PHIL 140H.001 – Honors: Knowledge and Society

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Instructor: Alex Worsnip. This course meets TR 12:30 – 1:45 p.m. in CW 105.

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with questions about knowledge, rational belief, evidence, and the like. Philosophical introductions to epistemology are often quite abstract, beginning with very general questions like ‘what is knowledge?’ or ‘what is rationality?’ and only turning to applied questions much later. This course inverts that trend by beginning with some of the areas of social human life in which questions about knowledge, rationality and evidence matter to us: areas like democratic politics, the law, science, education, and religion. It investigates particular “knowledge problems” that we, as 21st century citizens, face. For example: when there is so much contradictory information out there, how can we know who to trust? Should we be worried about the ways that our upbringings and social characteristics (e.g. gender, race, class, etc) shape and bias our beliefs, and if so what should we do about it? Should we even have beliefs about complex policy questions about which we are not experts? Should the existence of widespread disagreement about politics, morality and religion make us less confident in our own views? Is it ever really “beyond reasonable doubt” that someone is guilty of a crime, and why should that be the standard that matters anyway? Through investigating these specific, applied questions, we hope to learn something about the nature of knowledge, evidence and rationality more generally.