We slugged our way through "Justified True Beliefs" ... only to blow these beliefs away by Edmund Gettier's problems titled "Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?"
Gettier gave me a headache.
Gettier is famous for his counter-examples that say there are cases of beliefs that are both true and justified, but they are not knowledge. If you need to read his Case I here it is:
- Smith has applied for a job, but, it is claimed, has a justified belief that "Jones will get the job". He also has a justified belief that "Jones has 10 coins in his pocket". Smith therefore (justifiably) concludes (by the rule of the transitivity of identity) that "the man who will get the job has 10 coins in his pocket".
- In fact, Jones does not get the job. Instead, Smith does. However, as it happens, Smith (unknowingly and by sheer chance) also had 10 coins in his pocket. So his belief that "the man who will get the job has 10 coins in his pocket" was justified and true. But it does not appear to be knowledge.
Do you have a headache yet?
The whole semester went on and on like this. I questioned my whole life, my knowledge of myself, and even the multiplication table. If I knew 3 x 3 was 9, was it really?
At this same time in my life, I was tutoring a young lad named Seymour, a 3rd grader. Seymour was very weak in math. His skills weren't bad, but his attention span was lousy. Seymour was not going to learn the multiplication table by going through flashcards. Yet he responded to learning how to multiply by building the equations - first on paper, then in his mind. 3 x 3.... hmm, build a line of three blocks three times. Duh, you get nine. And not only did Seymour BELIEVE it was nine, but he had knowledge that it was.
Seymour became so proficient at building his mental multiplication models that I could actually see the blocks being arranged when I stared into his eyes. His brain was piling block upon block, butting them up side to side and top to bottom.
When the day came for his big math test, he aced the multiplication questions. He told me he just looked at a problem, closed his eyes, and pictured the blocks being built. He had the knowledge...
I was sad. All I had was the justified true belief that had been driven into my brain by flashcards. When I was in 3rd grade and took my first multiplication test, I never built blocks in my mind. Instead, I would close my eyes and picture my mother holding up a flashcard, coaxing me to answer correctly.
Maybe epistemology is only as hard as we make it.
Did you know that there is such a thing as Catholic Epistemology? I wonder if they use flashcards or building blocks...