Epistemology 2009/10

CEU credits: 
Academic year: 
Start and end dates: 
17 Feb 2010
Co-hosting Unit(s) [if applicable]: 
Department of Philosophy
Academic Program: 
Master of Arts in Philosophy
Katalin Farkas

Lecturer:                      Katalin Farkas

Status:                         Mandatory for first year MA students on the 2-year MA program; elective for MA students on the 1-year program

Teaching format:         2-hour/week lecture for one term

Assessment:                condition for passing the course: conscientious attendance and reading of the assigned material; preparation of assignments during the terms (preparing answers to the sample exam questions)

for 2-year philosophy MA students: the grade is given on the basis of the in-class written examination as part of the Theoretical Philosophy Final Examination at the end of the first year.

For others taking the course: written exam at the end of the term.


The course offers an introduction into some classic problems of epistemology which form the subject of lively discussion also in contemporary philosophy. We shall start with the question of what is necessary and sufficient for knowledge, the Gettier problem and its consequences. Next we look into theories of justification, and discuss the merits and shortcomings of foundationalism and reliabilism. Next we will consider various sceptical arguments against the possibility of knowledge, and investigate some responses to the sceptical arguments. In the rest of the course, we study the nature of different froms of knowledge: a priori knowledge, perceptual knowledge. Self-knowledge and memory. The aim of the course is to familiarize students with the basic concepts of contemporary epistemological research. The course will offer  a suitable basis for taking an advanced graduate class in epistemology.



  1. Theories of knowledge and the Gettier problem
  2. Deductive closure
  3. Foundationalism
  4. Reliabilism and virtue epistemology
  5. Epistemic externalism and internalism
  6. Half-term summary
  7. Scepticism
  8. Responses to scepticism
  9. A priori knowledge.

10.  Perceptual knowledge

11.  Self-knowledge

12.  Summary



-        Gettier, Edmund 1963: „Is justified true belief knowledge?” Analysis 23/6, 121-3.

-        Richard Feldman 1974 “An alleged defect in Gettier Counter-examples” The Australasian Journal of Philosophy 52 (1974) 68-69

-        Linda Zagzebski  “The Inescapability of Gettier Problems”The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 44, No. 174 (Jan., 1994), pp. 65-73

-        Nozick, Robert: “Knowledge” (selection) in Philosophical Explanations Oxford: Clarendon Press: 172-178

-        Chisholm, Roderick M.  "The Myth of the Given” in Sosa et al.2008

-        Goldman, Alvin A. 1971: „What is justified belief?” in G. Pappas (ed) Justification and Knowledge Dordrecht, Reidel also in Sosa et al. 2008

-        Lehrer, Keith: "Externalism and epistemology naturalized" excerpt from Keith Lehrer Theory of Knowledge (Boulder, CO, Westview Press 1990) in Sosa-Kim 2000 387-400

-        Descartes: First Meditation. In Descartes, René (1984). Philosophical Writings of René Descartes. 3 volumes. Edited and translated by J. Cottingham, R. Stoothof, D. Murdoch and A. Kenny. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

-        Duncan Pritchard “Resurrecting The Moorean Response To The Sceptic International Journal of Philosophical Studies 10 (2002), 283-307

-        Ayer, A J. 1936:  „The a priori” Language, Truth and Logic. Pelican Books 1971: chapter 4: 80-95

-        McDowell, John 1982: “Criteria, defeasibility and knowledge” in Dancy, Jonathan (ed.) 1988: Perceptual Knowledge Oxford University Press 209-19

-        Chisholm, Roderick M.: "The observability of the self" in Quassim Cassam (ed.) 1994: Self-Knowledge. Oxford University Press: 94-108



Sosa, Ernest – Jaegwon Kim (eds.) 2000: Epistemology: an Anthology Blackwell Publishers

Sosa, Ernest, Jaegwon Kim, Jeremy Fantl and Matthew McGrath (ed.) 2008: Epistemology: an Anthology. 2nd edition  Blackwell Publishers


Sample exam questions

-  What are the two major assumptions of Gettier-style counterexamples to the claim that knowledge is justified true belief? Illustrate how the assumptions are used on a particular Gettier example of your choice).

- Choose a Gettier counterexample to the claim that knowledge is justified true belief (one of Gettier’s original examples, or any other example of a similar style), and show how Nozick’s theory of knowledge can deal with this counterexample (that is, how Nozick’s theory shows this case to be a case of ignorance).

- Reconstruct a sceptical argument and show how various responses (from externalism, the denial of deductive closure, from contextualism) attempt to show that the sceptical argument is not sound.

- What are the basic tenets of the foundationalist theory of justification?

- Could a reliabilist answer scepticism?

- Compare the situation of those living in a normal world to that of those who live in a demon world. What would the various theories of justification we have considered say about the following question: do the two groups have the same justification for their beliefs?

- Could we know that 2+2=4 on the basis of perceptual experience?

- Is sense-data theory especially vulnerable to skepticism?