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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

William J. Talbott
PHIL 490
Seattle Campus

Advanced Topics in Epistemology

Intensive study of a particular topic or area in epistemology. Prerequisite: either PHIL 350 or PHIL 450.

Class description

This course will be based on the manuscript of a book that I am writing on the nature of rational belief to be titled Learning from Experience. The manuscript defends a Discovery Paradigm of rational belief against traditional accounts based on the Proof Paradigm, and against contemporary accounts based on the Naturalist Paradigm. In addition to reading my manuscript, we will read what I regard as the most persuasive defenses of the Proof Paradigm (BonJour) and of the Naturalist Paradigm (Nozick) for rational belief. The course will address such questions as: What makes a belief rational? For a belief to be rational must the believer be able to articulate a justification of it? Are there any principles of rational belief change? If so, are they necessarily true? If so, are they knowable purely a priori? Is anything knowable purely a priori? Can we have non-a priori justification for believing some principles of rational belief change to be necessarily true? Can we have good reason to believe that there are necessarily true principles of rational belief change, even if we don't know exactly what they are? Do our judgments of necessity merely reflect psychological tendencies in us (rather than objective constraints on reality)? If we ourselves are the products of evolution, does that imply that any beliefs that we have about the principles of rational belief change are themselves simply products of evolution? Could facts about evolutionary selection make our beliefs about rational belief change true? Could such facts make those beliefs rational? The course will be an opportunity for me to present the ideas in the manuscript and for me to obtain critical responses to the manuscript.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Lectures, presentations by seminar members, and discussion.

Recommended preparation

Prerequisites: PHIL 350 or PHIL 450 or the permission of the instructor.

Class assignments and grading

Course requirements include weekly short (2-3 page) papers; one slightly longer (5 page) paper for the session in which you are a discussion leader (which substitutes for your short paper for that week); and a term paper (10-15 pages).

Grades will be based on short papers and class presentation (50%) and term paper (50%).


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Additional Information
Last Update by William J. Talbott
Date: 11/07/2002