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Abstract

Edmund Gettier's famous 1963 paper "Is Justified, True Belief Knowledge?" has had an enormous impact on epistemology. What has not been acknowledged to date is that Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges had the same characterization of justified, true belief (JTB) as something short of knowledge in his 1948 short story "Emma Zunz." And not only did Borges's insight precede Gettier's paper by more than a decade, but "Emma Zunz" also suggests that imaginative writing may be inherently better than philosophical treatises at establishing both the validity and the consequence of counterexamples to the JTB formula for knowledge.

I

In 1963, Edmund Gettier wrote a short paper that appeared in the journal Analysis where he demonstrated that justified, true belief (JTB) defined as knowledge does not obtain. Formally, the argument is that it is not the case that:

S knows that P iff

  1. (i). P is true,

  2. (ii). S believes that P, and

  3. (iii). S is justified in believing that P.1

The critique of the definition has to do with counterexamples from scenarios where an agent can have JTB but not knowledge. In Gettier's paper, for example, Smith has strong evidence for believing that Jones will get a promotion and for believing that Jones has ten coins in his pocket: "the president of the company assured him that Jones would [End Page 288] in the end be selected, and . . . he, Smith, had counted the coins in Jones's pocket 10 minutes ago," and from this evidence Smith forms the belief that "the man who will get the job has 10 coins in his pocket" ("IK," p. 122). In the end, however, Smith himself is promoted and also, coincidentally, has ten coins in his own pocket. It turns out, then, that Smith had JTB, but we would balk at calling it knowledge because the belief was only true out of luck or by accident. Gettier provides other similar scenarios—about who owns a Ford or whether Smith's friend Brown is in Boston, Barcelona, or Brest-Litovsk—to illustrate the critique. But for the sake of clarity and out of respect for tradition (no self-respecting writer discussing Gettier's insight ever fails to invent his or her own version of the epistemologically fatal counterexample), I offer my own scenario that illustrates the way in which Gettier's paper upended what in 1963 seemed fairly unanimous among philosophers about the congruence of knowledge and JTB.2

Imagine I am walking down Third Street and come upon a wedding celebration at the local church. As the bride and groom emerge, I recognize my sister and her fiancé. His and her friends and all the rest of my family are gathered on the steps of the church throwing rice at them, they are both wearing wedding rings, and I spot the minister just inside the door, dressed in the same formal attire that I had seen her wear many times before as she performed other weddings in the church. I form the justified belief that I was not invited to the wedding. That is, the epistemic factors that led to the formation of my belief were the very definition of "justification": "evidence, reliability, proper functioning, counterfactual relations, and the like."3

But as it turns out, the scene unfolding before me is actually not the exit from the church after my sister's true wedding; in fact, my sister and her fiancé had been married the week before. One week after their actual wedding, when I saw them at the church, they were there only to undertake a reenactment of the classic "rice-throwing-exit-from-the-church" moment because just after the ceremony the previous weekend it had been raining and the photographer could not get the shot because of the weather. But the real wedding had indeed occurred a week earlier and I was not on the guest list. Therefore, my justified belief about not being invited to the wedding now also turns out to be a true proposition. I possess both justified and true belief, but the connection between JTB about my sister's wedding and a state of knowledge about the actual given circumstances turns out to be a matter of luck, coincidence, or accident. As Gettier observes in his article, scenarios [End Page 289] such as these illustrate how JTB "does not state a sufficient condition for someone's knowing a given proposition" ("IK," p. 123).

