Edmund Gettier (1927-2021) (updated)


Edmund L. Gettier III, professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, has died.

Professor Gettier had interests in philosophy of language, metaphysics, and logic, but was known for his work in epistemology—famously, for his 3-page article, “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?“, published in 1963 in Analysis. In the paper he provided a pair of cases that served as counterexamples to the traditional analysis of knowledge as justified, true, belief. Those types of cases became known as Gettier cases, and the challenge of repairing the traditional analysis of knowledge in light of them came to be known as the “Gettier problem.”

The short article spurred an enormous literature dedicated to its particular problem, and, in turn, a wider range of issues in epistemology. As one commenter noted in an essay about the Gettier problem, “If you added up the number of times that this article has been discussed or cited in the literature (thou­sands of times), and divided that by the number of words in the article (approximately 930), the resulting quotient would be larger than the quotient for any other work of philosophy ever published.”

Prior to moving to the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1967, Professor Gettier taught at Wayne State University. He earned his Ph.D. at Cornell University.

He died two weeks ago.


(via David Braun)

[Note: The photograph originally accompanying this post was not a photo of Edmund Gettier; it has been replaced with a photograph that those who knew Gettier confirm is of him. I am sorry for the mistake.]

UPDATE 1: The University of Massachusetts, Amherst Department of Philosophy has posted a memorial notice for Professor Gettier, a notice and personal reflections by Phil Bricker, and personal reflections from Bob Sleigh.

UPDATE 2: Melinda Roberts (TCNJ) sent along the following photo of Gettier:

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Ben Bradley
Ben Bradley
3 months ago

Ed was a wonderful man. I don’t know who the man in the photo is, but it is not Ed unless he dramatically changed his appearance at some point.Report

Priyedarshi Jetli
Priyedarshi Jetli
Reply to  Ben Bradley
3 months ago

I think the picture is his as it has been around for some time all over and there is a resemblance to his earlier picture.Report

Priyedarshi Jetli
Priyedarshi Jetli
Reply to  Ben Bradley
3 months ago

Ben, I apologize, it seems that not only was that not Gettier’s picture but as stated by Christian Kendall-Daw on Twitter it is a picture off a Kadampa Buddhist monk Gen Sangye (https://twitter.com/dailynouseditor/status/1381805149681807365) I have confirmed with google images and a you tube clip and this seems to be correct. Now, the question is, since this picture has been associated for some time with Gettier, how did this come about? This also brings to me the problem of how reliable are testimonies in the seeking of knowledge.Report

Sheila (Gettier) Plungis
Sheila (Gettier) Plungis
Reply to  Ben Bradley
3 months ago

The photo above is of Edmund Gettier. He is my father. SheilaReport

Priyedarshi Jetli
Priyedarshi Jetli
Reply to  Sheila (Gettier) Plungis
3 months ago

Thanks for the clarification!Report

Priyedarshi Jetli
Priyedarshi Jetli
3 months ago

Thanks for that statistic, yes indeed if you go by citations per word of the paper there is no match, not even Plato’s Republic.Report

Priyedarshi Jetli
Priyedarshi Jetli
3 months ago

What is also amazing is that the approximately 930 words haven’t been read properly in most of the citations to Gettier! This is dazzling to me!Report

Priyedarshi Jetli
Priyedarshi Jetli
3 months ago

I wonder why there is no specified date of his death! I am searching!Report

Daina Gettier Carvel
Daina Gettier Carvel
Reply to  Priyedarshi Jetli
3 months ago

He died March 23, 2021. We are working on doing his obituary justice with many sources in the midst of grieving.Report

Priyedarshi Jetli
Priyedarshi Jetli
Reply to  Daina Gettier Carvel
3 months ago

Thanks! May God rest his soul!Report

Jc Beall
3 months ago

Ed Gettier gave me the best advice for writing: “Above all, make it clear. And make it short if you can.” I’ve tried my best to do that.

He was a kind person, and cared about getting ideas right.

One word summarizes Ed’s working practice at UMass: napkins. (And if context is demanded: Newman napkins.)Report

earl conee
earl conee
Reply to  Jc Beall
3 months ago

For UMies from long ago, those would be Whitmore napkins, Whitmore being the UMass administration building in the coffee shop of which Gettier used to philosophize -terrifically well, generously, and enthusiastically – largely by writing it down on napkins)Report

Priyedarshi Jetli
Priyedarshi Jetli
Reply to  earl conee
2 months ago

Earl, I hope you are doing fine! You may not remember me but I was AI for you in a logic course at IU in the 80s.Report

Avram Hiller
Reply to  Jc Beall
3 months ago

R.C. Sleigh, in the Introduction to the festschrift for Gettier’s 60th birthday, mentions that Gettier’s student Del Ratzsch only half-jokingly wanted to publish The Collected Napkins of Ed Gettier.Report

Last edited 3 months ago by Avram Hiller
Paul McNamara
Paul McNamara
Reply to  Jc Beall
3 months ago

Yes, the Whitmore coffee shop Napkins! I recall one with a simple but decisive counterexample to a model I was then proposing. Of the many excellent courses at UMASS, I think the most exciting one for me was his modal logic class with a stress on multiple philosophical applications. No slides, but multiple whiteboards covered rapid fire, at a dizzying rate, with Ed’s commentary throughout, and him breaking out in a sweat by the end. It (the performance, the content, and the vision of formal philosophy conveyed) was exhilarating!Report

Adriane RIni
Adriane RIni
Reply to  Paul McNamara
3 months ago

With the proof theory on the front board, and the model theory on the side board?!Report

David Cowles
David Cowles
Reply to  Paul McNamara
3 months ago

Don’t forget all the badminton! I miss those days. Just now I especially miss Ed.Report

Daina (Gettier) Carvel
Daina (Gettier) Carvel
Reply to  David Cowles
2 months ago

Yes David we do as well. We (his family) love reading about him and what fond memories people have of him or of his work. He so enjoyed his work but also his badminton with his students and colleagues!Report

Paul McNamara
Paul McNamara
Reply to  David Cowles
2 months ago

I do remember David. He invited me *once*. I had played a lot of handball in high school, and backyard lazy beer-in-hand badminton, but at Ed’s level, I missed the birdie left and right so much, that at the end he just asked quizzically: “What sports did you say you played?”Report

S S
S S
3 months ago

R.I.P.Report

Alan White
Alan White
3 months ago

In stark shameful contrast to Gettier’s brilliance are the millions who now hold that justified true knowledge does not entail belief.

He will always be an icon of what great philosophy can accomplish in terse powerful prose.Report

Stephen Menn
Stephen Menn
3 months ago

There’s an obit in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. It wasn’t very good, but it’s remarkable that it happened: https://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/was-das-argument-des-philosophen-gettier-besonders-macht-17293510.htmlReport

Priyedarshi Jetli
Priyedarshi Jetli
3 months ago

What a wonderful pictureReport