PHIL 6340: Seminar in Epistemology Fall, 1999

Prof. Michael Huemer Phone: 417-9803, 492-7276
email: Office: 266 Hellems
Web page: Hours: MWF, 11:50

Course description:

The course will focus on perception and perceptual knowledge, especially the questions: "What does perception make us aware of?" and "How do we know that the things we seem to perceive are real?" We will examine three main theories in this area: (1) Direct realism: the theory that in perception, one is directly aware of the physical world; (2) Indirect realism: the theory that in perception, one is directly aware only of mental phenomena (e.g. "sense data"), whereas one is indirectly aware of the physical world; and (3) Skepticism: the theory that it is impossible to know whether there is a physical world or not. I will show how a direct realist theory can rebut the arguments for indirect realism, as well as avoiding the threat of skepticism.

Course requirements:

I will give periodic in-class quizzes, to make you do the readings and come to class. They should be easy if you have done the readings, but impossible otherwise. Dates of these quizzes will not be announced in advance, so that you have to come to every class.

In addition, I'll want you to write one paper. Guidelines: There is no specific length requirement, although if you're writing less than 10 pages, there's probably something wrong. You can write on anything in epistemology, but you're especially encouraged to write about skepticism or perception. You must discuss your paper topic with me, and do so before the end of October. I'm serious about that. Come to my office. Also, you have to turn in a first draft. See due dates below.

The papers will be evaluated by professional standards: i.e., does it make a worthwhile contribution to the discussion of the issue? Mere regurgitation will not be sufficient. Fortunately, I will help you by giving comments on your first draft.


I am leaving a collection of readings in the department office, in one of those grey boxes. The collection will be added to later in the semester.

General guidelines:

1. Come to my office to talk philosophy, ask questions, and so on. If you come after class, I'll buy you coffee.

2. I don't have enough to say to fill up every class. Therefore, you guys will have to participate in discussion. Please don't just sit silently.

3. Call the first phone number above any time after 10 a.m. and before midnight, and leave a message since I screen my calls.


This schedule is incomplete, particularly regarding readings. It will be added to during the semester.

M, Aug 23 Overview of the course. Is epistemology first philosophy?

Huemer, chapter 1

Four skeptical arguments.
W, Aug 25 Infinite regress argument.

Sextus, "The Five Modes"

BonJour, Structure of Empirical Knowledge, 30-2

M, Aug 30 The problem of the criterion.

Chisholm, "The Problem of the Criterion"

W, Sept 1 Hume's problem.

Hume, Enquiry XII.1

W, Sept 8 Cartesian skepticism. Brains in vats, etc.

Descartes, Meditations 1-2

M, Sept 13 More about Descartes.
W, Sept 15 More about skepticism.

Huemer, ch. 2

Contemporary responses to skepticism.
M, Sept 20 Moore's proof.

Moore, "Proof of an External World", "Hume's Theory Examined"

Stroud, The Significance of Philosophical Skepticism, 97-112

W, Sept 22 Easy responses.

Huemer, ch. 3

M, Sept 27 Inference to the best explanation.

Russell, The Problems of Philosophy, ch. 2

Vogel, "Cartesian Skepticism and Inference to the Best Explanation"

W, Sept 29 Relevant alternatives.

Dretkse, "The Pragmatic Dimension of Knowledge"

M, Oct 4 Attacks on the closure principle.

Dretske, "Epistemic Operators"

Audi, Belief, Justification, and Knowledge, 76-8

W, Oct 6 More closure.

Nozick, Philosophical Explanations, excerpts

M, Oct 11 Klein's response.

Klein, "Skepticism and Closure: Why the Evil Genius Argument Fails"

W, Oct 13 Contextualism.

Lewis, "Elusive Knowledge"

M, Oct 18 Semantic externalism.

Putnam, "Brains in a Vat"

Direct realism.
W, Oct 20 Direct realism.

Huemer, ch. 4

M, Oct 25 Perceptual experience: qualia.
W, Oct 27 Perceptual experience: its content.
M, Nov 1 Perceptual knowledge & appearance conservatism.

Huemer, ch. 5

W, Nov 3 More perceptual knowledge.
M, Nov 8 Objections to DR.

Huemer, ch. 6

W, Nov 10 More objections.
M, Nov 15 More objections.
W, Nov 17 Objections to sense data.

Huemer, ch. 7

M, Nov 22 More against sense data.

Against skepticism.
W, Nov 24 The regress argument.

Huemer, ch. 8

M, Nov 29 The problem of the criterion.
W, Dec 1 Hume & Descartes.

Paper: 1st draft due.

M, Dec 6 More about the brain in the vat.
W, Dec 8 Paper due.