PHI 2361: Honors Ways of Knowing

Dr. H. Jones, Jr.

(Sample syllabus)

Description/Objectives: What is it to know rather than merely believe or have faith in something? How do we know that the external world really exists? How does an evolutionary biologist know that the theory of evolution is true and creationism is false? How does a social scientist know why crime rises or falls, or why people rebel? How does the historian know that the Holocaust really happened? How do we know that certain actions are morally wrong, or that a work of art is great, or inferior? We consider the criteria by which people in different academic disciplines justify claims that they know something, and we confront claims by skeptics that we can not really know anything but only believe. The goal is for students to think critically about the assumptions underlying various disciplines and to communicate effectively about these assumptions.
This course contributes to the Honors College curriculum by fulfilling the Core requirement in CIV, serving as an elective in the Philosophy concentration, emphasizing critical thinking and writing, and in contributing to an interdisciplinary approach to learning.

Grading will be based on participation in class discussions (10%), two 6-7 page papers (25% each=50%),  2 short assignments of 2-3 pages each (10% each=20%), and a number of brief in-class assignments (20%). Each unexcused absence beyond 2 will result in a 1/3 grade reduction for participation. Missed in-class assignments can't be made up. Students should take their own notes of each of the readings and bring these to class. You may use your notes for the in-class assignments.
Reading listed for each day should be done prior to that day's class. Be sure to bring to each class the reading for that day's class.

Office Hours: in HC 148 MWF 12-2 or email

Required Texts:
Some readings will be posted at the MyFAU course website under 'files' and some are available on the world wide web. Readings in jstor must be accessed from a computer in the FAU domain or else by proxy. In addition, the following books will be available at the campus bookstore: Marvin Harris, Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches; Thomas Kuhn, T he Structure of Scientific Revolutions; Michael Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things; and Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty.

Class meets MW  4-5:20 pm in HC 116.

In compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act ( ADA), students who require special accommodations due to a disability to properly execute coursework must register with the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD) located in SR 117 (561-799-8585).

Students at Florida Atlantic University are expected to maintain the highest ethical standards. Academic dishonesty, including cheating and plagiarism, is considereda serious breach of these ethical standards, because it interferes with the University mission to provide a high quality education in which no student enjoys an unfair advantage over any other. Academic dishonesty is also destructive of the University community, which is grounded in a system of mutual trust and places high value on personal integrity and individual responsibility. Harsh penalties are associated with academic dishonesty ( click here to see the Honor Code. While you are encouraged to discuss the course material with each other, all assignments must be entirely your own work. If you have any doubts about what constitutes plagiarism or a violation of the honor code, consult with me beforehand.

I. Introduction: knowledge, belief, faith: How is knowing that something is true different than believing it is true? Are convictions based on belief or faith and not knowledge less defensible, and if so, what follows from that?

Aug 25. Plato's Cave
Rdg: Plato: Republic, 514a-517a; and Meno, 97a-98b (MyFAU/handout)

Aug 27. Faith vs Knowledge: Russell's skepticism
Rdg: Bertrand Russell, "Why I am not a Christian" (MyFAU)

Sept 1: No Class (Labor Day)

Sept 3. Faith vs Knowledge: can (or need) religious beliefs be justified rationally?
Rdg: Antony Flew-Basil Mitchel, 'Debate on the Rationality of Religious Belief'; Alvin Plantinga, "Religious Belief without Evidence"(MyFAU)

Sept 8. Faith vs Knowledge: Kierkegaard
Rdg: Genesis 21-22,
online; Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, excerpts (MyFAU)
Recommended: excerpt from Goethe's T he Sorrows of Young Werther, online.

Assignment one due

II. What is scientific knowing? What distinguishes science from pseudoscience and superstition? It is widely thought that science provides an objective, true account of reality through rigorous observation and methods; that it is immune to political and social influences; that the validity of scientific theories, such as of what the universe is made of, or of how the dinosaurs became extinct, depends not on the subjective preferences of scientists, but only on whether the theory accurately captures reality. In this section we consider proponents and critics of this view.

