Topics in epistemology (5cr)
- 2021-02-16 - 2021-05-04
- Tuesdays, 16:30-19:30
- Online. Please get in touch with instructor for the link to online sessions.
This course will touch on a series of contemporary topics in epistemology, and problems about different kinds of knowledge. After a brief background about knowledge and justification, we will cover issues related with self-knowledge, group knowledge, propaganda and ideology, internalism vs externalism in epistemic justification, and epistemic injustice.
The course thus makes a transition from issues about knowledge of oneself to a series of contemporary debates in what has come to be known as social epistemology.
The teaching for this module will be delivered through 11 seminar sessions. The lectures will introduce students to the main themes of the modules, enabling them to fruitfully engage with the seminar readings. Having read the text, during the seminar we will discuss it and analyse its connections with more general issues in epistemology.
Below you have an overview of the different topics that we are going to cover
0. What is Knowledge?
Week 1: Introduction, agreement on organization of seminar sessions.
Background readings for the duration of the course:
- Pritchard, Duncan (2018) What Is This Thing Called Knowledge?, 4th edition, Routledge. Part I: What is knowledge
- Steup, Matthias and Ram Neta, "Epistemology", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2020/entries/epistemology/>.
- Selected chapters included in Contemporary Debates in Epistemology
I. Epistemic justification
Background reading for this section
- Chapter 4 of Pritchard’s What is knowledge?
- Section 3, “What is justification?” In SEP’s article “Epistemology”
- Internalism and externalism in epistemology, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy https://www.iep.utm.edu/int-ext/
- Pappas, George, "Internalist vs. Externalist Conceptions of Epistemic Justification", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2017/entries/justep-intext/>.
- Madison, BJC (2010) “Epistemic Internalism”, Philosophy Compass.
Week 2: Skepticism
- “Can Skepticism Be Refuted?”, by Jonathan Vogel and Richard Fumerton. Chapter 5 of Contemporary Debates in Epistemology
Week 3: Immediate justification
- “Is There Immediate Justification?”, by James Pryor and Juan Comesaña. Chapter 9 of Contemporary Debates in Epistemology
Week 4: Internalism and externalism about epistemic justification
- “Is Justification Internal?”, by John Greco and Richard Feldman Chapter 13 of Contemporary Debates in Epistemology
II. Know thyself:
Background reading for section
- Gertler, Brie, "Self-Knowledge", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2020/entries/self-knowledge/>.
- Morgan, Daniel and Léa Salje (2020) “First Person Thought”, Analysis Reviews 80(1), 148–163. doi:10.1093/analys/anz089
Week 5: Self-knowledge
- Burge, Tyler (1988). Individualism and self-knowledge. Journal of Philosophy 85 (November): 649-63.
- Sawyer, Sarah (2015). Contrastive self-knowledge and the McKinsey paradox. In Sanford Goldberg (ed.), Externalism, Self-Knowledge, and Skepticism: New Essays. Cambridge, UK: pp. 75-93.
Week 6: Immunity to error through misidentification
- Shoemaker, Sydney (1968) “Self-reference and self-awareness”, The Journal of Philosophy, LXV (19), pp. 555-567.
- Pryor, James (1999). “Immunity to error through misidentification” Philosophical Topics 26 (1-2):271-304.
III. Group knowledge
Background reading for section:
- Goldman, Alvin and Cailin O'Connor, "Social Epistemology", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2019/entries/epistemology-social/, especially section 3.
- Smiley, Marion, "Collective Responsibility", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2017/entries/collective-responsibility/>. (section 2)
Week 7: Social knowledge:
- Bird, Alexander. (2010), “Social knowing: the social sense of ‘scientific knowledge’”. Philosophical Perspectives, 24: 23-56. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1520-8583.2010.00184.x
Week 8: Group beliefs
- Lackey, Jennifer (2016) "What is Justified Group Belief?" The Philosophical Review 125 (pp. 341-396 excerpts): 2016.
III Propaganda and ideology
Background reading for section:
Week 9. Propaganda
- Stanley, Jason (2015) How Propaganda Works, chapters 5 and 6.
- (The Unmute Podcast, episode 1, interview with Jason Stanley. Available at:
- Stanley, J (2016) ‘Précis of How Propaganda Works’, Theoria 31: 287-94. http://www.ehu.eus/ojs/index.php/THEORIA/article/view/16512/15027
- Srinivasan, Amia (2016), “Philosophy and Ideology”, Theoria 31: 371-80.
