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Seminar on Perceiving God

Phil. 701, Spring 2005
Prof. K. DeRose
Wednesdays, 1:30-3:20, CT Hall, room 104

Alston’s Perceiving God


  • 1/14: Paper copies of the Alston and the Plantinga papers are available for copying in the Philosophy department office (first floor of Connecticut Hall)
  • 2/16: Jonathan Vogel, “Cartesian Skepticism and Inference to the Best Explanation,” JP, 1990: JSTOR link.
  • 3/30: Link to a discussion (begun by Jon Kvanvig, but joined, in the comments, by other epistemologists) of Alston’s new book, Beyond Justification.  This post includes the Amazon link and the Cornell UP link to the book.  Comment #3 identifies the paper that was the “seed” for the book as Alson’s “Epistemic Desiderata”; Alan e-mailed me with the same impression, and with this reference: “Epistemic Desiderata,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 53.3 (1993) 527-551.  Since the paper came out way back in ’93, there’s a good chance that it’s been improved upon significantly in the book.  But that also means that it’s been out long enough to be on JSTOR, so here’s the JSTOR link to the paper.

Course Description: Our topic this semester will be William Alston’s book, Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience.
The reading for this course will be light: Besides Alston’s book itself, only a few papers will be assigned.  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 (April 20) due date for the course paper.

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), I will take information from each student at the first meeting on Jan. 12, and post the names of those who are admitted on Jan. 13.

Instructor’s Office hours: M, 9:30-11:00; CT 410

Book: Perceiving God will be available at Book Haven, 290 York Street.

Written Work. Written requirements will consist of a 2-3 page paper proposal, due on Monday, Feb. 28, by 4:00; a penultimate draft of a 10-15 page course paper, due on Monday, April 11, by 4:00; the course paper itself, due Wednesday, April 20, at the start of our seminar meeting (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); and regular weekly writing assignments, described below.
Beggining the second week of classes, except where noted in the Schedule below, there will be a be a regular short writing assignment for each meeting of our seminar, due on the day before the seminar meets (Tuesday), by 4:00.  These regular writing assignments will consist of two parts: an approximately two-page summary of the reading assigned for that week, and approximately two pages of critical commentary.  The commentary should substantially concern the new reading material for the week, and can, if you wish, be wholly about that new material, but it can also, if you wish, relate the 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 requirements: Regular attendance of seminar meetings.

Topics, Readings and Tentative Schedule:

Jan. 12: Course Introduction
Read, if possible: Plantinga, “Is Belief in God Properly Basic?”, Noûs 15 (1981): 41-51 [link] (This is a link to a pdf document on JSTOR, a subscriber service.  Yale subscribes, so if you get your internet access through Yale, you should be able to access it.)
No writing assignment.

Jan. 19: Alston’s Parity Argument from the 80s
Read: Alston, “Religious Experience and Religious Belief,” Noûs 16 (1982): 3-12 [link]; and DeRose, “Direct Warrant Realism” [word, pdf].

Jan. 26: PPR Symposium on Perceiving God
Read: Introduction (pp. 1-8) to Perceiving God; and the PPR Symposium: Alston’s Precis [link]; comments by Gale [link], Pappas [link], and Adams [link]; and Alston’s replies [link]

Feb. 2: Chapter 1: The Experience of God: A Perceptual Model

Feb. 9: Chapter 2: Epistemic Justification: Perceptual and Otherwise

Feb. 16: Chapter 3: The Reliability of Sense Perception: A Case Study

Feb. 23: Chapter 4: A “Doxastic Practice” Approach to Epistemology

March 2: Chapter 4, continued
Writing: No regular writing assignment.  But paper proposals are due on Monday, Feb. 28, by 4:00 PM.

March 23: Chapter 5: The Christian Mystical Perceptual Doxastic Practice
Do your writing assignment for chapter 5 either on the week of the 23rd, or of the 30th — your choice.  Take the other week off from these assignments.*

March 30: Chapter 5, continued
Do your writing assignment for chapter 5 either on the week of the 23rd, or of the 30th — your choice.  Take the other week off from these assignments.*

April 6: Chapter 6: Can the Christian Mystical Perceptual Doxastic Practice Be Shown to Be Unreliable?

April 13: Chapter 7: The Problem of Religious Diversity
Writing: No regular writing assignment.  Paper drafts due Monday, April 11, by 4:00 PM.

April 20: Chapter 8: The Place of Experience in the Grounds of Religious Belief
Writing: No regular writing assignment.  Papers are due by 4:00, Monday, 4/25, if changes have been made to the draft. (Note that this is a change: papers were due by 4/20 on the original syllabus.)  Please submit final course papers in paper, rather than electronically.  If nothing is submitted by the due time, the draft automatically becomes the final version of the paper.

*note: this is a change from the original syllabus


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