Epistemology – PHL 460

Fall 2015 – Michigan State University

MW 12:40 – 2:00 pm
104 Giltner Hall
Office Hours: MW 2-3
Office: S Kedzie 510
Email: robi1015@msu.edu


Course Description: This course offers an opportunity to survey current, major themes in epistemology. As a survey, this course will offer a broad look at some contemporary developments within epistemology. Starting with a classic problem, the problem of the external world, we will examine questions around epistemic justification, analysis of knowledge, and varying contemporary responses to skeptical and Gettier problems. By beginning with a classical problem it will become easier to see the current trajectories of thought within contemporary epistemology. The goal of this course is to offer a wide enough introduction to contemporary epistemology that will allow you to continue a course of self-study.


  • DeRose, Keith. The Case for Contextualism: Knowledge, Skepticism, and Context, Vol. 1. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. (CC)
  • Neta, Ram and Duncan Pritchard. Arguing About Knowledge. New York: Routledge, 2009. (AK)
  • Pritchard, Duncan. What is this Thing Called Knowledge? New York: Routledge, 2014. (K)

Course Grading:

  1.  Study Questions and Daily Summaries – 10%
  2. Daily Argument Reconstruction Group Exercises – 20%
  3. Group Presentation – 20%
  4. Take-home midterm – 25%
  5. Final exam or final paper – 25% Dec. 17 @ 12:45 pm


  • Become familiar with leading theories of knowledge in epistemology
  • Improve ability to identify and critically analyze the main arguments of a reading assignment, passage, or position
  • Learn to engage in reasoned debate and discussion with others who hold a different view than your own
  • Improve communication skills and collaborative capacity through group dialogue and presentation
  • Improve your ability to think critically, reason soundly, and write clearly.


Study Questions
Twice in the term, answers to study questions will be assigned from Pritchard’s What is This Thing Called Knowledge? Answers to the assigned questions are due typed and printed on the date listed on the schedule at the beginning of the class.

Daily Summaries
On days where there is an assigned reading from Arguing About Knowledge, The Case for Contextualism, or posted on D2L, students are responsible for summarizing the conclusion of the assigned reading and the argument for that conclusion. These are generally 1-2 pages. Unless otherwise stated, they are must be submitted before class on D2L. Students should also bring printed copies to class to reference during discussion. They cannot be made up (but will be waved in cases of excused absences). They will be graded based on the quality of effort applied in attempting to reconstruct the argument and conclusion, not the accuracy of that attempt. These summaries represent your best, first attempt to understand the assigned reading.

Group Presentations
As the term progresses, student will be assigned to a group. Each group will pick a reading form the syllabus and present the argument and conclusion of that reading. There are very few limitations on the format. It can take the form of a pecha kecha presentation, a dialogue, roast, dramatic (re-)enactment, poetry, skit, etc. After the presentation, the group will field questions on the presentation from classmates and the instructor. Everyone in the group must be included in the presentation and follow-up discussion. Grading is based on creativity, accuracy, effectiveness in conveying the reading, and participation of the entire group.

Exams (and Paper)
There will be a take-home midterm and final exam (non-cumulative). These will be distributed at least one week prior to the due date of the exam. Exams are to be submitted on D2L by the date and time list. Students may opt for writing a final paper instead of the final exam. The length of the paper will be comparable to that of the answers to the final exam. Students and topics must be approved by the instructor in order to opt for the final paper instead of the final exam.


Since philosophy is hard and much of the course will be discussion based, attendance is necessary for learning. It is your responsibility to be in class. I do not provide make-up lectures for students who absent from class. (If, however, a student has problems understanding certain points about material covered during an absence, I will help by answering specific questions.) Please provide documentation if absences are due to legitimate reasons. (That means come talk to me.) Excused absences are absences excused by the university for official purposes, those excused by me in advance, or those excused subsequently for documented reasons (e.g., health problem, family emergency). I will review material from an excused absence, after the student has obtained notes from a classmate and if the student has cleared read the assignment first. Besides being on time, and silencing cell phones, I must stress the importance of everyone allowing for an open forum for discussion, so that we are all free to speak our minds on any topic without condemnation or hostility. Our job is to examine and evaluate ideas, not each other.

A: Outstanding. The individual displays thorough mastery of all material and genuine engagement with the subject matter. This grade is reserved for those individuals who attain the highest levels of excellence in thought and expression. Exceptionally good writing.
B: Good. The individual displays accurate understanding of the bulk of material. Writing is clear and free of mechanical errors.
C: Adequate. The individual displays basic grasp of roughly three fourths of the course material. There may arise occasional misunderstanding or inaccuracy. Writing is acceptable.
D: Marginal. The individual displays a grasp of the course material that deserves credit. Quality of apprehension of material indicates lack of effort and/or lack of aptitude.
F: Unacceptable. The individual displays virtually no grasp of the material as addressed in the course.

