I’ve been reading Timothy Williamson’s The Philosophy of Philosophy over the break. Hopefully I’ll have some serious posts on it to follow. This isn’t one such post. But I was interested in this remark.
The canonical example in the literature on philosophical thought experiments is Edmund Gettier’s use of them to refute the traditional analysis of knowledge as justified true belief. (179)
Is this really the canonical example? If so, how did it become so. I know that I discussed it at some length in What Good are Counterexamples?, but I don’t think that’s enough to make it canonical.
In any case, if it is canonical, that’s probably a bad thing as far as I’m concerned. What’s striking about the Gettier case is that it seems so easy to generalise. It’s not too controversial whether a particular example is a “Gettier example” or not. So it isn’t clear how much our intuitions/judgments about this particular case are driving the argument. I think it would be much better to have more methodological attention paid to examples like the one Socrates uses at the start of The Republic to convince Cephalus that justice does not always consist in paying your debts. That example has the disutility of being not fully spelled out. But it’s nice as an example of the power of examples because we can all agree that it supports the conclusion Socrates draws even if we couldn’t state what general principle is driving the example, nor know how to generalise the particular example. In that respect, it really shows the philosophical power of examples in a way that it isn’t clear the Gettier case does.