Sunday, December 5, 2010

Nietzsche on Aristotle and Truth

(NB: The introductory philosophy course I'll be the TA for next spring will involve reading Thus Spake Zarathustra, so in preparation I've been reviewing my notes on Nietzsche. -Dan)

For whom truth exists
. - … How if this effect – the effect of consolation – were precisely what truths are incapable of? – Would this then constitute an objection to truths? What have they in common with the inner states of suffering, stunted, sick human beings that they must necessarily be of use to them?...[T]ruth, as a whole and interconnectedly, exists only for souls which are at once powerful and harmless, and full of joyfulness and peace (as was the soul of Aristotle), just as it will no doubt be only such souls as these that will be capable of seeking it: for no matter how proud they may be of their intellect and its freedom, the others are seeking cures for themselves – they are not seeking truth. (Daybreak 424, trans. R.J. Hollingdale)

In this passage, Nietzsche holds up Aristotle as an example of the kind of person who is truly capable of seeking truth. This may initially strike the reader as odd, since Aristotle seems to be a systematizer of the kind that Nietzsche rails against elsewhere. But I think what Nietzsche finds admirable in Aristotle is the pursuit of truth, not for the sake of utility (however defined), but for its own sake. He speaks of the error of seeking truth for the sake of consolation, and he seems to mean both consolation in a physical sense (hence the example of the non-medicinal plant), and consolation in a more emotional sense (cf. Sextus Empiricus’ description in Outlines of Pyrrhonism I.26 of the person who is troubled by philosophical problems and seeks to resolve them satisfactorily in order to obtain some kind of contentment). But the ideal seeker after truth, according to Nietzsche, will seek truth not out of weakness or a need to be cured of bodily or mental illnesses, but out of a desire for the truth itself, apart from any benefit it may happen to bring. I think that this is why Nietzsche describes such an ideal seeker as being “powerful and harmless, and full of joyfulness and peace”.

It seems to me that the danger Nietzsche is pointing out in seeking after truth for the sake of the consolation that we think it will bring is that if we find that consolation is not in fact the result of obtaining truth, we will cease to seek after truth, and try to find consolation in some other way. If we value truth only instrumentally, then we will cease to seek after truth if we find that truth is hard or painful, or even if it is irrelevant to our need for consolation. It is only the person whom Nietzsche describes as “healthy” that can genuinely value truth.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Adler and Reid

Jonathan Alder, in Belief's Own Ethics, argues for the truth of the "subjective principle of sufficient reason":
When one attends to any of one's beliefs, one must regard it as believed for sufficient or adequate reasons. [1]
I'll not get into the full development of Adler's evidentialist ethics of belief (which is interesting). Instead, I'll just note that this is a pretty stringent requirement. The evidentialists I have the privilege of working with at the University of Rochester don't affirm this principle, for example, Earl Conee argued against it in his review of the book. I don't know where I stand on it. There are days that I think it's true, other days that I think it's not.

So, it was surprising when combing through Reid's conception of evidence in preparation for a seminar, that I ran across the following:
We give the name of evidence to whatever is a ground of belief. To believe without evidence is a weakness which every man is concerned to avoid, and which every man wishes to avoid. Nor is it in a man's power to believe anything longer than he thinks he has evidence. [2]
Some externalists, Plantinga not the least among them, have taken aid and comfort from Reid. It's not surprising that Plantinga finds much to like in Reid, his proper functionalism sounds at home among Reid's frequent references to "original constitution" and to being "fitted by nature" to believe in various ways. But in the above quote, it's interesting that Reid sounds like a strident evidentialist.

'Evidence' may be equivocal here, though. I'm still feeling out what Reid means by evidence. He does sometimes sound as though evidence is all mental (only a few paragraphs later, in fact). But in the Inquiry into the Human Mind Reid seems to say that some appearances are non-mental (though it's hard to find them in the physical world), and appearances seem likely to count as evidence. But at any rate, it's interesting to find an externalist muse saying something that sounds stridently evidentialist.

[1] Jonathan Adler, Belief's Own Ethics, (MIT: 2002), 26.
[2] Thomas Reid, Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man, II.20.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Evidentialism and Memory

John Greco, in his forthcoming "Evidentialism about Knowledge" makes the following complaint, which seems a typical one for non-evidentialists to offer.

