The Gettier Problem

What is The Gettier Problem?

Imagine you’re certain about something because you have good reasons, and it turns out you’re right. But then someone shows you that your reasons were actually based on a mistake. Does that still count as truly ‘knowing’ something? The Gettier Problem is a tricky question from the world of philosophy that asks just that. It puts a spotlight on what it means to really ‘know’ something, suggesting there’s more to it than we might think.

To be super clear, let’s break it down. ‘Knowledge’ has always been a pretty big deal in philosophy – it’s like the golden ticket that everyone wants to get right. Philosophers used to think that if you believed something, it was true, and you had solid backing for your belief, you could stamp it as ‘knowledge’. But Edmund Gettier, a brainy philosopher from the 20th century, shook things up. He said, ‘Wait a minute, what if you tick all those boxes, but it’s still not quite right?’ He came up with cases where everything seemed to line up – truth, belief, good reasons – but something was off, making it more about being lucky than actually ‘knowing’.

Simple Definitions of Knowledge

First up, knowledge is like a puzzle. To complete it, you need three pieces. One, there’s a fact out there – let’s say it’s about whether it’s raining or not. Two, you need to believe in that fact – like you’re convinced it’s raining because you hear water tapping on your window. Three, you must have a good reason to believe it – you’ve checked the weather report, and it said it’d rain today. All three pieces click together, and you say, “Aha! I know it’s raining.”

But then comes the Gettier problem. Imagine there’s a twist. What if the sound you heard was actually your neighbor watering their garden, and the weather report was wrong – but it really was raining anyway? You believed the right thing for the wrong reasons. So do you truly ‘know’ it’s raining? That’s what we’re scratching our heads about.


  • A man owns a dog and always comes home to find his dog waiting behind the front door. One day, without his knowledge, the dog escapes and a look-alike stray walks in. The man believes his dog is behind the door like always and, by sheer luck, there actually is a dog there. This makes us question if he ‘knows’ his dog is behind the door when his justification doesn’t quite connect to the truth.
  • You see a clock that shows the time as 3 PM. You believe it’s 3 PM based on that clock, which is usually reliable. But what you don’t know is that the clock stopped exactly 12 hours ago. It just so happens it really is 3 PM. This challenges whether you truly ‘knew’ the time or just made a lucky guess.
  • Imagine a woman driving past a barn in the countryside and sees a barn that looks just like all the others. She thinks, “That’s a barn,” and she’s correct. But it turns out all the other barns were fake, made for a movie set. She got the right answer, but all her ‘evidence’ was misleading. This puts her ‘knowledge’ into question.
  • A student guesses the answer on a multiple-choice test. They believe their answer is correct because they think they remember studying it. They did not actually study that part, but coincidentally, their guess is correct. This raises doubts about whether the student truly ‘knows’ the answer or is just lucky.
  • A soccer fan believes his team won because they always win when he wears his lucky jersey. He’s right, the team did win, but not because of his jersey – they had a stroke of good luck in the game. The fan’s justification doesn’t really have anything to do with the truth, which makes us question his ‘knowledge’.

Important Related Topics

  • Epistemology: This is the fancy name for the study of knowledge. It asks big questions like what knowledge is, how we get it, and how we can be sure we’re right about what we ‘know’. The Gettier Problem is a big puzzle piece in this area.
  • Justification: This is all about backing up what you believe. If you can’t give good reasons for what you think is true, then can you really say you ‘know’ it? Philosophers debate about how strict we need to be when checking someone’s homework on their beliefs.
  • Truth: Truth is supposed to be what’s really real, no jokes, no crossed fingers. In the Gettier Problem, even when something is true, the mix-up in reasoning makes us wonder if we can call it ‘knowledge’.
  • Belief: Belief is when you take something to be true in your own mind. But belief by itself isn’t enough for knowledge – you could believe that spiders from Mars run the internet, but without truth and justification, it’s not ‘knowledge’.

Why is it Important?

Think about this – imagine we always went around saying we ‘know’ stuff when we’ve just been getting lucky guesses. That’s a shaky foundation to build anything on, like science, laws, or how we figure out what’s fair. The Gettier Problem nudges us to be more careful and dig deeper into how we unlock the secrets of ‘knowing’ stuff. It’s not just for eggheads in armchairs; it’s about making sure that when our teachers, scientists, and judges say they ‘know’, they’ve got the full picture and are not just rolling the dice.

For your everyday person, it’s like a warning light on your car’s dashboard. It tells us to check our ‘knowledge’ engine, to tune up our beliefs, and to make sure our truth tires have enough air. This way, we don’t just coast through life taking things for granted. Instead, we can build more solid ground under our feet and help others do the same.

In conclusion, the Gettier Problem isn’t just brain gymnastics; it’s a vital question about the accuracy and reliability of what every single one of us considers ‘knowledge’. Tackling this problem means looking closely at how we support our beliefs, demanding more than just being right by chance, and applying this to every part of life – from classroom to courtroom to computer coding. These challenges ensure that when we claim to ‘know’ something, it’s built on something sturdier than a lucky guess.