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Academic Year: Fall/Winter 2014/2015

Term: 1

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Nicholas Griffin

Email: ngriffin@mcmaster.ca

Office: University Hall 309

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23469


Office Hours: after class Mondays and Thursdays or by appointment

Course Objectives:


Mondays    14.30 - 16.20 (KTH 109)

Thursdays  15.30  - 16.20 (KTH 109)

Aims and Objectives: The course will be concerned with examining philosophical debates about the concept of knowledge since the publication in 1963 of Edmund Gettier’s ‘Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?’   But we will also be looking back on the concept of knowledge before the Gettier bombshell.  In this we will be going (perhaps boldly) where few philosophers have gone before and I hope that we’ll learn something genuinely new, relevant and even interesting.  I don’t know where to find it, so I’m crowd-sourcing the search to the class.   It will become clear that the concept of knowledge is a problematic one.  And it may well  turn out that one of the things we don’t know is what knowledge is. The purpose of the course, as with so much in philosophy, is to get clear about what the issues are and exactly what problems have to be solved before we can find out what knowledge is.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

The text for the course is a coursepack.

Method of Assessment:

 Assessment will be by means of two short assignments (approximately 500 words each) to be posted to the course website (A2L), the first on 19 January and the second on 23 February. Each will be worth 10% of the final grade.  Students will be expected to comment on the website on each other’s postings: this will be worth  another 10% of the final grade. (You are not expected to comment on every posting, indeed you should not try to do so. A few deep and well-thought out comments will be better than many superficial ones.) 

Students will also be required to write a longer research paper (approximately 2000 words) to be handed in (hardcopy) in class on 2 April.  This will be worth 40% of the final grade. You are free to choose your own topic for the long research paper from among the issues that come up in class. (I will be suggesting possible topics as the course progresses.)  You may even choose to work up material you`ve presented in the two short assignments, but if you choose this option you MUST get my approval first: not every topic that works well for the short assignments will be suitable for a major research paper.  

There will also be a final exam worth 30% of the final grade.

            If you miss a deadline for submitting an assignment you must go through the faculty procedure to obtain the standard 5 day extension.  If you miss that, the assignment won`t be marked unless I have a letter from the associate dean`s office notifying me of special circumstances.   (I have to start marking the papers sometime and I can`t do so until I have all those that are going to be submitted.)  

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

This is a self-reporting tool for undergraduate students to report absences DUE TO MINOR MEDICAL SITUATIONS that last up to 5 days and provides the ability to request accommodation for any missed academic work. Please note, this tool cannot be used during any final examination period. You may submit a maximum of 1 Academic Work Missed request per term. It is YOUR responsibility to follow up with your Instructor immediately (NORMALLY WITHIN TWO WORKING DAYS) regarding the nature of the accommodation. If you are absent for reasons other than medical reasons, for more than 5 days, or exceed 1 request per term, you MUST visit your Associate Dean's Office/Faculty Office). You may be required to provide supporting documentation. This form should be filled out immediately when you are about to return to class after your absence.

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at www.mcmaster.ca/academicintegrity

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at mcmaster.ca/msaf/. If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail sas@mcmaster.ca. For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:

Schedule: The schedule of classes will approximate  the following:

Week 1.   The Concept of Knowledge (1): The Gettier Problem and its Ramifications:

                        Readings: Gettier, Goldmann

                        Background: R.A. Shope: The Analysis of Knowing (Princeton UP: 1983)

Weeks 1 and 2  Sidebar: Naturalism in Epistemology

Background: Quine, ‘Epistemology Naturalized’ in Quine, Ontological Relativity  and Other Essays (Columbia UP: 1969)

Week 2:   The Solution to the Gettier Problem?

                        Reading: Klein

                  And a different sort of response

                        Reading: Kirkham

Week 3:   Infallible and Fallible Knowledge

                        Reading: Williams (1)

Weeks 4-6:   Scepticism: The Refutation of Arguments for Scepticism

                        Reading: Griffin (1) and (2)

Background: David Stove, Probability and Hume’s Inductive Scepticism (Oxford UP, 1973); Peter Unger, Ignorance: A Case for Scepticism (Oxford UP, 1975); Descartes, ‘Meditations I’; Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism 

Week 7:   But this does not mean scepticism is refuted: Agrippa’s Trilemma

                        Background: Michael Williams, Problems of Knowledge (Oxford UP, 2001), Ch 5

Weeks 8-9:   The Prior Grounding Requirement: Default and Challenge

                        Reading: Williams (2)

                        Background: Williams, Unnatural Doubts (Princeton UP, 1996) 

Week 10:   The Concept of Knowledge (2):   The Lottery Paradox

                        Reading: Hawthorne

                        Background: John Hawthorne, Knowledge and Lotteries (Oxford UP, 2004)

Week 11:  Alas, poor fallibilism. A possible diagnosis and an outstanding problem.

Week 12:   Concluding unsceptical postscript.   

Students are not expected to read all the background reading suggested for each topic (i.e. the whole book) but to make use of it judiciously. But they are required to read outside the material in the coursepack and they are encouraged to explore the literature on their own.