PHIL 351: Theory of Knowledge

This Syllabus was last revised November 17, 1995

Course Description

This is a course in epistemology, the philosophical study of knowledge. What does that mean? Perhaps the best way to answer that is to consider the questions epistemology has tried to answer and the problems it has tried to resolve. The central question for epistemology is the obvious one: What is knowledge? To ask this is not the same thing as to ask 'What do I (or we, or anyone) know?' Instead, a philosophical answer would be a definition of knowledge, an explanation of just what it is to know something and how that differs from merely happening to have a belief that is true.

One reason this question has been important for philosophy is that philosophers have often hoped that a good answer to it would solve epistemology's most serious problem, namely skepticism: the position that we really don't know anything at all. Initially, skepticism sounds preposterous and absurd. However, very simple arguments can be given which appear to call into question everything which we ordinarily think we know. Despite their simplicity, these arguments have proved to be very hard to refute. A major goal of philosophical epistemology has been to find a way to defeat skepticism, often by finding a definition or analysis of knowledge which is immune to the skeptical arguments. A goal less often pursued has been to find a way to live with skepticism rather than refute it.

The topics I plan to cover, in order, are: Arguments for skepticism and responses to them; sensory knowledge of the physical world; Gettier's problem and the definition of knowledge; Foundationalist and Coherentist accounts of justification; Externalist and Internalist accounts of justification.


The text we will use is Louis P. Pojman, The Theory of Knowledge: Classic and Contemporary Readings (Wadsworth 1993).

Course work and grading

Academic Honesty and Its Opposite

I expect you do to your own work. Academic dishonesty includes not only getting someone else to do your work (with or without their knowledge) but also knowingly doing someone else's work for them. This applies to take-home assignments as much as to in-class work. Under Texas A&M's policies, students guilty of academic dishonesty may receive lowered grades and other more severe penalties. For more details, see Section 42 of the Texas A&M University Regulations.

Schedule of Readings

Here is a schedule of what I plan to read and when. I intend to stick to this rigorously, but even with the best of intentions people don't always manage to carry out their intentions. So, we may make changes as the semester progresses. I'll try to keep the copy of this syllabus on my web page (see above) updated, but the best way to know about changes is to come to class (frequently). References are to Part (Roman numeral) and Section (Arabic numeral) in Pojman; thus, 'II.1' means reading 1 in Part II (which happens to be Descartes, Meditation I, in real life).

Aug. 28-Sept. 1: II.1, II.2

Sept. 4-8: II.4, II.5

Summary #1, Descartes, Meditation I, due 9/4
For 9/4: read II.2
Sept. 11-15: III.1; III.2

Summary #2, Selection II.2 (from Hume, Treatise of Human Nature), due 9/11
For 9/11: read II.4
For 9/13: read III.1
For 9/15: read III.2
Sept. 18-22: III.3; III.7

Summary #3, Selection III.1 (from Locke, Essay) pp. 70-76, due 9/18
For 9/18: read III.3 (further discussion of III.1, III.2)
For 9/20: read III.7
Sept. 25-29: VII.1

Summary #4, Selection III.7 (Landesmann, Why Nothing Has Color) due 9/27

For 9/25: read III.7

for 9/29: read VII.1

Exam 1 questions distributed 9/25
Oct. 2: Exam 1 due

Oct. 2-6: IV.1; IV.2

For 10/2: go over IV.1 (Gettier) in class

For 10/4: read IV.2 (Goldman)

Oct. 9-13: IV.3; IV.4; IV.6

Summary #5, Selection IV.2 (Goldman, "Causal Theory of Knowing") due 10/9

Oct. 16-20: V.1; V.3

Summary #6, Selection V.1 (Descartes, Med. II) due 10/16

For 10/16: V.1 (Descartes, Meditation II)

For 10/18: V.1, V.3 (BonJour, "Critique of Foundationalism")

For 10/20: V.3, sections III-IV

Oct. 23-27: V.4; V.5

Summary #7, Selection V.3 (BonJour), sections III-IV due 10/25

Oct. 30-Nov. 3: V.6

Summary #8, Selection V.4 (BonJour) sections I-III due 10/30

For 11/3: V.6 (Sosa, "The Raft and the Pyramid")

Exam 2 questions distributed 10/30

Nov. 6: Exam 2 due

Nov. 6-10: VI.1

For 11/6: VI.1 (Goldman, "Reliablism: What Is Justified Belief?")

For 11/10: VI.2 (Lehrer, "Critique of Externalism")

Nov. 13-17: VI.2

Summary #9, Selection VI.1 (Goldman, "Reliablism"), II-III, due 11/13

Nov. 20: VI.3

Summary #10, Selection VI.2 (Lehrer, "Critique of Externalism") 306-315, due 11/22

For 11/20, 11/22: VI.2, VI.3

For 11/24: do not come to class


Nov. 27-Dec. 1: VI.3, VI.4

Summary #11, Selection VI.3 (Quine, "Epistemology Naturalized"), due 11/29

For 11/27: VI.3

For 11/29: VI.3

For 12/1: VI.4

Dec. 4:

Summary #12, Selection VI.4 (Kim, "What Is Naturalized Epistemology?"), due 12/4

Exam 3 questions distributed

Dec. 13, 10:30: Exam 3 due