PHIL 180: Knowledge and Understanding syllabus (Spring 2014)

Course Description

PHIL 180. Knowledge and Understanding. Examines the concept of knowledge. Representative topics include: the role of sense perception and memory, the importance of certainty, the justification of belief, philosophical skepticism, the concept of truth and the nature of philosophical inquiry. Emphasis is on contemporary formulations. Prerequisite: 6 units in philosophy or instructor permission. 3 units.

This is the login page for SacCT: If you have questions about SacCT or need technical help, click on "student resources" on that page for further information.

Course materials:

  1. The Theory of Knowledge: A Thematic Introduction (1998) by Paul K. Moser, Dwayne H. Mulder, J.D. Trout, appx. $45 (required)
  2. Turning Technologies ResponseCard NXT (aka clickers) available from the Bookstore, appx. $55 (required) - register your response device within SacCT using the Turning Technologies Registration Tool link on the "Tools" page
  3. Additional required online articles and PDFs already posted in SacCT
  4. There is also a Blog for this course, find the link to it in SacCT - see weekly for updates

We follow the text closely and cover appx. one chapter of this text in 2 - 3 meetings, with time allowed for extended discussion of supplemental material. Please read the chapter sections and the additional articles before we meet in class. Attend class to see what exactly is required for each subsequent meeting. Also see the Blog page for this course in SacCT for the most recent news - I update it weekly.

wk date topic/reading events additional articles due this week
1 Jan.

Ch. 1: Epistemology: A First Look

1. Why Study Knowledge?
2. Some Doubts about Knowledge
3. Traditional Definition of Knowledge
4. Knowledge and Experience
5. Intuitions and Theory

Intro to course, schedule, assignments
2 Feb.

Ch. 2: Explaining Knowledge

1. The Scope of Epistemology
2. The Concept of Knowledge
3. Epistemology, Naturalism, and Pragmatism
4. Value in Epistemology

Expect an in-class Clicker Quiz worth 5 points during every class meeting in every week. Each is based primarily upon assigned readings due.
3 Feb.

Ch. 3: Belief

1. Belief and Representational States
2. Belief and Belief-Ascription
3. Are Beliefs Transparent?

Analysis paper 1 due by noon on Wednesday 12 February 2014 in SacCT
4 Feb.

Ch. 3: Belief (cont.)

4. Belief and Theoretical Ideals
5. Eliminativism and Prediction

5 Feb.

Ch. 4: Truth

1. Relativism
2. Truth and Correspondence
3. Truth and Coherence
4. Truth and Pragmatic Value
5. Kinds and Notions of Truth

6 Mar.

Ch. 5: Justification and Beyond

1. Justifications, Truth and Defeat
2. Inferential Justification and the Regress Problem

7 Mar.

Ch. 5: Justification and Beyond (cont.)

3. Supplementing Justification: The Gettier Problem

Analysis paper 2 due by noon on Wednesday 12 March 2014 in SacCT
8 Mar.

Ch. 6: Sources of Knowledge

1. Rationalism, Empiricism, and Innatism
2. Empiricism, Positivism, and Underdetermination
3. Intuitions and First-Person Reports




Spring Break

9 Apr. 2

Ch. 6: Sources of Knowledge (cont.)

4. Memory
5. Theoretical Unification
6. Testimony and Social Dependence

10 Apr.

Ch. 7: Rationality

1. Preliminary Distinctions
2. Rational Inference: Normative and Descriptive
3. Consistency and Wayward Beliefs

Analysis paper 3 due by noon on Wednesday 9 April in SacCT
11 Apr.

Ch. 7: Rationality (cont.)

4. Rationality and Decision Under Uncertainty
5. Integrative Considerations about Rationality

Wednesday 16 April 2014 the class does not meet - go to the Nammour Symposium


Ch. 8: Skepticism

1. Some Species of Skepticism
2. Some Skeptical Arguments
3. A Reply from Common Sense

13 Apr.

Ch. 8: Skepticism (cont.)

4. Skepticism, Naturalism, and Broad Explanation

Analysis paper 4 due by noon on Wednesday 30 April 2014 in SacCT  
14 May

Ch. 9: Epistemology and Explanation

1. Origins of Contemporary Epistemology
2. Ultimate Epistemological Authority

15 May

Ch. 9: Epistemology and Explanation (cont.)