Even if some cases of knowledge seem to fit the evidentialist model well, it is a stretch to extend the position to other cases, such as cases involving memory knowledge. What is my evidence, for example, that I ate eggs for breakfast, or that my car is parked in the driveway? There might be some vague phenomenology involved in remembering these things. My memory beliefs might be accompanied by a characteristic sort of feeling--a kind of confidence, or perhaps a kind of attraction. But it is a stretch to think that these states are evidence--to think that these states "support" my memory beliefs, or that my beliefs are evidentially based on such states. (pp. 5-6)

I get a bit irked about this, because the answer seems so obvious as to make the evidentialist suspect that the externalist is just being obtuse. I have three comments, first an argument that there is some sort of evidence on which memorial beliefs are based, then one strategy for explaining the nature of this evidence, and then an alternate strategy.

1. Earl Conee argues in "Seeing the Truth" that seeing the truth of obviously true propositions like
P Every golden trumpet is a trumpet
is, contra Alvin Plantinga's account in Warrant and Proper Function is not merely a matter of believing a proposition in a certain way. Seeing the truth, is, Conee thinks, a separate matter from believing what one sees to be true. Consider P - there will be, I think, if you attend to the experience of coming to believe P to be true, a separate experience apart from believing P, which believing P follows. This may be described as a "seeming that P" or "seeing that P", a kind of mental experience such that one bases a belief on it. One reason for thinking that this is a separate experience is that it is imaginable that it occur without believing P. Suppose you had good reason to think that you were liable to deception about P, perhaps you'd been assured that you'd been given a drug that would make things seem obvious in just this way and despite how seemingly true P is, you refrain from belief. Further, you could imagine simply experiencing it, but before forming the belief, stubbing your toe and being distracted by the intense pain. So, at least for me, I agree with Conee, there is a separate experience of seeing the truth of obvious propositions.

Likewise, I think that there is just this sort of experience with memory. I wonder what I had for breakfast, and it seems strongly to me that I had a clif bar and I believe that I had a clif bar. I can imagine this experience being separated from belief too. I might get distracted - stubbing my toe might do it. I might have a defeater. Suppose I also remember that as a favor to a friend today, I participated in a psychological experiment and was given a false memory that I ate a baloney sandwich for lunch. I am aware of this deception, but it still seems to me that I remember eating a baloney sandwich for lunch. It seems conceivable that I might have an experience as of seeming to remember having a baloney sandwich, but not also believe that I did, because I know that my memory to that effect is false. So, just as in the case of seeing the truth of an obvious proposition, there is an event prior to belief and separable from belief that seems (to me at least) to be a ground for my so believing.

Thus, there is some reason to think that evidence exists that may justify my memorial beliefs. The burden then, for the anti-evidentialist is to show that there are cases in which one genuinely remembers and should be justified in believing, but in fact, one has no evidence or insufficient evidence. I am inclined to think that such cases will not exist - the problem of forgotten evidence seems to me to be a non-starter too, but is a problem for another blogging.

2. So, supposing that there is evidence, what strategies are available for the evidentialist? I think that one obvious case is "seeming evidentialism" or "phenomenal conservatism". Michael Huemer has defended the view that seemings that P may play a role in justifying P. I find this view plausible, though it (of course) has its detractors. If seemings are evidence, the evidence mentioned above (separable from one's memorial belief) may be a seeming of this sort, and if so, then that seeming counts as evidence for belief in the remembered proposition. The following is true in cases of remembering that P: it seems to me (often quite strongly) that P is true (or was true). So, if seemings are evidence, then seemings with a particular character or phenomenology may provide the evidence in memory.

3. Suppose one's not a fan of seemings. Other accounts seem available to the evidentialist. Suppose that P seems to be true in that way in which memories present themselves to us. If justification involves some proposition being the best explanation of our evidence, then it may well be the case that, given our background information, the best explanation of our memorial experiences are that the events we seem to recollect in fact did occur. The idea would be similar to the use of best explanation in justifying our perceptual beliefs. In fact, the situation is exactly parallel, just the class of propositions justified by these experiences are different. In one situation they are present-tense propositions about the external world, in the other, they are propositions what was the case - or at least about times earlier than the present (if one likes things put into B-theoretic terminology).

It's possible that one thinks that neither of the two ways I've offered are sufficient for justifying memorial beliefs. I think that it's plausible that either may work (they may not even exclude one another), or even that some other way might work (e.g. a Chisholmian approach where more finely grained epistemic principles govern justification of beliefs on certain sorts of experiences). But if these are controversially true, they warrant discussion rather than quick dismissal by anti-evidentialists (as do similar approaches for reductive strategies for justifying the acceptance of testimony).

