Winter Barn | Source: Pixabay

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

Post Three of Three (Post 1 / Post 2)

by Anand Jayprakash Vaidya

Shaw’s Nyāya and Mou’s Mohism are contemporary theories of epistemology deriving from historical sources in classical Indian and Chinese philosophy. In their work both philosophers try to do three main things: (i) understand the core historical sources accurately, (ii) develop a robust epistemological account based on an interpretation of the core historical source, (iii) show how the historical-contemporary account can be applied to solve a contemporary western philosophical problem by application. There are several things to note about their approaches, and the work of other 20th century non-western philosophers that attempt to do something like (i)-(iii) in a variety of areas in philosophy, such as political theory, metaphysics, aesthetics, and ethics.

First, these theories, like other contemporary theories, can be objected to for simply failing to offer a reasonable and or viable solution. The fact that they are based on historical sources does not make them elements in the history of philosophy. Rather, as the authors intend them, they are pieces of constructive engagement: cross-traditional philosophizing that aims at insight and or solutions to philosophical problems. There are a host of objections one can make to these theories. For example, we might imagine someone objecting that these responses only deal with Gettier’s actual cases, what about variants, such as Lehrer’s Havit, or Goldman’s FakeBarn, which both involve epistemic luck of a different kind, but don’t involve the exact features present in the original cases.

Havit’s Ford. Two agents, Mr. Smith and Mr. Nogot, work in the same office. Nogot has given Smith evidence that justifies Smith in believing that Nogot owns a Ford. Imagine that Smith has seen Nogot driving a Ford, Smith has been told by persons who have in the past been reliable that Nogot owns a Ford, and so on. From this evidence Smith then infers the proposition that someone in the office owns a Ford. The belief that someone in the office owns a Ford is true. But, unsuspected by Smith, Nogot has been shamming and the belief is only true because another person in the office, Mr. Havit, owns a Ford. Does Smith know that someone in the office owns a Ford?

Fake-Barn. Henry sees a barn, and thus forms the propositional belief that what he sees is a barn. Henry is correct — that is, his belief is true. He happens to be in the countryside, and one would not normally expect that some barnlike object in the countryside would be anything other than a barn, most would agree. Thus, Henry has a justified true belief that what he sees is a barn. However, it turns out that the area in which Henry found the barn is scattered with façades of barns — that is, constructions that are meant to look like barns from a certain perspective (i.e., Henry’s), but are not, in fact, barns. In actuality, the barn that Henry found was one of a very small number of actual barns in the area, and it is by sheer luck that Henry happened to form his belief about that particular object.

The general complaint might be that we want the theories from these non-western traditions to cover a host of cases, not just the original cases. This is a fair complaint to make. However, to his credit, Shaw actually engages that issue in his work by exploring a host of post-Gettier cases, from figures such as Goldman’s case. And while Mou’s current work does not, it is not at all clear that it cannot be developed. For his work also shows that the Daoist tradition can respond to Gettier in a different way from the Mohist, and that the Daoist response offers a comprehensive approach to epistemology because, like Jain philosophy, it embraces a form of perspectivalism (or, non-onesidedness) about knowledge.

More importantly, we should take note of two things. First, these philosophers working in non-western tradition are going out of their way to make their traditions relevant to western problems and cases. How often do we see a western philosopher use techniques from western philosophy to solve a problem and or address an issue in non-western philosophy. The main case that comes to mind is logic, where we see the resources of mathematical logic used to address non-western logic. But do we really see engagement with non-western problems as a control space for theorizing. Second, the complaint puts the bar way to high. We let all sorts of western epistemologists into the Gettier game with analyses that only cover some cases and not all. And some spend their career trying to show how their theories can cover all the different kinds of cases that are out there. The bar need not be that high, and perhaps there are two bars, one for publishing and one for teaching.

With respect to the inclusion problem, at least at the teaching level, these theories can clearly be engaged. They are clear and students should find them as engaging as standard responses to Gettier from the standard sources. There is much to be discussed in class surrounding these examples. For instance, in Shaw’s response to the second Gettier case he points out the difference between an entity, x, having three properties, say P, Q, and R, and an entity, x, having three properties ordered in the correct way: x has P & Q, both of which are qualified by R. This distinction is easy to explain through the well-known example of sandwiches. A sandwich has parts, but it is only a sandwich when those parts are ordered in the right way. Other than an open-face sandwich, two pieces of bread stacked on top of each other, with cheese on top and avocado on top is not a sandwich. Move the bottom piece of bread to the top, and well yes, we have a sandwich. Shaw’s articulation of Nyāya uses a point from their school of thought about relations and orderings. Students should easily engage this issue.

Finally, another complaint, from a distinct point of view, might be that these responses are structurally similar to responses already in play by western philosophers that we do teach. As a consequence, we need not discuss them. They are, as the complaint goes, already in play. However, if this is a legitimate complaint, then there is no real counter response, because the complaint misses the point of the inclusion problem. At least one point of highlighting inclusion is that we want to diversify the canon, where appropriate, with quality work. If these views really are identical to some of the views that are already in the market, which I doubt, then I suggest that we might consider substituting the already taught western views, for some non-western views. Inclusion is not just about quality work; it is also about learning from other groups so as to get wider and more comprehensive perspectives, discussions, and participants. As an epistemologist, I can say that both of these pieces seem to me to be worthy of engagement in the classroom and for the purposes of publishing responses and refinements.

Anand Jayprakash Vaidya is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Comparative Philosophy at San Jose 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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