Philosophy 3141: The Theory of Knowledge
This course is designed to be an advanced philosophy course in the theory of knowledge and will presuppose student’s knowledge of the philosophical tools of analysis and argumentation. My aim in this course is to provide you with a broad understanding of several key issues and methodologies in contemporary epistemology, as well as insight into the thought of two historically important philosophers: Descartes and Berkeley.
We will begin with Descartes. Although the Meditations may well be the most easy to read work for us this semester, it is the most difficult to interpret because his literary style of writing belies a very difficult argumentative structure. This has help generate a huge literature on Descartes. He begins with a definition of knowledge and then looks for instances that fall under it. We will examine the issues of the cogito, elements of his rationalist epistemology, and the so-called Cartesian circle. The next section will concern the Gettier problem which uses an “opposite” methodology of accepting everyday knowledge claims and then attempting to develop a set of necessary and sufficient conditions, i.e., a definition, to characterize them. We will examine the issues of justification, supervenience, and the role of intuitions. The third section appeals to scientific findings and/or methodology in order to develop a naturalistic epistemological theory. Accounts range from a wholesale rejection of the pursuit of a definition and a straightforward appeal to intuitions, to the use of social science to establish what is known.
The fourth section is a dialogue from Berkeley. His concern is perception and he uses a series of arguments to establish a theory of direct perception which implies an idealist metaphysics. The fifth section is a textbook by Fish which surveys the range of contemporary theories of perception. The sixth section concerns specific epistemological issues of foundationalism, coherentism, internalism and externalism.