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Bergmann on Seeming Evidentialism and the Great Pumpkin Objection

I have the privilege of taking a seminar co-taught by Richard Feldman and Earl Conee on the forthcoming volume Evidentialism and its Discontents (I think this is still the title) edited by my friend Trent Dougherty. I'll post some of my half-baked cogitations as I read through these articles during the semester.

Earl Conee, in "First Things First" argues that a version of evidentialism, called "seeming evidentialism" (SE) offers intuitive responses to skepticism and allows one to get started on the epistemic project with minimal methodological commitments. Michael Bergmann in his forthcoming article "Evidentialism and the Great Pumpkin Objection" argues that Conee's response to what has, following Alvin Plantinga's use, been called "The Great Pumpkin Objection" (GPO), fails and further, that evidentialism seems little better off than externalist theories.

First, the GPO. Briefly, if one offers a solution to a skeptical problem such that it can be mimicked by a silly view or an otherwise epistemically objectionable view in a way that appears to make the view epistemically respectable, then one's solution to the skeptical problem fails (Bergmann terms such solutions "inadequate". Presumably the inadequacy is that as arguments against skepticism, they include a false premise, thereby being unsound, rather than some more innocuous form of inadequacy, like failure to convince skeptics.) Bergmann distinguishes between two kinds of arguments against a GPO: a) the target solution has not been successfully mimicked by the silly theory and b) the target solution has been successfully mimicked by the silly theory but still deny that this implies that the solution fails to be a good reply to skepticism.

Bergmann's argument is that while Conee offers an argument that SE is not successfully mimicked by some silly view, his defense of SE fails, there are silly views that are able to successfully defend themselves by mimicking SE. I may deal with Bergmann's argument here at a later time. I haven't made up my mind about the success of his argument.

After concluding that Conee's defense of SE against the GPO fails, Bergmann considers the possibility of SE attempting to reply to the GPO in the same way that externalist theories like proper-functionalism might. The idea, in the case of SE, would be that, despite the fact that there are silly theories that can mimic SE to defend themselves, there is the important difference that SE is true, that seemings-as-if-true are good reasons to believe propositions, whereas silly theories like counterinductive theories or conjecturalist theories don't (in worlds in which they actually give the result that those theories are true).

Bergmann's complaint is that this defense of SE is externalist, and that evidentialists are likely to be less happy about this. It's true that evidentialism does seem to be positively correlated with being an access internalist. However, it bears mentioning that Conee and Feldman have defended understanding the distinction between internalism and externalism as better construed between those who think that one's epistemic justification is a matter of the mental states one has. Bergmann may quibble about how "internalism" and "externalism" ought to be distinguished (as I recall, he does just this in his presentation of his dilemma for internalism). Conee and Feldman, in "Internalism Defended", define internalism as "mentalism", according to which
The justificatory status of a person's doxastic attitudes strongly supervenes on the person's occurrent and dispositional mental states, events, and conditions. (2004, 56)
In the rest of the article, they defend the view that what one is justified in believing only varies with the mental states that one has: that two persons, in any worlds you please, that are alike mentally, will be exactly alike in the degrees to which they are justified in the doxastic attitudes they hold. In fact, their argument for internalism in that article does not focus on what a person is able to access (as Bergmann seems to take internalism to focus on), but which mental states a person has. Consider the birdwatcher case: S1 and S2 are birdwatching with equally good vantage points and looks at a woodpecker that flies by. S1 is an expert birdwatcher and believes what he sees is a woodpecker. S2 is a novice and also believes what he sees is a woodpecker. Being an expert, S1 knows what a woodpecker looks like, while S2 lacks this information. What matters is the mental difference between S1 and S2 for the evaluation of how reasonable each is in believing as they do (and S1 is more reasonable than S2). No mention is made of whether or not S1 is capable of accessing all of the mental states that are evidence for him in his belief that he has seen a woodpecker.

Given that this is the view that they have defended, it would be good for Bergmann to acknowledge in his use of "internalism", that Conee need not be committed to the view that one must be able to easily mentally access any factor that bears on one's being justified.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Kant and Extraterrestrial Life

"If it were possible to settle by any sort of experience whether there are inhabitants of at least some of the planets that we see, I might well bet everything that I have on it. Hence I say that it is not merely an opinion but a strong belief (on the correctness of which I would wager many advantages in life) that there are also inhabitants of other worlds."

-Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason A825/B853

Monday, December 14, 2009

Discussion of Forthcoming Term Paper

For my proseminar paper, I'm thinking of drawing parallels between the generality problem for reliabilist theories of justification and the problem of action description in Kantian ethics, and I'm going to suggest that proposed solutions to the latter can be adapted to address the former.

Briefly, the generality problem for reliabilism is this: according to that theory, a belief-forming process confers justification on a belief token that is produced by that process only insofar as the process is reliable. But the degree to which a belief-forming process can be described as reliable seems to depend in part on the level of generality used in describing the process. For example, take the case of a belief "There is a tree outside my window" that is the result of a process of visual sense perception (for simplicity's sake I'll only consider the visual aspect of the seeing, and exclude other relevant processes such as the application of the concept 'tree'). If we describe this process as "visual sense perception" simpliciter, then it seems as though the process is not very reliable (compare e.g. my seeing the tree at night and without the aid of my glasses with my seeing the tree in the day with my glasses on), but if we describe the process in a very fine-grained way (perhaps so fine as to ensure that only that particular act of seeing fulfills the description) then the reliability of the process will be much higher. The problem is to give a criterion for determining whether and to what degree a process is reliable in a non-ad hoc way.

Briefly, the problem of action description in Kantian ethics is this: if we try to act in accordance with the categorical imperative (specifically, the universal law formulation), then whether an action is permissible seems to depend in some respect on the level of generality used to describe it. Take the paradigmatic case of the person who is questioned by the Gestapo and who lies about hiding Jews: if we describe the action as "lying" simpliciter, then it seems clearly wrong, since we could not consistently will that everyone lie. But, if we describe the action as "lying to an evil person in order to save the lives of innocent people", then it seems like we could consistently will such an action (I'm ignoring some potentially salient features of the example for the sake of simplicity, but I think the general idea is clear).

In both cases, we are presented with the problem of determining the appropriate level of generality to use in describing an action, as well as the implications that such a description has on justification (epistemic in one case and moral in the other). Thus, I think it is reasonable to suppose that progress in finding a solution to one problem can be applied to finding a solution to the other.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Kant's Factory of Thought: a Metaphor

In an attempt to understand Kant's account of the formation of judgments, I developed a drawing that uses a factory as a metaphor for the mind. I intended the drawing to be fairly uncontroversial with regard to the interpretation of Kant's view that it presents, but I should say that precisely locating the transcendental unity of the apperception in the metaphor proved to be difficult.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Kant and Mathematics

This is an excerpt from a paper in which I argue that in the first Critique Kant does not give good reasons for thinking that the truths of mathematics are synthetic a priori.

Mathematical judgments, Kant states, are an example of synthetic a priori judgments (A 10/B 14). Judgments such as “5 + 7 = 12” and “a straight line is the shortest distance between two points” are a priori, since they are both necessary and universal. However, according to Kant they are also synthetic. He states that the concept “twelve” cannot be arrived at solely by examining the concepts of “five,” “seven,” and “addition,” and the concept “shortest distance between two points” cannot be found in the concept “straight line” (B 16). In both cases, Kant argues, we must appeal to an intuition in order to the truth of the judgment. When we add five and seven, we must have recourse to calculating aids such as our fingers, or the visualization of discrete points, etc. (B 15). And in the case of the straight line or other geometrical truths, we must have recourse to intuitions in order to arrive at the correct answer.

But what exactly does Kant mean by appealing to an intuition in this context? As he explains at A 19/B 33, by “intuition” he is specifically referring to the means by which a cognition relates to an object when the mind is presented with that object. In the case of mathematical truths, it is these kinds of intuitions (e.g. the processes of counting or of constructing a geometric figure, cf. Dicker (2004) 27) that allow us to see the truth or falsehood of our judgments, rather than an examination of the concepts involved (Guyer (2006) 61). So an intuition is something over and above the particular concepts involved in a judgment.

In the case of the straight line being the shortest distance between two points, Kant states that the concept of straight “contains nothing of quantity, but only a quality” (B 16), and concludes that this judgment is synthetic. However, a closer examination of the concept “straight line” will reveal the judgment to be analytic. Euclid defines a line as “breadthless length” (Elements I def. 1), and a straight line as “a line which lies evenly with the points on itself (Elements I def. 4); in other words, a straight line is a magnitude in one dimension “which represents the extension equal with (the distances separating) the points on it” (Heath (1956) 166). In addition, Kant’s contemporary Legendre followed Archimedes in simply defined a straight line as the shortest distance between two points (Heath (1956) 169). So the judgment that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points turns out to be analytic after all.

