Philosophy 4330: Epistemology
Spring, 2015

Professor Joel Velasco

Class meets M, W, F 1:00-1:50 in English and Philosophy 163

Course Description
In the first half of the class we will study epistemological concepts such as knowledge, justification, and rationality at an abstract level. In the second half of the class, we will look to more applied issues, many of which fall under the heading of ‘social epistemology’. We will look at psychological literature about human cognitive biases and also at literature on group decision making and deliberation with the hope of figuring out ways to improve our thinking.

Course Objectives
Upon completion of this course, a student should be able to do the following:

Epistemology:  A Contemporary Introduction by Alvin I. Goldman and Matthew McGrath. Oxford University Press (2015).

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2011).

The grades will be based on short essays, a midterm exam, and a final essay.

Rough Grading Scale:
92—100% A
90—92% A-
88—90% B+
82—88% B
80—82% B-
78—80% C+
70—78% C
65—70% C-
50—65% D
0—49% F

Late Paper Policy:
In the absence of a documented excuse, I will subtract one grade increment per day (lowering a B- to a C+ for example) from assignments submitted after the due date.

Anonymous grading:
I will be grading all of the assignments anonymously this semester. You will upload your assignments into Blackboard and I will not see who they are from before or after I grade them. Only at the end of the semester when I assign final grades will I know who received what grade. There are several reasons for this, but the main one is to ensure fairness in various ways. There is a large literature on implicit biases and other sorts of things that can affect grading and my (and your) behavior in the classroom. Indeed several kinds of judgment heuristics and biases that are discussed in Thinking: Fast and Slow provide good reasons to do this. This does have several effects such as that you will need to pay more careful attention to your progress in the class (for example, I will not know if you have not turned in the latest assignment or if you did worse than usual on a particular assignment). You are still permitted (and encouraged) to come and talk to me about the class, thoughts you might have on an assignment, questions you have about your grade on a particular assignment, etc. In some cases this will destroy the possibility of full anonymity. So be at. For now, I judge this kind of student-teacher interaction to be of more importance than anonymous grading. But anonymous grading is an experiment for me so I am very interested in how it turns out and in what ways I might make it better.

Other Matters:

Academic Integrity:  Cheating and plagiarism are, of course, prohibited in this class just as they are in all university classes.  They will be taken particularly seriously in this class, and any cases that may arise will be treated in a manner consistent with University policy.  These two violations of academic integrity are each defined in the section of the Texas Tech online official publications titled “Academic Integrity.”  Plagiarism is there described as follows:
“’Plagiarism’ includes, but is not limited to, the appropriation of, buying, receiving as a gift, or obtaining by any means material that is attributable in whole or in part to another source, including words, ideas, illustrations, structure, computer code, other expression and media, and presenting that material as one’s own academic work being offered for credit.”  
            You can find excellent explanations of what specifically constitutes plagiarism as opposed to proper citation, and also tutorials on how to avoid plagiarism at the following websites:

Note:  If, at any time, you are at all unclear about what counts as plagiarism, or about whether you are properly citing sources in any of your written work, please just come by and ask me about it.  You do not want to be confused or careless about this serious matter.

Classroom Civility:  It should go without saying that disruptive behavior is not considered acceptable in the classroom. In addition, the study of philosophy, like any other substantial subject, requires a certain level of concentration. And everyone’s attention and concentration is facilitated by an absence of unnecessary distractions within classroom.  In concrete terms, this means you should turn off phone ringers before class starts; keep them in your bag or pocket. You do not need a laptop in class, though you may use one if you use it to take notes. Though note that this leads to temptation not to pay attention as well as you should in class and it is easy to distract yourself and others.

Students with Disabilities:  Any student who, because of a disability, may require special arrangements in order to meet the course requirements should contact the instructor as soon as possible to make any necessary arrangements. Students should present appropriate verification from Student Disability Services during the instructor’s office hours. Please note instructors are not allowed to provide classroom accommodations to a student until appropriate verification from Student Disability Services has been provided. For additional information, you may contact the Student Disability Services office in 335 West Hall or 806-742-2405.

This is a tentative schedule/reading list:

Week 1 - The Structure of Justification

Week 2 - The Structure of Justification (cont)


Advice on writing philosophy papers:

Week 3 - Two debates about Justification

Week 4 - Two debates about Justification (cont)

SHORT ESSAY ASSIGNMENT 2 - due Wed, Feb 11th

Week 5 - The Analysis of Knowledge

Week 6 - The Analysis of Knowledge (cont)

SHORT ESSAY ASSIGNMENT 3 - due Wed, Feb 25th

Week 7 - Skepticism

Week 8 - Skepticism (cont)

Week 9 - Naturalized Epistemology


Week 10 -

SHORT ESSAY ASSIGNMENT 4 - due Wed, April 1st

Week 11 -

Week 12 -

SHORT ESSAY ASSIGNMENT 5 - due Wed, April 15th

Week 13 -

Week 14 -

Week 15 -

Week 16 -

Final Paper Assignment - due Thur, May 7th