PHI 3300 Epistemology Dr. Hauptli Fall 2013 Second 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?
As the first paper assignment indicated, one of my purposes in requiring you to write these papers is to offer you the opportunity to perfect your ability to describe carefully a complex position and argument to others. Another of my purposes 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.
One of my vehicles for accomplishing these goals is to require that you write more than one paper. While your second paper will be on a topic differing from your first one, many of the comments I made on your first paper could be helpful to you in perfecting your compositional, expository, and critical skills. These comments will only be useful if you give them some serious scrutiny however. I strongly encourage you to look over both the typed comments and the marginal comments throughout your first paper. Few students have such an exceptional ability that they can not benefit from such an examination, and to encourage you to take the comments seriously, I want you to know that before I read your second paper I will be reviewing my file with these comments on your first paper. I expect that your editing of your drafts of your next paper will be done in light of these comments. You should seriously endeavor to avoid any of the sorts of compositional errors I have identified, and to the extent that it is called for, I also encourage you to work to make your next exposition and critique yet clearer and more forceful. Further information including the due date follows the topics.
1. Critically consider Alvin Goldman’s criticism of internalism in his “BonJour’s The Structure of Empirical Knowledge” (in The Current State of the Coherence Theory, ed. J. Bender, which is on reserve in the Green Library (request it at the Circulation Desk). Consider how BonJour’s criticisms of externalism might be undercut by some of the things Goldman says and indicate, finally, whether you believe externalism is a viable epistemological position.
2. In his “BonJour’s Coherence Theory of Justification” Marshall Swain takes BonJour to task for his overly strong accessibility requirement and, more interestingly, maintains that we need to distinguish various distinct components of our belief system: the cognitively spontaneous, the straightforwardly inferential (straightforwardly based upon the cognitively spontaneous beliefs), the theoretical, and the religious. Different justificatory desiderata may be appropriate for these different types of beliefs! Critically consider Swain’s criticisms of BonJour’s theory. Swain’s essay is in The Current State of the Coherence Theory, ed. J. Bender, which is on reserve in the Green Library (request it at the Circulation Desk).
3. Critically consider Alan Goldman’s criticisms of BonJour’s theory as offered in his “BonJour’s Coherentism” (in The Current State of the Coherence Theory, ed. J. Bender, which is on reserve in the Green Library (request it at the Circulation Desk).
4. Critically consider James Bogen’s criticism of BonJour’s theory as offered in his “Coherentist Theories of Knowledge Don’t Apply to Enough Outside of Science and Don’t Give the Right Results When Applied to Science” (in The Current State of the Coherence Theory, ed. J. Bender—on reserve in Green Library—go to Circulation the Desk).
NOTE: BonJour offers replies to some of the criticisms discussed in topics 1-4 in his “Replies and Clarifications” (in The Current State of the Coherence Theory, ed. J. Bender, which is on reserve in the Green Library (request it at the Circulation Desk).
5. Critically consider Mark Pastin’s “Modest Foundationalism and Self-Warrant” (in Essays on Knowledge and Justification, eds. G. Pappas and M. Swain, which is on reserve in the Green Library (request it at the Circulation Desk) and indicate whether Pastin’s line of argument allows foundationalists to escape the criticisms which BonJour offers.
6. Critically consider Gilbert Harman’s line of argument in the selections from his book Thought (which are reproduced in Essays on Knowledge and Justification, eds. G. Pappas and M. Swain, which is on reserve in the Green Library (request it at the Circulation Desk). Does he offer a theory which is either a pure foundationalist or a pure coherentist theory? Does it avoid some of the criticisms BonJour offers of foundational theories?
7. Critically consider James Cornman’s “Foundational versus Nonfoundational Theories of Empirical Justification (in Essays on Knowledge and Justification, eds. G. Pappas and M. Swain, which is on reserve in the Green Library (request it at the Circulation Desk). Does his theory offer either a pure foundationalist or a pure coherentist theory? Is it a viable orientation? Does it avoid some of the criticisms BonJour offers against foundational theories?
