Epistemology 2011/12

Course Status: 
CEU credits: 
Academic year: 
Katalin Farkas

Summary and aims

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 necessary and sufficient conditions 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 and self-knowledge. 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.

Conditions for passing the course:

  • conscientious attendance and reading of the assigned material;
  • preparation of assignment(s) during the term: you will be asked to prepare an answer to one of the sample exam questions.
  • passing the written exam at the end of the term.


  • 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. You will draw from a list of previously distributed exam questions..
  •  For others taking the course: written exam at the end of the term. You will draw from a list of previously distributed exam questions.

Grading criteria

  • In order to earn at least a B+, the written exam paper has to cover most of the relevant material covered in the lectures. It has to show evidence of a thorough understanding of, and familiarity with, the relevant readings. It has to be written clearly and concisely, in competent academic English. One of the most imprtant criteria will be the quality of the arguments. The text must be relevant to the question: it should not contain materials that do not pertain to the issue discussed.
  • In order to earn an A-, all the above are required, plus independent organisation of the material. This means that the paper does not simply reconstruct the materials presented in the lectures, but adds something in their organisation. Further readings could help you in independent organisation of the material.
  • In order to earn an A, all the above, plus evidence of independent thinking. This means that you should think through the questions for yourself and come up with your own assessment. The emphasis is not on originality; you don't need to invent something nobody has said before. Rather, the idea is that you make these problems your own, and develop, as best as you can, your own view of them (which can very well agree with the views defended by some others).


1. Theories of knowledge and the Gettier problem

  • Gettier, Edmund 1963: „Is justified true belief knowledge?” Analysis 23/6, 121-3.
  • Linda Zagzebski  “The Inescapability of Gettier Problems” The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 44, No. 174 (Jan., 1994), pp. 65-73. Also in Sosa et. al. 2008

2. Deductive closure

  • Jonathan Vogel, 1990, “Are There Counterexamples to the Closure Principle?” in Doubting: Contemporary Perspectives on Skepticism, M. Roth and G. Ross (eds.), Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers. Also in Sosa et. al. 2008

3. Foundationalism

  • Richard Fumerton, 2001, "Classical Foundationalism"  in Resurrecting Old-Fashioned Foundationalism, ed. Michael DePaul,  Rowman and Littlefield , 2001, 3 - 20

4. Reliabilism and virtue epistemology

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

5. Epistemic externalism and internalism, doxastic voluntarism

  • Lehrer, Keith: "Externalism and epistemology naturalized" excerpt from Keith Lehrer Theory of Knowledge (Boulder, CO, Westview Press 1990) in Sosa-Kim 2000 387-400
  • Jonathan Bennett (1990). Why Is Belief Involuntary? Analysis 50 (2):87 - 107.

6. Half-term summary
7. Scepticism

  • 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.

8. Responses to scepticism

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

9. Perceptual knowledge

  • Anil Gupta, 2006, “Experience and Knowledge,” in Tamar Szabó Gendler and John Hawthorne (eds.), Perceptual Experience, Oxford University Press, pp. 181-204.

10. A priori knowledge.

  • Laurence Bonjour 2005, “In Defense of the a Priori”, in Contemporary Debates in Epistemology, Matthias Steup and Ernest Sosa (eds.), Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., pp. 98-105.

11. Self-knowledge

  • Alex Byrne: “Knowing that I am Thinking” in Anthony Hatzimoysis (ed.) Self-Knowledge OUP 2010

12. Summary

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

1.Which conceptions of justification are vulnerable to Gettier-type counterexamples to the Tripartite analysis of knowledge?

2. Evaluate the motivations for and against externalist and internalist theories of knowledge.

3. Reconstruct a sceptical argument concerning our knowledge of the external world and describe ways of answering the sceptical challenge.

4. Compare the features of a priori knowledge and self-knowledge.

5. What is the connection between the metaphysics and epistemology of perception: what (if anything) follows from various (metaphysical) theories of perception with respect to the possibility of perceptual knowledge?