Ed Gettier: Remembrance, by Brad Skow
by Brad Skow (MIT)
Ed was already retired when I joined the faculty, and I only stayed for two years, so I didn’t get to know him well at all. I never had a conversation with him in the hall, or played raquetball with him—though I seem to remember students talking about his playing. But he did sit in on a graduate seminar I taught one year on the metaphysics of modality. I was just starting out and still felt more like a graduate student than a faculty member. As one does I ran class by talking through a detailed handout. Ed would sit far on the left side, in the middle, and read my handout as I talked, and grasp his head, as if he were in pain. But he never said a word. Partway through the semester I discussed this with some students. Ed’s always there holding his head, I told them, but he never says anything. What is he thinking? One of the students (and I wish I remember who) said: he’s thinking of ten counterexamples to everything you say.
Some people in the department—maybe it was just Fred Feldman—referred to Ed as “The Jet.” It wasn’t until years after I left UMass that I asked Ned Markosian why (this was before Ned joined the faculty, but Ned has a UMass PhD). Ned hypothesized that it was because Ed had such a quick mind. But I later learned it was an abbreviation of the French pronuciation of “Gettier.”
Once at a faculty meeting the chair said the university wanted a metric for comparing the department to its peers, and that we would have some input. I don’t know if anything evey happened. But various metrics were discussed: total citations, pages published, h-index, and so on. Even though Ed was retired, and so wasn’t at the meeting, the idea of leveraging his famous paper came up. The right metric should be citation density, number of citations of a paper divided by its length: if we could use Ed’s “Is Justified True Belief” paper, we’d be number one.