PHIL 550. Seminar in Epistemology


M 3:30 – 5:50

            Since the ancient Greeks, Western epistemology has been dominated by mathematical proof as a paradigm for knowledge or rational belief.  Beginning in the 19th century, epistemologists began to look for alternatives to the Proof Paradigm, but the presuppositions of that paradigm have continued to hamstring even those who claim to have rejected it.  In this course, we will trace the influence of the Proof Paradigm on contemporary epistemology, especially the following presuppositions:

            (1) Propositionalism.  That knowledge and belief are propositional and that all rational relations are logical relations between or among propositions. 

            (2) Inferentialism: That at least some reasoning proceeds by categorical rules of inference, which is to say that the rules are: (a) top-down—that is, uni-directional, from the premises to the conclusion and (b) monotonic—that is, that they can only add to one’s beliefs, not subtract from them.  Deductive reasoning is typically taken to be an example.

            (3) Rational beliefs must be logically consistent.  Rational degrees of belief must satisfy the probability axioms (and thus rationality requires that we assign degree of belief of one to all truths of classical logic.)

            (4) A Priorism:  That the only source of knowledge of necessary truths (including logical truths) is a faculty of direct rational insight. 

            (5) Individualism:  That knowledge and rational belief are individual, not social, products.

            (6) Internalism:  That whatever makes a belief rational is something that the individual has access to, in the sense that the believer can become directly aware of it at will. 

            In this seminar, the class will read a draft of my book manuscript, Learning from Experience, in which I present reasons for thinking that all six of these presuppositions are false and in which I present an alternative epistemology that rejects them all.  There will also be a large number of readings on electronic reserve.  Students will write a short response to the readings each week; will lead the discussion in one seminar session; and will write a term paper.  No freshmen.  No prerequisites for philosophy graduate students.  Prerequisites for undergraduates:  PHIL 450 or the permission of the instructor. 

            Readings:  A course reader (to be available for purchase at the University Bookstore) and readings on electronic reserve.