PHIL 195: Knowledge and Reality

Instructor: Lars Enden, Ph.D.

Course Description:

How much do you really know? Do you know if you are not dreaming right now? Do you know if an intelligent evil spirit is not deceiving you right now? Do you know if your senses are not deceiving you right now as they have so many times in the past? Do you know if a world separate from you even exists? How about God; do you know if God exists? Come to think of it, do you even know if you exist? And even if you do exist, can you make free choices? Can you freely decide to take this class, or is it already predetermined? Readings will include classics from such philosophers as Plato, Aristotle, René Descartes, John Locke, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant, as well as more contemporary works from such philosophers as Bertrand Russell, W. V. O. Quine, Susan Wolf, John Searle, and Jennifer Lackey.

Course Objectives:

This course will explore some of the most important philosophical problems of knowledge and reality. Our purpose will be two-fold: to increase our understanding of the subject matter and to develop our philosophical skills. To increase our understanding, we will be carefully studying some important works of philosophy, spanning from the ancient Greeks to contemporary philosophers working today. To develop our philosophical skills, we will analyze, criticize, and develop arguments, which will require us to think hard about our own beliefs and the beliefs of others, engage in open debate, and develop reasons to support our own views.

Required Texts:

  • Cottingham, John (ed.) (1996). Descartes: Meditations on First Philosophy: With Selections from the Objections and Replies. Cambridge University Press.
  • Hetherington, Stephen (ed.) (2013). Metaphysics and Epistemology: A Guided Anthology. Wiley-Blackwell.

Texts Available on Moodle Site

  • Quine, W. V. O. (1969). Epistemology Naturalized. In Ontological Relativity and Other Essays. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Searle, John R. (1980). Minds, brains and programs. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3 (3): 417-57.

Graded Work

Participation (60 points = 15% of final grade)

Each class period, you have the opportunity to gain two points for participation. One point is for attendance (show up on time and stay until the end). The other point is for engagement (be an active participant in classroom activities). The easiest way to lose your engagement point for the day is by using your phone during class. In addition, philosophy department policy requires if you have three or more absences throughout the term, you will be penalized with a full-letter grade reduction (-10% of final grade). [Each participation point is worth 0.25% of your final grade.]

Philosophical Reflections (80 points = 20% of final grade)

At least once (and sometimes twice) during each class, we will take a few minutes to write down some ideas about a particular question. These are graded as pass/fail. These will help you focus your attention, work through your ideas, and test your understanding. [Each philosophical reflection exercise is worth two points, which is 0.5% of your final grade.]

Reading Questions (100 points = 25% of final grade)

For every class, except the first, there are reading questions available on the Moodle site. Responses to these questions must be uploaded to Moodle before the beginning of class. Any attempt to upload responses after the beginning of class will be automatically rejected by Moodle, and reading questions cannot be turned in through email. So, if you miss the deadline, you will not be allowed to turn them in. Do not wait until the last minute! In addition, if you attend class, you can update your answers before the next class. Any updated answers can earn back up to half of the points lost on your original answers. Your lowest two scores will not be counted in your final grade. [Each reading question assignment is worth four points, which is 1% of your final grade.]

Take-Home Exams (160 points = 40% of final grade)

There are two take-home exams. The first one is devoted to the philosophy of knowledge (epistemology) and will be due around mid-term, and the other one is devoted to the philosophy of reality (metaphysics) and will be due at the end of the term. You can work with other students on the exams, but the writing you turn in must be your own, and your grade will be determined solely on your own writing. [Each exam is worth 80 points, which is 20% of your final grade.]

Grading Scale (400 points total)

376-400 points = A
360-375 points = A-
348-359 points = B+
332-347 points = B
320-331 points = B-
308-319 points = C+

292-307 points = C
280-291 points = C-
268-279 points = D+
240-267 points = D
≤239 points = F

Classroom Policies

No Electronic Devices
All laptops, cell phones, etc. must be silenced and stored away before class begins. A cell phone in your lap is not properly stored. If I see you using any electronic device at any time during class, you will automatically lose your engagement point for the day. I may or may not inform you of this fact.

