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Epistemology: Safety and Sensitivity of Beliefs

Phil. 702, Spring 2006

Prof. T. Cross, Prof. K. DeRose
Thursdays, 1:30-3:20, CT Hall, room 104

Course Description: An investigation of these two properties of beliefs, which have played a large role in much recent epistemology: sensitivity (which a true belief has, roughly, when it would not have been held if it had been false) and safety (which a true belief has, roughly, when it could not easily have happened that it was held though it was false). We take a critical look at applications of these notions, both to the explication of the concept of knowledge, and to the problem of philosophical skepticism, evaluating how successful these applications are and which of the two notions works better in the proposed applications. Our investigation will take us into closely related issues in epistemology, including the issues of whether and how knowledge is closed under known entailment and whether one can know that one will lose a fair lottery.
The reading for this course will be light.  This light reading load compensates for the writing, which will be relatively heavy.  See “Written Work,” below.  The purpose of the regular writing assignments is to get you thinking about the assigned material for each seminar meeting before that meeting takes place.  Before deciding to take this class, please note the relatively early due dates for the course paper: a draft is due on April 10, and the final version is due on April 20.

Enrollment: Due to the nature of the seminar, enrollment will have to be strictly limited.  If too many students want to take the course (despite the frequent writing assignments — see “written work,” below), we will take information from each student at the first meeting on Jan. 12, and post the names of those who are admitted soon afterward.

Written Work. Written requirements will consist of a 2-3 page paper proposal, due on Monday, March 20, by 4:00; a penultimate draft of a 10-15 page (typed, double-spaced) course paper, due on Monday, April 10, by 4:00; the course paper itself, due Thursday, April 20, at the start of our seminar meeting; and regular weekly writing assignments, described in the below paragraph.  If you don’t wish to make any changes to the draft of the paper, then you needn’t turn anything in on April 20; if nothing is turned in then, the draft automatically becomes the final version of the paper.  Note the draft is a course requirement.  It is needed to pass the course and it must be turned in by April 10.
Beggining Jan. 26, and running through April 6, there will be a be a regular short writing assignment for each meeting of our seminar, due on the day before the seminar meets (Wednesday), by 4:00.  On “a weeks” (the first meeting on a unit, see schedule below), the weekly writing will consist of two parts: an approximately 2-3 page summary of the reading assigned for the unit, and 1-2 pages of critical commentary.  On “b weeks,” the weekly writing will consist only of 1-2 pages of critical commentary.  The commentary should substantially concern the reading material for the unit being discussed that week, but it can also, if you wish, relate that new material to previously assigned readings, or to related material that you have read that is not assigned for the course.
All writing assignments must be completed to pass the course.

Other course requirement: Regular attendance of seminar meetings.

Tentative Topics, Readings and Schedule:

Jan. 12, 19: Course Introduction and Background on Conditionals and Possible Worlds
Xeroxed reading will be made available for the Jan. 19 meeting.

Unit 1: Nozick
Jan. 26, Feb. 2
Robert Nozick, Philosophical Explanations [Harvard UP, amazon, bn], pp. 167-247
Alvin Goldman, review of Nozick, Philosophical Review 93 (1983) [link], pp. 83.8-85.3
Jonathan Vogel,

Unit 2: DeRose
Feb. 9, 16
Keith DeRose, “Solving the Skeptical Problem, Philosophical Review  104 (1995): 1-52 [link].

Unit 3: Sosa
Feb. 23, March 2
Ernest Sosa, “How to Defeat Opposition to Moore,” Philosophical Perspectives 13 (1999): 141-153 [link].
Sosa, “Skepticism and Contextualism,” Philosophical Issues 10 (2000): 1-18 [link].
DeRose, “Sosa, Safety, Sensitivity, and Skeptical Hypotheses,” from J. Greco, ed., Ernest Sosa and His Critics (Blackwell, 2004).
Sosa, “Reply to Keith DeRose,” from J. Greco, ed., Ernest Sosa and His Critics (Blackwell, 2004).

Unit 4: Williamson
March 23, 30
Timothy Williamson, Knowledge and Its Limits, pp. 123.3-128.3, 147-163

Unit 5: Vogel/Cross & Course Wrap-Up
April 6, 13, 20
Jonathan Vogel,
Troy Cross,

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