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Contextualism in Epistemology

Phil. 702: Contextualism in Epistemology

Spring 2007
Thursdays, 10:30-12:20, C104

Keith DeRose,
office hours: Wednesdays, 12:15-1:45; C410

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An investigation of recent work on contextualism in epistemology and on some of its rivals.

TEXTBOOK UPDATE 1/19: Labyrinth Books says they now have both the Stanley and the Hawthorne books.  It doesn’t look like they’ll be able to get the Unger any time soon enough for our purposes, so I’ve cancelled that book. 
Enrollment: Here at Yale, you can never know how many students are coming to a class until it meets.  (And sometimes not even then!)  If there are too many students for the class to function effectively as a seminar, I will have to limit enrollment.  I will do this by having every student fill out a card with their vital information at the first meeting, and then posting during the next couple of days a list of those who are admitted into the seminar.  UPDATE: All students who attended the first meeting and filled out a card will be admitted.

There are some issues with the availability of some of the books I wanted to order for this class (to be explained at the first meeting), but the following are our potential books.  Books we will use will become available at Labyrinth Books, 290 York Street:

  • John Hawthorne, Knowledge and Lotteries; Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Jason Stanley, Knowledge and Practical Interests; Oxford University Press, 2005.

Written Work will consist of a 1-2 page paper proposal, due on Monday, April 9, by 4:00 PM; and a 12-15 page (typed, double-spaced) course paper, due at the start of class on April 26 (the last meeting of our seminar).  Please check that these dates are possible for you given the rest of your schedule before signing up for this class.
Expanded description of written work:  Course papers must directly and substantially critically engage with one or more of the assigned readings for our course.  Successful papers will clearly explain the issues involved and the key argumentative moves made in the readings and/or discussed in class and sections, and will also advance the discussion/argument in significant ways with new considerations or lines of argument of your own.  A 1-2 page paper proposal is due on Monday, April 9, by 4:00 PM.  This proposal should be turned in by e-mail attachment.  It will not be given a letter grade, though the quality of the proposal will be taken into account in determining your course grade, and the course cannot be passed without completing the proposal on time.  Its purpose, in addition to prodding some to start work on their papers, is to give me a chance to check whether your proposed topic is sufficiently relevant to our course, and in some cases to suggest additional reading you might want to consult in writing your paper.  The course paper is to be 12-15 pages (typed, double-spaced).  It must be submitted on paper, not by e-mail.  It is due at the start of the last meeting of our seminar on April 26, and should be turned in to me there.  If for some reason you can’t be at the last seminar meeting and must instead turn the paper in before then, e-mail me to make arrangements for getting it to me.  Please use a staple — no paper clips or loose pages — and number your pages.

Grading: Attendance at seminar meetings is mandatory; unexcused absences are grounds for failing the course, even if one’s written work is good.  Supposing that atendance is not a problem, grades will be based primarily on the above written work, but participation in seminar discussions will also be taken into account.

Schedule, Topics, and Readings:

Due to some uncertainty about our books, we will begin the course reading some of my work contextualism.  For the second meeting of the seminar, and the next couple of meetings after that, read the following papers, for the arguments for contextualism.  [We should finish, or at least come close to finishing, this unit on Feb. 1.]

  • “Contextualism: An Explanation and Defense,” in J. Greco and E. Sosa, ed., The Blackwell Guide to Epistemology (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 1999), pp. 187-205.*
  • “The Ordinary Language Basis for Contextualism and the New Invariantism,” The Philosophical Quarterly 55 (2005): 172-198 [link — then click on “PDF”].
  • “Assertion, Knowledge, and Context,” Philosophical Review 111 (2002): 167-203 [JSTOR link].
*on classes v2 server; go to “Resources” for our class

After the arguments for contextualism, we’ll move into a unit on Subject-Sensitive Invariantism (SSI), some objections to contextualism, objections to SSI, and comparisons of the two views, reading the following.   [I tentatively plan for the material below to be covered on Feb. 8, Feb. 15, March 1, and March 8.  We will not meet on Feb. 22.]

  • Hawthorne, Knowledge and Lotteries, Chapters 2-4.
    • (I’m not assigning Chapter 1, on the lottery puzzle.  For those interested in reading about the topic, in addition to Chapter 1 of Hawthorne, you might also look at my “Knowledge, Assertion, and Lotteries,” AJP, 1996 [available here, in multiple formats] and at this blog post I wrote on Hawthorne’s treatment.)
  • DeRose, “‘Bamboozled by Our Own Words’: Semantic Blindness and Some Objections to Contextualism,” forthcoming, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research [available here [pdf doc.], excluding section 6 and the Appendix.
  • Stanley, Knowledge and Practical Interests, all Chapters.
  • DeRose, review of Stanley, forthcoming, Mind available [available here [pdf doc.]]
  • DeRose, “Now You Know It, Now You Don’t,” The Proceedings of the Twentieth World Congress of Phiosophy, Vol. 5, 2000.*
    • see also my comment (the last comment listed, at least as of now) to this web post at Matt Weiner’s blog.

Then we’ll cover the application of contextualism to skepticism, where we’ll read the papers listed below, the first five items listed here are by me.  [The tentative plan is to cover the below material on March 29, April 5, April 12, April 19, and April 26.  On April 19, we’ll likely have a guest seminar leader (Geoff Pynn) to cover Pryor and White.]

  • “Solving the Skeptical Problem,” Philosophical Review, 1995: [JSTOR link].
  • “Single Scoreboard Semantics,” Philosophical Studies, 2004: [click here, then on “Entire document”].
  • section 6 and Appendix of “Bamboozled…” (see above).
  • “How Can We Know that We’re Not Brains in Vats?”, Southern Journal of Philosophy, 2000.*
  • “Sosa, Safety, Sensitivity, and Skeptical Hypotheses,” Ernest Sosa and His Critics, 2004.*
  • Jim Pyror, “The Skeptic and the Dogmatist,” Noûs, 2000: [click here, then on “Full Text PDF”].
  • Roger White, “Problems for Dogmatism,” Philosophical Studies, 2006: [click here, then on “Entire document”].
  • Ernest Sosa, Reply to DeRose, Ernest Sosa and His Critics, 2004.*


  • Meeting outlines: Link [word doc.], last updated to include the 4/5 meeting.
  • Unger, “A Defense of Skepticism,” Philosophical Review, 1971: JSTOR link.
  • Malcolm, “Defending Common Sense,” Philosophical Review, 1949: JSTOR link.
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