knowledge and tend to believe that all knowledge comes via our theory-laden senses.
    – user20253
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 13:53
  • @ So there is no concept of Knowledge, in the absolute sense, in the western tradition? And the concepts of knowledge and Knowledge in their inferential and non-inferential senses are what is taken if by Dvaita Vedante and Advaita Vedanta respectively? The idea of absolute knowledge doesn't seem entirely strange to western philosophy. I belive that it is precisely what Hegel proposes in his system, but I am not sure about if we can't talk about absolute knowledge in Hegel as inferential knowledge.
    – Gabriel
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 14:34

1 Answer 1


Let me clarify what is not entirely clear from the OP quote but is apparent from the context of the paper: it is not that Indo-Tibetan thinkers do not consider what is known as Gettier cases, it is that they give a different interpretation to them. The essence of the Gettier problem is summarized very lucidly by the author (Stolz):

"As long as... justification is logically independent of truth, it is possible to construct a story in which (a) S justifiably believes some proposition e, although e is false; (b) S justifiably believes that p follows from e, thus allowing for a justified belief that p; and (c) p is true. Yet these three conditions can all hold without there being a robust enough link between S’s basis of justification e and the true proposition p which is believed, thus providing a reason to think that justified true belief falls short of knowledge."

Indian philosopher Dharmottara gives an example of what would be a Gettier case to modern analytic philosophers: meat cooked on fire attracts a swarm of flies, which people from a distance mistake for smoke and "infer" that there is fire. This last belief is true and justified on analytic accounts, yet it falls short of genuine knowledge. Hence, knowledge is not (merely) justified true belief. But on Indo-Tibetan accounts the belief in fire in this case (even glossing over different understandings of "belief", see below) is not justified. Indeed, their concept closest to justification, pramāṇa, entails the truth of what it justifies. Hence

"In fact, if we take the presence of a pramāṇa to be the Indo-Tibetan analogue of the concept of justification, then there simply cannot be any relevant analogues of Gettier cases in the Indian and Tibetan epistemological tradition, since Gettier cases require the logical independence of justification and truth."

As Stolz points out, this conception presupposes externalism about mental states/events. Externalism means that the "mental" does not supervene on person’s internal state (brain state in particular), external circumstances are parts of the mental. Consider two situations, one where Sodrak sees a circle of fire, and another where a branding iron is swung in a circular motion so that it looks exactly like a circle of fire. Sodrak’s internal states, his phenomenal experience and the operations of his sense faculties are identical in both cases. Yet, according to Indo-Tibetan epistemologists, in the former case Sodrak has a mental episode of perceptual knowledge, while in the latter, of mistaken cognition. In other words, Indo-Tibetans "avoid" the Gettier problem simply because of a quaint (to a Westerner) understanding of the "mental". It should be said, however, that externalism does have some recent analytic supporters, e.g. Putnam and Williamson. Putnam's "meaning just ain't in the head" has become proverbial.

According to Stolz, an even deeper division between Indo-Tibetan and analytic epistemologists, including Putnam and Williamson, is in treating knowings as mental episodes, as opposed to lasting dispositional states. Technically, this in itself eliminates genuine Gettier cases because it is awkward to talk about "accidentally truth-hitting" single events, as opposed to lasting dispositions. But it turns out that it makes the Indo-Tibetan view vulnerable to a similarly minded problem of causal/reliabilist epistemology: distinguishing barn-façades from real barns is not required for knowledge (Henry sees one genuine barn in an area filled with many barn façades and makes factive assessment that there is a barn in front of him, moreover, he assesses it so by properly exercising his visual competence).

Although the paper focuses on factive assessment, both above differences are clearly not restricted to this special type of cognition. So the answer to the OP question is not very exciting, I am afraid: similar reasoning extends to other cognitions recognized by Indo-Tibetans (perception, inference, indeterminate appearing, mistake, doubt), and similarly leads to impossibility of Gettier cases for two independent reasons, externalism and episodism about the mental. However, this only means that the same problems reappear in different guises.

  • I would have to disagree with you on the second to last paragraph. Dharmakirti "...reintroduces the adjective 'non-illusive' in the definition of perception because he thinks it necessary to exclude the sense-illusions lke the perception of the double-moon as distinguished from the illusions of thought. He therefore defines perception as devoid of all thought-determinations and illusions." - A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 5:09
  • Saying that someone justifiably believes something that is false just seems... wrong. The person is simply incorrect, no matter how loudly they might protest. I am mystified by Gettier cases. Are there any philosophers who agree with me? Hmm.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Nov 3, 2022 at 21:45
  • @ScottRowe It only does because of the pernicious classical habit of ascribing godly omniscience to humans under the label of "idealization". Whatever (humanly relevant) standard of justification is taken to be it cannot possibly be infallible. And then humans must be justifiably incorrect from time to time, simply because available information and analysis will be identical whether they are correct or incorrect. Their protesting or lack thereof makes no difference. The typical "idealization" of taking the God's posture to "distinguish" the two is just an impotent pretense.
    – Conifold
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 1:24
  • Ok, I guess I was taking a more pessimistic view, that we often can't know we are either correct or incorrect until much later, if ever, so trying to 'belive' or 'justify' or 'know' is really a fool's errand. Take the best guess and move on. If you're wrong, you will find out soon enough.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Nov 4, 2022 at 12:43

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