8. On pp. 24-25 of his The Structure of Empirical Knowledge, BonJour offers a short version of the standard criticisms of coherence theories of epistemological justification. How well does he avoid these sorts of criticism as he develops his coherence theory in Part II? Is the coherence theory he develops a viable epistemological theory? Please note that since this topic covers three objections, and a significant portion of his theory, it is not one which can be handled well by a simple gloss of the three problems and his general response for each. This requires extensive exposition of both his theory and the objections, as well as careful critical consideration of the adequacy of his responses to each objection. Individuals may want to consider writing on his response to only one (or two of these standard objections).
9. Critically consider the claim that BonJour’s “Observation Requirement” amounts to an adoption of externalism or foundationalism, and, thus, his coherentism is inconsistent. I discuss several such critiques in the lecture supplement to this portion of the text.
10. Critically consider the claim that maintains that BonJour’s demand for a “Meta-Justificatory Argument” reintroduces the regress problem.
11. Critically consider the adequacy of BonJour’s characterization of “coherence,” his “Doxastic Presumption,” his “coherentistic conception of observation beliefs,” his “observation requirement,” or his “Metajustificatory argument” [do not try to write on all of these topics—you would be able to give only a surface level treatment if you take all this on!].
12. In his Pyrrhonian Reflections On Knowledge and Justification, Robert Fogelin criticizes BonJour’s claim that part of one’s epistemic duty is to reflect critically upon one’s beliefs, and such critical reflection precludes believing things to which one has, to one’s knowledge, no reliable means of epistemic access. Fogelin also claims that it is dubious that any human belief systems meet BonJour’s criteria for coherence (pp. 149-151) that BonJour doesn’t meet one form of the skeptical challenge (p.153), and he questions BonJour’s “Doxastic Presumption” (pp. 153-154), which is on reserve in the Green Library (request it at the Circulation Desk).
13. In his Contemporary Epistemology, Ralph Baergen maintains that BonJour’s requirement that coherence be such over the “long-run” is inadequate:
consider a system of beliefs that remains stable and coherent over a very long time and that meets the observation requirement by having nothing more than a visual impression of a flashing light. This would meet all of BonJour’s requirements for justification...but surely prolonged stability and coherence are interesting only if the input with which it must cope is considerably more interesting than this....
On the same page, Baergen wonders, “is he right in his assumption that coherence is fragile and would be upset by input from the world that did not fit with existing beliefs....an inaccurate system might turn out to be stable....”
14. Critically consider Alvin Goldman’s causal theory of knowledge. In addressing his orientation, consider the criticisms offered by BonJour and consider how Goldman might reply to these criticisms of his view. Goldman’s “BonJour’s The Structure of Empirical Knowledge (in The Current State of the Coherence Theory, ed. J. Bender, which is on reserve in the Green Library (request it at the Circulation Desk) and “The Internalist Conception of Justification” (in Midwest Studies in Philosophy, ed. P. French) may both be helpful in developing Goldman’s responses to these criticisms. Consider how BonJour’s criticisms of externalism might be undercut by some of the things Goldman says and indicate, finally, whether you believe externalism is a viable epistemological position.
15. You may write a paper on any of the first paper topics which you did not write your first paper on. For your convenience, these topics are available on the course web-site.
If you wish to write on another topic, you must clear the choice with me first.
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. I will be happy to read rough drafts and to discuss your ideas for your papers with you provided you give them prior to 3:30 on Wednesday, November 27. The papers should be typed and are due by 4:15 P.M. on Monday, December 2. 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 which is available on the class web-site.
 Cf., Robert Fogelin, Pyrrhonistic Reflections On Knowledge and Justification (N.Y.: Oxford U.P., 1994), pp. 45-46.
 Ralph Baergen, Contemporary Epistemology (Fort Worth: Harcourt, 1995), p. 80.
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File revised on 11/19/2013.