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Epistemology

Phil 150

Dr. Cara Spencer

Epistemology is the area of philosophy concerned with the systematic study of knowledge, belief, and justification. Specific questions in this areas include the following: What is knowledge? Do we have any? How is knowledge different from mere opinion? What is it for a belief to be justified? This semester, we’ll consider these very general questions, and we’ll also consider some more specific questions about particular sources of knowledge, such as perception, memory, reasoning, and testimony. For instance, we’ll consider how perceptual experience, say of an apple immediately before you, justifies your belief that there is an apple before you, or how a memory can justify your beliefs about the past.

I have several goals in this class. The first is to sketch out a map of the problems and issues in epistemology—to introduce you to the central questions, the space of possible answers to them, and how these answers fit together. The second is to add some detail to a few places on this map. The third is to deepen your understanding of how to approach philosophical questions in general, and how to defend and criticize a philosophical position. The fourth goal is to help you improve your skills in writing philosophical papers. The third and fourth goals are I some ways the most important, since these skills have a wide range of application outside this particular class and outside of your college classes in general. I design all of the quizzes and writing assignments, and direct classroom discussion, with the third and fourth goals in view. The best thing you can do to develop your skills as a philosopher is to talk with me and your fellow students about it, and to revise your papers in light of comments from me and others. I will give you many opportunities to do both this semester.

II. Required Texts

1. Laurence Bonjour, Epistemology, Rowman and Littlefield ($27.95)
2. Sven Bernecker and Fred Dretske, eds. Knowledge: Readings in Contemporary Epistemology. Oxford, UK: OUP ($43.95)

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