Academic year
Neri Marsili
Department of Philosophy
Universitat de Barcelona
Master courses
Module 7. Issues in Contemporary Theoretical and Practical Philosophy
2020-02-11 - 2020-04-21
Tuesdays, 16:30-19:30
401 - Facultat de Filosofia UB


In this course, you will familiarise with some central philosophical issues in contemporary epistemology, with a particular focus on social epistemology. The first lectures will introduce you to some central epistemological notions via the problem of external world scepticism (e.g., how do we know that we are not in a computer simulation like the Matrix?) and the question of the nature of knowledge (what does it mean to know something?).

While traditional epistemology focuses on individuals, social epistemology studies the acquisition of knowledge as a collective enterprise, shaped by our social relations. For instance, we ordinarily treat groups as epistemic agents: back in 2015, people would say that Volkswagen knew that their cars were modified to cheat US emission checks, and that nonetheless Volkswagen lied about it. But what does it mean for a group to know something, to make a claim, and to lie about it? Are these merely idiomatic expressions, or should the idea that a group can know and assert something be taken seriously?

Another central topic in social epistemology is the role that communication plays in the transmission of information. Most of our knowledge does not come from individual perception and investigation, but rather from trusting what we are told in books, TV broadcasts and newspaper articles. But is communication ever a reliable source of knowledge? If so, under which conditions?

The last few sessions will put our epistemological toolkit to work to further our understanding of some contemporary issues, such as the role played by fake news in contemporary politics, or how selective trust can unjustly oppress disadvantaged groups.


The teaching for this module will be delivered through 10 lectures (1.5 h per week) and 9 seminars sessions (1h per week, after the lectures). 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. This module presupposes no particular background in philosophy; the relevant background will be provided as we go along. In the table, you have an overview of the different topics that we are going to cover.








Introduction: What is Knowledge?




The Nature of Knowledge




Testimony 1

Lackey 1



Testimony 2




Assertion and its norms




Assertion and lying




Group B J K

Lackey 2



Group Assertion

Lackey 3



Fake News

Pepp et al.



Epistemic Injustice




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 and send it to

- bring a copy of the paper and of the assignment (printed or on a tablet) 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 9 excercises are worth ~30% of your final mark. Each exercise is worth about 3 points. You will lose 2 points for failing to meet the deadline, and 3 for failing to submit at all. If you think you may have some reason to get an extension to the deadline, you can contact me by email.

Note that seminar sessions are an important part of the course. Seminars are meant for students to develop and put into practice fundamental philosophical skills: critically evaluate your own and other people’s arguments, think in a rigorous and systematic fashion, develop well-structured and valid arguments and present them in a clear and convincing way. Active participation in them is just as important for learning as is attendance at lectures, and it will also contribute to your final mark (~10%).



Your final examination will involve the redaction of a short essay. You will be required to prepare an original piece of work below 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 meetingNo tutorial will be granted to students failing to do so.

Essays must be submitted electronically, by sending them to

 The university has a strict policy on plagiarism and unfair means. Please refer to this link for more information on this.



  1. Tutorial Meeting Arrangement: Last lecture
  2. Draft For Tutorial (lecturer): 3 days (72 hours) in advance of the meeting
  3. 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: ~10 %.

Practical exercises: ~30 %.

Critical essay: 60 %


Re-evaluation (in September):

Online oral exam: 40 % (on the “mandatory texts" assigned during the module; date to be arranged with the instructor).

Critical essay: 60 % (papers should be submitted by *September 1*. The paper can be a substantially revised version of the paper submitted in June, or a new paper on a new topic)





Basic Competences

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.


General Competences

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.


Specific Competences

CE1: Students should be able to critically engage with the concepts and methods of contemporary epistemology, with a particular focus on socially relevant aspects.

CE2. Students should be able to identify the core arguments and theories of contemporary epistemology and apply them to issues such as testimony, lying, fake news, and the like.

CE4. Students should be able to assess the writings of leading contemporary philosophers in the field of epistemology.

CE5. Students should be able to identify and critically engage with the current state of a particular philosophical debate, and form a reasoned view, even if provisional, about it.

CE7. Students should be able to critically use specialized terminology in the field of epistemology.


Each lecture in this course has an associated paper or book chapter. 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.


Background readings (general):


Background readings (specific):


Required readings

  • Week 2 – The Nature of Knowledge
    • “Knowledge cannot be lucky”, Pritchard D. in Contemporary Debates in Epistemology (pp. 152-163) Blackwell: 2014
    • “Justification is(not) internal”, Greco/Feldman exchange in Contemporary Debates in Epistemology (chapter 13, excerpts) Blackwell: 2014
  • Week 3 – Testimony 1
    • “It Takes Two to Tango: Beyond Reductionism and Non‐Reductionism in the Epistemology of Testimony”. Lackey, J. in The Epistemology of Testimony. Oxford, Oxford University Press: 2006
  • Week 4  –Testimony 2
    • “Getting Told and Being Believed”. Moran, R. in Philosophers’ Imprint, 5(5): 2005 (excerpts)
  • Week 5 – Assertion and its norm
    • “Assertion”, Williamson, T. in Philosophical Review 105 (4): 1996
  • Week 6 – Asserting and lying
    • “Lying and asserting”, Stokke A. in The Journal of Philosophy110 (pp. 33-60): 2013.
  • Week 7 – Group belief, knowledge and justification
    • “What is justified group belief?”, Lackey J. in The Philosophical Review125 (pp. 341-396 excerpts): 2016.
  • Week 8 – Group assertions
    • “Group assertion”,  Lackey J. in Erkenntnis83 (pp. 21-42): 2018.
  • Week 9 – Fake news
    • “What’s New About Fake News?”, Pepp, J., Michaelson, E., & Sterken, R. K. Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy 16 (2): 2019.
  • Week 10 – Epistemic injustice
    • “Testimonial injustice”, Fricker, M. inEpistemic Injustice. Power and Ethics of Knowing (chapter 1) OUP: 2007.