80-201 Epistemology


Instructor: Kevin T. Kelly.

E-mail kk3n@andrew.cmu.edu.

Phone: X8567.

Time: 10:30 to 11:50 Tuesday and Thursday

Room BH 235-A

Office 135 K BH.

Office hours: 1:00 – 2:00 PM Tuesday and Thursday or by appt.

Text: online scanned papers linked to this page.


30% reading questions to be turned in at the end of class. 

35% first paper project (4 page max)

final paper proposal (counts as one reading exercise)

35% final paper project (6 page max)


The aim of the course is to provide a survey of recent philosophical thinking about the nature of knowledge. We will read articles in an anthology on the subject, supplemented with other material when appropriate. The course will be small, and students will be expected to discuss the results of the reading. Such a class can only succeed if everyone is prepared. In order to give you proper credit for preparation, each reading assignment will be accompanied by reading questions to be turned in at the end of class.  The reading questions are also intended to give you some idea of what sorts of questions you should be asking yourself when you read a philosophical text. 

This is a 200 level class, but the students attending differ quite a bit in terms of background and experience.  That can be a good thing.  More advanced students can usefully further their knowledge by offering advice to younger students.  Also, humanities students are better at essays and science students are better at formal modeling.  It all matters, so it all tends to average out in this class.

Class Outline:

I. The Analysis of Knowledge


Classical statement of the problem

The Gettier problem: a causal response

The Gettier problem: a truth-tracking response

The Gettier problem: an explanatory chain response

The Gettier problem: an indefeasibility response


First Paper Assignment

II. Foundationalism and Coherentism





III. Skepticism

Skeptical positions

Anti-skeptical positions

Inductiion and probability

IV. A Priori Knowledge


Against Analyticity

Neo-Kantian psychologism 

V.  Naturalistic Epistemology



Final paper assignment


I. The Analysis of Knowledge

Classical statement of the problem

Reading assignment: Plato's Meno.

Questions (to be answered in one or two succinct sentences):

  1. What mistake does Meno persistently commit in his attempts to define virtue?
  2. How does Meno argue that inquiry is impossible?
  3. How does Socrates respond?
  4. How does Socrates distinguish knowledge from true belief?

The Gettier problem: A causal response

Reading assignment: Gettier, Goldman


  1. What is Goldman's theory of knowledge?
  2. How does it account for Gettier's example?
  3. How is it superior to Clark's theory?
  4. Sam's deranged mind causes him to lie about whatever he sees. Sam sees that A owns the car and tells you B owns the car, leading you to truly believe that either A or B owns the car. Sam seems honest and you don't know about his deranged state. Do you know, on Goldman's account, that A or B owns the car?


Be sure to look at the footnotes. That's often where the action is.


The Gettier problem: a "truth-tracking" response

Reading assignment: Nozick.


  1. Is Goldman's version of the causal theory refuted by Nozick's "tank" example? Why or why not?
  2. What is Nozick's analysis of knowledge?
  3. Why does Nozick add condition (4) to his analysis of knowledge (what example requires it)?
  4. What is the "outweighing" condition for (what example requires it)?

The Gettier problem: an explanatory chain response.

Reading assignment:   Alan (not Alvin!)

 H. Goldman, "Nozick on Knowledge: Finding the Right Connection"



  1. What happens when the sensing example is run through Nozick's  account?
  2. How does Goldman refute Nozick's third and fourth conditions.
  3. How does Goldman refute indefeasibility theories?
  4. What is Goldman's own analysis and how does it handle the examples you described in answers 1-3?

The Gettier problem: an indefeasibility approach

Reading assignment: Keith Lehrer.

This is probably the most difficult article we will read. (That doesn't mean it's the best). Don't panic if you find it tough going.   Just try to chain the many definitions together and focus on how he handles the examples.  Compare with what Nozick would say.



  1. Define "evident", "beating", "neutralizing", and "doubtful".
  2. How does Lehrer's account handle the Gettier problem?
  3. How does Lehrer handle cases of misleading information?
  4. How does he handle cases of extraneous information?