Perhaps Gettier's examples about Smith, Jones, and Brown, Fords, coins, and Barcelona are not as intriguing as the story about my sister, but his article set the epistemological branch of philosophy on its head for many a decade and many a volume. Some philosophers have attempted to get around Gettier problems by reframing "justification" as "warrant" or by adding an additional requirement to JTB such as credit, ability, defeasibility, covariationism, identificationism, truth effectivism, truth conduciveness, epistemic responsibility, or unpossessed-defeater cases, or by excluding luck, accident, or serendipity, and so on. The semantic acrobatics become ever more exotic and impossible to comprehend the further afield you get in the expanses of "gettierization."4 All of this because, as Linda Zagzebski observes, "most philosophers . . . find the idea that there is a small but real degree of independence between justification and the acquisition of truth just too attractive to give up" ("IGP," p. 72), and therefore "Gettier problems are inescapable for virtually every analysis of knowledge which at least maintains that knowledge is true belief plus something else" (p. 65). That is, Zagzebski simply differentiates between knowledge, which

requires success, both in reaching the goal of truth and in reaching it via the right cognitive path, [and] the notion of justification or warrant [which] is less stringent, requiring only that the right path is one that is usually successful at getting the truth. It is this difference between the notion of knowledge and the notion of justification that is responsible for Gettier problems. . . . As long as the truth is never assured by the conditions which make the state justified, there will be situations in which a false belief is justified. I have argued that with this common, in fact, almost universal assumption, Gettier cases will never go away.

("IGP," p. 73)

But not for a lack of trying: my summary only skims the surface with regard to the ink that has been spilt (and keyboards mashed) trying to make Gettier go away. Yet his counterexamples stubbornly remain; as Sven Bernecker observes, "It is widely acknowledged that gettierized beliefs fall short of qualifying as knowledge. Given that in philosophy disagreement is the norm, this is a remarkable fact. And what is equally remarkable is that many epistemologists agree on what it is about gettierized beliefs that disqualifies them from the ranks of knowledge" ("KT," p. 128). That is, for these counterexamples, rather than warrant, it is [End Page 290] usually a matter of good or bad luck, accident, or coincidence that makes justified, true beliefs true. It is doubtful, therefore, that my contribution here will do much to solve the Gettier problem, and that is not my aim. Instead, what I propose is that the Argentine author and intellectual Jorge Luis Borges had the very same denial of JTB as something short of knowledge for the principal philosophical insight in his short story "Emma Zunz" of 1948.

The significance of Borges's story, as I will show below, consists of three elements: first, that Borges preceded Gettier in identifying the shortcomings of JTB as knowledge; second, that fictional writing is inherently better than philosophical treatises at establishing the validity of counterexamples; and third, that the parameters of Borges's story make it particularly well suited to demonstrate the weight of the Gettier problem. Finally, while I believe that my analysis is significant for the field of epistemology, I also attempt to correct a rather weak characterization from the field of literary studies of the ways in which Borges's work is philosophical. That is, Borges does not merely reference philosophical debates for aesthetic purposes, but his stories (exemplified by "Emma Zunz") may contribute equally or more effectively to these debates as compared to typical genres of philosophy such as treatises, scholarly articles, monographs, and the like.

II

The following is a brief summary of Borges's story, with a fairly detailed account of the ending. It is essential to recount several key elements, especially the conclusion, to illustrate the way in which Borges's text anticipates the key insight about knowledge and JTB from Gettier.

Emanuel Zunz was an employee of a company that is now called the Tarbuch and Loewenthal textile factory, and had been dismissed after being accused of embezzlement. Just before fleeing or exiling himself to Brazil, he tells his daughter Emma that he had been set up and that the real thief was Aaron Loewenthal, now a partner and owner of the company. Six years later, the nineteen-year-old Emma receives a letter from Brazil indicating that her father has committed suicide. She is now herself employed at the factory, with Loewenthal as her supervisor, and knows very well who is to blame for the family's disgrace. Emma devises a plan to avenge her father: a meeting is arranged with Loewenthal in his office at the factory to discuss rumors about a possible strike among the company's employees; she will pose as a prostitute and sleep with a [End Page 291] sailor down by the docks just before the appointment with her boss at the factory; and in the end, the claim will be that Loewenthal raped her (her alibi for killing him), with physical evidence (from her encounter with the sailor) that will corroborate the story.