IV Epistemic Injustice
Background reading for section
- Grasswick, Heidi, "Feminist Social Epistemology", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2018/entries/feminist-social-epistemology/>. (section 4.1)
Week 10: Feminist epistemology
- Anderson, Elizabeth (1995) “Feminist Epistemology: An Interpretation and a Defense. Hypatia.
Week 11: Epistemic Injustice
- Fricker, Miranda (2007) Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing, Oxford University Press, intro and chapters 1 and 2.
The seminars will take place each week starting from week 2. They will involve discussion in small groups, focused around the assigned reading.
What do I need to do to prepare for the seminar?
Before each seminar, you are required to:
- read the paper
- complete your assignment
- bring a copy of the paper and of the assignment to the seminar
What is the assignment for the seminar?
The assignment involves two parts.
- One or more questions that you have about the paper. Questions can be specific or general, and of any kind (about something that you don’t understand, something that you think doesn’t work, etc.)
- A written exercise about the paper you read. This needs to be (1) 200 words or more (no worries if it’s a little bit less!); (2) demonstrate that you have read and understood the paper, and (3) serve as a point of reference to the discussion in class. What you write in the assignment is totally up to you. It can be a summary of the paper, but it can also be a critical discussion of one of its sections or of a minor question it raises. It can be written as a micro-essay, or simply as a list of bullet points that summarise the paper. But it can also be something more creative: a fake review or report, a story, or a creative piece of writing – as long as you satisfy condition (1), (2) or (3) listed above. Be creative if you feel like it, or stick to a short summary of the article if you prefer a more traditional approach.
Deadline for the assignment: the night before each seminar
These exercises are worth ~50% of your final mark.
Your final examination will involve the redaction of a short essay. You will be required to prepare an original piece of work under 3000 words. Potential essay topics include any of the subjects discussed during lectures and any of the seminar readings, and towards the end of the course I will provide you with some sample questions to help you to identify a topic for your essay.
Students have the right to a half-hour tutorial to discuss their essay plans. Tutorials will take place 2-3 weeks before the essay deadline (available slots will be communicated in due time). You will need to send me a draft or outline of the essay at least 3 days (72 hours) in advance of the meeting. No tutorial will be granted to students failing to do so.
Essays must be submitted electronically, by sending them to [teresamatosferreira AT ub.edu]
The university has a strict policy on plagiarism and unfair means. Please refer to this link for more information on this.
Tutorial Meeting Arrangement: Last lecture
Draft for Tutorial (lecturer): 3 days (72 hours) in advance of the meeting
Final Essay Submission Deadline: TBA (around mid-June)
The final mark will be based on active participation in the seminars, the practical exercises, and the final essay.
Class participation and class exercises ~50 %.
Critical essay: ~50 %
Re-evaluation (in July):
Online oral exam: 40 % (on the “mandatory texts" assigned during the module; date to be arranged with the instructor).
Critical essay: 60 % (The paper can be a substantially revised version of the paper submitted in June, or a new paper on a new topic)
In order to be entitled to re-evaluation, a student who fails the course has to get at least 3.
CB6 – Students should be able to critically understand central texts in epistemology in a way that puts them in a position to develop and apply original ideas.
CB9: Students should be able to communicate effectively their arguments and conclusions to a specialized audience in a clear and rigorous manner.
CB10: Students should be able to acquire learning skills that allow them to pursue their studies in an autonomous manner.
CG1: Students should be able to analyze, assess and construct valid arguments, and to identify formal and informal fallacies.
CG2: Students should be able to design, create and develop original research projects in their chosen areas of study in epistemology.
CG4: Students should be able to work both autonomously and as part of a team, in order to provide arguments for and against different positions in epistemology, and provide examples.
Each lecture in this course has associated papers or book chapters. Required readings are listed both in the syllabus and on the course website. Suggested background readings are not required, but rather meant as support learning material: they can be a helpful guide to help you understand the required reading, prepare the bibliography of your essay and to familiarise with the open questions in the current philosophical debate. You will learn more, and understand things easier by consulting this material, but it is up to you whether you do it or not.
Please note that some lectures (especially the first lectures) have more than one required reading associated with them. This is because in these cases you will be required to read a short extract of two different papers, rather than a single paper. The relevant part of the paper is always specified in the syllabus and on the website.
This course will be taught ONLINE. Please get in touch with the instructor for further info.