|Bruce Umbaugh at Webster.edu|
|Philosophy on the Web|
By Bruce Umbaugh
Tuesday, August 20, 2002
Dr. Bruce Umbaugh
office: Pearson basement
phone: 968-7172 (office)
968-7170 (PHIL office)
office hours: 9:30-10:00 Tu or by appointment (I'm around the House a lot)
Course DescriptionThis course aims at
Questions we will address include whether the traditional epistemological project--of treating knowledge as justified, true belief--is itself misguided, what alternative projects promise, and what they do or might deliver. Throughout, our focus is on recent work in theory of knowledge, rather than on classical issues such as responding to scepticism or arguments over the relative virtues of rationalism and empiricism.
- familiarizing students with the terrain of contemporary epistemology and
- helping students to map their own thinking about knowledge.
Following some introductory matters, we will first briefly consider the merits of the two main approaches to justification: foundationalism and coherentism. In succeeding portions of the course, we will consider the alternative tradition of naturalized epistemology, the movement to develop social epistemologies, and the merits of relativistic approaches to epistemology. We will address the so-called "replacement thesis," and take up the possibility that quite different systems of belief might count as knowledge. We will consider work by Louise Antony, Laurence BonJour, Roderick Chisolm, Catherine Z. Elgin, Christopher Cherniak, Nelson Goodman, Hilary Putnam, Willard van Orman Quine, Stephen Stich, Amelie Rorty, and Richard Rorty
Students who complete the course successfully should both understand the major positions and key concepts in contemporary epistemological debate and also be able to articulate their own epistemological views.
This course aims to engage live philosophical issues with an eye to resolving them. We will do philosophy, and it will be heavy going at times. Still, I have no reason to think the material in this course is too difficult for any student who engages it and who tries seriously to master it.
- Christopher Cherniak, Minimal Rationality, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1986.
- Catherine Z. Elgin, Considered Judgment, Princeton: Princeton, 1996.
- Nelson Goodman, Ways of Worldmaking, Indianapolis: Hackett, 1978.
- Stephen P. Stich, The Fragmentation of Reason: Preface to a Pragmatic Theory of Cognitive Evaluation, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1990.
- Bruce Umbaugh, ed., Modest Amalgam o' Materials for PHIL 3300, St. Louis: Webster University, 2002.
Our readings are diverse, though they no doubt reflect my biases as editor. This is (what I take to be) significant work, (mostly) by distinguished philosophers trying to address core epistemological issues. Again, we aim both to understand these others' views and to think for ourselves.
We will treat anumber of recent epistemological movements, and four theoretical accounts in detail. We will rely on Cherniaks's book both for its positive theoretical framework, as well as its critical stance. Goodman's Ways of Worldmaking offers what he calls "a radical relativism under rigorous restraints." Third, Stich's book, too, both criticizes other approaches in the landscape we're considering and offers a (preliminary) theory of his own. Finally, Elgin's Considered Judgment offers a comprehensive statement and defense of a sophisticated and rich epistemological position (or positions), coupled with commentary on contemporary alternatives.Brief Version of Our Schedule
We start with a brief history of epistemology and an introduction to the traditional analysis of knowledge. We turn briefly to consider the two main accounts of justification: foundationalism and coherentism. [August]
Next, we take up a more recent innovation in theory of knowledge: naturalized epistemology. We'll read Quine's classic article, consider some commentary, then turn our attention to a working out of some implications in Cherniak's, Minimal Rationality. [September]
Going on, we will consider some social approaches to justification, as well as pragmatic and frankly relativistic treatments. R. Rorty's "Solidarity or Objectivity?" is to be followed by Goodman's Ways of Worldmaking. [late September to Fall Recess] Our attention is scheduled next to turn to Stich's The Fragmentation of Reason [October - November], after which we read Elgin's Considered Judgment. Last, we read A. Rorty's, "Relativism, Persons, and Practices."
The course concludes with a final examination.
Collegial participation 20%
Final examination 30%
Paperswill be assigned several times throughout the term. Typically, they will ask you to make sense of some aspect of one of our texts, or to try to resolve some stumbling block to having an adequate epistemology. Finished work should be typewritten or word-processed, double-spaced, grammatically correct, and show evidence of having been proofread as necessary. Papers need not be long: a page or two should ordinarily suffice, and sometimes a single paragraph will do. They do need to be clear and coherent. These papers, taken together, account for fifty percent of your grade for the course.
This class will be taught as a seminar, and that will only work if students carry a measure of the burden for making class time worthwhile. Collegial participation is expected of every student. I expect you to contribute to your colleagues' education, and I will regularly ask some of you to shoulder special responsibility for particular readings. Your collegial participation is worth twenty percent of your overall grade in the course.
Finally, a final examination caps the course. The final will be in two parts. A take-home portion will be assigned in early December. Your work is due, with the same format expectations as your papers, on the occasion of the in-class portion of the exam. The two portions of the exam together account for thirty percent of your grade in the course.
Although attendance in class is not required, you are foolish to blow it off. Class meetings are an occasion for you to learn. Besides, there is ordinarily a strong correlation between good class attendance and good grades in a class such as this one, not least due to the difficulty of the material and the role of participation in grading. All sorts of information will presented in class, including elaboration of the assigned texts. Announcements will be made. Papers will be assigned. You are responsible for knowing all this and for having any additional materials distributed in class. Although I will make myself available to help students outside of class, students who do not attend class meetings should not expect to be rewarded with intensive assistance. Finally, note that I reserve the right to reward students who have attended class faithfully, displayed significant effort, and made important contributions to the class.
Policy on academic dishonesty
You are adults, attending a university. I expect you to behave responsibly. Students in this class are expected to do their own work and not to rely on the work of others. Students are welcome to work with one another to understand the material, but any student plagiarizing, cheating on an exam, aiding another student to cheat, or committing any other act of academic dishonesty will be referred for appropriate disciplinary action. Please consult with me if you have questions in this regard, either about your own work or that of another person.