A+ 97 – 100
A 93 – 96
A- 90 – 92
B+ 87 – 89
B 83 – 86
B- 80 – 82
C+ 77 – 79
C 73 – 76
C- 70 – 72
D+ 67 – 69
D 63 – 66
D- 60 – 62
F 0 – 59

Plagiarism and Academic Dishonesty
Passing off someone else’s work as your own is plagiarism. Plagiarism consists of including another’s ideas or writings as your own. A slight rephrasing (without giving the source) is still plagiarism. Additionally, you may not receive aid from a source not authorized by the instructor, including www.allmsu.edu. Furthermore, in the case of group work, plagiarism includes putting your name on group work to which you have not equally contributed. Plagiarism is penalized by one of the two following: (1) no credit (a zero) for that assignment; or (2) failing grade for course and reporting the incident to the Dean’s office. I further reserve the right to pursue further university action. Additional information on plagiarism and academic dishonesty can be found at:

Office Hours
My office hours are listed above. My door is open and I highly encourage students to come see me. If you plan to come by, please email first, so that I won’t have stepped out to get coffee or to the library. If my office hours don’t work for you, let me know and something can be arranged. Email I am available by email and you are welcome to contact me with questions. I generally respond the same day. However, you should think of any email to me as something formal, instead of as a casual email to a friend. You must include a subject, a salutation, and your name. I advise you read the following as well: http://www.wikihow.com/Email-a-Professor.

Cell Phones, Computers, & Tape Recorders
You may not use your phone during class (for calling or texting). Unless otherwise stated, you may not use a computer (or tablet) in class, including to take notes or to view an assigned online reading. Several studies have shown usage of computers in class leads to more distraction and lower grades for you and those around you. You may only record the course if you obtain my permission beforehand.

All assignments must be handed in as you arrive in class on the day they are due. I do not accept late work unless class was missed for a documented emergency that arose without time for you to submit your work in advance. If you know that you will miss a class session prior to that session, you will need to submit your assignment in advance.

The MSU policy for incompletes is as follows: The I-Incomplete may be given only when: the student (a) has completed at least 6/7 of the term of instruction, but is unable to complete the class work and/or take the final examination because of illness or other compelling reason; and (b) has done satisfactory work in the course; and (c) in the instructor’s judgment can complete the required work without repeating the course. I do not give out incompletes unless the “compelling reason” mentioned above is documented, and you must discuss this with me in advance of finals week.

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities
(from the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities (RCPD))

Michigan State University is committed to providing equal opportunity for participation in all programs, services, and activities. Requests for accommodations by persons with disabilities may be made by contacting the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities at 517-884-RCPD or on the web at http://rcpd.msu.edu. It is your responsibility to promptly register with RCPD because some arrangements must be done well in advance (e.g. alternative test taking place or time). Once your eligibility for an accommodation has been determined, you will be issued a verified individual services accommodation (“VISA”) form. Please present this form to me at the start of the term and/or two weeks prior to the accommodation date (e.g., paper due date). Requests received after this date will be honored whenever possible.


The following is the tentative schedule. It is subject to change during the course of the semester (including readings, assignments, and exam dates). I will announce in class and post online any such changes. Readings are to be completed before coming to class on the assigned day. All readings are from the textbook unless noted below.

K = What is this Thing Called Knowledge; AK = Arguing about Knowledge; CC – The Case for Contextualism; O = Online on D2L

Knowledge and its Value
W – 9/2 Introduction
W – 9/9 Chapters 1-3, K (1-31) Study Questions: (Pg. 8: 1, 3 & 4); (Pg.17: 1-5); (Pg. 29: 1)
M – 9/14 Introduction and A. J. Ayer, “The Right to Be Sure,” AK (5-13)
W – 9/16 Edmund Gettier, “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?” AK (14-15) Blouw et al., “Gettier Cases: A Taxonomy” O
M – 9/21 Keith Leher, “Knowledge, Truth and Evidence,” AK (16-21)
W – 9/23 Robert Nozick, “Knowledge and What We Would Believe,” AK (22-28)
M – 9/28 Introduction and Jonathan Kvanig, “The Value of Knowledge is External to It,” AK (37-54)
W – 9/30 Linda Zagzebski, “The Search for the Source of Epistemic Good,” AK (55-66)

Skepticism and Knowledge
M – 10/5 Chapters 4, 15, & 16, K (31-41; 159-160; 169-191)
W – 10/7 Introduction and Jorge Luis Borges, “The Circular Ruins,” AK (431-440)
M – 10/12 Roderick Chisholm, “The Problem of the Criterion,” AK (441-450)
W – 10/14 Introduction and Laurence BonJour, “Can Empirical Knowledge Have a Foundation?” AK (209-233)
M – 10/19 Laurence BonJour, “Towards a Defense of Empirical Foundations,” AK (233-248)
W – 10/21 Peter Klein, “Human Knowledge and The Infinite Regress of Reasons,” AK (249-272)
M – 10/26 Ernest Sosa, “The Raft and the Pyramid: Coherence Versus Foundations in Theory of Knowledge,” AK (273-292)
W – 10/28 Introduction and Alvin Goldman, “Reliabilism: What is Justified Belief?” AK (149-173)
Friday – 10/30 – Midterm due – 5:00 pm
M – 11/2 No Class
W – 11/4 No Class

Justification and Skepticism
M – 11/9 Richard Feldman and Earl Conee, “Evidentialism,” AK (174-191)
W – 11/11 Williams Alston, “An Internalist Externalism,” AK (192-204)
M – 11/16 Rene Descartes, “Meditation One,” AK (451-454)
W – 11/18 G.E. Moore, “Proof of the External World,” O and “On Certainty,” AK (462-465) M – 11/23 Peter Unger, “An Argument for Skepticism,” AK (466-478)
W – 11/25 No Class
M – 11/30 David Lewis, “Elusive Knowledge,” AK (479-496)

Contextualist Solutions
W – 12/2 Keith DeRose, CC (1-46)
M – 12/7 Keith DeRose, CC (47-79)
W – 12/9 Keith DeRose, CC (128-152)

Th – 12/17 Final Exam/Paper Due @ 12:45 pm