On the fateful day, Emma goes to the bars near the wharfs and sleeps with the most repulsive man she can find to exacerbate her own sense of violation and make more credible her claim to victimization. Later, at the factory office with her boss, she invents some details about the strike and pretends to dissolve into tears. When Loewenthal goes to get some water to calm her emotions, she retrieves the revolver that everyone knows he keeps in his desk. As the man returns, she shoots him twice, fatally. To complete her well-planned alibi, she messes up the sofa, unbuttons Loewenthal's shirt, removes his glasses, and makes a phone call to the authorities:

Ha ocurrido una cosa que es increíble. . . . El señor Loewenthal me hizo venir con el pretexto de la huelga. . . . Abusó de mí, lo maté.

La historia era increíble, en efecto, pero se impuso a todos, porque sustancialmente era cierta. Verdadero era el tono de Emma Zunz, verdadero el pudor, verdadero el odio. Verdadero también era el ultraje que había padecido; sólo eran falsas las circunstancias, la hora y uno o dos nombres propios.

[It is hard to believe what just happened to me. . . . Mr. Loewenthal had me to his office under the pretense that he wanted to talk about a strike by my coworkers. He took advantage of me. I killed him.

The story was hard to believe, that much is true, but it was the version that won out in the end, because, in essence, it was true. True was Emma Zunz's tone, true her shame, true her hatred. True, also, was the abuse she had suffered; only certain circumstances, the time of day, and one or two proper names could be said to have been false.]5

Now, to make the connection from Borges to Gettier, we have to adopt the perspective of the potential investigator of this "crime," a figure that exists outside the text and beyond the limits of its scope—hinted at by the lack of human subject in the sentence "La historia era increíble" and the passive voice in the phrase "se impuso a todos." It is the epistemological conclusion reached by this extratextual investigator that illustrates and prefigures the Gettier problem.

I am bold to add a single word to any story by Borges, but let us suppose that a detective who investigates the Loewenthal shooting interviews Emma after the fact to get to the bottom of what happened. We can [End Page 292] surmise that Emma will maintain her story: that because Loewenthal had taken advantage of her, she killed him with the revolver. For the investigator, all the signs corroborate Emma's story: not only does the physical evidence in the office match but also, importantly, Emma's distress at having been Loewenthal's victim is very convincing. Her emotional state has been exacerbated by the sense of shame, degradation, and despair (all of these are implied by the Spanish "ultraje") she feels for having slept with the revolting sailor down by the docks. Physical evidence from her encounter also confirms the claim about a sexual attack. More technically, the epistemic factors—"evidence, reliability, proper functioning, counterfactual relations"—are all in order; the proposition "Aaron Loewenthal took advantage of Emma Zunz and for that, she killed him" is both justified and true.

Nevertheless, the falsity of the temporal elements, the unrevealed identities of all agents active in the episode, the incongruence of the exact circumstances about Emma's victimization, and what is finally understood by the statement that Loewenthal "took advantage" make for a state of affairs about which our extratextual investigator cannot be said to have knowledge. To paraphrase Gettier, the circumstances of the Zunz case as interpreted by a potential investigator do not state a sufficient condition for knowing the proposition "Loewenthal took advantage of Emma Zunz and for that, she killed him," despite the fact that the statement itself is an example of JTB.

III

My first claim about the Gettier-like aspects of Borges's story (or rather, the Borges-like aspects of Gettier's paper) is neither controversial nor indeed very consequential. Gettier's article is from the 1963 volume of Analysis, but Borges's story first appeared in 1948 in the Buenos Aires literary and cultural magazine Sur. When a description of what happened to Loewenthal at the end of the story is characterized using standard epistemological language such that "Emma Zunz" represents a "counterexample" to the "justified, true belief" as "knowledge" position, the previous expression in Borges of Gettier's insight becomes apparent.

