New Study: No Difference in Gettier Intuition Across Cultures

Within the more metaphilosophically-oriented literature on experimental philosophy, there has been a great deal of discussion of the philosophical implications of cross-cultural differences in intuitions about Gettier cases. This work has been extremely impressive from a purely philosophical perspective, but at times, I worry that it has not been sufficiently closely connected to the actual empirical work in this area. In particular, much of it starts off from the assumption that people of different cultures differ in their intuitions about Gettier cases, but it turns out that the majority of the empirical studies actually find that Gettier intuitions do not depend on culture in this way (see here, here and here). So it sometimes seems that people are investigating the philosophical implications of an effect that doesn’t actually exist.

Happily, Noûs has just published a truly amazing study on this topic by a team of experimental philosophers (Machery, Stich, Rose, Chatterjee, Karasawa, Struchiner, Sirker, Usui & Hashimoto), and I think this new study gives us a much better understanding of the relevant empirical facts. The researchers presented two different Gettier cases to participants in the United States, Brazil, India and Japan, yielding a total sample size of 521 participants. The study is extraordinarily impressive from a methodological perspective and very much worth reading in full, but the basic result can be expressed pretty simply in the following figure:


Overall, the study finds no significant cross-cultural difference but instead a robust tendency, found across all four cultures, to conclude that people do not have knowledge in Gettier cases.

Of course, this finding does not mean that philosophers were mistaken to think that there was something of deep metaphilosophical importance about looking at Gettier intuitions in different cultures. On the contrary, the result obtained here is a truly fascinating one, which surely has rich metaphilosophical implications. The key point is just that the metaphilosophical question we need to be asking is the opposite one from the one people have been discussing thus far. The question worth asking is not ‘What are the metaphilosophical implications of cross-cultural differences in Gettier intuitions?’ but rather ‘What are the metaphilosophical implications of the extraordinary cross-cultural similarity in Gettier intuitions?’ This latter question has not yet been sufficiently explored, but it opens up a whole new range of exciting issues that I hope philosophers will begin exploring over these next few years.

[Cross-posted at Experimental Philosophy. The full paper is available to subscribers at Noûs, but please do feel free to write in with comments even if you have not yet read the paper itself.]


New Study: No Difference in Gettier Intuition Across Cultures — 2 Comments

  1. Pingback: “Gettier” Intuition Across CulturesThe Indian Philosophy Blog | The Indian Philosophy Blog

  2. This post has generated a great deal of discussion on social media, and I thought it might be a good idea to add in one additional comment to avert some misunderstandings that might otherwise arise.

    Most of the discussion has been very helpful and well-informed, but occasionally, I worry that people seem to have some misconceptions about what previous work in experimental philosophy was showing. In particular, it sometimes seems that people are thinking that previous work in the field had been continuously claiming that people’s philosophical intuitions were influenced to a surprising degree by demographic factors (ethnicity, race, gender, etc.) and that this new study represented some kind of sudden about-face, going against what experimental philosophers had been saying all along.

    This is actually not correct. First of all, the vast majority of work in experimental philosophy has nothing to do with ways in which people’s intuitions vary with demographic factors and is concerned instead with entirely unrelated issues. Second, within the research that does examine demographic factors, there have indeed been a few studies that purport to show correlations between demographic factors and philosophical intuitions, but a very large number of the studies arrive at exactly the opposite conclusion. That is, a large number of the studies are about ways in which people’s intuitions are surprisingly invariant across demographic factors that one might have thought would make a difference.

    I provide a more complete summary of what experimental philosophy has shown about the impact of demographic factors at:

    As I describe in further detail there, the vast majority of the prior studies on this particular issue — intuitions about Gettier cases — specifically show that people’s intuitions do not differ from one culture to the next. Thus, the present study is actually very much in line with what the majority of existing experimental work was suggesting.

    In any case, my sense is that the trouble here is very much the fault of us experimental philosophers rather than of non-experimentalist readers. I worry that we have not done a good enough job of getting the word out about what the actual experimental work in our field is showing, and we should definitely try to do better at this in the future.

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