Skip to ContentSkip to Navigation
About usFaculty of PhilosophyEducationThesis summaries

Olivier, K.M.

Department of Theoretical Philosophy

The Gettier Problem Refuted:

How Gettier’s Cases Fail to Challenge the Tripartite Account of Knowledge

Gettier, in his 1963 publication “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge,” attempts to expose the insufficiency of the traditional tripartite characterization of knowledge (i.e. S knows that P iff: i. P is true, ii. S believes P, and iii. S is justified in believing P) by providing two cases in which the subject, Smith, is said to be justified in believing a proposition that is (incidentally) true, while at the same time not knowing the proposition at hand. Since the publication of his paper, many philosophers have attempted to account for Gettier’s (and Gettier-like) cases by fortifying the definition of one of the three conditions of knowledge, or by adding a fourth condition to the tripartite characterization of knowledge. In this paper, I attempt to show that Gettier’s cases do not, in fact, challenge the tripartite account of knowledge in that Smith is not, in either case, justified in believing in the true proposition at hand.

In analyzing Gettier’s first case, I employ Donnellan’s (1966) distinction between the attributive and referential use of definite descriptions. I argue that the definite description “the man” in the true proposition “The man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket,” (which Smith is said to be justified in believing based on the evidence provided) is used referentially and refers to Jones, rather than being used attributively, whereby it would be applicable to both Smith and Jones (Gettier, 1963, p. 122). In analyzing Gettier’s second case, I argue that Smith does not believe (as Gettier claims), if rational, that “either Jones owns a Ford or Brown is in Barcelona,” by calling attention to the difference between knowledge and belief in an attempt to show that, in order to truly assert that one believes in a disjunction – as a result of believing in a given proposition upon which the disjunction is constructed – one must also believe that, if the disjunct one initially believes in is not true, then the secondary disjunct is. This is to say that, if one believes in (P v Q) on the basis of P, then one must also believe that if P is not true then Q is true (Gettier, 1963, p. 123). Since Gettier notes that Smith is completely ignorant of his friend Brown’s location, and since he constructs disjunctions (by way of disjunction introduction) on the basis of a single proposition which he believes – as opposed to knows – to be true, I assert that Smith does not really believe the proposition, “either Jones owns a Ford or Brown is in Barcelona,” nor in any of the other disjunctions he constructed. That being said, I conclude that Gettier fails, in both of his cases, to challenge the tripartite characterization of knowledge.
Last modified:19 May 2016 1.58 p.m.