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.