PHIL 335.001 – Theory of Knowledge

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Instructor: Alex Worsnip. This course meets TR 12:30 – 1:45 p.m. in PE 2066.

This class is a survey of epistemology, the subfield of philosophy that deals with the nature of knowledge, evidence, and justified or rational belief. The course is divided into four parts. Part 1 will be a whistlestop tour of the classic problems of traditional epistemology, such as the analysis of knowledge (what does it take for a belief to count as knowledge?), the problem of skepticism (can we know anything at all?), and the debate between “rationalists” and “empiricists” about whether we can know anything by reason alone, or whether all knowledge comes from experience. Parts 2-4 of the course will focus on some lively current debates in epistemology. Part 2 focuses on some possible sources of doubt about the accuracy and/or rationality of our beliefs: namely, the existence of widespread disagreement, the phenomenon of our beliefs being causally influenced by irrelevant factors and biases, and the prevalence of what psychologists call “motivated reasoning”. We’ll ask to what extent these phenomena should make us less confident in our beliefs. Part 3 focuses on whether pragmatic and moral considerations play a role in determining what it is rational to believe, and if so in what way. And Part 4 focuses on various connections between epistemology and issues of social justice, taking in the literature on “epistemic injustice” and “standpoint epistemology,” among other things, to examine how (if at all) the social positions we occupy affect what we should believe.

 

Prerequisite: 1 PHIL course.