Intuitions on a Painted Mule Case

I’m curious about what your intuitions are in this variation of the painted mule case. Apologies if it’s already been gone over in the literature or elsewhere. As usual, I’ll stipulate that a painted mule really would look like a zebra.

Jordan the zookeeper has just fed the zebra, and seen that it is the same zebra that he has cared for for years. Jordan hears someone ask Jackie, a small child looking into the cage, “Do you know what that animal is?” Jackie says, “I know that it’s a zebra.” It crosses Jordan’s mind that zebras look much like mules except for the coloring, and that if an appropriately painted mule were in the cage Jackie would still think it was a zebra. Jordan also knows that no one has ever pulled such a prank in this zoo, and in fact thinks that nobody has ever even thought of substituting a painted mule for a zebra in any zoo anywhere.

Should Jordan evaluate Jackie’s knowledge claim, “I know that it’s a zebra,” as true or false? If Jordan said, “Jackie knows that it’s a zebra,” would it be true or false? Is your answer affected at all by the fact that Jordan can rule out (in the way that Jackie can’t) that the zebra is a painted mule?

My answers are likely as theoretically laden as anyone’s here, but I’ll put them in the comments so you can formulate your answers without looking at mine.

An irrelevant question: Wouldn’t The Painted Mule be a great name for a nightclub?


Intuitions on a Painted Mule Case — 2 Comments

  1. I don’t want to take a position on contextualism vs. invariantism here. But the fact that Jordan has directly ruled out that the zebra is a painted mule makes me somewhat less inclined to think that Jordan should deny that Jackie knows that it’s a zebra. The possibility that has crossed Jordan’s mind is completely academic; Jordan doesn’t think that it’s one Jackie should investigate before pronouncing, and it’s not a live possibility for Jordan, since she has ruled it out. So it just doesn’t seem to me as though it should affect her ascription of knowledge to Jackie.

  2. I don’t see any reason to deny that Jackie speaks the truth or that Jordan’s assertion would be correct. As for the Painted Mule, I’m not sure what sort of clientele you’d attract, but I’ve seen worse names for nightclubs. Quick question. Would you really want a nightclub filled with epistemologists rather than a pub?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *