PHI 3300  Epistemology  Dr. Hauptli  Fall 2013  First Paper Topics

    Copyright 2013 Bruce W. Hauptli

You are to critically respond to one of the following topics.  Such a critical examination should: (1) indicate the nature of the position being examined; (2) clarify the argument for and/or against the position; (3) examine the strength of the argument by considering possible responses, counter-arguments, or counter-examples; and (4) offer your own critical assessment of where the arguments for and against the position being considered leave us—should we accept, reject, or remain neutral regarding this orientation, view, or position? 

     One of my purposes in having you write these papers is to offer you the opportunity to perfect your ability to describe carefully a complex position and argument to others.  Toward that end, I require that you consider your intended audience for these papers to be other philosophy students who have not read exactly the material you have read or heard exactly the lectures which you have heard.  They can not be expected to immediately know the intricacies of the positions you are discussing, and must first have the central aspects of the position which are relevant to your paper clarified to them.  They must also be presented with carefully elaborated arguments for and against the position if they are to be able to follow your critical assessment of it. 

     Another of my purposes here is to provide you with the opportunity to push beyond the level of reading and mastering the required material for the course.  Here my goal is to provide you with an opportunity to engage in critical reflection upon the readings (or upon related readings and issues), and to provide you with feed-back on your critical scrutinies.  This goal can not be met if you confine yourself to a neutral exposition of the views under consideration.  In my supplement “Writing Philosophy Papers” (available on the course web-site), I describe a number of different sorts of papers which might be submitted to fulfill this requirement (as well as a number of other points regarding composition and grader’s marks.  The detailed characterization of such papers in that supplement should help you understand my expectations (those desiring high grades will endeavor to approach the highest ideal, while those who are not so motivated may choose to set their sights somewhat lower). 

     Your papers should be approximately 2000 words long (eight double-spaced typewritten pages of 250 words per page).  This indication of length is meant as a guide to the student--papers much shorter than the indicated length are unlikely to have adequately addressed one of the assigned topics.  Papers may, of course, be longer than the indicated length.  The papers should

address an assigned topic in a manner that clearly displays its purpose, thesis, or controlling idea,

clarify the relevant elements of the philosopher’s theory so that they can be understood by other students taking such philosophy courses,

support the thesis with adequate reasons and evidence,

show sustained analysis and critical thought,

be organized clearly and logically, and

show knowledge of conventions of standard written English.   

The papers should be typed and are due by 4:15 P.M. on Monday, October 28.  I am giving you the paper topics now so that you have at least two weekends to work on the paper.  If you plan to wait till the last moment to write your paper, I recommend you review the Course Syllabus regarding penalties for late papers.  Please review my policy on extensions, late papers, and plagiarism (contained in the course syllabus).  Please also review my supplement Guide To Writing Philosophy Papers. 

I will be happy to read rough drafts and to discuss your ideas for your papers with you (I will not read drafts after 3:30 on Friday, October 25 however).   

1. In his “In Reply to ‘A Defense of Skepticism’” (Philosophical Review v. 81 (1972), pp. 229-236—reprinted in Essays in Knowledge and Justification, eds. George Pappas and Marshall Swain (Ithaca: Cornell U.P., 1972), pp. 337-345, which is on Reserve in Green Library), James Cargile offers a critique of Unger’s argument for skepticism.  Critically assess the critique.  I have a lecture supplement to the critique. 

2. A different, and more complicated, response to Unger is offered by David Lewis in his "Elusive Knowledge"( The Australasian Journal of Philosophy v. 74 (1996), pp. 549-567—reprinted in our text Knowledge: Readings in Contemporary Epistemology, Sven Bernecker and Fred Dretske, eds. (NY: Oxford UP, 2000) on pp. 366-384 (cf., esp. pp. 371 ff.).  Critically assess the critique. 

3. Critically assess any of the critiques of Unger’s argument offered in the lecture supplement (available on the course website). 

4. Critically assess Stroud’s critique of skepticism (note that this is not an easy topic). 

5. Read any of the following essays in our text book and consider critically the argument offered against skepticism:

“Other Minds,” by J.L. Austin

“Knowledge and Scepticism,” by Robert Nozick,

“Elusive Knowledge,” by David Lewis,

“Brains In A Vat,” by Hilary Putnam, or

“The Epistemology of Belief,” by Fred Dretske. 

Do not endeavor to take on more than one of these critiques as one will not be able to do justice to the argument(s) within the scope of this paper. 

6. In discussing Gettier’s problem, I have contended that we want to avoid “lucky guesses” and “lucky truths,” but in his “Epistemic Luck and the Purely Epistemic,” Richard Foley contends that epistemic luck is not always bad.  Read his essay and consider how his points apply to my discussion of Gettier’s problem (see the lecture supplement on Gettier for this).  Foley’s article is available in the library in The American Philosophical Quarterly (volume 21, 1984, pp. 113-124, see especially p. 121. 

7. Critically consider Fred Dretske’s “Conclusive Reasons” (in our textbook) as a response to the Gettier problem.  Explain the orientation offered by Dretske, and assess its prospects for providing an “analysis of knowledge.” 

8. Critically consider Alvin Goldman's causal theory of knowledge.  In addressing his orientation, you might want to consider some of the criticisms discussed in class and the lecture supplement, or those offered by

Fred Dretske—see “Conclusive Reasons,” (in our textbook)

Carl Ginet—see “Causal Theories in Epistemology” which is on reserve in the Library in A Companion to Epistemology, ed. Jonathan Dancy and Ernest Sosa (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), pp. 57-61

9. In our text there are a number of articles in support and in criticism of externalism and internalism.  Using any one of the following, clarify what the strengths and weaknesses of either internalism or externalism is (are), and indicate whether you find such an orientation/critique viable. 

“The Indispensability of Internal Justification,” by Roderick Chisholm,

“The Coherence Theory of Knowledge,” by Keith Lehrer,

“What’s Wrong With Reliabilism?”, by Richard Foley,

“A Rationale for Reliabilism,” by Kent Bach, or

“An Internalist Externalism,” by William Alston. 

10. Consider either of the following essays in our text in light of BonJour’s critique of “the appeal to the given:”

“The Directly Evident,” by Roderick Chisholm, or

“Does Empirical Knowledge Have A Foundation?”, by Wilfrid Sellars. 

NOTE: if you wish to write your paper on a topic that differs from the above, you must clear your topic with me before you turn your paper in. 

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File revised on 10/13/2013