TALBOTT (5 Credits/W Credit)


Do we know anything? If so, what do we know and how do we know it? What is knowledge? What sort of justification is necessary for knowledge? In the sense of justification in which it is necessary for knowledge, are we justified in believing anything? If so, what are we justified in believing and how are we justified in believing it? Can we know or be justified in believing an answer to any of the previous questions? If so, on what basis? Do the answers to the previous questions depend on one's political or other commitments? In this course, we will consider various attempts to answer all these questions. The course aims to familiarize the students with some of the most important work in contemporary epistemology and to develop their ability to understand it and to critically evaluate it. The course will provide students with an opportunity to develop their ability to explain difficult philosophical readings and issues, to argue for their own views, and to take seriously the views of those with whom they disagree.





The course readings will include readings on foundationalism, coherence theories, pragmatism, virtue epistemology, rationalism, naturalism, internalism, externalism, relativism and non-relativism, and feminist epistemology. The course requirements include two papers (5-7 pages each), a Midterm Exam, and a Final Exam. Students who successfully complete the course will earn "W" credit for the course. Prerequisites: One previous course in philosophy or the permission of the instructor. No freshmen. Meets I&S requirement.

Text: Louis P. Pojman, The Theory of Knowledge: Classical & Contemporary Readings (3rd ed.) and a photocopied reader.















What is Epistemology?

A General Theory of Knowledge and Justified Belief.


Elements of the Theory:


1. Epistemic Principles. Two kinds:


(a) Logical analysis (not definitions!) of important concepts (e.g., K TB).


(b) Principles of Rational Belief, including Principles of Rational Belief Change (e.g., It is irrational to have logically inconsistent beliefs.)


2. Particular epistemic judgments: Judgments about particular cases of knowledge and justified belief: What do we know and what are we justified in believing?










The Application of the General Theory to Itself Raises Two Further Questions:


The Metaphysics of Epistemology: What is the metaphysical status of epistemic principles and particular epistemic judgments?


The Epistemology of Epistemology: How can we know or be justified in believing epistemic principles and particular epistemic judgments.





















1. Top-Down Reasoning and the Proof Paradigm

Model of rational belief is proof in mathematics.

Proceeds in the direction of deductive implication, from the premises to the acceptance of the conclusion. In many cases, the premises will include an epistemic principle (e.g., EP1) and the conclusion will be an epistemic judgment about a particular case, a particular epistemic judgment (e.g., PEJ2).



EP1. Justified, True, Belief that p Knowledge that p

PEJ1. I am justified in believing that I exist

PEJ2. I exist is true                              


CONCLUSION: PEJ3. I know that I exist.











The Proof Paradigm. For most of its history, Western philosophy has assumed that reasoning fits the Proof Paradigm. On the Proof Paradigm, we must have an infallible source of knowledge of the premises of our reasoning. Then reasoning about particular cases is Top-Down, from principles to particular judgments.























2. Bottom-Up Reasoning. Model of rational belief is theory confirmation in science.

Begins with judgments about particular actual and hypothetical cases and uses them to support the principles or generalizations that best explain those particular judgments. Bottom-Up reasoning supports principles or generalizations that explain our particular judgments and undermines moral principles that do not.




















Bottom-Up Reasoning in the Theaetetus:


Premise: (1) K TB

(2) In the example of the impressionable juror, the juror has a true belief that p.


Conclusion: (3) In the example of the impressionable juror, the juror has knowledge that p.


If we reject that conclusion, it seems we must reject premise (1). This is an example of an undermining reasons. What can we substitute for (1)?


(1) K JTB


(1) would explain the judgment that the impressionable juror has a true belief that is not knowledge. This is an example of a supporting reason.










3. Equilibrium Reasoning

Equilibrium Reasoning is both Top-Down and Bottom-Up. In Equilibrium Reasoning, our main reason for accepting an epistemic principle is usually that it seems to provide a good explanation of particular cases. When we accept an epistemic principle on this basis, we can then reason Top-Down from that principle to a particular epistemic judgment, but the epistemic principle is not regarded as infallible. If we discover a particular epistemic judgment that the principle conflicts with, we must either give up the particular moral judgment or give up the principle. The decision about which to give up is based on what makes the most sense.


On this model, no logical derivation from premises that we accept can compel that we accept the conclusion, because we can always ask: Does it make more sense to accept the conclusion or to give up one of the premises?