(Roughly) Daily

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing”*…


In the 1960s, the American philosopher Edmund Gettier devised a thought experiment that has become known as a “Gettier case.” It shows that something’s “off” about the way we understand knowledge. This ordeal is called the “Gettier problem,” and 50 years later, philosophers are still arguing about it. Jennifer Nagel, a philosopher of mind at the University of Toronto, sums up its appeal. “The resilience of the Gettier problem,” she says, “suggests that it is difficult (if not impossible) to develop any explicit reductive theory of knowledge.”

What is knowledge? Well, thinkers for thousands of years had more or less taken one definition for granted: Knowledge is “justified true belief.” The reasoning seemed solid: Just believing something that happens to be true doesn’t necessarily make it knowledge. If your friend says to you that she knows what you ate last night (say it’s veggie pizza), and happens to be right after guessing, that doesn’t mean she knew. That was just a lucky guess—a mere true belief. Your friend would know, though, if she said veggie pizza because she saw you eat it—that’s the “justification” part. Your friend, in that case, would have good reason to believe you ate it.

The reason the Gettier problem is renowned is because Gettier showed, using little short stories, that this intuitive definition of knowledge was flawed…

See for yourself at: “This Simple Philosophical Puzzle Shows How Difficult It Is to Know Something.”

* Socrates, in Plato’s Apology; a colloquial distillation of the passage: “I went to one who had the reputation of wisdom, and observed to him – his name I need not mention; he was a politician whom I selected for examination – and the result was as follows: When I began to talk with him, I could not help thinking that he was not really wise, although he was thought wise by many, and wiser still by himself; and I went and tried to explain to him that he thought himself wise, but was not really wise; and the consequence was that he hated me, and his enmity was shared by several who were present and heard me. So I left him, saying to myself, as I went away: Well, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is – for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know.”


As we examine epistemology, we might recall that it was on this date in 1877 that artist and inventor Bainbridge Bishop received a U.S. patent for his first Color Organ. The instruments were lighted attachments designed for pipe organs that could project colored lights onto a screen in synchronization with musical performance.  Bishop built three; each was destroyed in a fire, including one in the home of P. T. Barnum (who had exhibited his).

Synesthesia? Perhaps.  The forerunner of the acid rock light show?  You bet.



Written by LW

January 16, 2017 at 1:01 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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