Blargh Blog

Monday, February 14, 2005

Telephone Call for Mr. Gettier

This weekend I called up my friend Carl*. He picked up the phone and said hello, and, recognizing his voice, I said "Hey, Carl" and asked him what was going on. It turns out that his brother Carter was staying with him, and the three of us ended up getting together and going to see a movie.

The weird thing is that Carter's voice sounds just like Carl's. I've known Carl for years (though I hadn't met Carter before), but during the evening I had to pay attention just to keep track of who was talking.

Thinking back to the phone call, I realized that I had gotten lucky. It's always embarrassing when you're talking on the phone as if you knew who you were talking to, but it turns out to be someone else with a similar-sounding voice. Fortunately, Carter wasn't the one on the phone this time, so I avoided the embarrassment.

I actually did something better than avoiding embarrassment. I stumbled on an everyday Gettier case. I had a true belief (I was talking to Carl) that was justified (I had called Carl's house and a voice like his greeted me on the phone) but it seems like luck, not knowledge. Now I feel special, like Glen must've felt when he sat in on a real-life Condorcet cycle.

So why is it that most Gettier problems that I hear about involve strange things like fake barns, robot dogs, a person hidden in his office, or beliefs about pocket change? An ordinary Gettier case could be just a telephone call away.

*I've fictionalized names and other aspects of this story just enough to give it universal appeal, rather than leaving it as merely a tale of my particular life.


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