A.J. Ayer. 1936. ‘The A Priori’, from Language, Truth and Logic (Penguin,
Harmondsworth), pp. 45-8 and 96-115.
P. Kitcher. 1980. ‘A Priori Knowledge’, The Philosophical Review 89, 2-23; focus on
§§1-4 (pp.3-14) and §7 (pp. 21-3).
To introduce students to some key issues in epistemology.
This module covers some of the key debates in epistemology on a topic by topic, rather than an historical, basis. The emphasis is therefore on the issues, rather than who thought what. The module has three main parts:
First, we consider the nature of knowledge. We begin by considering whether knowledge can be analysed, and in particular whether knowledge can be analysed in terms of justified true belief. We then go onto to consider the structure of knowledge, paying particular attention to the question of whether there are any epistemologically basic beliefs.
This leads into the second part of the module, which is concerned with one of the most basic methods of acquiring knowledge: perception. We will consider three theories of perception that provide different ways of responding to the argument from illusion: the sense-datum theory, intentionalism (the specific form of this theory we will consider is sometimes called a ‘belief theory of perception’), and disjunctivism.
The third and final part of the module is concerned with a priori knowledge: knowledge that is, in some sense, independent of experience. Kant’s famous discussion of a priori knowledge will be compared and contrasted with two more contemporary accounts.
The topics and readings are all inter-related. Students are expected to think about the relations between material covered in different parts of the course. With this in mind, some of the readings are used more than once.
By the end of the module, students should be able to:
Describe and critically assess some accounts of the nature of knowledge
Describe and critically assess some accounts of the structure of knowledge
Describe and critically assess some ways of acquiring knowledge
accurately describe the content of major works of philosophy;
distinguish different solutions to philosophical problems;
appraise the persuasiveness of arguments.
There will be 2 one-hour lectures and 1 one-hour seminar per week, Weeks 2-9.
Lectures: Tuesday, 3.15-4.15 in D/056 and Wednesday, 12.15-1.15 in D/056.
Details of seminar groups and times will be distributed in week 1. Students should come to seminars having read the relevant material, and having answered the study questions contained within this pack. These questions are designed to help you to read the text closely and think about the issues involved. Seminars are your opportunity to discuss the material that we will consider in this course. To get the most out of the seminars, you must be well prepared.
Students are formally required to:
Attend lectures and seminars. If, for any reason, you are unable to attend a seminar, you must let your tutor know in advance.
Read the set texts each week and answer the study questions contained within this Reading Pack.
Submit two assessed essays, as described below.
Assessment for this module will be by two submitted essays. Essay questions will be distributed during lectures later in term; they will also be posted on my webpage (http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~ka519).
The first essay must be submitted by Friday 3 p.m., Week 5.
The second essay must be submitted by Wednesday 3 p.m., Week 10.
The word limits for both essays is 2000 words. Essays that are found to exceed the word limit will be penalised. For the Department’s policies on word limits, see: http://www.york.ac.uk/depts/phil/currentugrads/Word%20Limits.pdf.
Essays should be typed, double spaced and in a 12 point type-face that is appropriate for a piece of academic work (so: not Comic Sans!). You should state your name, college, tutor and word count; you should also include a bibliography.
The usual rules about plagiarism apply. For more information on plagiarism, see: http://www.york.ac.uk/depts/phil/current/researchskillssessionjan07.htm.
General guidelines on essay technique are available from the Department webpage (http://www.york.ac.uk/depts/phil/current) and my personal webpage. Students are also advised to consult the Department’s Assessment Policies and Practices document.
All the required reading for this module is contained within this Reading Pack. Students are, however, encouraged to read more widely.
Useful resources include:
Alcoff, L. (ed.) 1998. Epistemology: The Big Questions (Blackwell).
*Bernecker, S. and Dretske, F. (eds.) 2000. Knowledge: Readings in Contemporary
Epistemology (Oxford University Press).
*Dancy, J. 1985. Introduction to Contemporary Epistemology (Blackwell).
*Dancy, J. (ed.) 1988. Perceptual Knowledge (Oxford).