First Paper Assignment

4 pages maximum, 12 pt. font, double spaced. Write a longer, exploratory draft and then whittle it down to size.

Topic: A critical essay on the analysis of S knows that P.

Grading criteria:

  1. succinctness,
  2. correct statement of the theories under consideration,
  3. correct description of examples.
  4. correct application of the theories to examples.
  5. selection of relevant examples.
  6. Originality is not a major factor in this assignment, but is always appreciated if the preceding criteria are met.

Some strategies for an interesting philosophy thesis:

  1. Theory of knowledge X is wrong because of this example;
  2. Theory of knowledge X is better than theory Y because X can deal with example E and theory Y cannot.
  3. Theory of knowledge X is equivalent to theory Y even though theory X appears very different from theory Y. 
  4. Here are some advantages of theory of knowledge X over theory of knowledge Y. 
  5. Here is how to fix theory X to deal with example E without causing trouble in the other standard examples.

Example topics (you are welcome to choose your own. These are just for illustration.)

  1. Discuss the consequences of weakening Nozick's principle (4) to (4') If h had been true S would not have believed that not-h.  Compare to Lehrer’s theory.
  2. Compare Goldman's theory to Nozick's. Are they essentially the same? Use examples to argue your point.
  3. How do the various theories we have considered deal with the Grabit case? 
  4. How does Alan Goldman’s theory compare to Alvin Goldman’s?
  5. Was Plato the author of the “justified true belief” formula?
  6. What does the tracking theory say about  Lehrer’s desk example?

Cite all sources properly and include them in a bibliography.  An in-text citation looks like: (Edwards 1994, p. 54), where Edwards is the author’s name and 1994 is the publication date.   Alternatively, you can say the author’s last name and put the date in parentheses, as in “This argument is due to Edwards (1994).’’

Citations are typically for books, journal articles, and articles in collections. 


Edwards, Samuel (1994) How to Think.  New York: Philosophy Publishing.

Paper in edited book.

Edwards, Samuel (1994) “How to Think” in Papers on Thinking, Jane Seymour, ed.  New York: Philosophy Publishing, pp. 47-52.

Paper in journal

Edwards, Samuel (1994) “How to Think”.  Thought 42: pp. 47 -52. 


The bibliography should be in alphabetical order.


II. Foundations vs. Coherence



Reading assignment:  William Alston



  1. What is Will's argument against the infallibility of first-person perceptual claims?
  2. What is minimal foundationalism?
  3. How does self-justification differ from immediate justification?
  4. How does Alston propose that immediate justification might obtain without infallibility?


Reading assignment: Laurence Bonjour


  1. What are the principles of the CTEK?
  2. Does Alston's response to Will and Lehrer apply as well to Bonjour?
  3. What is the main difficulty to be addressed by the CTEK?
  4. Show how use of a new scientific instrument could count as observation in the CTEK.


Other sources:


Bonjour, L. (1985) The Structure of Empirical Knowledge. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Sosa, E. (1991) Knowledge in Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. See especially "The Raft and the Pyramid".


Reading assignment: Alvin Goldman


  1. What does the "Humperdink" example show?
  2. What is Goldman 's "recipe" for constructing counterexamples to accounts of basic beliefs?
  3. What is the problem concerning the generality of process types?
  4. How does Goldman account for agents who don't believe in their own reliability? (this is the standard coherentist objection to reliabilism!)

Extra source:

Goldman, A. (1986). Epistemology and Cognition. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.


Reading assignment: David Annis



  1. What objections must a justified believer be able to answer?
  2. What is the most neglected component of justification theory?
  3. What beliefs are contextually basic?
  4. Briefly contrast this theory with Goldman's and Alston's.

Probability and Confirmation

Reading assignment: 

Leonard Savage

Lecture notes on probability



  1. What are personal probabilities and utilities?
  2. What do "necessary" views of probability strive for?
  3. How does personal probability account for the "objectivity of scientific knowledge"?
  4. Does personal probability theory provide a ratioanal basis for induction?


