PHIL 240A: Knowledge and Reality I, Fall 2012

Exam Preview

Essay Topics

Marking Key (with thanks to Eric Margolis)

Instructor: Roger Clarke

Office hours: Brock 158, Wed 10-11, Thu 2-3, or by appointment.

Email: roger dot clarke at ubc dot ca Note: Please include "PHIL 240" in the subject line so my mailer knows your message isn't spam.


This is an introduction to epistemology, the philosophy of knowledge and rationality. The guiding theme of the course will be philosophical responses to skepticism, the view that we know or can know little or nothing of importance. We will read a mixture of historical and contemporary philosophers.

Course Requirements

I have three primary aims in teaching this course (in no particular order):

  1. To develop students' ability to read and assess philosophical writing;
  2. To develop students' ability to produce good arguments, both orally and in writing; and
  3. To familiarize students with some of the central questions and positions in epistemology.

Our methods of assessment reflect these aims. Students will be grades will be determined according to the following weighting:

The first essay will be 3 to 5 pages long, and due on October 12. The second essay will be 4 to 6 pages long, and due on November 23. I will distribute a list of possible essay topics in class well in advance of the due dates; I'm happy for you to write on a different topic, but you must discuss it with me first. We will spend some time in class talking about how to write a good philosophy essay.

The final exam will take place during the exam period in December. We will discuss the structure of the exam in the last few weeks of the class.

All students must register for a discussion section as well as the main lecture section. This provides a chance to talk about the course material in smaller groups. Active participation in these sections is important: discussing philosophy orally requires different skills than reading and writing do. Discussion sections will involve both structured assignments and relatively unstructured discussion.


Plagiarism will not be tolerated and will result in an automatic rejection of the paper/assignment followed by either a rewrite or failure of the paper, depending on the severity. Please don’t let yourself fall into a situation where you are even tempted to plagiarize. Send me early drafts; talk with me, etc. Start as early as possible. Especially, make sure that you understand clearly the grading rubric I will provide. And please take advantage of the resources listed below. The University’s definition of plagiarism, along with excellent resources for avoiding it, can be found at:

Please take advantage of these services. Students can refer to the Faculty of Arts website for a list of contacts and links for various resources available to students, such as AMS Tutoring, Academic Advising, the Writing Center, etc.


There are no texts to purchase for this course. All assigned readings are either in the public domain, or available through a UBC Library subscription (e.g., articles on JStor). Links to assigned readings will be posted on the course website, Some of these links will only work if you are either (a) using a UBC computer, (b) connected to the “ubcsecure” wireless network, or (c) connected to a UBC VPN. You can find instructions for setting up a UBC VPN on your home computer at the UBC Library's website,

Tentative Schedule of Readings

We may add or remove readings from this list as the course progresses. Monitor the course website and listen for announcements in lecture to keep up-to-date.

Reading philosophy is not the same as other reading. Here is some very good advice on reading philosophy well. Some of the selections below are quite challenging--do not be discouraged if you find the readings difficult, and do not be afraid to ask questions about difficult parts of the readings, either in lecture or in your discussion section. Asking questions is a way of showing engagement with the readings.

You'll notice there are no dates attached to the reading list below. This is the order we'll read the course material, but we'll set our pace as we go. At the end of each lecture, I'll tell you what you must have read by the start of the next class.

The Value of Knowledge

  • Plato: Meno (from "But when we said that a man cannot be a good guide unless..." to "... because fastened by a chain.")
    • (optional) Duncan Pritchard and John Turri: "The Value of Knowledge", section 1 (entry in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2012)

Skepticism and the Cartesian Project

  • René Descartes: Meditations 1 and 2 (1641)


The Problem of Induction

The Moore Shift

  • G.E. Moore: "Proof of an External World" (excerpt) (1939).

Fallibilism and the Analysis of Knowledge


Feminist Epistemology

This is as far as we're going to make it this term. I'm happy to talk about the material below, but you won't be responsible for it on the exam.


  • David Hume: Enquiry section 10, "Of Miracles" (1748)
  • Thomas Reid: Inquiry chapter 6, section 24, "How Perception Is Analogous to the Trust We Have in Human Testimony" (1764)