Topics in Epistemology
This course offers you the opportunity to develop four core skills for pursuing a successful academic career in philosophy: reading, discussing, presenting, and writing philosophy. Contentwise, the course is an advanced introduction to social epistemology, the branch of epistemology concerned with the social aspects of knowledge. In particular, it is an in-depth, up-to-date introduction to four key topics in social epistemology:
- Epistemic injustice
- The epistemology of testimony
- The epistemology of groups
- The epistemology of disagreement
(For the relevant subtopics, see the sessions' description below.)
The classes will be discussion-based. The first session will introduce the subject (social epistemology), the course's methodology, and the topic of the second session. The other ten sessions will be run as a seminar. This means that you will need to:
- Meticulously read the texts assigned for each session
- Carefully prepare for the seminar (see reading methodology)
- Actively participate in class discussions (see discussion methodology)
In parallel to this, ideally starting as soon as possible, you are expected to produce a research paper on any of the topics of the course, or else on any other topic in social epistemology.
Two weeks before the submission deadline, you will present your ongoing work at an online, asynchronous, mock conference, and your classmates will give you their feedback.
(See writing, presentation, feedback methodology, and evaluation.)
Finally, at the end of each session, you will receive advice on several important aspects of how to do research in philosophy.
(See research advice.)
For each class, there will be two mandatory texts assigned (see below), which means that you will need to do considerable reading before each session. To make this easier:
The instructor will briefly introduce the texts and topics of next week's class and will provide supporting materials (reading guides) beforehand to facilitate understanding.
The course's texts will be read collectively on Perusall, an online tool where you can—and you will be expected to—add your own comments to the texts so that everyone can read them. These comments might be simple doubts, clarificatory questions, reconstructions of the text's arguments, elaborated counterarguments, counterexamples, and objections of any sort, as well as hints to related discussions or papers. The idea is to use such comments in class discussion.
The instructor will act as moderator ensuring that the students' comments on Perusall are addressed, as well as other relevant issues discussed.
Aside from those written comments, you are expected to contribute to group discussion proactively—by offering your point of view—and to foster it dynamically—by engaging with other students' comments (viz., you are expected to reasonably agree, disagree or follow up on them).
Your main task for this course will be to write an analytic philosophy research paper—i.e., the kind of rigorous paper published in analytic philosophy journals. You are expected to write a paper on any of the topics of the course, or else on any other topic in social epistemology.
The length of the research paper will be between 3000-5000 words. But the paper's length (within those limits) will be considered irrelevant for grading purposes. Instead, your paper will be assessed for:
- Philosophical rigor and depth (including whether its structure is at the service of its dialectical purposes)
- Mastery of the topic
Two weeks before the research paper's submission deadline, we will celebrate a Mock Conference in Social Epistemology, where you will be both a speaker and a member of the audience.
- As a speaker, you will defend the key theses of your research paper in a 10-minute presentation.
- As a member of the audience, you will comment on the other students’ presentations.
To fit everyone's likely busy schedules, the conference will be asynchronous, lasting for one week. This means that:
- Two days before the conference, you will need to submit a pre-recorded presentation to the instructor.
- The instructor will upload your video-presentation to a website where the other students will have the opportunity to watch it.
- During the conference, you will receive at least one written critical comment on your presentation from each of the other students.
- Conversely, you are required to give at least one written critical comment on each of the other students' presentations.
- You may reply to the other students’ comments on your presentation, but you are not required to.
- The other students may offer rejoinders to your replies, but they are not required to.
- And so on.
- The deadline for submitting your comments is the last day of the conference.
It is highly advisable that your presentation is based on a near-final draft, so you can incorporate the feedback received (if relevant), polish the paper, and submit it. In this sense, the mock conference will serve as a final quality check before submission.
Feedback on your work will come from two sources.
First, the instructor will be happy to give you advice and feedback anytime along the writing process. To keep back-and-forth email communication to a minimum, these will be informally provided before or after class, or during office hours, if needed.
(In any case, you are required to communicate the topic of your paper to the instructor, even if you don't want or need feedback or advice.)
Second, at the mock conference, you will receive at least as many comments as enrolled students minus one (i.e., you).
At the end of each session, the instructor will offer advice on several important aspects of how to do research in philosophy, including advice on philosophical writing, how to structure a research paper, how to build a bibliography, publishing strategies, time management, and so on. The full list of topics we will cover will be provided at the introductory session of the course.
Research paper: 70%
Video-presentation at mock conference: 20%
Written comments on other students' presentations: 10%
Submission deadlines: to be announced at the first session
For a general introduction to social epistemology:
- Goldman, Alvin & O'Connor, Cailin. 2019. Social Epistemology. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2021/entries/epistemology-social/>
- Goldman, Alvin. 2019. The What, Why, and How of Social Epistemology. In Fricker, M.; Graham, P.; Henderson, D. & Pedersen, N. J. (eds.). The Routledge Handbook of Social Epistemology. Routledge.
