, ,

As a (now ex-) philosophy student, I’ve written many essays on epistemology, and in particular on the Gettier Problem. Before Edmund Gettier came along, the generally accepted view of (propositional) knowledge was that knowing that P (where P is a proposition like ‘it’s raining’) was equivalent to believing that P, being justified in that belief (having seen the rain through the window) and P actually being true (it really is raining). With the help of a couple of nifty problem cases (read the paper here; it’s short and interesting), Gettier showed that those conditions weren’t equivalent to having knowledge after all. Clearly Gettier didn’t have depression; I do, and I often find myself believing things which I know aren’t true. I am not a psychologist, but it seems unlikely that I simultaneously believe and don’t believe these things, and so knowledge is not justified true belief whatever Gettier has to say about it.

Why do I believe things that aren’t true? It’s mostly a self-esteem issue; I believe that I’m rubbish and not worth caring about, and everyone should hate me. Even after eighteen months of anti-depressants, I still hate myself. That in itself is not so bad; I’m used to it. What is worse is that the belief that everyone else should too seriously inhibits my capacity to maintain normal relationships, in particular with my close friends.

I can accept the love of my family – that’s their job, isn’t it? But why so many people who really can’t get much out of hanging out with me (needy, socially inept loser that I am) persist in behaving as if they care about me is beyond me. I know they’re my friends, but I can’t quite believe it. Accordingly, I’m pathetically grateful for every little thing they do; I periodically send gushy emails of gratitude (to which no one replies, presumably because they’ve accepted this as some bizarre idiosyncrasy of mine which will hopefully disappear if ignored) because I’m scared that this is the only way I can repay them.

I constantly have to justify myself to them (in fact, that’s what I’m doing in this post) – I expect to be used as a means to an end, so everything I ask of them has to come with some reason beyond being what I want or need. If I can’t think of that kind of reason, I don’t ask. And yet, sometimes, one of them will do something like that without me needing to ask. They are probably just acting the way they would towards any friend, and they probably have dozens of friends. But to someone who doesn’t believe there’s any reason for anyone to care about them at all, let alone do anything nice for them, actions like this mean the world. They are the ultimate in selflessness – is it any wonder my pathetic little heart overflows with gratitude?

Taking a step back, I can see how ridiculous this all is. Of course I have friends; of course people like me, and of course I don’t need to write paragraphs of praise every time someone makes me a cup of tea (although, fyi, that is the way to my heart). In fact, I can see that such outpourings of feeling could actually be anything between awkward and downright irritating to receive. I should just accept that these people are my friends, because I am worth befriending. I know that, but I just don’t believe it.