3. Explanation and Knowledge

16 finals week - no instruction, no office hours Analysis paper 5 due by noon on Wednesday 21 May 2014 in SacCT


Assignments, Grades and Attendance

For each paper, I will assign a numerical score which corresponds to a letter-grade on my grade-scale. Notice that scores correspond to letter-grades NOT percentages. Below are number to letter-grade conversion scales, where an A = excellent, B = good, C = satisfactory, D = unsatisfactory, F = Fail.

this score on an analysis PAPER corresponds
< 10
to this letter-grade

How do I determine your overall course grade? Grades are NOT based on percentages, instead grades are based on total points accumulated. I add the scores you earn on all of the quizzes and papers, then assign the final letter-grade based on my grading scale (below). For instance, if you earn a total of 129 points, then this corresponds to a C on my grading scale. Therefore, one receives a C for the course. Since my overall grading scale is generous and rounding introduces error, I will not round scores up or down.

this total number of
points at the end of the COURSE corresponds
< 80
to this letter-grade
D -
D +
C -
C +
B -
B +
A -

Students cannot re-take or make-up any quiz or paper, absolutely, no exceptions. There isn't time for this and there are plenty of points available so that one can miss a quiz or two and still do well in the course.

Attendance is mandatory. If you miss a meeting, then you will probably miss something important, for instance, most meetings will have an in-class quiz. Visit me in my office or meet with others in the class for what material you missed. Please try not to be late to class, but it is better to come to class late than not to come to class at all.

Laptops, iPads are permissible, but please refrain from using them in ways which distract fellow students. Please, no eating or texting during class meetings, if you distract us, then you will be dismissed.

How does one succeed in this course? I recommend that you read assigned material before the class meets, don't skip class or quizzes, and never hesitate to ask me questions.


  1. The course aims to introduce students to important philosophical issues, concepts, theories, and controversies in contemporary theory of knowledge and understanding by examining answers to such questions as these: What is knowledge? Of what nature and quality are alleged sources of knowledge? What role does certainty have in knowledge? What are the strengths and weakness of rival theories of justification, e.g., Internalism and Externalism, Foundationalism, Infinitism, Coherentism, Contextualism, Reliabilism, Evidentialism, Fallibilism, and Naturalism? Do any of these theories provide adequate answers to skepticism about knowledge or justification? How are metaphysical criteria for defining truth different than epistemic criteria for recognizing truth? What is the difference between justifying and explaining a belief, event, or theory? What does it mean to say that a belief is defeasible, or that a person is rational? How has epistemology become naturalized? To what extent is epistemology normative? Is it ever irresponsible or wrong to have a specific belief? Do we have a duty to question all that we believe? Traditional Epistemology (TE) seeks necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge, which requires robust theories about belief, truth and justification. TE begins by assessing the quality of one’s specific beliefs and then decides whether we should accept or reject them. Virtue epistemology disagrees - we should begin with a subject and assess her intellectual virtues and vices. Instead of asking whether someone has knowledge, per se, shouldn't we ask whether someone has "good" or "bad" methods for forming beliefs?

  2. The course engages students in cogent and respectful peer discussion about conceptual, empirical, and practical issues raised in the readings and in class (see 1 above for issues).

  3. The course improves students' analytical skills in both oral and written forms using in-class informal debates and student analyses of published literature in epistemology.

  4. Students accomplish course and student objectives by (a) evaluating peer-reviewed publications using (b) online articles, the text, class lectures and discussions, and ultimately (3) producing expository essays (via daily reading quizzes) and several analytical papers.


Services to CSUS Students with Disabilities

If you have a disability and require accommodations, you need to provide me with your official documentation from SSWD, which is in Lassen Hall 1008, (916) 278-6955. Please discuss accommodation needs with me ASAP during my office hours or by appt. early in the semester so that we may make a plan to help you out.

If you are registered with SSWD and require the use of the Campus Testing Center in 2302 Lassen Hall, then for any in-class quiz, you will need to complete a Testing with Accommodations Instruction Form to give to your instructor.


CSUS Policies and Procedures Regarding Academic Honesty

Review all academic responsibilities, definitions, sanctions and rights described herein. Students may work together on homework but each student must submit their own answers on each of their quizzes. Sharing or copying answers on quizzes is cheating, which is dishonest and violates campus codes of conduct.