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Phil. 300, Fall 2006
Prof. K. DeRose
Tu, Th 9:00-10:15, CT 104

Provisional Syllabus

Brief Course Description: An investigation of the most important forms of philosophical skepticism and of the major lines of response to such skepticism.   Focus on recent work on the problem with some discussion of historical sources, especially works by Descartes and G.E. Moore.

Instructor’s Office hours: Tu 10:45-11:30, Th 12:30-1:15; CT 410
Books: The following books are required and should be available at Labyrinth Books, 290 York Street:

  • D: Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: With Selections from the Objections and Replies; ed. J. Cottingham (Cambridge University Press, 1996).
  • S: DeRose, Warfield, ed., Skepticism: A Contemporary Reader (Oxford University Press, 1999).

Meditations-cov  skept-scaled

Written Work:

  • 4-6page paper (typed, double-spaced), on one of several possible assigned topics (TBA), due Tuesday Oct. 17 at the start of class
  • 1-2 page proposal for the course paper, due Tuesday, Nov. 14 at the start of class (this is a real requirement and must be completed on time; writing the paper itself without first submitting a proposal does not satisfy course requirements)
  • 7-10 page course paper, due Thursday, Dec. 7 at the start of class.
  • Final Exam, December 16, 2 PM, room TBA

Please check that these dates are possible for you given the rest of your schedule before signing up for this class.

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.  In most cases, a student’s best paper topic will be where she has her best idea about the material we’ve covered in the course.  Your longer paper cannot be on the same topic that your shorter paper was on.  (Yes, I will remember.)  A 1-2 page paper proposal is due on Tuesday, Nov. 14, at the start of class.  This proposal can 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.  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 itself is to be 7-10 pages (typed, double-spaced), and is due on Thursday, Dec. 7, at the start of class.  This must be submitted on paper, not by e-mail.

Grading. Attendance at class meetings is mandatory; unexcused absences are grounds for failing the course, even if one’s written work is good.  All written work must be submitted on time and a satisfactory job must be done on all written work to pass the course.  Supposing that atendance is not a problem and that all written work has been satisfactory, grades will be based roughly on the following formula, though adjustments will be made for insightful classroom and for marked improvement over the course of the semester: Short Paper: 25%; Proposal: 10%; Long Paper: 40%; Final Exam: 25%.

Tentative Topics, Readings and Schedule:

The below reading list contains quite a few items written by me.  That is not because I think my own contributions to recent discussions of our topic are so important that my work deserves such representation on a syllabus for a course on skepticism. Rather, it is due to my belief about what best contributes to a good classroom discussion.  Where an instructor has (some of) their thoughts on a topic written down somewhere, I think it’s often a good idea to make them available to students in written form.  That way, students can think critically about what the instructor has to say before class.  Often, then, students are better prepared to engage in discussion — often debate! — about the material. 

Course Introduction: Sept. 7, 12

K. DeRose, "Characterizing a Fogbank...,"      Certain Doubts post: html link.
   sections 1, 2, 5, and 6
K. DeRose, "Responding to Skepticism"          S, pp. 1-24; also available in draft form here: html link.

Descartes: Sept. 14, 19, 21, 26, 28

R. Descartes, Meditations                      D, pp. 12-62, 63.3-.7, 102.6-103.5, 106.3-.6
J. Van Cleve, "Foundationalism, Epistemic      Philosophical Review, 1979; pp. 55-74: JSTOR link.
  Principles, and the Cartesian Circle,"
  Part One
K. DeRose, "Descartes, Epistemic Principles,   Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 1992: pdf.
  Epistemic Circularity, and Scientia"
K. DeRose, "Knowlege, Epistemic Possibility,   pdf link: pp. 243-304, pp. 305-310.
  and Scepticism," Chapt. 4, sections F-J,
  pp. 280-306

Putnam: Oct. 3, 5, 10

H. Putnam, "Brains in a Vat"                   S, pp. 27-42
T. Warfield, "A Priori Knowledge of the        S, pp. 76-90
  World: Knowing the World by Knowing Our 
K. DeRose, "How Can We Know That We're Not     pdf.
  Brains in Vats," sects. 1-5, pp. 121-133

Nozick: Oct. 12, 17*, 19

R. Nozick, selections from Philosophical       S, pp. 156-179
K. DeRose, "Solving the Skeptical Problem,"    S, pp. 200-201
  sect. 9 

Unger: Oct. 24, 26, 31, Nov. 2

P. Unger, "A Defense of Skepticism"            Philosophical Review, 1971; JSTOR link.
K. DeRose, "Solving the Skeptical Problem,"    S, pp. 210-215
  sects. 15-16
P. Unger, selections from Philosophical        S, pp. 243-271

DeRose: Nov. 7, 9, 14*, 16

K. DeRose, "Solving the Skeptical Problem"     S, pp. 183-219
K. DeRose, "How Can We Know That We're Not     pdf.
  Brains in Vats," sects. 6-7, pp. 133-136
K. DeRose, "Single Scoreboard Semantics"       Philosophical Studies, 2004; link (then click on "entire document")
K. DeRose, "Knowlege, Epistemic Possibility,   pdf links: pp. 243-304, pp. 305-310.
  and Scepticism," Chapt. 4, sects. A-B and 
  E-K, pp. 243-256 and 273-309

Stroud and Sosa: Nov. 28, 30, Dec. 5

B. Stroud, "Scepticism, 'Externalism', and     S, pp. 292-304 
  the Goal of Epistemology"
E. Sosa, "Philosophical Scepticism and         S, pp. 93-114
  Epistemic Circularity"

Dec. 7*: Wrap-Up, Review

Final Exam: Saturday, Dec. 16, 2 PM, C104

*Written work due

Links, Hand-outs, etc.

  • 9/12 handout: word.
  • “Reid’s Anti-Sensationalism and His Realism”: link (JSTOR).  This is not assigned reading; it’s just for the interested, including those who might want to write a paper on Reid’s response to skepticism.  The portion of the paper most relevant to our class discussion of 9/12 is section II.B, “The Argument for Trust,” pp. 326-331.
  • 9/14 handout:word.
  • Altston, “Epistemic Circularity”: link (JSTOR).
  • Bergmann, “Epistemic Circularity: Malignant and Benign,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 69 (2004): 709-27: link (pdf doc., pre-pub draft). <–link fixed 10/10
  • Short Papers: Instructions and first topics: word. <– 3rd topic added on 10/5
  • 9/28 handout: word.
  • 10/5 handout: word.
  • Jim Pryor’s “Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper”: link (html doc.).
  • handout for 10/12, 10/17, 10/19 (Nozick): word.
  • David Lewis, “Scorekeeping in a Language Game”: click here (subscriber site), then on “entire document.”
  • Final examination questions and directions: word.
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