Epistemology is about what we can know, how we know it, and what it actually means to know something. We ordinarily think we know quite a lot; and we have some idea of how we know it: say, by looking at something, by being told about something or reading about it, or by reasoning.
Epistemology tries to understand how these various methods work, and whether they really deliver knowledge. As the philosopher John Campbell once said, ‘philosophy is thinking in slow motion’, and this sometimes changes our perspective on things. In particular, modern epistemology (since the 17th century) has produced a range of arguments that make it look quite puzzling how perception can give us knowledge of our environment, or how we can come to know anything by taking someone else’s word for it, or how it is possible to know what other people think or feel (or even whether they think or feel anything at all!).
We will be looking at some of these puzzles in some detail. Contemporary epistemology has not reached any consensus on how to deal with them, but studying and assessing some of the arguments that have been put forward over the last 40 years or so will enable you to think ‘in slow motion’; not just about the nature and extent of your knowledge but also about perception, consciousness, other people, justification, reasons, and self-awareness.
You will learn a lot about contemporary debates in epistemology, and about analyse and assess the arguments at work in these debates. This will enable you to think, write and talk clearly and carefully about various issues in epistemology. It will also deepen your understanding of the history of philosophy.
This module is worth 15 CATS.