Sept 10. Distinguishing Science from Pseudoscience
Rdg: Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things, pp. 1-82, 88-98
Online: Video of alleged autopsy of the "Roswell Alien" (Warning: the video shows disturbing images)
Recommended: C.P. Snow, "Two Cultures"(MyFAU); The Sokal Hoax Controversy

Sept 15. Scientific knowing: Induction and covering laws; deductive and inductive-statistical models
Rdg: Brian Skyrms, "The Traditional Problem of Induction," with Introduction by L.A. Paul (MyFAU); Rudolf Carnap, "The Experimental Method"(MyFAU); Mayes, 'Hempel's theory of explanation', in Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (MyFAU); N.B. Watts, "Observational data do not establish cause and effect"(MyFAU); John Maynard Smith, "Science and Myth" (MyFAU)
Online: Predicting hurricane tracks: NHC- 2005 season; NHC- Ike cone; Models (from Weather Underground)

Sept 17. Thomas Kuhn's philosophy of science
Rdg: Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, chapters 1, 2, 5
Online: animation of Ptolemaic system; of Copernican system

Sept 22. Kuhn
Rdg: Structure of Scientific Revolutions, chapter 6, 8, 10-13

Sept 24. Kuhn
Rdg: Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Postscript

Sept 29. Science and power: Feminist and Postmodern/Postcolonial critiques of science
Rdg: T. B. Macaulay, 'Minute on Indian Education', excerpt (1835)(MyFAU); Sandra Harding, "Is Science Multicultural?" Configurations 2(2):301-30 (1994)(MyFAU); Emily Martin, "The Egg and the Sperm"(MyFAU)

Oct. 1. Responses to the Postmodern/Postcolonial critics of science
Rdg: Gross, "Flights of Fancy"; Bunge, "Excerpt on radical feminist theory"; Sampson, "Antiscience trends in Alternate Medicine Movement"; and Weissman, "'Sucking with Vampires: The Medicine of Unreason", all in Gross, Levitt, Lewis, eds. The Flight from Science and Reason (1996)(MyFAU)

Oct 6. Case study: Evolution vs Creationism
Rdg: Phillip E. Johnson, Darwin on Trial, chapters 5-6 (MyFAU); Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things, chs. 9-11
Recommended: Amy Harmon, "A Teacher on the Front Line as Faith and Science Clash," NYT, August 24, 2008; "Opponents of Evolution Are Adopting New Strategy," NYT, June 4, 2008 (MyFAU); Stephen Jay Gould,  "Evolution as Fact and Theory," in Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes, online; "Hooking Leviathan by its Past," ch. 28 in Dinosaur in a Haystack, online

III. Philosophical Accounts of Knowing How do we know the external world really exists?  In this section, we think about what we mean when we say we know, rather than merely believe. Can a computer know, or think? Is there only one true way of knowing the world, or are worlds constructed, and constructed differently depending on one's language, culture, social class, or gender?

Oct 8. G.E. Moore's quest for certain knowledge
Rdg: G.E. Moore, "Proof of an external world" (1939)(MyFAU); Study guide to assist you with Moore's essay, online
For those interested: Erica Goode, "Rats may dream, it seems, of their days at the mazes," New York Times, Jan. 25, 2001.

Oct 13. Ludwig Wittgenstein's response to Moore
Rdg: Wittgenstein_defaced_coverpage (MyFAU); Wittgenstein, On Certainty, Pars. 1-12, 20-171, 181-242 (pp. 2-3, 4-25, 26-32)

Oct 15. Wittgenstein
Rdg: On Certainty, Pars. 243-299, 310-315 (pp. 32-38, 40)

Oct 20. Wittgenstein
Rdg: On Certainty, Pars. 333-368, 378, 417-449, 464-505, 521-563, 600-676 (pp. 42-47, 49, 53-58, 61-66, 68-74, 79-90)
Paper One due
For those interested: Nelson Goodman, Ways of Worldmaking, chapters 1, 5, 6

Oct 22. Can computers think?
Rdg: A.M. Turing, "Computing Machinery and Intelligence," Mind 59:433-60 (1950) (search jstor)--you may omit section 5 (439-442)
For those interested: John Searle, 'Chinese Room Argument', online