As the philosophical literature in the field of epistemology began to grapple with Gettier's article after it appeared in the 1960s, some looked to Bertrand Russell's 1912 publication of The Problems with Philosophy as the first place where Gettier-like problems for JTB are considered.6 Russell's position there imagines an individual who thinks [End Page 293] that a minister's name is "Balfour" and forms the true belief that the minister's last name begins with "B." But because the minister's name is "Bannerman," Russell concludes that "a true belief is not knowledge when it is deduced from a false belief."7 However, this instance is not quite like a Gettier counterexample in that the mistaken belief cited by Russell is not strictly justified according to the parameters for justification that I cited above: "evidence, reliability, proper functioning, counterfactual relations, and the like." An individual with a mistaken belief about a government official's last name must rate low either on the reliability index (she or he tends to get things wrong) or on the proper-functioning index (his or her memory is bad).

Later, in 1948, Russell published Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits, in which he posits a scenario that does seem much more similar to Gettier's counterexamples: "There is the man who looks at a clock which is not going, though he thinks it is, and who happens to look at it at the moment when it is right; this man acquires a true belief as to the time of day, but cannot be said to have knowledge."8 Russell does not flesh out the scenario as Gettier did, but we can easily invent qualifiers for "evidence," "reliability," "proper-functioning," "counterfactual relations," etc., to justify a man—call him Brian—who looks at a stopped clock and thinks it is right: he has suffered a 23-hour blackout from dehydration during which the clock has stopped. An assistant, Jeeves, discovers his employer, the selfsame Brian, some time later and wets his mouth with water. The few drops are salubrious and Brian revives. After he comes to, the formerly unconscious man realizes he is thirsty and asks for more water. With two pints now in his system, the physical effects of dehydration are alleviated. The assistant is rather shy and does not talk to his employer more than necessary: Jeeves does not inform Brian how long he was unconscious but simply leaves the room.

As Brian looks around his office, he thinks he has only dozed for about an hour. His belief is confirmed by the clock on the wall that marks what turns out to be the correct time, only one day later: 11:41 a.m. Brian remains unaware that the clock had stopped the previous day at precisely the same hour as the moment, the next day, he looks at the clock again. We can even imagine that Jeeves has inadvertently depressed the white-noise button on an apparatus near the door he has just exited, with the machine set to "ticking clock."

Consequently, Brian forms the correct belief that it is 11:41 based both on the position of the clock's hands and the aural perception of an unmistakable "tick, tock" in the room. These variations can go on [End Page 294] ad infinitum (and ad absurdum) to satisfy the "justified" part of the "justified, true belief" requirements for knowledge. In the case I embellished from Russell, Brian's eyes and ears are working fine after the two pints of water ("proper function"); the daylight outside seems right for 11:41 ("counterfactual relations"); the clock had always worked in the twenty years Brian has owned it, and Brian has never before had an episode of such severe dehydration that he has lost consciousness ("reliability"); the hands look right and the sound of ticking corroborates the plausibility of the clock's operational status ("evidence"). But the lucky or coincidental or accidental or serendipitous character of the moment when Brian glances at the timepiece raises serious questions concerning his knowledge about the hour of the day. His view of the clock does not state a sufficient condition for knowing the correct time.

Yet even if we grant Russell precedence over Gettier, Borges's story also appeared in 1948; the Argentine author and the British philosopher seem to have arrived at the same epistemological conclusion independently and via two rather distinct modes of discourse. It may seem like splitting hairs to insist too much on whether Russell or Borges had the scoop on Gettier, but it is the Welshman who gets mentioned in all the footnotes and not the Argentine. And there are likely similar and possibly earlier stories that I have neglected; for example, a colleague who read an earlier draft of this paper said of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express from 1934, "There is a Gettier situation in there somewhere." But what I propose is that the philosophy in "Emma Zunz" (and in other similar fictions) is more effective as epistemology because of the way in which Gettier-type scenarios seem to require some kind of narrative idiom to demonstrate their force in challenges to the JTB-as-knowledge formula.

