Resolving the Gettier Problem in the Smith Case: The Donnellan Linguistic Approach

Kritike 12 (2):108-125 (2018)
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Abstract
In this paper, we contend that the “Smith case” in Gettier’s attempt to refute the justified true belief (JTB) account of knowledge does not work. This is because the said case fails to satisfy the truth condition, and thus is not a case of JTB at all. We demonstrate this claim using the framework of Donnellan’s distinction between the referential and attributive uses of definite descriptions. Accordingly, the truth value of Smith’s proposition “The man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket” partly depends on how Smith uses the definite description “the man who will get the job” when he utters the proposition. Since, upon uttering the proposition, Smith has in mind a particular individual, namely Jones, and not just whoever will fit the attribute specified in the definite description, Smith uses the definite description referentially. And so when it turns out that it is Smith who eventually gets the job, the definite description fails to refer to Jones as intended by Smith, thereby making Smith’s proposition false. To think that Smith’s proposition is still true, in this regard, is to use the definite description attributively—that it is about whoever will fit the definite description. Apparently, when Gettier claims that Smith’s proposition is still true, to demonstrate that it is a case of JTB, he, in effect, imposes his attributive understanding of Smith’s usage of the definite description on Smith’s own epistemic situation.
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Archival date: 2019-03-22
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