In the case of “5 + 7 = 12,” Kant states that the concept “twelve” cannot be arrived at simply by examining the concepts “five,” “seven,” and “addition,” but requires a process of counting. But it does not seem to me that the process of counting “goes beyond” (B 15) the concepts of the particular numbers and the concept of addition, but that it makes explicit what is already contained in the concepts involved. The concepts “five” and “seven” surely include the concept “magnitude,” and the combination of two particular magnitudes must yield another particular magnitude; in this case, the magnitude that we happen to denote by the concept “twelve.” It seems that e.g. when we represent the concept “five” to ourselves, we unavoidably do so by imagining a certain number of distinct objects (even if those objects are components of another object, as if for instance we represent “five” by visualizing a pie with five slices). I suggest that what Kant calls an “intuition” in this and in similar cases of counting is nothing more than the act of examining the concept of a particular number. That we require this kind of representation in order to perform calculations should be understood as an indication of the genesis of our concepts of numbers (or perhaps an indication of the limits of our particular cognitive capabilities), rather than a proof that mathematical knowledge must be arrived at with the aid of intuitions that go beyond the concepts involved.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Not Getting It

Socrates is my hero. That probably goes for most philosophers. I was a bit surprised at the degree of grief I suffered at reading student essays in which a sizable portion only understand argument as a rhetorical method of persuasion among others. In essay after essay, students failed to get that Socrates is not trying to win in the Apology through rhetoric - he has the option of doing so, but considers it shameful. Maybe it's too much to expect that the students actually read the Apology and noted the importation message of the dialogue that non-rational persuasion is different from persuasion by reason.

Grading is my main interaction with the students (as TA), so I won't have much chance to try to get them to really get Socrates. But it's early in the course and it is (mostly) their first course in philosophy, so after reading more Plato, maybe they'll get it. But if nothing else, I've gotten one of the student errors I want to make sure I address when it's my turn to teach Plato/Socrates to undergraduates.

Monday, September 28, 2009

On Authenticity

A former classmate of mine, Matthew Anderson, recently written an article which raises the issue of authenticity. I'm going to take a stab at the subject, but I honestly haven't thought in great detail about the subject, and this is perhaps my first stab at it. Hopefully I'll better understand how authenticity, if a virtue of any sort fits into the ordinary network of duties, values, and virtues after further thought. But here goes - Anderson writes:

Fewer words find more frequent use among young evangelicals than “authentic.” Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee resonated with young evangelicals for the same reason: they appeared authentic in their positions and their mindsets... And while authenticity has a political dimension, it is also a social virtue. Young evangelicals frequently decry the inauthenticity of the mega-church and individualistic evangelical tradition, where people put on a happy face and “played church.” Experiencing “real life together” is the pursuit of the new evangelical small group, where “real life” is always “messy.” Authenticity in social settings is frequently an excuse for sharing sins and problems within a group of people who doubtlessly share the same sins and problems.
Anderson has as his target an issue among a certain group of people, and I don't doubt that he's right about it. My experience has been that this is far from an issue among evangelicals alone. It's a common theme in movies and when I've had deeper conversations with undergraduates and peers outside the academy, it's not infrequently something that comes up. If anything, I suspect that it's currency among evangelicals today has to do with osmosis from the rest of our culture. I suppose that there's an interesting history to the concept - I suspect that it's currency derives from trickle-down existentialism, but I'm far from positive about that - and it really deserves study.

I'm often inclined to get a bit restless when talk of "authenticity" or "being real" comes up. One of the reasons is the nebulousness of the term. I'm never quite sure what qualifies as being authentic. However, there does appear to be some genuine value to authenticity liable both to inflation and deflation.

The sense of the term I have in mind is that one is authentic if one acts honestly. One fails to be authentic if one talks about traditional values but belies those values by the hookers one is secretly meeting with on the side. One fails to be authentic if one hides feelings or desires because of how it will be perceived (being closeted is a failure of authenticity). Part of the concept appears to have to do with not realizing one's desires for the sake of appearance and part of it has to do with publicly speaking of high standards, but actually acting according to a set of lower standards. In brief, one doesn't act honestly. One intentionally acts in a way so that you communicate to others that you are a kind of person that you aren't.