IV

The first consideration for preferring literature over philosophical treatises in Gettier-type scenarios is that there seems to be an insistent and poorly disguised contempt for counterexamples to the JTB formula for knowledge because they often seem so trivial. For example, Brian Weatherson seems to dismiss the power of Gettier's counterexamples having to do with coins in pockets and ownership of Fords on the grounds that "many people accept that the more obscure or fantastic a counterexample is, the less damaging it is to a theory."9 Many also hold with Weatherson's claim that the "justified true belief . . . theory [End Page 295] of knowledge is so plausible that we should hold onto it in preference to keeping our intuition that Gettier cases are not cases of knowledge" ("WG," p. 2) and seem content to maintain adherence to an epistemological tendency even if it happens to fail in limited scenarios where certain unlikely disjuncts become logically valid, but only from luck or accident. Just because of a few Gettier counterexamples where JTB cannot be thought of as knowledge, there seems little reason—such philosophers might say—to abandon a definition that has served us better than the rest. For as Zagzebski observes,

as long as the property that putatively converts true belief into knowledge is analyzed in such a way that it is strongly linked with the truth, but does not guarantee it, it will always be possible to devise cases in which the link between such a property and the truth is broken but regained by accident. Such is the nature of Gettier cases.

("IGP," p. 69)

For those who think like Weatherson, something of the "exception that proves the rule" sentiment is at work in such cases, while Zagzebski expresses more of a kind of unconcerned resignation to the fact that JTB as knowledge might simply need to be consigned to the dustbin of epistemological history. What I would like to suggest here is that Gettier's ideas are prefigured by Borges and in such a way that their outcomes are not trivial or semantic, but consequential insofar as they have to do with the realization of vindication, redemption, epistemological certainty, and, ultimately, the grand question of justice as an infallibly achievable end rather than as the product of serendipity, luck, or accident.

Borges's story adopts the perspective of "Emma Zunz," a deceiver but also a victim of bad behavior by Loewenthal. As one literary scholar put it,

El relato aparece como la confesión de la verdad de lo acontecido que Emma formula al narrador y que éste transmite a los lectores, quienes también creen asistir a la revelación de la verdad.

[The story seems to be like a confession by Emma heard by a narrator, true to actual events and subsequently shared with readers, who likewise believe that they themselves are present at the time of the revelation of the truth.]10

Borges does not utilize the perspective of deception only to malign contemporary accounts of knowledge for the faultiness of the premises by which such a concept is defined. Rather, the focalization of the [End Page 296] narrative from Emma's perspective also addresses questions about such things as justice, virtue, ethics, and morality; these are concepts that are of equal import to epistemological considerations about warrant, justification, and belief. The poignancy of Borges's stories, especially for those who delve into his fictions as "philosophical" readers, derives from the fact that Borges upends traditionally held premises (knowledge as JTB) precisely at the moment where "knowledge" and "justice" become exclusionary. If our imagined investigator were to discover all of the circumstances arranged by Emma to gain retribution, knowledge would be served, but justice might not be. The state's requirements for justice would mean punishment for Emma: vigilantism could never be countenanced by judicial entities. But as Borges has the scenario play out, Emma's version of events is justified and true, although faulty as "knowledge"; yet the fact that it was the version that won out in the end represents a measure of ultimate justice for the Zunz family.

