The Inclusion Problem in Epistemology: The Case of the Gettier Cases (1 of 3)

Post One of Three

by Anand Jayprakash Vaidya

In my prior posts on philosophy of mind, and critical thinking, I have used the phrase “the inclusion problem” to refer to some of the issues that surround the teaching of non-Western thinkers in philosophy courses where they are traditionally not taught. So, the “inclusion problem for epistemology” is simply a phrase that refers to the set of issues that one might face when trying to think through how to meaningfully introduce and discuss non-Western philosophers in an epistemology course. In general, there is no reason why one cannot include philosophers from other traditions when building a conversation about the nature of knowledge. Consequently, in the following posts I will focus on one way in which epistemology courses can be diversified based on something that almost every contemporary epistemology course includes: discussion of Edmund Gettier’s counterexamples from his 1963 classic, Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?” To set up this discussion I will first discuss three places where Gettier’s cases are discussed. His cases, and their variants, have at least three well-known lives.

In the analytic philosophy there is fruitful debate over how to provide an analysis of knowledge in light of Gettier’s examples. Robert K. Shope’s The Analysis of Knowing: A Decade of Research (1983) catalogues much of the research done on the analysis of knowledge. And many contemporary epistemologists, such as Duncan Pritchard in “Anti-Luck Virtue Epistemology” (2012), continue to provide defenses of the research program under which epistemology seeks an analysis of knowledge.

In experimental philosophy there is debate over whether Westerners and East Asians are as likely to consider Gettier cases as cases where knowledge is absent. Jonathan Weinberg, Shaun Nichols, and Stephen Stich (2001) argued that there are differences between Westerners and East Asians. More recently, Edouard Machery, Stephen Stich, David Rose et al. (2015) have argued that there is wide agreement on the Gettier intuition across subjects from the USA, Japan, Brazil, and India.

In general discussions of philosophical methodology there is also extensive debate over whether knowledge can be analyzed, what the content of the Gettier intuition is, and how intuitions, such as the Gettier intuition, can serve as evidence for philosophical theories. Timothy Williamson has written two major works on some of the issues. In Knowledge and its Limits (2000), he argues that knowledge is a non-factorizable mental state. It does not decompose into truth + belief + justification + an anti-luck condition. In The Philosophy of Philosophy (2007) he offers an extensive engagement with the Gettier counterexamples, and the content of the Gettier intuition, in relation to philosophical evidence. Many philosophers have engaged him on both issues.

Although Gettier’s cases, and their variants, have these three lives, it would appear that they have little life outside of the Western philosophical tradition, and perhaps even outside of the analytical tradition (i.e. not much discussion in continental or phenomenological philosophy). Perhaps the two most commonly cited articles discussing Gettier in non-Western contexts are Jonathan Stoltz’s excellent piece on “Gettier and Factivity in Indo-Tibetan Epistemology” (2007), and Karl Potter’s classic “Does Indian Epistemology Concern Justified True Belief?” (1984), in which he discusses the question of whether Indian philosophy even engages the issue of knowledge as justified true belief. Both pieces argue that we don’t find Gettier-style examples or issues in Indian philosophy because of the messy issues surrounding the nature of belief, doubt, and justification. Both Stoltz and Potter point out that in Indian traditions belief is often discussed in an episodic sense while in analytic epistemology the concern is more with the dispositional sense of belief. Potter also points out that the notion of justification used in analytic epistemology does not neatly map into Indian theories of knowledge (pramāṇa). A more sustained and theoretical examination of the relevant concepts, which are often translated as knowledge and belief in Sanskrit within Indian philosophy, is offered by Purushottama Bilimoria’s 1985 response to Potter, “Jñāna and Pramā: The Logic of Knowing— A Critical Appraisal.”