Here's where it's important not to deflate the value of authenticity. The complement of authenticity is a kind of social fraud. Fraud undercuts human relationships extremely effectively, and I'm told that non-familial relationships are paramount for my generation and those following it. Given that virtuous friendships are of great value to having a flourishing life and that social fraud seems to undercut that value, there's something pretty important about authenticity. It may be that if there are such things as "intrinsic goods" of practices (in MacIntyre's), that authenticity is an important precondition for realizing whatever goods are intrinsic to the practice of friendship. Dante seemed to realize this in his placing fraud at the very deepest level of hell. Subverting relationships generated the worst sins in Dante's taxonomy.

However, there's also reason to think that the value of authenticity is often overblown. Firstly, authenticity seems to be mainly a precondition for having other values. If I'm socially honest, then I can participate in enriching relationships with others in a way that I might not otherwise have done. However, authenticity in the sense I'm concerned with is without much value if the person doesn't have many virtues. Authenticity is in some sense a bit cheap. After all, I can be fully authentic without many of the other virtues. An authentic rascal is still a rascal. If he's not authentic, then he's a hypocritical rascal, but removing the hypocrisy doesn't make him less than a rascal. And there does seem to be a bit of a problem here for people like me who are moral realists of some sort or another with authenticity. Authenticity is sometimes the only virtue that undergrads appear to think isn't relative or subjective. In such cases, I get the impression that one can be taken to be socially virtuous so long as one is honest about how deeply bereft one is of other virtues (paradoxically, I suppose that there's a kind of inauthenticity in this).

If the other virtues are whittled away so that only authenticity remains, then one is poor indeed. But, it's also true that adding authenticity to other valuable traits is, as Dante seemed aware of, a precondition for certain sorts of social moral goods.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ancient Greek Paleontology

This blog is not dead, only dormant.

It's always interesting when something about fossils shows up in antiquity. I was reading some fragments about Xenophanes (b. abt. 570 B.C.) and the following showed up:
He believes that earth is being mixed into the sea and over time it is being dissolved by the moisture saying that he has the following kinds of proofs, that sea shells are found in the middle of the earth and in mountains, and the impressions of a fish and seals have been found at Syracuse in the quarries, and the impression of a laurel leaf in the depth of the stone in Paros, and on Malta flat shapes of all marine life. He says that these things occurred when all things were covered with mud long ago and the impressions were dried in the mud.
- Hippolytus, Refutation (from Cohen, Curd, Reeve, Readings in Ancient Greek Philosophy)
What's interesting here is that Xenophanes knew about fossils, had a vaguely correct notion of what they were (impressions of ancient plants and animals), and used them to formulate theories about prehistory and certain sorts of natural processes. His suppositions were wildly inaccurate, but it was a good early start for paleontology. Additionally, though the "proofs" cited appear to all be hearsay, they do accord with certain kinds of fossils. I wonder whether these were known via rumors passed about in the marketplace or if there were (since it was the dawn of natural science and philosophy in Greece - a self-conscious effort to collect this kind of information among those involved). 

I wonder if there are a) earlier reports of fossils in antiquity and b) if Xenophanes was the first to draw paleontological sorts of conclusions from them. May we rightly call Xenophanes the first paleontologist?


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Gettiered Development

Once one gets familiar with the Gettier problem, one finds it all over the place. Occasionally, one finds it in popular media, like TV. I happened to find what seems to me a very good case of it in the sitcom Arrested Development.

Unfortunately, if one's not familiar with the show, the clip may require some background. The Bluth family is a wealthy family fallen on hard times. George Bluth is on the lam, while his wife Lucille is living with his twin brother Oscar (distinguishable from his fugitive brother by his head of gray hair). Buster, who is actually the son of an illicit liaison between Lucille and Oscar (but does not know this) has been signed up for the Army by Lucille when challenged by a Michael Moore lookalike to do so, and is about to be deployed to Iraq. George has come to see Buster (since he too believes that Buster is his son), wearing a wig as a disguise so that he won't be arrested on sight. The key things to note is that Oscar is Buster's father, and George appears to be Oscar.

Buster believes, on the word of George, whom he takes to be Oscar, that Oscar is his father. His belief is true. His belief also appears to be justified. He sees a man that looks just like Oscar, testifying to him that he is his father. 

It seems pretty obvious that at this point, Buster doesn't actually know that Oscar's his father, but he has a justified true belief that he is.