What Borges has done is to imagine a scenario where the Gettier-type counterexample cannot possibly be thought of as inconsequential or trivial. We are not here imagining a situation about coins in pockets or brothers not invited to weddings, but one in which serious crimes are prosecuted or not. I mentioned above that some philosophers have posited notions of "credit" or "quality" to respond to the potential seriousness of JTB counterexamples where, as John Greco indicates, "we are more likely to attribute knowledge in low stakes situations, where the cost of being wrong is minimal, than in high stake situations, where the cost of being wrong is considerable" ("KSA," p. 18). Greco wants to ensure that an unassailable account of knowledge can be had for "high stake situations" and therefore defines it as "a kind of success from ability" (p. 17). I have also referenced Zagzebski's observation about the importance of truth attained "via the right cognitive path," but the challenge from Borges is that getting at the truth via the "right cognitive path" may result in more injustice: delays for DNA testing or (as that was not available in the 1940s) intimate exams to corroborate claims about abuse, match hair follicles, verify physical evidence, and so on. A capital murder case would seem to qualify as one of these "high stake" cases, but "Emma Zunz" illustrates how the difficulties with Gettier-like obstacles to knowledge remain in highly serious scenarios.

A second consideration that may lead to the preference for literary texts over treatises as illustrative of important ideas from philosophy is the superiority of literature with regard to readerly consumption. To illustrate: in his paper on possible solutions to the Gettier problem, [End Page 297] Bernecker discusses the "identificationist approach" and characterizes it thus:

The epistemic defect referred to by the identificationist reading is usually the cause of the epistemic defect referred to by the covariationist reading. When the belief in p fails to counterfactually covary with the truth of p, this is usually due to the subject misidentifying the truth-maker of p. Yet it is possible that the defect referred to by the identificationist reading is present while the defect referred to by the covariationist reading is absent.

("KT," p. 130)

I am perhaps quoting Bernecker unfairly by eliminating the context where epistemic qualities such as "identificationism," "covariationism," and "truth-making" are defined. The idea here is simply that an unwitting holder of Gettier-type knowledge does not (or cannot) identify the reason why the belief she or he holds turns out to be true. Despite the fact that Bernecker's idea is sharp, the writing is unbearable and the point is nearly lost in the jargon. This is what makes Borges's story so effective.

In "Emma Zunz," the implication is that an imaginary investigator at the factory crime scene arrives at a true belief—that Loewenthal's offenses against Emma were good reason for killing him—and is justified for believing that proposition as per the textual evidence from the story: "true was Emma Zunz's tone, true her shame, true her hatred. True, also, was the abuse she had suffered." And the aesthetic advantage of concise exposition has Borges conclude the story there and leave any speculative philosophizing to the reader. The line from the story that Emma's version "won out in the end" simultaneously ensures the tight parameters within which fictional literature must unfold; Emma's version of events had to "win out in the end": that is the author's prerogative. And while slightly altering a crime scene—disturbing the cushions on the sofa, unbuttoning the victim's shirt—encourages imaginary investigators to make incorrect deductions, forming the judgment that Emma killed Loewenthal for the way in which he criminally abused her is by definition a justified, true belief. The fact that potential investigators might not properly identify why this is so makes the episode a Gettier-type counterexample.

The analysis of the faultiness of such conclusions when it comes to knowledge takes us back again to Bernecker's observations on identificationism and someone unwittingly holding JTB susceptible to a [End Page 298] Gettier-type critique. But what must be said here is that Borges leads the reader to see the faultiness of the principle of JTB as knowledge through literary expression that loses nothing for its lack of epistemological jargon but gains everything by dint of its aesthetic effects. Borges was quite simply a better writer than almost any philosopher has been or likely will be.