Antiskeptical Positions

Reading assignment: G.E. Moore


  1. What four properties did Moore's seven statements have in common?
  2. What three observations does Moore make concerning contingency?
  3. What skeptical argument does Moore charge with inconsistency, and how?
  4. What premise does Moore think the skeptic has not adequately established?


Also read: Norman Malcolm


  1. What three comments does Malcolm make concerning knowledge?
  2. What is the strong sense of "know"?
  3. How does regarding nothing as evidence differ from predicting that nothing would change one's mind?
  4. How is the first-person perspective different than the third-person perspective concerning the strong sense of "know"?

Truth Tracking and Skepticism

Reading assignment:  Robert Nozick


  1. Do you know you are not a brain in a vat?
  2. Do you know that you are answering philosophy questions right now?
  3. How does Nozick account for Plato's discussion of the statues of Daedalus?
  4. Do you know that you are sane?

Truth Tracking and Induction

Reading assignment: Jonathan Vogel

  1. How does the bank example work and what does it show?
  2. According to Nozick, why do we know that the sun will rise tomorrow?  Do we know it won’t suddenly stop?
  3. What is the “backtracking” interpretation of conditionals and how does Lewis’ semantics exclude it? (Important point).
  4. How can Nozick’s account be saved by modifying Lewis’ semantics?

Efficient Convergence and Ockham's Razor

Reading assignment: Kevin Kelly (pp. 223 - 240). 


  1. What is the basic puzzle about simplicity and truth?
  2. Why is convergence to the truth insufficient for solving the puzzle?
  3. Why is it insufficient to say that simpler theories are better tested by the data?
  4. What is the freeway metaphor and how does it explain Ockham’s razor?

IV. A Priori Knowledge


Reading assignment: C.I. Lewis and A.J. Ayer  (read both).

C.I. Lewis

  1. What are a priori truths?
  2. How does Lewis disagree with Mill
  3. What would prompt changes in a priori laws?
  4. Is logic immune from experience?

A. J. Ayer

  1. According to Ayer, what are the truths of logic and mathematics?
  2. According to Ayer, what is an analytic truth?
  3. How do analytic truths differ from metaphysics?
  4. Which geometry is true?

Against Analyticity

Reading assignment: W.V.O. Quine


  1. How does Quine object to Ayer's characterization of analyticity?
  2. How does Quine object to defining analyticity in terms of "salva veritate"?
  3. What is Quine's objection to Carnap's notion of "semantical rules"?
  4. What is Quine's objection to Leibniz' characterization of analyticity in terms of "possible worlds"?


Neo-Kantian Psychologism

Reading assignment: Philip Kitcher

  • What is the objection to Kitcher's first account of a priori knowledge?
  • What is Kitcher's account of a priori knowledge?
  • What is "universal" empirical knowledge?
  • How does Kitcher's account exclude a priori perceptual knowledge?

    V. Truth

    Correspondence vs. Coherence

    Reading assignment: Bertrand Russell and Nicholas Rescher:

  • What are Russell's two arguments against coherentist theories of truth?
  • According to Russell, is there a fact corresponding to a false belief?
  • What is Neurath's view and does Rescher agree?
  • What were Bradley's two factors of coherence?
  • Why does Rescher think it is a good policy to consider only coherent systems to be true.  Compare his view to Bonjour's.

    Final Paper Assignment

    Due date: April 30, in class, firm.  Be prepared to present your paper in a second in-class symposium.
    Length: 5 pages maximum, 12 pt. font, double spaced. Write a longer, exploratory draft and then whittle it down to size.  Bibliography not included in page count.
    Topic: Any topic covered in class, preferably after the midterm (Justification, Skepticism, A Priori Knowledge).  Feel free to use fewer pages.  You will be downgraded for stalling or wasting space.
    Grading criteria: same as before: succinctness, correct statement of the theories under consideration, correct description of examples. correct application of the theories to examples. selection of relevant examples. Originality is not a major factor in this assignment, but is always appreciated if the preceding criteria are met.
    References: Include at least five outside references. Cite all sources properly and include them in a bibliography.