Gettier’s Platonic Moment
Stephen Hetherington (University of New South Wales)

November 17, 2023, 10:00am - 12:00pm

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Shanghai JiaoTong University

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Topic: Stephen Hetherington 'Gettier’s Platonic Moment'

Time: 2023/11/17 10:00-12:00 (GMT+08:00) China Standard Time - Beijing

Speaker: Stephen Hetherington (University of New South Wales)

Commentators: Xingming Hu (Nanjing University)

                            Qilin Li (Peking University)

Chair: Changsheng Lai (Shanghai Jiao Tong University)

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Abstract: All epistemologists know this official story: Edmund Gettier made a distinctive and decisive contribution to epistemology with his famous 1963 challenge. Yet is that entrenched story correct? Did Gettier actually do that? This paper argues that he did not. His argument was directed at a generic justified-true-belief conception of knowing (for short: JTB). He cited some illustrious precedents for that conception – most notably, two Socratic musings, in Plato’s Meno and Theaetetus. He then described two counterexamples to JTB. But this paper uncovers a deep irony in how he used those counterexamples, and a correlatively significant oversight within the decades of post-Gettier epistemology inspired by his argument. Focusing on Gettier’s first case, I show how we may read it as illustrating knowing’s being absent when the conception of knowing that appeared in the Meno is failed. The case can thus function as in effect arguing for that Meno-Platonic conception. So, in following Gettier by regarding the case as a successful counterexample to JTB, have we been unwittingly applying and thereby endorsing that ancient Meno-Platonic conception, in opposition to the contemporary JTB? In effect even if not intent, have we – when reacting to Gettier’s case – been implicitly favouring the Meno-Platonic conception over JTB? Did –do – Gettier’s cases, as standardly used, amount to practical endorsements of that conception? I propose that, yes, Gettier was – unintentionally – having a Meno-Platonic moment. Epistemologists generally view Gettier as having described something distinctively new. They are mistaken. He was putting into effect a conception already present with Meno-Plato. In which event, does epistemology’s continued endorsement of Gettier’s reading (of knowledge’s being absent) amount likewise to a tacit acceptance of that Meno-Platonic conception? In which event, has post-Gettier epistemology been unwittingly Meno-Platonic in its underlying motivation? Should it now become more wittingly Meno-Platonic? Should we be examining more fully that Meno-Platonic conception – its explanatory strengths and weaknesses, metaphysical implications, and so on? Might such inquiry into epistemology’s past be a step forward for our reflections on knowing’s nature?

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