The advantage of examples, conjured by literary imagination and unfolding in the fictional mode, resides in the fact that no deductive or rational argument must be made; there is just the example as such and no more. Within the intellectual traditions of Latin America, this is the model for philosophy—most of the region's major thinkers were also literary authors, and fictional texts were thought an acceptable format for doing philosophy. The genre of essay writing (el ensayo) in the Spanish American context, for example, is a textual form that rides the fence between fiction and nonfiction: one of the most influential nineteenth-century works from the Argentine tradition was the 1845 biography of Juan Facundo Quiroga, Facundo: Civilización y barbarie [Facundo: Civilization and Barbarity], by Domingo Faustino Sarmiento. This was a biographical sketch of its subject—Quiroga was a politician and military commander—but also a political essay that articulated Sarmiento's vision for the development of Argentina. It adopted the literary posture of biography as the mode from which to articulate that vision and even appropriated several highly fictionalized moments from Quiroga's life to further the argument.11 Unlike the political treatises from such thinkers as John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau—who so profoundly influenced political thought in Europe and the newly independent United States—biography, poetry, and fictional novels composed the political idiom of choice for Latin American writers.12 Therefore, for the Argentine Borges, to use a fictional medium to construct an epistemological argument about the nature of knowledge and JTB fits quite well within the literary tradition from which he emerged.

V

The focus of this essay has rested perhaps too definitively on the resolution of an epistemological debate concerning the efficacy of Gettier-type counterexamples as conclusively defeating the JTB definition of knowledge. However, I want to conclude with some thoughts about how Borges's short stories rightly qualify as philosophy. [End Page 299]

As I have noted above, Borges's fictional texts do not take the form of philosophical treatises with logical premises, occasional symbolic logic, and somewhat slavish (if perhaps unwitting or unwilling) conformity to the constraints of style and formal expectation. Rather, his works have the utter freedom of fiction and none of the baggage that usually comes along with "inquiries" or "meditations" or "summas" or "critiques." Still, many scholars have referenced the philosophical elements of Borges's fiction. Indeed, this very essay was inspired by a lecture designed to illustrate to my students the ways in which several examples of Borges's work confront various classic problems from philosophy: possible worlds, time, infinity, the unknown, the unknowable, etc.

Yet exactly how the short stories and essays by this Argentine author qualify as philosophy seems vague, underspecified, and rather unclear. For example, Manuel Benavides holds that "el problema filosófico central de la obra de Borges es el de la unidad y la multiplicidad" [the central philosophical problem in Borges's work is that of unity versus multiplicity]13 and H. C. F. Mansilla that "Borges recompuso de modo original antiguos dilemas teóricos, acertijos lógicos y trampas conceptuales, pero lo que podemos llamar su formación filosófica era algo limitada" [Borges's originality came from the way in which he restructured ancient theoretical dilemmas, logical riddles, and conceptual conundrums, but what we may call his philosophical formation was somewhat limited].14 Literary scholars seem fascinated by the way in which Borges dealt with the notions of eternity, infinity, labyrinths, scholarly authority, intertextuality, truth, and fiction, or "unity" and "multiplicity" as observed by Benavides or "theoretical dilemmas" and "logical riddles" as by Mansilla. But none of these are often the purview of formal philosophy, and they seem more relevant to strictly literary and cultural studies. In fact, Jon Stewart observes that

although Jorge Luis Borges had years of philosophical training and expressed a number of philosophical theories in his literary works, he never published a philosophy treatise. The result is that his oeuvre has often been viewed as purely literary and been largely neglected by trained philosophers. However, by ignoring the philosophical aspects of Borges's thought, criticism has neglected a vast dimension of his work . . . ; there are important philosophical themes in the short stories of Borges, which have yet to be considered.15

In the spirit of Stewart's criticism of Borges scholarship, I have attempted to document the way in which Borges's thought, as evidenced [End Page 300] in a story like "Emma Zunz," does indeed deal head-on with ongoing philosophical debates. Nevertheless, it would be too ambitious to claim that we ought to abandon the treatise altogether: note that my own remarks here do not come in the form of a fictional story. Instead, I should like to suggest that the literary form may more effectively express certain theoretical positions within philosophy, but that literature's superior efficacy can be appreciated only after these positions are traced out through the formal parameters of traditional, nonfictional forms such as the treatise. After Gettier's paper, the philosophical community was forced to reconsider a previously unchallenged belief about JTB as knowledge. But it also took Gettier's paper to enable us to appreciate what Borges was doing in "Emma Zunz." And not only does the counterexample from the fictional story more effectively demonstrate the seriousness of the Gettier problem than did Gettier's own counterexamples, but Borges had done the epistemological work two decades earlier.

