Why So Serious About Philosophy Part 2

Why So Serious About Philosophy Part 2

Psych! Man I miss the 80’s. Expressions like ‘psych’ really should never have gone out of style.

This JTB model of knowledge survived from Aristotle right up until 1963 when a man named Edmund Gettier wrote the philosophical equivalent of a drunken scribble on a cocktail napkin, a little three page ditty called “Is justified true belief knowledge?” The title is a bit sassy given that Gettier showed, rather quickly, that no, JTB is not sufficient for knowledge. He could have titled the paper “Justified true belief is not knowledge so suck it, Aristotle” and been less of a prick.

Rather than use Gettier’s example of a case where someone could have justified true belief in something but that few would consider it knowledge (’cause it involves a bit of technical logic magic), I will instead use Kripke’s phony barn country example (’cause it’s super sweet), but credit for the idea should still go to Gettier (the category of these things is called ‘Gettier problems’, so this is not unfair).

Imagine you are driving your car through the country. Why? It’s not terribly important for the point of this thought experiment but if you insist on being unduly nosy, let’s say that you are going to a Jethro Tull concert to sell your macrame wish buckets. Anyway, this countryside is covered in barns. What you don’t know, however, is that you are driving through phony barn country and that all but one of these barns are fake (why is there one real barn in there? Presumably even makers of phony barns have need of an actual barn on occasion).

You look up from the highway and see a barn and say with characteristic wit and insight, “I know there is a barn there”. As it happens, you are looking at the one real barn in all of phony barn country, you lucky thing. You have the true belief that you are looking at the barn and it is justified because normally when you look at a thing that looks exactly like a barn you are right to believe it is, in fact, a barn.

But do you know that you are looking at a barn? And why did you feel it merited saying it aloud? Man, you are a terrible traveling companion. Most people would want to say that you did not know it was a barn even though you had a justified true belief. You just got lucky as if you had looked up earlier, later, or even to the other side of the road and said the same thing you would have been wrong in thinking you were looking at a real barn. For shame!

So, if you are still feeling so damnably sure of yourself and think you know things, come up with a solution to what else is required other than JTB to consider something actual knowledge. Crack that nugget and you can land yourself a plum tenure at a sunny college, replete with sexy TA’s and permissive rules regarding sexual relations with said TA’s.

Knowledge is a beautiful thing.

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