Oct 27. Culture, language and knowledge
Rdg: Benjamin Lee Whorff,  Language, Thought and Reality, pp. 57-64, 207-219 (MyFAU); Richard Nisbett, The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently and Why (Intr, chs 4,5, Epilogue)(MyFAU)
For those interested: S. Pinker, The Language Instinct (1994); Mark Tunick, Review of Nisbett, Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, vol. 3, no. 1, available online.
Assignment 2 Due

IV. Knowing in the social sciences: Social scientists study not atoms or planets, but human agents with intentions. Are the natural sciences an appropriate model for studying human behavior? Can human behavior be predicted like we predict the motion of billiard balls? How do we judge among competing theories in the social sciences?

Oct 29. Sociobiology and Politics
Rdg: Alford, "Are Political Orientations Genetically Transmitted?", American Political Science Review 99:153-67 (May 2005)(MyFAU)

Nov 3. Evolutionary explanations of human behavior
Rdg: Silverman and Eals, "Sex Differences in Spatial Abilities: Evolutionary Theory and Data," in Barkow, Cosmides, and Tooby eds., The Adapted Mind (1992)(MyFAU)

Nov 5. Using statistical regressions (1): explaining crime rates
Rdg: John Donohue III and Steven Levitt, "The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime," Quarterly Journal of Economics 116(2):379-420 (May 2001)(search jstor)

Nov 10. Using statistical regressions (2): explaining women's roles in the labor force and politics
Rdg: Michael L. Ross, "Oil, Islam, and Women," American Political Science Review 102(1):107-123 (Feb. 2008)(MyFAU)

Nov 12. Historical knowing: Responding to Holocaust-deniers
Rdg: Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things, chs. 12-14

Nov. 17: Marx's materialist explanation of human behavior
Rdg: Marx, Preface to Critique of Political Economy (MyFAU); Engels, 'Speech at the Graveside of Karl Marx'(MyFAU);  Marx and Engels, German Ideology, excerpts (MyFAU)

Nov 19. The problem of false consciousness
Film: Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Symbiosis"

Nov 24. Cultural materialist explanations of human behavior
Rdg: Marvin Harris, Cows, Pigs, Wars, Witches, pp. 3-57, 61-80, 111-130, 207-66
For those interested: Hanna Pitkin, Wittgenstein and Justice, chs. 11-12.

V. Moral and aesthetic knowledge.  How do we justify moral judgments about what is right and wrong, and aesthetic judgments about what is beautiful? Are there objective standards or are these judgments ultimately subjective, a matter of personal taste? Are there universal moral and aesthetic standards, or are these standards relative to one's culture or historical period? Can there be moral or aesthetic experts?

Nov 26. Aesthetic judgments
Rdg: Hume, "Of the Standard of Taste" (MyFAU); Kant, Critique of Judgment (excerpts)(MyFAU)

Dec 1. Is morality culturally relative, or universal?
Rdg: Benedict-Stace debate on moral relativism (MyFAU)

Dec 3. Are morals objective?
Rdg: Renford Bambrough, "A Proof of the Objectivity of Morals"(MyFAU)

Paper Two due
For those interested: Gilbert Harman, "Moral Relativism Defended," Philosophical Review 84:3-22 (1975), at jstor ; Mark Tunick, Practices and Principles: Approaches to Ethical and Legal Judgment (1998)

Cahn, Philosophy for the 21st Century (Oxford)
Kuhn, Copernican Revoluion; Essential Tension; Structure of Scientific Revolutions
Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations
Piktin, Wittegenstein and Justice
Fieser, Philosophical Questions
Gross, ed. Flight from Science and Reason
Cartwright, Evolutionary Explanations fo Human Behavior
Johnson, Political Science Research Methods
Cooter, Law and Economics
Carroll, Philosophy of Art
Pickstone, Ways of Knowing
Belenky, Women's Ways of Knowing
Feyerabend, Against Method
Goodman, Ways of Worldmaking
Rosenberg, Philosophy of Social Science

Last Modified 10/13/14