Outside of these pieces, which are of a more historical and translational flavor, there is little awareness of work by contemporary non-Western philosophers on Gettier’s examples. That is, there is no discussion of the fact that non-Western philosophers have read Gettier’s work, and have shown how non-Western traditions may have responded to the Gettier examples, by extrapolating from the textual evidence a general epistemic theory that can be applied to handle the Gettier cases.  This is important for teaching purposes, since it shows that non-Western traditions can engage contemporary issues. Not that they must, but that they can. And often the tools that they bring are quite interesting and engaging for students to learn about. After doing some stage-setting, I turn to a brief presentation and discussion of two contemporary non-Western views, one that derives from the Nyāya School of Indian philosophy, another that derives from the Mohist School of Chinese philosophy.


  • Bilimoria, P. “Jñāna and Pramā: The Logic of Knowing-A Critical Appraisal.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 13.1 (1985): 73-102.
  • Gettier, E. “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?” Analysis 23.6 (1963): 121-123.
  • Machery, E., Stich, S., Rose, D., Chatterjee, A., Karasawa, K., Struchiner, N., Sirker, S., Usui, N., and Hashimoto, T. “Gettier Across Cultures.” Nous (2015). doi: 10.1111/nous.12110.
  • Pritchard, D. “Anti-Luck Virtue Epistemology.” The Journal of Philosophy 109.3 (2012): 247-279.
  • Potter, K. “Does Indian Epistemology Concern Justified True Belief?” Journal of Indian Philosophy 12.4 (1984): 307-327.
  • Shope, R. The Analysis of Knowledge: A Decade of Research. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983.
  • Stoltz, J. “Gettier and Factivity In Indo-Tibetan Epistemology.” The Philosophical Quarterly 57.288 (2007): 394-415.
  • Weinberg, J., Nichols, S., Stitch, S. “Normativity and Epistemic Intuitions.” Philosophical Topics 29.1&2 (2001): 429-460.
  • Williamson, T. Knowledge and its Limits. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Williamson, T. The Philosophy of Philosophy. Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, 2007.

Anand Jayprakash Vaidya is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Comparative Philosophy at San Jose State University in California. His interests include the epistemology of intuition, perception and modality, the metaphysics of logic, critical thinking, the capabilities approach to justice, the philosophy of economics, and cross-cultural and multi-disciplinary public philosophy.


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2 thoughts on “The Inclusion Problem in Epistemology: The Case of the Gettier Cases (1 of 3)

  1. Hi Anand,

    This is a super interesting and helpful post. The key point you make here strikes me as right on target, and the details you provide in the next post really helped to flesh out the core idea.

    Anyway, I just wanted to follow up on one extremely minor thing. It isn’t quite accurate to say that there is now a debate in experimental philosophy about the existence of cross-cultural differences in intuitions about Gettier cases. Basically, it is not there is a debate but rather that researchers acquired new data and therefore changed their minds. Around fifteen years ago, most experimental philosophers thought that there were cross-cultural differences in intuitions about Gettier cases, but then subsequent studies showed that this early view was actually mistaken. (Note, for example, that one of the authors on the earlier paper is also an author on the later paper.)

    Still, you are completely right to say that Gettier cases form an active area of research in experimental philosophy. The specific issue of cross-cultural differences seems to be pretty much settled, but there is ongoing research on Gettier intuitions about the role of moral considerations , the distinction between authentic and apparent evidence, and a number of other topics.

  2. Hi Joshua

    I agree. Your rendering of the state of play is more accurate. In addition, it is consistent with my impression of the overall ethos of experimental philosophy I became familiar with at 2008 Summer School: design better experiments, get more data, do better analysis, and see what the analysis is. Often there are critiques of x-phi that seem to miss the point that a lot of the research aims at doing better experiments and better analysis. So, it is correct to say that the 2015 study is a better study than the 2001 study. The questions are phrased better and there are more examples that are used.

    I am hoping in the future that we can improve even more by combining work in x-phi on Gettier intuitions with some comparative philosophical explorations of non-western theories of knowledge. So, that we have a more comprehensive overall story about knowledge attributions and theories of knowledge in global philosophy.

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