Absences, Late Work and Office Hours
In general, work can only be turned in during class time. Therefore, if you are not in class, then you incur all of the following penalties:

  • You lose all participation points for the day,
  • You lose all points for the philosophical reflection exercise(s) for the day, and…
  • You lose the ability to update your reading questions for the day.

This amounts to lowering your final grade by roughly 2-3%!

However, if both of the following are true:

  • You let me know before class begins you will miss the class, and
  • You meet with me in office hours no more than a week after the missed class,

then you receive the following benefits:

  • You get your engagement point back (Note: You still lose your attendance point for not being in class; Exception: You can get both points back if you are absent for an official college event, such as representing the College at a sporting event.)
  • You can do the philosophical reflection exercise(s) for full credit.
  • You can update your reading questions afterwards.

Be Respectful and Courteous
We will be discussing many debatable issues in this class; you may have strong opinions about them, and some of your peers may not agree with you. However, it is important everyone feels they are welcome to contribute to the conversation. So it is important we all remain respectful at all times. Remember, in philosophy, we criticize ideas; we do not criticize people. Any student who acts in a disrespectful manner will simply be asked to leave.

Disability Accommodations;
If you have disability which requires accommodation, please let me know as soon as possible so we can work together with the College to develop appropriate accommodations. Please see the Students with Disabilities policy.

Academic Honesty:
This course operates under the College Honor System. This means: We treat each other with respect, we nurture independent thought, we take responsibility for personal behavior, and we accept environmental responsibility. Academic honesty is a critical part of our value system at K. When you borrow an idea, express the idea in your own words, thus thinking it through and making it your own, and acknowledge the source of the idea in a note, or in certain situations, use the exact words of the source in quotation marks and acknowledge with a note. Ideas raised in class are part of the public domain, and therefore, sources of the ideas need not be acknowledged. If you are ever in doubt about this, you must ask. Please see the student policies and dishonesty for the full policy.

General Advice:

  1. Take your education seriously. You will probably only get one chance at college; don’t waste it.
  2. The ultimate key to success in this class is attendance and participation. Do not skip this class unless you absolutely have to, and, while you are in class, pay attention, take good notes, ask questions, and contribute to the discussions.
  3. You will almost certainly find the reading difficult. This is real philosophy written for professional philosophers. Do not expect to understand it right away, but do not give up on it either. Just keep reading even if you are not sure you understand it. You probably understand more than you think, and you will get better at reading difficult texts the more you practice it. Think of it as developing a skill. You would not expect to be an expert at playing the piano after just a few days (or even ten full weeks) so don’t expect to be an expert at reading philosophy right away. Just keep going; you will get better.

Class Schedule:

Week One

  • Monday: Dedication, Preface, Synopsis, & First Meditation
  • Wednesday: Second Mediation, “Cogito Ergo Sum,” “The Piece of Wax”
  • Friday: Third Meditation, “Innate Ideas” “Objective Rality

Week Two:

  • Monday: MLK Day-No classes
  • Wednesday: Fourth and Fifth Meditations, “Clear and Distinct Perception”
  • Friday: Sixth Meditation, “The Real Distinction Between…”

Week Three:

  • Monday: Plato 37 & Clifford 38
  • Wednesday: Gettier 40 & Goldman 42
  • Friday: Elgin 43 & Zagzebski 44

Week Four:

  • Monday: Nozick 6
  • Wednesday: Locke 51
  • Friday: Hume 63

Week Five:

  • Monday: Kant 53
  • Wednesday: McDowell 49
  • Friday: Mid-term Break

Week Six:

  • Monday: Quine “Naturalized Epistemology” [Moodle]
  • Wednesday: Lacley 59
  • Friday: Russell 60

Week Seven:

  • Monday: First take-home exam due. Plato 17
  • Wednesday: Russell 15
  • Friday: Leibniz 20

Week Eight:

  • Monday: St. Anselm 19
  • Wednesday: Hume 18
  • Friday: Berkeley 8

Week Nine:

  • Monday: Armstrong 9
  • Wednesday: Jackson 10
  • Friday: Parfit 26

Week Ten:

  • Monday: Searle “Minds, Brains, & Programs” [Moodle]
  • Wednesday: Aristotle 28 & Hume 29
  • Friday: Wolf 32

Finals Week:

  • Take-home Exam due by Monday at noon