Humanities 9:
Knowledge and Reality
Spring, 2012

Professor Joel Velasco

Class meets Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2:30-3:55 in Baxter 19

This course provides an introduction to the topics of Metaphysics and Epistemology. Epistemology is the study of human knowledge, and metaphysics the study of the fundamental nature of the world. The course is structured around questions of perennial philosophical importance: Is there a God? What should we believe? What is knowledge, and how does knowledge differ from mere belief? What is the world really like?
Course Webpage:
All information about the course (such as this syllabus) as well as the reading assignments and links to papers can be found on the course website at
Office hours:
My office hours are Mon 11:00-12:00, or by appointment, in 13 Dabney Hall.
Books available at the university bookstore:

Steven M. Cahn (ed), Philosophy for the 21st Century, Oxford University Press, 2003 (= Cahn)

Evaluation: Grades for this course will be based upon class participation (10%), four short response papers (20%), and upon two longer papers (30% and 40%). All aspects of evaluation come under the provenance of the university’s honor code. A student must receive a passing grade on each of these components in order to pass the course.

Class Participation: Philosophy is a communal enterprise: the ability to make valuable oral contributions to philosophical discussions can be as important as the ability to write well. Moreover, since the written assignments will force the students to think carefully about very specific topics, participation in class discussion is an important way for students to demonstrate a broader competence with the material than is possible in the papers alone. Evaluation will be based upon the quality, not the quantity, of comments made during class. Students are encouraged to continue class discussions after the class is over, by meeting with me in person, or continuing the discussion over e-mail. Students who for any reason have difficulty speaking up in class are especially encouraged to pursue these options. It should go without saying that attendance is an absolutely essential component of class participation. No more than one unexcused absence is allowed. Any student who has more than two absences from class will be required to do make-up work for the classes missed.

Electronic Devices: Students may have laptop computers, or other portable electronic devices, for the purpose of taking notes, and occasionally looking up material relevant to class discussion. However, there will be no internet-surfing, texting, tweeting, instant messaging, e-mailing, gaming, or other use of electronic devices not directly related to class. Also, please silence all phones before class starts.

Papers: Students will write six papers. Four are short response papers. They are expected to be no more than one page each (200-500 words) and to look carefully at one argument from the readings in class. They will be due the third, fourth, seventh, and the eighth week of class. Two papers are longer. They will be 1500 and 2000 words long and will be due on the sixth week and during finals week. Suggestions for paper topics will be provided though you are free to develop your own topic.

Special Accommodations: If you have a disability or personal circumstance that will require special accommodation, please do not hesitate to contact me.

This is a tentative schedule/reading list:

Week 1 - Introduction, Cosmological Argument

Week 2 - Problem of Evil, Pascal's Wager

Week 3 - Will to Believe

First reading response due: Instructions and sample here

Week 4 - Skepticism

Second reading response due

***First paper assignment - due 5/3***

Week 5 - The problem of Induction

Week 6 - Philosophy of Science

Week 7 - Metaphysics of Objects

Week 8 - Supertasks and Infinity

Week 9 (5/29/31) - The Future

Week 10 - Final Week

*** (6/14) - Final Essay Due***