For doubts about relevant epistemological concepts, problems or theories:
- Bernecker, Sven & Pritchard, Duncan (eds.). 2010. The Routledge Companion to Epistemology. Routledge.
For more specific recommendations:
- Ask the instructor
One session per week, 3h per session.
The typical session will have the following time-flexible, 3-block structure:
- Block 1: Discussion of the assigned readings (2-2.5h)
- Block 2: Preparation for next week (15-30min)
- Block 3: Research advice (15-30min)
We will take a short break approximately every 50 min.
Week 1. Introduction to the Course
- General introduction to social epistemology
- Explanation of the course's methodology and organizational aspects
- Preparation for week 2
Week 2. Epistemic Injustice: Testimonial Injustice, Credibility
- Fricker, Miranda. 2011. Rational Authority and Social Power: Towards a More Truly Social Epistemology. In Goldman, A. & Whitcomb, D. (eds.). Social Epistemology: Essential Readings. Oxford University Press.
- Wanderer, Jeremy. 2017. Varieties of Testimonial Injustice. In Kidd, I. J.; Medina, J. & Pohlhaus, G. (eds.). The Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice. Routledge.
Week 3. Epistemic Injustice: Hermeneutical Injustice, Willful Ignorance
- Pohlhaus, Gaile. 2012. Relational Knowing and Epistemic Injustice: Toward a Theory of Willful Hermeneutical Ignorance. Hypatia 27: 715-735.
- Mills, Charles. 2007. White Ignorance. In Sullivan, S. & Tuana, N. (eds.). Race and Epistemologies of Ignorance. State University of New York Press.
Week 4. Testimony: Reductionism, Nonreductionism, Transmission, Epistemic Coverage
- Lackey, Jennifer. 2011. Testimony: Acquiring Knowledge from Others. In Goldman, A. & Whitcomb, D. (eds.). Social Epistemology: Essential Readings. Oxford University Press.
- Goldberg, Sanford. 2011. If That Were True, I Would Have Heard it By Now. In Goldman, A. & Whitcomb, D. (eds.). Social Epistemology: Essential Readings. Oxford University Press.
Week 5. Testimony: Expert Testimony
- Goldman, Alvin. 2018. Expertise. Topoi 37: 3-10.
- Guerrero, Alexander A. 2016. Living with Ignorance in a World of Experts. In Peels, R. (ed.) Perspectives on Ignorance from Moral and Social Philosophy.
Week 6. Groups: Group Testimony, Group Lies (and Group Belief)
- Lackey, Jennifer. 2020. Group Belief: Lessons from Lies and Bullshit. Chapter 1 of The Epistemology of Groups. Oxford University Press.
- Lackey, Jennifer. 2020. Group Lies. Chapter 5 of The Epistemology of Groups. Oxford University Press.
Week 7. Groups: Group Justification, Group Knowledge (and Group Belief)
- Lackey, Jennifer. 2020. What Is Justified Group Belief?. Chapter 2 of The Epistemology of Groups. Oxford University Press.
- Bird, Alexander. 2019. Group Belief and Knowledge. In Fricker, M.; Graham, P.; Henderson, D. & Pedersen, N. J. (eds.). The Routledge Handbook of Social Epistemology. Routledge.
Week 8. Groups: Collective Epistemic Virtues and Vices
- Fricker, Miranda. 2010. Can There Be Institutional Virtues? In Szabo Gendler, T & Hawthorne, J. (eds.). Oxford Studies in Epistemology. Volume 3. Oxford University Press.
- Kidd, Ian James. 2021. Epistemic Corruption and Political Institutions. In Hannon, M & de Ridder, J. (eds.). The Routledge Handbook to Political Epistemology. Routledge.
Week 9. Disagreement: The Concept of Disagreement, the Concept of Epistemic Peerhood
- Worsnip, Alex. 2019. Disagreement as Interpersonal Incoherence. Res Philosophica 96: 245-268.
- Gelfert, Axel 2011. Who is an Epistemic Peer? Logos and Episteme 2: 507-514.
Week 10. Disagreement: The Equal Weight View, the Total Evidence View
- Elga, Adam. 2011. Reflection and Disagreement. In Goldman, A. & Whitcomb, D. (eds.). Social Epistemology: Essential Readings. Oxford University Press.
- Kelly, Thomas. 2011. Peer Disagreement and Higher-Order Evidence. In Goldman, A. & Whitcomb, D. (eds.). Social Epistemology: Essential Readings. Oxford University Press.
Week 11. Disagreement: Higher-Order Evidence
- Christensen, David 2010. Higher-Order Evidence. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 81: 185-215.
- Whiting, Daniel. 2020. Recent Work on Higher-Order Evidence. Analysis 80:789–807.
- The course incorporates the gender perspective by ensuring that the bibliography to be consulted by students contains a substantial number of works written by women.
- If the public health situation requires it, in-person classes will switch to online.