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We think that we know a great many things about the real, objective, material world. That Melbourne is in Victoria, that the Swans play out of Sydney, that water is H20, that the earth revolves around the sun, that other people exist, that we exist, are all common place beliefs that we take to be something that we know. But what, precisely does such knowledge consist in, or what is it to know something? If we lack clarity on what it is to know something, can we ever really be sure that what we think we know, we actually know…?
Philosophers since the very inception of the discipline, with Plato (4th C BCE), have been really worried about whether or not we know anything at all, or if we do, how much we know. Sceptics claim that we do not have any, or much, knowledge at all, while other philosophers claim that while we do have knowledge, this knowledge cannot be knowledge of a real, objective, material world, which exists independently of our thoughts.
This class will have a two-fold structure, with the first part involving us in a dive into some of the central historical writings regarding the problem of our knowledge of the external world. Besides providing some historical grounding, this will afford us an opportunity to open a discussion of some of the central concepts and issues at play in philosophical discussions of knowledge (e.g., the concept of knowledge itself, justification, doubt, certainty and scepticism). In the second part of the class, we turn to more contemporary (20th & 21st C) efforts to offer a systematic theory of what these concepts – notably knowledge and justification – involve, as well as efforts to reply to some of the sceptical challenges to our everyday beliefs about an independently real, objective, material world.
Intended learning outcomes
Students who successfully complete this subject will:
- have a sound general comprehension of major historical and contemporary advances in philosophical understanding of the nature and characteristics of knowledge as well as scepticism about knowledge;
- display a familiarity with some of the key historical and contemporary texts on which these advances are based;
- display an awareness of how this subject matter relates to broader concerns in contemporary philosophy;
- display a facility with the major concepts relevant to the class, and the ability to explain and critically discuss these in tutorials and in written work submitted.
Last updated: 13 November 2019