Course Description

01:730:220 Theory of Knowledge

  • Instructor: Tolly, Jeff
  • Description:

    01 (J. Tolly) As humans, we don’t go through life adopting beliefs “willy-nilly.” We want to believe the truth. We don’t want to be duped. Hence, we set out to form beliefs that have reasons in their favor—we only want beliefs that are justified, that could count as knowledge. Perhaps more than ever, we feel the urgency of this pursuit as we’re increasingly surrounded by misleading and deceptive sources of information. This realization brings the value of epistemology (the study of knowledge) into clear focus. Epistemology does two things. First, it aims to help us understand what these goals of knowledge and reason even amount to. Then, with a clearer understanding of these goals in place, it helps us apply this understanding to real world cases of belief formation, illuminating principled practices we should adopt for managing our own beliefs if reason truly is our goal. This course will acquaint students with some of central issues and debates in epistemology. The class will cover fundamental questions like

    • What is knowledge?
    • How could we know anything at all?
    • What is the relationship between knowledge and certainty?
    • What is reasonableness/justification, and how does that relate to knowledge?
    • What kind of control do we have over our beliefs?
    • How is it that we can lose our justification for believing something?

    Then, we’ll proceed to apply these lessons to pressing questions like:

    • How could we gain justified beliefs from testimony?
    • What’s the justified way to reason about statistics and probabilities, especially given that there are so many paradoxes about probabilistic reasoning?
    • When is inductive reasoning ever justified, and is scientific knowledge possible?
    • Could one’s religious beliefs ever be justified (or count as knowledge)?
    • Does the fact that there’s so much disagreement in the world (on virtually every topic of importance!) render us unjustified in holding any views on these controversial/disputed matters?
    • What is intellectual humility, and why is it valuable? How could one actually live an intellectually humble life?
    • How can we navigate this world when there’s so much fake news?

    Classes will involve short mini lectures interspersed with several student discussion exercises. Student discussion/participation in class is an important part of the final grade. There will be several shorter weekly writing assignments throughout the semester, and then a longer term paper that students will start working on halfway through the semester.

  • Credits: 3
  • Sample Syllabus
  • Syllabus Disclaimer: The information on this syllabus is subject to change. For up-to-date course information, please refer to the syllabus on your course site (e.g. Canvas) on the first day of class.