Agora Speaker Series 2020 - Professor Stephen Hetherington

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Professor Stephen Hetherington Undergraduate Talk

Title: The Gettier Problem – the usual story

If there is anything that epistemologists claim to know, it is that, thanks to Edmund Gettier in 1963, ‘knowledge =df. Justified true belief’ is false: specifically, being well justified (in an epistemic way) and true is not enough to make a belief knowledge. And, supposedly, we know this simply by being aware of the sort of thought-experiment--the form of story--let loose upon contemporary philosophy by Gettier. It is an epistemological ‘given’ that any belief at the heart of a ‘Gettier case’ fails to be knowledge; whereupon (continues the textbook account) we are being challenged conceptually, to uncover what knowledge is, if not quite what--pre-Gettier--we had apparently seen it as being. ‘The Gettier Problem’, as it has been called for many years now, is the seeming inability of epistemologists even to come close to agreeing on how to meet that conceptual challenge. Still, post-Gettier epistemology has also been increasingly blasé about having learnt something definite about knowledge, due to Gettier (and can even this be said accurately about most philosophy?).

Reference: Gettier, E.L. 1963. ‘Is justified true belief knowledge?’ Analysis 2: 121–3. (Available at jstor.)

Research Talk

Title: The Gettier Problem – a new story

The Gettier Problem is an illusion – a façade, behind which is … what? Not what we are told is there. It has seemed to be a real challenge, based upon a real result. But it is not. I will offer a simple reason for why that is so. What lessons should we learn from Gettier, his cases, and the subsequent epistemological frustrations? Epistemologists have proposed various theories of knowledge, each of which is at some stage, either at the outset or along the way, applied to ‘Gettier cases’, and each of which is claimed to give ‘the right result’ about such cases. I will point to a recurring reason why all of those applications of the theories to those Gettier cases have been doomed to fail. The reason is disarmingly simple – and fundamental. The basic epistemological challenge prompted by Gettier was explicative: tell us why no Gettiered belief is knowledge. If I am right, though, epistemologists have repeatedly approached this explicative challenge in a way that was bound to fail. I will offer you an alternative way to formulate the challenge from the outset--a way on which none of those usual epistemological approaches will succeed. Your challenge will be to tell me why I should not be formulating the explicative challenge in that alternative--and heterodox--way.