PHI 313: Theory of Knowledge, Fall 2017

Instructor: Adam Elga <>

Assistant in Instruction (AI): Alex Meehan <> (follow links for contact information).

Undergraduate Learning Assistants (ULAs): Lila Abreu, Duncan Carson, Zoe Chazen, Fiona Furnari, Brighid Leach, Caroline Pritt

Class meets Monday, Wednesday 2:30-3:20p at McCosh Hall room 4 (entryway “B”, ground floor), plus a 50-minute precept (to be arranged). Class must be taken for a grade (no audit, no pdf).

This page:

Registrar’s PHI 313 page.

Motivating questions: What justifies your confidence that the sun will rise tomorrow, or that you are not living in a computer simulation? Is it ever reasonable to believe something just because believing it will have good consequences for you? Is it possible to decide to believe something? Is the apparently fine-tuned nature of the physical constants evidence that there are multiple universes? Should you reduce your confidence in your political views if you find out that you would have taken contrary views had you been raised by different parents? Can two people with the same evidence rationally disagree?

Teaching method

The class will involve a combination of some lecturing and considerable in-class work with other students creating argument maps. You can get a taste of what argument mapping is all about at this page for a recent Freshman Seminar focused on argument mapping. If you’d like to try your hand at making a map, the argument visualization page for the mapping tool “Mindmup” is a good place to start (and includes a nice getting-started video tutorial).

Some portion of class time will be organized as follows. I will give a 10 minute mini-lecture introducing a topic or argument. Then I will hand out a short passage giving a related argument. You will work in pairs to come up with a map of the argument. While that is happening, I’ll be circulating answer questions and looking at your progress, along with several other expert mappers. Then we will all reconvene to consolidate ideas.

Since we will be mapping in small groups on many days, please always bring a charged, wifi-enabled laptop to class. When not using the laptop for mapping (for example during small-group discussions in class), please close your laptop lid (to increase conversational engagement).


The required readings will be unusually short for a philosophy class (for example, the last time I taught the class I assigned an average of less than 8 pages of reading per lecture). In particular, only short excerpts or excerpts/adaptations (to be distributed) will typically be required reading. I’ll let you know which portions are required as the class goes on, usually as part of the directions for each homework assignment.

The papers from which the readings will be drawn are linked below, organized by topic in the order in which the topics will be covered. To access the readings, use userid “guest”, and a password distributed in class. (If you are a prospective student in the course interested in looking at the readings, please email me a request for the password.)

In addition, you may wish to access a folder containing all of the papers (together with optional background readings).

Graded work

Course mechanics and policies