Scott M. DeVries
Manchester University, Indiana

Footnotes

1. Edmund L. Gettier, "Is Justified, True Belief Knowledge?" Analysis 23, no. 6 (1963): 121–23 (121); hereafter abbreviated "IK." Iff means "if and only if."

2. Gettier references Roderick M. Chisholm and A. J. Ayer as philosophers that hold to this definition; see "IK," p. 121.

3. Nathan Ballantyne, "Anti-luck Epistemology, Pragmatic Encroachment, and True Belief," Canadian Journal of Philosophy 41, no. 4 (December 2011): 485–503 (491).

4. A fine summary of these approaches is from Sven Bernecker, "Keeping Track of the Gettier Problem," Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 92, no. 2 (2011): 127–52; hereafter abbreviated "KT." Bernecker deals with "covariationism," "identificationism," "epistemic responsibility," "truth conduciveness and effectiveness," and "unpossessed defeater cases." Likely the most well-known accounts of "warrant" are Alvin Plantinga's Warrant: The Current Debate (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993) and Warrant and Proper Function (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993). Linda Zagzebski, "The Inescapability of Gettier Problems," The Philosophical Quarterly 44, no. 174 (1994): 65–73 (hereafter abbreviated "IGP"), references Steven Levy on "defeasibility" (70); Jennifer Lackey, "Knowledge and Credit," Philosophical Studies 142, no. 1 (2009): 27–42, invokes the notion of "credit"; and John Greco, "Knowledge and Success from Ability," Philosophical Studies 142, no. 1 (2009): 17–26 (hereafter abbreviated "KSA"), the notion of "ability"; Ballantyne, "Anti-luck Epistemology," deals with "luck" or "serendipity." [End Page 301]

5. Jorge Luis Borges, Nueva antología personal (Mexico City: Siglo XXI Editores, 1968), p. 99; my translation.

6. See, for example, John L. Pollock and Joseph Cruz, Contemporary Theories of Knowledge (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999), p. 13.

7. Bertrand Russell, The Problems with Philosophy (Rockville: Arc Manor, 2008), p. 86.

8. Bertrand Russell, Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits (New York: Routledge, 2009), p. 140.

9. Brian Weatherson, "What Good Are Counterexamples?" Philosophical Studies 115, no. 1 (2003): 1–31 (8); hereafter abbreviated "WG."

10. María Teresa Aedo Fuentes, "Borges y Emma Zunz postulando realidades," Acta Literaria, no. 25 (2000), doi.org/10.4067/S0717-68482000002500004; my translation.

11. See Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, Facundo: Civilización y barbarie (Madrid: Mestas, 2001). In one such episode, Facundo Quiroga, age eleven, snatches the whip from the hand of a teacher who had been beating him and turns it on the instructor (p. 87); in another, Quiroga bets a year's wages on a card game, loses, and takes it out on a passing judge by running the magistrate through with a knife (p. 89).

12. See Doris Sommer, Foundation Fictions: The National Romances of Latin America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), the standard secondary source on nineteenth-century Latin American literature.

13. Manuel Benavides, "Borges y la filosofía," Cuadernos Hispanoamericanos, no. 444 (1987): 118–26 (119).

14. H. C. F. Mansilla, "La filosofía de Jorge Luis Borges y su celebración por los posmodernistas," Hispanófila: Literatura, Ensayos, no. 144 (2005): 89–95 (93).

15. Jon Stewart, "Borges on Language and Translation," Philosophy and Literature 19, no. 2 (1995): 320–29 (320). [End Page 302]

Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
288-302
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-20
Open Access
No
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