The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1940  Monday, 6 October 2003

From:           Daniel O'Brien <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 03 Oct 2003 12:21:14 +0000
Subject:        Shakespeare and the Theory of Knowledge

Hi everyone

I wonder if you could help me.  I am currently writing a philosophy
textbook on the Theory of Knowledge.  I am looking for examples from
literature of what are called Gettier cases.  A colleague suggested that
there must be such an example in a Shakespeare comedy, although he
couldn't himself think of a case.

The following is the kind of thing I am looking for.

Having a true belief alone does not count as knowing something.  The
belief that it is raining in Paris right now might pop into my head and
it might just happen to be true.  It couldn't be said, however, that
this is something that I know.  If, however, I have good reason to think
that my beliefs are true then I can have knowledge.  I may have been
looking at a Paris webcam and come to have that belief.  So, the
traditional analysis states that knowledge is justified true belief.
Examples have been forwarded which suggest this cannot be right.  These
are called "Gettier cases" after the philosopher who first came up with
them.  These involve scenarios in which it does not seem that the
subject has knowledge even though he or she does have a justified true
belief.  The following is the kind of example that Gettier forwarded.

I walk past a pub when there's an England football match on the TV
inside.  I hear a cheer and come to believe that England have scored.
And, they have.  So, I have a true belief and good reasons to think that
it is true (England fans in pubs cheer when England score).  However,
unbeknownst to me I was walking past a different bar of the pub, one
which was hosting a karaoke competition and the cheers I heard were for
a good rendition of a song.  The intuition here, then, is that we would
not want to say that I know a goal has been scored.  I have a true
belief for which I have (seemingly) good reasons yet this does not
amount to knowledge.  I've just, in effect, been lucky.

So, I wonder if there is anything like this in the work of Shakespeare.

Any suggestions would be much appreciated.  It would perhaps be best to
reply off-list to me at:


Thanks for having a think about this.

Dan O'Brien
University of Birmingham, UK

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