Fun Epistemology Paper

Preliminary Background: This is a small philosophy essay written for my philosophy class; the question answered is, roughly: Does Goldman’s analysis of knowing provide a persuasive answer to the problem posed by Gettier cases?

In this paper, I shall argue that Goldman does succeed in providing an account of knowledge which avoids the cases posed by Gettier. First, I will outline Gettier cases. Secondly, I will briefly outline Goldman’s causal theory of knowledge. Thirdly, I will hopefully show how Goldman’s epistemology avoids the problems posed by Gettier.

Gettier cases are thought experiments which serve as a counter-example to an account of knowledge having the following structure:

(1) Knowledge =df. Justified True Belief.

From (1), there are three necessary conditions which, when taken conjunctively, constitute knowledge: (i) holding a belief, (ii) that belief’s being true and (iii) that true belief’s being justified. Gettier argues against this (roughly) as follows. Suppose Smith and Jones apply for the same job. Smith has good reason to think that Jones will get the job and that, further, Smith has 10 coins in his pocket. Presupposing this, the logical entailment of his belief that “Smith will get the job and has 10 coins in his pocket” is as follows:

(2) The man who will get the job has 10 coins in his pocket.

But, it turns out that Smith—not Jones—gets the job and, coincidentally, has 10 coins in his pocket. This is a case of Smith’s having a justified, true belief while he could not have been said, says Gettier, to know (2) yet Smith’s belief in (2) met all the criteria posed by (1). Given that Gettier has shown a counter-example to (1), he concludes that (1) is not an adequate account of knowledge.

Goldman proposes a causal theory of knowledge suggesting that:

(3) S knows p iff S is caused to believe p in an appropriate, causally connected way.

For example, suppose that Nietzsche, as he wrote his Genealogy of Morals, formed the belief that he was committing the genetic fallacy. Thereafter, he looked textually into what he wrote and spotted where he committed the fallacy. On the causal theory of knowledge, Nietzsche was caused to believe that he committed the genetic fallacy by looking at what he wrote and being able to find it. The causal connection was between his belief that he committed the fallacy and that fallacy actually being in the material he wrote i.e., in the first few pages. Thus, on the causal theory of knowledge, knowledge amounts to a belief formed appropriately and causally connected to reality.

The question becomes: Does Gettier cases also pose a problem for the causal theory of knowledge? I suggest that it does not. Take the Nietzsche example but instead suppose that instead of being able to find the textual location of the genetic fallacy, Nietzsche instead cannot find it. But, in being Nietzsche, he stops caring about the fallacy and publishes the Genealogy of Morals anyways. Then, after a couple months, Nietzsche begins to receive letters from prominent professors and scholars all around Germany saying that he is committing the genetic fallacy in his book. Nietzsche, puzzled by this, writes back to the respective people and asks “where did I commit the genetic fallacy?” Much to Nietzsche’s distress, though, no letter gets returned to him; instead he continues to receive letters until he gets over 1000 letters all of which are in agreement that he has committed the fallacy. Nietzsche concludes, then, that he has committed the genetic fallacy (and his belief is true (since he did commit it) and also justified (over 1000 people all agree that he did)). Little does Nietzsche know, however, that the letters were not about the Genealogy of Morals, but his earlier book Beyond Good and Evil! Hence, Nietzsche’s belief that he committed the genetic fallacy was true and justified but he cannot be said to know that he committed the genetic fallacy since his justified true belief was about the Genealogy of Morals not Beyond Good and Evil.

However, on the causal theory of knowledge Nietzsche’s belief that he committed the fallacy was not justified since there was no appropriate causal connection between the belief he held and the state of affairs in reality (i.e., there being a genetic fallacy in the Genealogy of Morals) and so Nietzsche did not know that he committed the genetic fallacy. In other words, Nietzsche was not caused to believe “that he had committed the genetic fallacy” appropriately since the causal connection was not directed at the Genealogy of Morals but at another book—Beyond Good and Evil.[1] Consequently, while Gettier can charge (1) with exemplifying examples where the criteria for knowledge is met but not constitutive of knowledge, the causal theory of knowledge prevents those problems since the causal connection must be appropriate, that is, the causal connection must connect the belief with the state of affairs in reality. [2]

I hope I have shown that the causal theory of knowledge avoids Gettier problems.

[1] A classmate has a relatively similar argument to mine that she has informally notified me of (and so I am indebted to her here).

[2] I suppose as a celebratory post, I am posting my first ever university paper graded at 90%.


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