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Posted: December 10th, 2022

Edmund Gettier’s Two Counterexamples to the Justified True Belief Theory of Knowledge

Briefly explain Edmund Gettier’s two counterexamples to the justified-true-belief theory of knowledge. Don’t overthink the assignment. Just do the best you can in explaining Gettier’s two counterexamples and submit the assignment by the due date. For help in completing the assignment, read pp. 143-45 of the Norton.

Word Count: 300-500.

Edmund Gettier’s Two Counterexamples to the Justified True Belief Theory of Knowledge
Edmund Gettier famously presented two counterexamples in 1963 that challenged the long-held “justified true belief” theory of knowledge. Under the justified true belief view, in order to have knowledge of a proposition, one must have a justified true belief in that proposition. Gettier argued that justified true belief is not sufficient for knowledge. His two cases demonstrated that it is possible to have a justified true belief in a proposition that is indeed true, yet not have knowledge.
In Gettier’s first case, Smith has strong evidence that leads him to form the justified true belief that “Jones will get the job, and Jones has ten coins in his pocket” (Gettier, 1963, p. 121). However, unbeknownst to Smith, it is actually Smith himself who will get the job, not Jones. And coincidentally, Smith also happens to have ten coins in his pocket. So while Smith’s belief that “Jones will get the job, and Jones has ten coins in his pocket” ends up being true, it is true by luck rather than knowledge, since Smith was wrong about Jones getting the job.
In Gettier’s second case, Brown has strong evidence that leads him to form the justified true belief that “Jones owns a Ford” (Gettier, 1963, p. 121). However, unknown to Brown, Jones had sold his Ford and bought a Chevrolet instead. But coincidentally, Jones’s friend Smith owns a Ford. So while Brown’s belief that “Jones owns a Ford” ends up being true, it is true by luck rather than knowledge, since Brown was wrong about which car Jones owns.
These two cases demonstrated that justified true belief is not sufficient for knowledge, since one can have a justified true belief that is true due merely to luck or coincidence, rather than knowledge. Gettier’s counterexamples have been highly influential in epistemology and the philosophy of knowledge. Numerous attempts have since been made to modify the justified true belief definition of knowledge to account for Gettier-style cases.
References:
Gettier, E. L. (1963). Is justified true belief knowledge?. Analysis, 23(6), 121-123. https://doi.org/10.1093/analys/23.6.121
Zalta, E. N. (Ed.). (2020). Edmund Gettier. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2020 Edition). Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2020/entries/gettier/
Zagzebski, L. (1994). The Inescapability of Gettier Problems. The Philosophical Quarterly, 44(174), 65-73. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2220112

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