Philosophy | Topics in Theory of Knowledge
P312 | 13240 | Schmitt


This is a course on the theory of knowledge or epistemology.  We will
cover two topics.  One has been central to the theory of knowledge in
the Western tradition since ancient times: the topic of skepticism,
or whether we know anything.  The topic is central because it is
thought by many that skeptical doubts arise naturally from reflecting
on the nature of knowledge and that the study of skepticism
accordingly reveals our deepest convictions about knowledge.
Philosophers have offered many arguments designed to call into
question human cognitive achievement and establish that we know much
less than we think we do. Philosophers have also offered many
responses in defense of our claims to knowledge. These too reveal
something about the nature of knowledge. We will sample a few
important kinds of skepticism and consider major responses in defense
of knowledge. These will include both attempts to refute skepticism
and attempts to dismiss the skeptic or to change the topic.  We will
also consider some theories of knowledge deliberately contrived to
prevent skeptical challenges from being raised or to defuse skeptical
challenges—e.g., coherence theories of knowledge and reliability
theories of knowledge. We will read Barry Stroud’s book, The
Significance of Philosophical Scepticism, and we will examine
responses to scepticism by G. E. Moore, J. L. Austin, the logical
positivists, and W. V. Quine.  After discussing skepticism, we will
devote the remainder of the course to virtue epistemology, which
tries to understand human cognitive achievement in terms of
intellectual character rather than evidence or methods for forming
beliefs. Virtue epistemology has roots in the Aristotelian tradition
and was developed by Aquinas, but had been largely forgotten until
recent decades. Its recent revival was inspired by the popularity of
reliability and naturalistic approaches to epistemology.  We will
read Linda Zagzebski’s Virtues of the Mind.  This course presupposes
no prior acquaintaince with the theory of knowledge or the history of
philosophy.